The History of Prussia
There are three reasons Prussia, between 1648-1762, came to be a European power. First, Prussia was surrounded by a number of weak states. The weakness of these states enabled Prussia to gain territory and become more powerful. Second, during this time, the region was in a state of chaos. Because of this, people were anxious for the stability and order that a strong state could provide. Finally, because of three brilliant rulers, especially Fredrick William, the Great Elector, Prussia was organized and built into a strong power. In 1648 Prussia seemed unlikely to experience the rise of a strong, absolutist state, but as a result of these three major conditions, Prussia became a significant power.
In the aftermath of the Thirty Years War, much of Europe was devastated. Knights and nobles controlled 360 separate German states and 2500 individual regions. These conditions made it possible for strong leaders to seize territory and exert political control. These same conditions contributed to a state of chaos in the region. People were eager to have the stability and order that a strong ruler could provide, and were willing to give power to such a leader. The timing was perfect for a ruler to come to power because the army, whose officer class came from the principal landowning families, was loyal and eager to help a strong leader come forward.
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Three strong leaders did, the most effective of whom was Fredrick William, the Great Elector. Fredrick established and created foundations upon which the Prussian state was built. He combined numerous separate territories into one. Fredrick also organized numerous local leg armies into a single national army. He encouraged industry and the development of new types of agriculture. Under Fredrick, the army became a national police force and chief protector of the crown.
Although Prussia, prior to the Thirty Years War, has been described as “the sandbox of the Holy Roman Empire, conditions existing at the end of the war, and the rise of strong leaders, made it possible for Prussia to become a major European power.
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