Frederick William and the Army

Frederick William and the Army

The army was to be central to the success of Frederick William in Brandenburg-Prussia. In Frederick William’s mind, the army was Brandenburg-Prussia and Brandenburg-Prussia was the army. The army was to give him complete control over his lands – at the expense of everybody.

"Alliances to be sure are good: but a force of one’s own on which one can rely, better. A ruler is treated with no consideration if he does not have troops and means of his own. It is these, thank God, which have made me considerable since the time that I began to have them." (Frederick William to his son)

Frederick William inherited a state where the previous ruler had been held in very low regard by the real power base in Brandenburg-Prussia – the Junkers. If Frederick William was to establish himself, he needed to impose his authority and control over the Junkers.

Frederick William wanted to put the army at the centre of his state. In 1640, Brandenburg-Prussia relied on mercenaries who were disloyal to the crown. By 1648, Frederick William had rid Brandenburg-Prussia of these mercenaries and had, with the use of money granted by the Junkers, created an army of 8,000 men. However, his lands were geographically very extensive and a force of this size could not control all his lands with the authority, which Frederick William wanted.

In 1653, Frederick William and the Junkers agreed to the Recess. This was a deal whereby the Junkers agreed to grant Frederick William 530,000 thalers in return for them having the right to rule their estates as they wished, free from any interference from Frederick William. To the Junkers, this seemed a good deal. In years to come they realised that the money they had given to Frederick William would be used against them.

Frederick William used this money to further develop his fledgling army. Frederick William put an emphasis on quality in his army right from the start. Promotion was by merit alone and discipline – frequently lacking in the mercenary armies that had been based in Brandenburg-Prussia – was stern but fair. Soldiers in the army knew that they had a regular income. Now a young man could have a career in the army, whereas before, many saw the army as a last and desperate resort. Those in the army were loyal to Frederick William. Once the army had reached a certain standard, Frederick William turned on those who had funded his army’s expansion – the Junkers.

Frederick William turned on the weakest Junkers first. He absorbed their wealth that was then invested in his army. He then moved on to the next Junker family. The process remained the same – subdue a Junker family into acquiescence and use its money to fund an expansion of his army. By the time he planned to move onto the more powerful Junker families, his army was considered so strong, that any confrontation was not needed. Ironically, the Junkers had sealed their fate by agreeing to the Recess believing that it gave them the powers they had always considered their own – except that these powers clashed with Frederick William’s belief that he and he alone ruled Brandenburg-Prussia.

However, discontented Junker families were not healthy for Brandenburg-Prussia. Frederick William did not want to alienate those he preferred to see as allies. He gave them positions in his government which were well rewarded and the young men in the Junker families saw a career in the army as a suitably rewarding one. By doing this, Frederick William tied the Junkers to the state and ‘made’ them loyal to his government. By 1660, the Junkers were dependent on Frederick William and not the other way round. Frederick William saw himself and the state as being one – and the protector of his state was the army.

The army was at the very centre of Brandenburg-Prussia. By 1688, it numbered 30,000 highly trained men. 50% of Frederick William’s income went on the army. In 1655, the Generalkriegkommissariat was set up and it became Brandenburg-Prussia’s civil service. Its main purpose was to collect taxes, which were invested in the army. In this way, the state and the army became one.

The army was to become Frederick William’s instrument of gaining respect for Brandenburg-Prussia throughout Europe. It also enabled him to maintain a constant grip over the Junkers. Frederick William’s investment in the army paid off as he became a sought after ally in Europe. The fear of his army was such that he maintained a solid control of his dispersed lands. Any dissent in his state was crushed – as Konigsberg was to find in 1674.

Konigsberg had a history of dissent. In 1661, the city had rebelled against Frederick William, complaining about his domination and tax demands. In this year, the rebellion had been lead by two noblemen – Roth and Kalkstein. In 1663, 2000 troops were sent to the city to enforce the Great Elector’s will. The city paid the taxes demanded from it. In 

1674, Konigsberg again rebelled against Frederick William’s authority and this time faced a more severe punishment. Troops were billeted in the city. This meant that families had to put up soldiers as Frederick William did not see why he had to pay for their upkeep in a rebellious city. Billeting was a cruel punishment as soldiers, though loyal to Frederick William, could not be trusted to behave properly in a city that had rebelled against Frederick William. The state's authorities also felt that the rebellious people of Konigsberg probably deserved the treatment they got from the soldiers. With the exception of mass executions, billeting was probably the worst punishment a city could expect. However, once Frederick William had made his point perfectly clear, the nobility of Konigsberg were brought into positions in his court so that they could have no festering resentment.

In 1666, troops were stationed in Cleves and Mark (two of the more outlying properties of Frederick William) to ensure that tax was collected. In punishment, these two areas had to endure rule by men appointed by Frederick William, as the nobility there could not be expected to rule in a loyal way.

By 1681, Frederick William had assumed total control over his army. He controlled promotions and he set the standard of discipline.

"By the end of his reign, foreign observers agreed that his forces, though not the biggest in Europe, were the most efficient." (Lockyer)

Two very important generals were appointed: George von Derfflinger and Baron Sparr, Otto Christoph 

On retirement, senior officers were given state posts, which was a good inducement to loyalty. Retiring soldiers were offered positions on royal land – hence soldiers knew that they would be well looked after once they left the army and this further engendered their loyalty.

Two departments were established:

the Generalskriegkommisariat the Amtskammer

The Generalskriegkommisariat collected taxes and managed royal finances whereas the Amtskammer was a general finance office controlling national expenditure and income.

By the time of Frederick William’s death in 1688, he had a state that was subservient to his will and an army completely loyal to him and which extended his authority all over his lands. The army ran the civil service and the Central Privy Council (Geheimer Staatsrat) was dominated by it.






Find lyrics free


Online College and University Degree Guide



Popular content

Follow Us