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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Tyler

German History Part 3: Many Germanys but only one Prussia

Updated: Feb 18, 2023

Jeremy Black in his 'A Brief History of Germany' writes in his Preface, 'There are many Germanys that can be proffered and, therefore, differing chronologies, narratives, causations and epiphanies'.

Thus in finding a golden thread to lead us through the early modern period of Germany's history, there is no better thread to follow than that of the history of Prussia, which is the German state that, under Bismarck, brought about the unified Germany of the late 19th century.

Yet in telling the story of Prussia we have to begin with two north German states, in addition to Prussia, with its capital at Konigsburg (now Kaliningrad and Russian territory), there is Brandenburg, with its capital at Berlin.

It was to be Brandenburg that would later be known by the name of the dominant partner, Prussia . At the beginning of the story Brandenburg was one of the constituent German states of The Holy Roman Empire, with its centre in Vienna; whilst Prussia was part of The Kingdom of Poland.

Prussia's rise to become the pre-eminent German Power began with the union of Brandenburg-Prussia by a personal union within the family of Hohenzollern in 1618. In 1701 the name of the state became simply, Prussia and a kingdom. With the gradual acquisition of territories around it Prussia became massive by 1795 when Poland was dismembered and partitioned.

The outstanding 18th century ruler of Prussia was Frederick the Great (reigned 1740-1786).

Simon Sebag Montefiore describes him thus: 'The outstanding soldier-statesman of his age, the paragon of gifted kingship ..........the most enlightened monarch of his day...'

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