Frederick I was the third son of Frederick William, the Great Elector of Brandenburg-Prussia. Frederick became Elector of Brandenburg on the death of his father in 1688 and king of Prussia from 1701 to his death in 1713.
Unlike Frederick William, Frederick preferred to leave the day-to-day running of his government to his chief ministers. From 1688 to 1697, his chief minister was his tutor, Eberhard von Danckelmann. he was a man of great ability and continued with the policies of the Great Elector- centralising the government and extending the power of the crown. From 1697 to 1711, the chief minister was Count Kolbe von Wartenburg. His policy was to flatter the king whilst leaving his secretary-of-state to do all the work. Wartenburg was also corrupt.
How much this decreased the power and authority of the crown is difficult to assess as by the time when Wartenburg was appointed, Brandenburg-Prussia had become used to centralised monarchical power – and the whole population had seen what had happened to the vastly enhanced European status of Brandenburg-Prussia since 1640.
During the reign of Frederick, the population of Brandenburg-Prussia greatly expanded. This was a direct result of the Great Elector’s policy of allowing refugees to flock to his state. By the time of Frederick, Brandenburg-Prussia was seen as the champion of Protestantism.
Frederick I certainly benefited from the economic policies of Frederick William. Royal income for Frederick doubled. The civil service created during the reign of Frederick William worked with great effectiveness by the time of Frederick I and his army had increased in size to 50,000 from 30,000 – a 40% increase.
To further extend the power of Frederick I, in 1702, a Supreme Court of Appeal was established in Berlin from which there was no longer any right of appeal to the Holy Roman Emperor. This made Frederick’s will the law in his states – and there was nothing the Emperor could do about this. The impact of the Enlightenment was welcomed in Brandenburg-Prussia as Frederick knew that his state could only benefit from it. He wanted his country to be a nation of thinkers, based on the logic that Brandenburg-Prussia would evolve as a result of this.
Frederick’s power at home was such that Brandenburg-Prussia remained an attractive state to be allied to. Its reputation also allowed Frederick to do something that he had always wanted to do – call himself king. By the reign of Frederick I, the title ‘Elector’ had decreased in importance and status. Traditionally, during state dinners, kings had been allowed to lounge in armchairs. Electors had not been allowed to do this and it was this drop in their perceived status, that pushed Frederick to deciding that he wanted to be called king of Prussia. He could not be king of Brandenburg as this was an electoral title and would remain so.
During the War of Spanish Succession, the Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold, needed the support of Frederick. Leopold signed the Crown Treaty in November 1700. Frederick was given legitimate permission to call himself King of Prussia and in return he had to give Leopold 8,000 soldiers and his morale support. Frederick was certainly powerful enough to call himself king of Prussia without Leopold’s agreement. But to some this would have been unacceptable and lacking in legitimacy. By having Leopold grant him this right (as the Emperor could do), such a problem was removed.
As a king, Frederick embarked on a building campaign fit for a king. His Versailles-style lifestyle included castle building and the collection of works of art.
However, Frederick was not just blinded by a desire to boost his own ego. In the 1690’s he had created a number of educational establishments that signified the rise in Brandenburg-Prussia’s status in Europe. In 1694, a university had been established at Halle. This was a Lutheran university but was not exclusively for Lutherans. Its Professor of Theology was August Hermann Francke – a well known intellectual. Francke’s sermons attracted large crowds and he was to establish a publishing house, an orphanage and a school – all of which greatly boosted the status of Brandenburg-Prussia in Europe.
|No university made a greater contribution at this time to the advance of German culture than Frederick’s University of Halle.” (Lockyer)|
He also established an Academy of Art in 1696 and an Academy of Science in 1700. In much of this drive to boost the educational standing of Brandenburg-Prussia within Europe, Frederick was aided by his second wife, Sophie Charlotte who was driven to push forward Brandenburg-Prussia’s culture. She did not want the state known purely for being a military state.
Frederick I continued with his father’s policy of modernising the infrastructure of Brandenburg-Prussia. More roads and canals were built to assist transport and waste land was cultivated to expand Brandenburg’s agricultural base.
In foreign policy, Frederick committed himself to the European coalition fighting Louis XIV of France. His troops fought for William III of the United Provinces and he eventually provided the emperor Leopold with 50,000 troops. These men fought well and further established the legend abroad that the soldiers of Brandenburg-Prussia were acquiring. This reputation for military might made Brandenburg-Prussia a desirable ally and the subsidies received for these troops made her a wealthy state.
Brandenburg-Prussia played little part in the Great Northern War where Frederick I dithered between supporting Sweden or Denmark/Poland. The devastation of parts of northern Germany during this war, only served to heighten the power and domination of Brandenburg-Prussia within northern Germany.
By 1713, the year Frederick I died, Brandenburg-Prussia was considered Europe’s mightiest power. France had suffered badly during the reign of Louis XIV; Spain was a third class power; no German state could match Brandenburg-Prussia and the Empire was a mere shadow of its former self. Russia under Peter the Great had made great advances, but Russia’s economy was based around agriculture and this was to remain backward into the C20th. Sweden was no longer a threat – so within mainland Europe, there was no one country that could threaten Brandenburg-Prussia.