1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Brandenburg
BRANDENBURG, the name of a margraviate and electorate which played an important part in German history, and afterwards grew into the kingdom of Prussia. During the early years of the Christian era, the district was inhabited by the Semnones, and afterwards by various Slavonic tribes, who were partially subdued by Charlemagne, but soon regained their independence. The history of Brandenburg begins when the German king, Henry the Fowler, defeated the Havelli, or Hevelli, and took their capital, Brennibor, from which the name Brandenburg is derived. It soon came under the rule of Gero, margrave of the Saxon east mark, who pressed the campaign against the Slavs with vigour, while Otto the Great founded bishoprics at Havelberg and Brandenburg. When Gero died in 965, his mark was divided into two parts, the northern portion, lying along both banks of the middle Elbe, being called the north or old mark, and forming the nucleus of the later margraviate of Brandenburg. After Otto the Great died, the Slavs regained much of their territory, Brandenburg fell again into their hands, and a succession of feeble margraves ruled only the district west of the Elbe, together with a small district east of that river.
A new era began in 1106 when Lothair, count of Supplinburg, became duke of Saxony. Aided by Albert the Bear, count of Ballenstädt, he renewed the attack on the Slavs, and in 1134 appointed Albert margrave of the north mark. Albert the Bear. The new margrave continued the work of Lothair, and about 1140 made a treaty with Pribislaus, the childless duke of Brandenburg, by which he was recognized as the duke's heir. He took at once the title margrave of Brandenburg, but when Pribislaus died in 1150, a stubborn contest followed with Jazko, a relation of the late duke, which was terminated in 1157 in Albert's favour. Albert was the real founder of Brandenburg. Under his rule Christianity and civilization were extended, bishoprics were restored and monasteries founded. The country was colonized with settlers from the lower Rhineland, land was brought under cultivation, forts were built, German laws and customs introduced, and gradually the woods and marshes were converted into lands of comparative fertility.
When Albert died in 1170, Brandenburg fell to his eldest son, Otto I. (c. 1130 – 1184), who compelled the duke of Pomerania to own his supremacy, and slightly increased by conquest the area of the mark. Otto's son, Otto II., was the succeeding margrave, and having quarrelled with his powerful neighbour, Ludolf, archbishop of Magdeburg, was forced to own the archbishop's supremacy over his allodial lands. He died in 1205, and was followed by his step-brother, Albert II. (c. 1174 – 1220), who assisted the emperor Otto IV. in various campaigns, but later transferred his allegiance to Otto's rival, Frederick of Hohenstaufen, afterwards the emperor Frederick II. His sons, John I. and Otto III., ruled Brandenburg in common until the death of John in 1266, and their reign was a period of growth and prosperity. Otto III. Districts were conquered or purchased from the surrounding dukes; the marriage of Otto with Beatrice, daughter of Wenceslaus, king of Bohemia, in 1253, added upper Lusatia to Brandenburg; and the authority of the margraves was extended beyond the Oder. Many monasteries and towns were founded, among them Berlin; the work of Albert the Bear was continued, and the prosperity of Brandenburg formed a marked contrast to the disorder which prevailed elsewhere in Germany. Brandenburg appears about this time to have fallen into three divisions—the old mark lying west of the Elbe, the middle mark between the Elbe and the Oder, and the new mark, as the newly conquered lands beyond the Oder began to be called. When Otto died in 1267, the area of the mark had been almost doubled, and the margraves had attained to an influential position in the Empire. The Sachsenspiegel, written before 1235, mentions the margrave as one of the electors, by virtue of the office of chamberlain, which had probably been conferred on Albert the Bear by the German king Conrad III.
In 1258 John and Otto had agreed upon a division of their lands, but the arrangement only took effect on Otto's death in 1267, when John's son, John II., received the electoral dignity, together with the southern part Otto IV. of the margraviate, which centred around Stendal, and Otto's son, John III., the northern or Saltzwedel portion. John II.'s brother, Otto IV., who became elector in 1281, had passed his early years in struggles with the archbishop of Magdeburg, whose lands stretched like a wedge into the heart of Brandenburg. In 1280 he was wounded in the head with a dart, and as he retained there a part of the weapon for a year, he was called “Otto with the dart.” He secured the appointment of his brother Eric as archbishop of Magdeburg in 1283, and was afterwards engaged in various feuds. Songs attributed to him are found in F. H. von der Hagen's Minnesinger. Otto was succeeded in 1309 by his nephew, Valdemar, who, assisted by other members of his family, conquered Pomerellen, which he shared with the Teutonic order in 1310, and held his own in a struggle with the kings of Poland, Sweden and Denmark and others, over the possession of Stralsund.
In order to pay for these wars, and to meet the expenses of a splendid court, the later margraves had sold various rights to the towns and provinces of Brandenburg, and so aided the development of local government. John III. of Saltzwedel had shared his possessions with his brothers, but in 1303 they were reunited by his nephew Hermann, who purchased lower Lusatia in the same year. Hermann's daughter Agnes married the elector Valdemar, and on the death of her only brother, John VI., in 1317, the possessions of the Saltzwedel branch of the family passed to Valdemar, together with Landsberg and the Saxon Palatinate, which had been purchased from Albert the Degenerate, landgrave of Thuringia. Valdemar thus gathered the whole of the mark under his rule, together with upper and lower Lusatia, and various outlying districts. He died childless in 1319, and was succeeded by his nephew Henry II., who died in 1320, when the Ascanian family, as the descendants of Albert the Bear were called, from the Latinized form of the name of their ancestral castle of Aschersleben, became extinct.
Brandenburg now fell into a deplorable condition, portions were seized by neighbouring princes, and the mark itself was disputed for by various claimants. In 1323 King Louis IV. took advantage of this condition to bestow Wittelsbach dynasty. the mark upon his young son, Louis, and thus Brandenburg was added to the possessions of the Wittelsbach family, although Louis did not receive the extensive lands of the Ascanian margraves. Upper and lower Lusatia, Landsberg, and the Saxon Palatinate had been inherited by female members of the family, and passed into the hands of other princes, the old mark was retained by Agnes, the widow of Valdemar, who was married again to Otto II., duke of Brunswick, and the king was forced to acknowledge these claims, and to cede districts to Mecklenburg and Bohemia. During the early years of the reign of Louis, who was called the margrave Louis IV. or V., Brandenburg was administered by Bertold, count of Henneberg, who established the authority of the Wittelsbachs in the middle mark, which, centring round Berlin, was the most important part of the margraviate. The quarrel between King Louis and Pope John XXII. was inimical to the interests of Brandenburg, which was ravaged by the Poles, torn by the strife of contending clerical factions, and alternately neglected and oppressed by the margrave. Trade and commerce were at a standstill, agriculture was neglected, the privileges and estates of the margrave passed into private hands, the nobles were virtually independent, and the towns sought to defend themselves by means of alliances. During the struggle between the families of Wittelsbach and Luxemburg, which began in 1342, there appeared in Brandenburg an old man who claimed to be the margrave Valdemar. He was gladly received by the king of Poland, and other neighbouring princes, welcomed by a large number of the people, and in 1348 invested with the margraviate by King Charles IV., who eagerly seized this opportunity to deal a blow at his enemy. This step compelled Louis to make peace with Charles, who abandoned the false Valdemar, invested Louis and his step-brothers with Brandenburg, and in return was recognized as king. Louis recovered the old mark in 1348, drove his opponent from the land, and in 1350 made a treaty with his step-brothers, Louis the younger and Otto, at Frankfort-on-Oder, by which Brandenburg was handed over to Louis the younger and Otto. Louis, who then undertook the government, made peace with his neighbours, finally defeated the false Valdemar, and was recognized by the Golden Bull of 1356 as one of the seven electors. The emperor Charles IV. took advantage of a family quarrel over the possessions of Louis the elder, who died in 1361, to obtain a promise from Louis the younger and Otto, that the margraviate should come to his own son, Wenceslaus, in case the electors died childless. Louis the younger died in 1365, and when his brother Otto, who had married a daughter of Charles IV., wished to leave Brandenburg to his own family Charles began hostilities; but in 1373 an arrangement was made, and Otto, by the treaty of Fürstenwalde, abandoned the margraviate for a sum of 500,000 gold gulden.
Under the Wittelsbach rule, the estates of the various provinces of Brandenburg had obtained the right to coin money, to build fortresses, to execute justice, and to form alliances with foreign states. Charles invested Wenceslaus Imperial control. with the margraviate in 1373, but undertook its administration himself, and passed much of his time at a castle which he built at Tangermünde. He diminished the burden of taxation, suppressed the violence of the nobles, improved navigation on the Elbe and Oder, and encouraged commerce by alliances with the Hanse towns, and in other ways. He caused a Landbook to be drawn up in 1375, in which are recorded all the castles, towns and villages of the land with their estates and incomes. When Charles died in 1378, and Wenceslaus became German and Bohemian king, Brandenburg passed to the new king's half-brother Sigismund, then a minor, and a period of disorder ensued. Soon after Sigismund came of age, he pledged a part of Brandenburg to his cousin Jobst, margrave of Moravia, to whom in 1388 he handed over the remainder of the electorate in return for a large sum of money, and as the money was not repaid, Jobst obtained the investiture in 1397 from King Wenceslaus. Sigismund had also obtained the new mark on the death of his brother John in 1396, but sold this in 1402 to the Teutonic order. Jobst paid very little attention to Brandenburg, and the period was used by many of the noble families to enrich themselves at the expense of the poorer and weaker towns, to plunder traders, and to carry on feuds with neighbouring princes. When in 1410 Sigismund and Jobst were rivals for the German throne, Sigismund, anxious to obtain another vote in the electoral college, declared the bargain with Jobst void, and empowered Frederick VI. of Hohenzollern, burgrave of Nuremberg, to exercise the Brandenburg vote at the election. (See Frederick I., Elector of Brandenburg.) In 1411 Jobst died and Brandenburg reverted to Sigismund, who appointed Frederick as his representative to govern the margraviate, and a further step was taken when, on the 30th of April 1415, the king invested Frederick of Hohenzollern and his heirs with Brandenburg, together with the electoral privilege and the office of chamberlain, in return for a payment of 400,000 gold gulden, but the formal ceremony of investiture was delayed until the 18th of April 1417, when it took place at Constance.
During the century which preceded the advent of the Hohenzollerns in Brandenburg its internal condition had become gradually worse and worse, and had been accompanied by a considerable loss of territory. The central power Condition before the Hohenzollern rule. had become weakened and the central organization relaxed, while the electorate had lost most of the advantages which formerly distinguished it from other German fiefs. Under the rule of the earliest margraves, it was the official side of their position that was prominent, and it was not forgotten that they were technically only the representatives of the emperor. But in the 13th century this feeling began to disappear, and Brandenburg enjoyed an independence and carried out an independent policy in a way that was not paralleled by any other German state. The emperor was still suzerain indeed, but his relations with the mark were so insignificant that they exercised practically no influence on its development; and so the power of the Ascanian margraves was virtually unlimited. This independence was enhanced by the fact that few great nobles had followed Albert the Bear in his work of conquest, and that consequently there were few large lordships with their crowd of dependents. The towns, the village communities and the knights held their lands and derived their rights directly from the margraves. The towns and villages had generally been laid out by contractors or locatores, men not necessarily of noble birth, who were installed as hereditary chief magistrates of the communities, and received numerous encouragements to reclaim waste lands. This mode of colonization was especially favourable to the peasantry, who seem in Brandenburg to have retained the disposal of their persons and property at a time when villenage or serfdom was the ordinary status of their class elsewhere. The dues paid by these contractors in return for the concessions formed the main source of the revenue of the margraves. Gradually, however, the expenses of warfare, liberal donations to the clergy, and the maintenance of numerous and expensive households, compelled them to pledge these dues for sums of ready money. This proceeding gave the barons and knights an opportunity to buy out the village magistrates and to replace them with nominees of their own. Thus the condition of the peasants grew worse, and their freedom was practically destroyed when the emperor Louis IV. recognized the jurisdiction of the nobles over their estates. Henceforth the power of the nobles steadily increased at the expense of the peasants, who soon sank into servitude. Instead of communicating directly with the margrave through his burgraves and bailiffs, or vogts, the village communities came to be represented by the nobles who had obtained possession of their lands. Many of the towns were forced into the same position. Others were able to maintain their independence, and to make use of the pecuniary needs of the margraves to become practically municipal republics. Their strength, however, was perhaps more usefully shown in their ability to resist the nobles, a proceeding which saved industry and commerce from extinction at a time of unbridled lawlessness. In the pecuniary embarrassments of the margraves also originated the power of the Stände, or estates, consisting of the nobles, the clergy and the towns. The first recorded instance of the Stände co-operating with the rulers occurred in 1170; but it was not till 1280 that the margrave solemnly bound himself not to raise a bede or special voluntary contribution without the consent of the estates. In 1355 the Stände secured the appointment of a permanent councillor, without whose concurrence the decrees of the margraves were invalid. In the century which followed the extinction of the Ascanian house, liberty degenerated into licence, and the country was given over to anarchy. Only the most powerful towns were able to maintain their independence; others, together with the clergy, regularly paid blackmail to the neighbouring nobles. Under these conditions it is no wonder that the electorate not only completely lost its political importance, but also suffered a considerable diminution of territory. Upper and lower Lusatia, the new mark of Brandenburg, and other outlying districts had been shorn away, and the electorate now consisted of the old mark, the middle mark with Priegnitz, Uckermark and Sternberg, a total area of not more than 10,000 sq.m.
Such was the condition and extent of Brandenburg in 1411 when Frederick of Hohenzollern became the representative of King Sigismund therein. Entering the electorate with a strong force in June 1412, his authority was quickly Frederick of Hohenzollern, 1412. recognized in the middle mark, but the nobles of the old mark and of Priegnitz refused to follow this example. The two succeeding years were skilfully used by Frederick to make peace with the neighbouring princes, and having thus isolated his domestic enemies, he turned his arms against them early in 1414. Their strongholds were stormed, and in a few weeks their leaders were either prisoners or fugitives. A general peace was then declared at Tangermünde which enabled Frederick to leave the mark to the rule of his wife, Elizabeth, and to turn his attention elsewhere. Returning to Brandenburg as elector in 1416, the last flickers of the insurrection were extinguished; and when Frederick was invested at Constance in April 1417 his authority over the mark was undisputed. His next difficulty was with Pomerania, which had been nominally under the suzerainty of Brandenburg since 1181. The revival of this claim by the elector provoked an invasion of the mark by an army of Pomeranians with their allies in 1420, when Frederick inflicted a severe defeat upon them at Angermünde; but in 1424 a temporary coolness between the elector and the emperor Sigismund led to a renewal of the attack which Frederick was unable to repulse. This reverse, together with the pressure of other business, induced him to leave Brandenburg in January 1426, after handing over its government to his eldest son, John. John, called the “Alchemist,” who was born in 1403, had been disappointed in his hope of obtaining the vacant electoral duchy of Saxe-Wittenberg in 1423. Lacking the diplomatic and military qualities of his father, his difficulties were augmented by the poverty of the country, and the evils which Frederick had suppressed quickly returned. The feeling of security vanished, the towns banded themselves together for defensive purposes, the rights of the margrave were again pledged to provide money, and in 1432 the land was ravaged by the Hussites. John never attained to the electoral dignity; for, in 1437, his father in arranging a division of his territories decided that Brandenburg should pass to his second and fourth sons, both of whom were named Frederick. The elder of the two took up the government at once, whereupon John left the mark for South Germany, where he remained until his death in 1464.
Frederick II., who became elector on his father’s death in September 1440, was born on the 19th of November 1413, and earned the surname of “Iron” through his sternness to his country’s enemies. He had little difficulty Frederick II. in repressing the turbulence of the nobles which had been quickened into life during the regency of his brother, but found it less easy to deal with the towns. Three strong leagues had been formed among them about 1431, and the spirit of municipal independence was most prominently represented by the neighbouring and allied towns of Berlin and Cöln. In his conflict with the towns over his refusal to ratify all their privileges the elector’s task was lightened by a quarrel between the magistrates and the burghers of Berlin, which he was called in to decide in 1442. He deposed the governing oligarchy, changed the constitution of the town, forbade all alliances and laid the foundations of a castle. The inhabitants soon chafed under these restrictions. A revolt broke out in 1447, but the power of the elector overawed the people, who submitted their case to the estates, with the result that the arrangement of 1442 was re-established. In 1447 Frederick was compelled to cede the old mark and Priegnitz to his younger brother, Frederick, under whose feeble rule they quickly fell into disorder. In 1463, however, when the younger Frederick died childless, the elector united them again with his own possessions and took measures to suppress the prevailing anarchy. In his dealings with neighbouring rulers Frederick pursued a peaceful and conciliatory policy. In 1442 he obtained some small additions to his territory, and the right of succession to the duchy of Mecklenburg in case the ducal family should die out. In 1445 an old feud with the archbishop of Magdeburg was settled, and in 1457 a treaty of mutual succession was made with the houses of Saxony and Hesse. Cottbus and Peitz in Lusatia were acquired, and retained after a quarrel with George Podiebrad, king of Bohemia, and the new mark of Brandenburg was purchased from the Teutonic order in 1454. An attempt, however, to secure the duchy of Pomerania-Stettin failed, and the concluding years of this reign were troubled by warfare with the Pomeranians.
The general success of Frederick’s rule was secured by the sedulous care with which he confined himself to the work of government. He is said to have refused the thrones of Poland and Bohemia; and although he made pilgrimages to the Holy Land and to Rome, his interest in ecclesiastical questions was mainly directed towards quickening the religious life of his people. He obtained important concessions from Pope Nicholas V. with regard to the appointment of bishops and other ecclesiastical matters in 1447, and in general maintained cordial relations with the papacy. About 1467 his only son, John, died, and increasing infirmity led him to contemplate abdication. An arrangement was made with his brother, Albert Achilles, to whom early in 1470 the mark was handed over, and Frederick retired to Plassenburg where he died on the 10th of February 1471.
Albert appeared in Brandenburg early in the same year, and after receiving the homage of his people took up the struggle with the Pomeranians, which he soon brought to a satisfactory conclusion; for in May 1472 he not only obtained the cession of several districts, but was recognized as the suzerain of Pomerania and as its future ruler. Albert
Achilles. The expenses of this war led to a quarrel with the estates. A subsidy was granted which the elector did not regard as adequate, and by a dexterous use of his power he established his right to take an excise on beer. Albert’s most important contribution to the history of Brandenburg was the issue on the 24th of February 1473 of the Dispositio Achillea. By this instrument the elector decreed that the electoral mark should pass in its entirety to his eldest son, an establishment of primogeniture which had considerable influence on the future development of the country. He then entrusted the government to his eldest son, John, and left Brandenburg. Handicapped by poverty, John had to face attacks from two quarters. The Pomeranians, inspired by the declaration of the emperor Frederick III. that their land was a direct fief of the Empire, and aided by Matthias Corvinus, king of Hungary, took up arms; and a quarrel broke out with John, duke of Sagan, over the possessions of John's brother-in-law, Henry XI., duke of Glogau. To deal with these difficulties Albert returned to Brandenburg in 1478, and during his stay drove back the Pomeranians, and added Crossen and other parts of duke Henry's possessions to the electorate. Again left in charge of the country, John beat back a fresh attack made by John of Sagan in 1482; and he became elector on his father's death in March 1486. He added the county of Zossen to his possessions in 1490, and in 1493 made a fresh treaty with the duke of Pomerania. Although he brought a certain degree of order into the finances, his poverty and the constant inroads of external enemies prevented him from seriously improving the condition of the country. John, who was called “Cicero,” either on account of his eloquence, or of his knowledge of Latin, was interested in learning, welcomed Italian scholars to the electorate, and strove to improve the education of his people. He died at Arneburg on the 9th of January 1499, and was succeeded by his son Joachim I.
When Joachim undertook the government of Brandenburg he had to deal with an amount of disorder almost as great as that which had taxed the energies of Frederick I. a century before. Highway robbery was general, the Joachim. lives and property of traders were in continual jeopardy, and the machinery for the enforcement of the laws was almost at a standstill. About 1504 an attack of unusual ferocity on some Frankfort traders aroused the elector's wrath, and during the next few years the execution of many lawbreakers and other stern measures restored some degree of order. In this and in other ways Joachim proved himself a sincere friend to the towns and a protector of industry. Following the economic tendencies of the time he issued sumptuary laws and encouraged manufactures; while to suppress the rivalry among the towns he established an order of precedence for them. Equally important was his work in improving the administration of justice, and in this direction he was aided by scholars from the university which he had founded at Frankfort-on-Oder in 1506. He gave a new organization to the highest court of justice, the Kammergericht, secured for himself an important voice in the choice of its members, and ordered that the local law should be supplemented by the law of Rome. He did not largely increase the area of Brandenburg, but in 1524 he acquired the county of Ruppin, and in 1529 he made a treaty at Grimnitz with George and Barnim XI., dukes of Pomerania, by which he surrendered the vexatious claim to suzerainty in return for a fresh promise of the succession in case the ducal family should become extinct. Joachim's attitude towards the teaching of Martin Luther which had already won many adherents in the electorate, was one of unrelenting hostility. The Jews also felt the weight of his displeasure, and were banished in 1510.
Ignoring the Dispositio Achillea, the elector bequeathed Brandenburg to his two sons. When he died in July 1535 the elder, Joachim II., became elector, and obtained the old and middle marks, while the younger, John, received Joachim II. the new mark. John went definitely over to the side of the Lutherans in 1538, while Joachim allowed the reformed doctrines free entrance into his dominions in 1539. The elector, however, unlike his brother, did not break with the forms of the Church of Rome, but established an ecclesiastical organization independent of the pope, and took up a position similar to that of King Henry VIII. in England. Many of the monasteries were suppressed, a consistory was set up to take over the functions of the bishops and to act as the highest ecclesiastical court of the country. In 1541 the new ecclesiastical system was confirmed by the emperor Charles V. With regard to this policy the elector was probably influenced by considerations of greed. The bishoprics of Brandenburg, Havelberg and Lebus were secularized; their administration was entrusted to members of the elector's family; and their revenues formed a welcome addition to his impoverished exchequer. Nor did Joachim neglect other opportunities for adding to his wealth and possessions. In 1537 he had concluded a treaty with Frederick III., duke of Liegnitz, which guaranteed to the Hohenzollerns the succession to the Silesian duchies of Liegnitz, Brieg and Wohlau in the event of the ducal family becoming extinct; this arrangement is important as the basis of the claim made by Frederick the Great on Silesia in 1740. The treaty was declared invalid by the German king, Ferdinand I.; but the elector insisted on its legality, and in 1545 strengthened his position by arranging a double marriage between members of his own family and that of Duke Frederick. Of more immediate consequence was an arrangement made in 1569 with the representatives of Joachim's kinsman, Albert Frederick, duke of Prussia, after which the elector obtained the joint investiture of the duchy of Prussia from Sigismund II., king of Poland, and was assured of the succession if the duke's family became extinct. Joachim's luxurious habits, his partiality for adventurers, and his delight in building, led him to incur such a heavy expenditure that after pledging many of his lands and rights he was compelled in 1540 to appeal for help to the estates. Taking advantage of his difficulties, the estates voted him a sum of money as the price of valuable concessions, the most important of which was that the elector should make no alliance without their consent. Fresh liabilities were soon incurred, and in spite of frequent contributions from the estates Joachim left at his death in January 1571 a heavy burden of debt to his son and successor, John George.
The elector's death was followed ten days later by that of his brother, John, and as John left no sons the whole of Brandenburg, together with the districts of Beeskow and Storkow which had been added by purchase to the new mark, John George. were united under the rule of his nephew, John George. Born on the 11th of September 1525 this prince had served in the field under Charles V., and, disliking his father's policy and associates, had absented himself from Berlin, and mainly confined his attention to administering the secularized bishopric of Brandenburg which he had obtained in 1560. When he became elector he hastened to put his ideas into practice. His father's favourites were exiled; foreigners were ousted from public positions and their places taken by natives; and important economies were effected, which earned for John George the surname of Oekonom, or steward. To lighten the heavy burden of debt left by Joachim the elector proposed a tax on wheat and other cereals. Some opposition was shown, but eventually the estates of both divisions of the mark assented; only, however at the price of concessions to the nobles, predominant in the diet, which thrust the peasantry into servitude. Thus the rule of John George was popular with the nobles, and to some extent with the towns. Protestant refugees from France and the Netherlands were encouraged to settle in Brandenburg, and a period of peace was beneficial to a land, the condition of which was still much inferior to that of other parts of Germany. In religion the elector was a follower of Luther, whose doctrines were prevalent among his people. He had accepted the Formula Concordiae, a Lutheran document promulgated in June 1580, and sought to prevent any departure from its tenets. His dislike of Calvinism, or his antipathy to external complications, however, prevented him from taking any serious steps to defend Protestantism from the attacks of the counter-reformation. He did indeed join the league of Torgau, which voted assistance to Henry IV. of France in 1591; but he refused to aid the United Provinces, or even to give assistance to his eldest son, Joachim Frederick, administrator of the archbishopric of Magdeburg, whose claim to sit and vote in the imperial diet was contested, or to his grandson, John George, whose election to the bishopric of Strassburg was opposed by a Roman Catholic minority in the chapter. This indifference to the welfare of the Protestants added to the estrangement between the elector and his eldest son, which was further accentuated when John George, ignoring the Dispositio Achillea, bequeathed the new mark to one of his younger sons. He died on the 8th of January 1598.
Joachim Frederick, who now became elector, was born on the 27th of January 1546. Since 1553 he had held the bishopric of Havelberg, since 1555 that of Lebus; he had been administrator of Magdeburg since 1566, and of Brandenburg since 1571. Resigning these dignities in 1598, he contested his father's will, and was successful in preventing a division of the electorate. An agreement with George Frederick, the childless margrave of Ansbach and Bayreuth, paved the way for an arrangement with the elector’s younger brothers, Joachim Frederick. who after the margrave’s death in April 1603, shared his lands in Franconia, and were compensated in other ways for surrendering all claims on Brandenburg. This agreement, known as the Gera Bond, ratified the Dispositio Achillea. By George Frederick’s death, Joachim became administrator of the duchy of Prussia, ruled nominally by the weak-minded Albert Frederick, but he had some difficulty in asserting his position. In Brandenburg he made concessions to the nobles at the expense of the peasantry, and admitted the right of the estates to control taxation. In religious matters he was convinced of the necessity of a union between Lutherans and Calvinists, and took steps to bring this about. Public opinion, however, in Brandenburg was too strong for him, and he was compelled to fall back upon the Lutheran Formula and the religious policy of his father. Joachim seems to have been a wise ruler, who improved in various ways the condition of the mark. He married Catherine, daughter of John, margrave of Brandenburg-Cüstrin, and when he died, on the 18th of July 1608, was succeeded by his eldest son John Sigismund.
The new elector, born on the 8th of November 1572, had married in 1594 Anna, daughter of Albert Frederick of Prussia, a union which not only strengthened the pretensions of the electors of Brandenburg to the succession in John Sigismund. that duchy, but gave to John Sigismund a claim on the duchies of Cleves, Jülich and Berg, and other Rhenish lands should the ruling family become extinct. In March 1609 the death of Duke John William left these duchies without a ruler, and by arrangement they were occupied jointly by the elector and by his principal rival, Wolfgang, son of Philip Louis, count palatine of Neuburg. This proceeding aroused some opposition, and, complicated by religious considerations and by the excited state of European politics, almost precipitated a general war. However, in November 1614 the dispute was temporarily settled by the treaty of Xanten. Brandenburg obtained the duchy of Cleves with the counties of Mark and Ravensberg, but as the Dutch and Spanish garrisons were not withdrawn, these lands were only nominally under the elector’s rule. In 1609, John Sigismund had joined the Evangelical Union, probably to win support in the Rhineland, and the same consideration was doubtless one reason why, in 1613, he forsook the Lutheran doctrines of his family, and became an adherent of the reformed, or Calvinist, faith. This step aroused grave discontent in the electorate, and, quickly abandoning his attempts to proselytize, the elector practically conceded religious liberty to his subjects. Over the Cleves-Jülich succession, John Sigismund had incurred heavy expenses, and the public debt had again mounted up. He was thus obliged to seek aid from the estates, and in return for grants to make concessions to the nobles. The elector spent much of his time in Prussia striving to assert his authority in that duchy, and in August 1618, according to the arrangement of 1569, became duke by the death of Albert Frederick. He only enjoyed this dignity for a short time, as he died on the 23rd of December 1619. He was succeeded by his eldest son, George William.
The new elector, born on the 3rd of November 1597, proved a weak and incapable ruler. He had married Elizabeth, daughter of Frederick IV., elector palatine of the Rhine, and sister of the elector Frederick V., afterwards king of George William. Bohemia, and before his accession had acted as his father’s representative in Cleves. Although a Protestant he was under the influence of Adam, count of Schwarzenberg, who was a Roman Catholic of imperialist sympathies. As a result the elector remained neutral during the early years of the Thirty Years' War in spite of his relationship with Frederick of the Palatinate, and the obvious danger to his Rhenish lands. This attitude was not successful. Brandenburg was ravaged impartially by both parties, and in 1627 George William attacked his brother-in-law, Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, who was using Prussia as a base of operations for his war against Poland. This campaign was short and inglorious for Brandenburg, and the elector was soon compelled to make peace. Although alarmed by the edict of restitution of 1629, George William took no steps to help the Protestants. In 1631, however, Gustavus Adolphus marched on Berlin, compelled the elector to cede the fortress of Spandau, and to aid him with men and money. The Brandenburg troops then assisted the Swedes until after the death of Gustavus in 1632, and the Swedish defeat at Nördlingen in 1634, when the elector assented to the treaty of Prague, which was made in May 1635 between the emperor Ferdinand II. and John George I., elector of Saxony. The imperialists did nothing, however, to drive the Swedes from Brandenburg, and the unfortunate land was entirely at the mercy of the enemy. This was the principal reason why the elector was unable to annex Pomerania when its last duke, Bogislaus XIV., died in 1637. In 1638 George William transferred his residence to Königsberg, leaving Schwarzenberg to administer the electorate. Although his harsh measures aroused some irritation, the count did something to rid the land of the Swedes and to mitigate its many evils; but its condition was still very deplorable when George William died at Königsberg on the 1st of December 1640, leaving an only son, Frederick William. The most important facts in the internal history of Brandenburg during the 16th century were the increase in the power of the estates, owing chiefly to the continuous pecuniary needs of the electors; the gradual decline in the political importance of the towns, due mainly to intestine feuds; and the lapse of the peasantry into servitude. These events gave a preponderance of power to the nobles, but concurrently a number of circumstances were silently preparing the way for a great increase of authority on the part of the ruler. The substitution of the elector for the pope as head of the church; the introduction of Roman law with its emphasis on a central authority and a central administration; the determined and successful efforts to avoid any partition of the electorate; and the increasing tendency of the separate sections of the diet to act independently; all tended in this direction. This new order was heralded in 1604 by the establishment of a council of state, devoted to the interests of the elector, which strengthened his authority, and paved the way for a bureaucratic government.
When Frederick William, the “Great Elector,” became ruler of Brandenburg in 1640 he found the country in a very deplorable condition. Trade and agriculture were almost destroyed, and the inhabitants, compelled to support Frederick William, the “Great Elector.” the Swedish army of occupation, suffered also from the disorderly conduct of the native soldiers. Although the young elector spent the two first years of his reign mainly in Prussia, he was by no means forgetful of Brandenburg, and began resolutely to root out the many evils which had sprung up during the feeble rule of his father. The powers of Schwarzenberg were curtailed; the state council was restored; and the licence of the soldiers was restrained, while their numbers were reduced. Then turning his attention to the Swedes a truce was arranged, and soon afterwards, in return for an indemnity, they agreed to evacuate the electorate. Having returned to Brandenburg in 1643, Frederick William remained neutral during the concluding years of the Thirty Years' War, and set to work to organize an army and to effect financial reforms. About the same time diplomatic methods freed Cleves, Mark and Ravensberg from foreign troops, but the estates of these lands gained a temporary victory when the elector attacked their privileges. However, in 1647 his title was formally admitted by Wolfgang, count palatine of Neuburg.
The terms of the treaty of Westphalia in 1648 are the best commentary on the general success of the elector’s policy. Although he was obliged to give up his claim to the western part of Pomerania in favour of Sweden, he secured the eastern part of that duchy, together with the secularized bishoprics of Halberstadt, Minden and Kammin, and other lands, the whole forming a welcome addition to the area of Brandenburg. He was also promised the archbishopric of Magdeburg when its administrator, Augustus, duke of Saxe-Weissenfels, should die. This event happened in 1680 when he secured the lands of the archbishopric. The elector did not, however, take possession of the newly-acquired territories at once. Fresh difficulties arose with Sweden, and it was not until 1653 that eastern Pomerania was freed from her soldiers. Meanwhile a new quarrel had broken out with Wolfgang of Neuburg. In 1650 Frederick William attacked his rival, but a variety of circumstances, among others a change of government in the Netherlands, and the resistance of the estates of Cleves, thwarted his plans, and he was compelled to listen to the mediating powers, and to acquiesce in the status quo.
Profiting by these reverses the elector then undertook a series of internal reforms, tending to strengthen the central authority, and to mitigate the constant lack of money, which was perhaps his chief obstacle to success; a work in which he was aided by George, count of Waldeck (1620 – 1692), who became his chief adviser about this time. In 1651 the powers of the state council were extended to include all the lands under the elector’s rule; and a special committee was appointed to effect financial economies, and so to augment the electoral resources. In imperial politics Frederick William supported the election of Ferdinand, son of the emperor Ferdinand III., as king of the Romans in 1653; but when the emperor failed to fulfil his promises, influenced by Waldeck, he acted in opposition to the imperial interests, and even formed a plan for a great alliance against the Habsburgs. These projects were disturbed by the war which broke out in 1655 between Sweden and Poland. In this struggle the elector fought first on one side and then on the other; but the important consequences of his conduct belong rather to the history of the duchy of Prussia (q.v.). The transfer of the elector’s support from Sweden to Poland in 1656 was followed by the fall from power of Waldeck, who was succeeded by Otto von Schwerin (1616 – 1679), under whose influence the elector’s relations with the emperor became more cordial.
The increase in the prestige of Brandenburg was due chiefly to his army, which was gradually brought to a high state of efficiency. A proper organization was established to superintend the pay and maintenance of the soldiers, and they were commanded by experienced officers, among others by Georg Derfflingen (1606 – 1695), and Otto von Sparr (1605 – 1668). The general poverty, however, made the estates reluctant to support a standing army, and after the peace of Oliva in 1660, it was reduced to about 3500 men. The continual difficulties with the estates of his different dominions had harassed and hampered the elector, and the general peace which followed the treaty of Oliva offered a favourable opportunity to curtail their powers. Undaunted by two previous rebuffs he attacked the estates of Cleves, and by a display of force gained a substantial victory. Some important privileges were annulled, and he obtained a considerable sum of money. The Landtag of Brandenburg was not cowed so easily into submission, but an increase of revenue was obtained, and the stubborn struggle which ensued in Prussia ended in a victory for the ruler. This increased income enabled the elector to take a more considerable part in European politics. In 1663 he assisted the imperialists in their struggle with the Turks; in 1666 the dispute over Cleves, Mark and Ravensberg was finally settled, and Brandenburg were confirmed in the possession of these lands; and in the same year a reconciliation was effected with Sweden. Several disputes which threatened to disturb the peace of the Empire were settled through his mediation, and he compelled the citizens of Magdeburg to do homage to him. In religious matters he interceded with the emperor and the diet for the Protestants, and sought, but without success, to bring about a reconciliation between Lutherans and Calvinists in Brandenburg.
The elector’s relations with Louis XIV. of France are full of interest. After the conclusion of the war of devolution in 1667, he allied himself with Louis, and together they agreed to support the candidature of Wolfgang of Neuburg for the vacant Polish throne. In 1668, moreover, he refused to join the triple alliance against France, but soon afterwards became aware of the danger to his country from the aggressive policy of Louis. The United Provinces were bound to him by religious interests, political considerations, and family ties alike, and he could not be indifferent when their position was threatened by France. In spite of tempting offers from Louis, he was the first to join the Dutch when they were attacked by Louis in 1672, and conducted an ineffectual campaign on the Rhine until June 1673, when he was forced to make peace. In July 1674, however, he joined the Empire, the United Provinces and Spain, and in return for a subsidy, fought against France in Alsace. Meanwhile Louis had instigated the Swedes to invade Brandenburg, which had been left to the care of John George II., prince of Anhalt-Dessau. Hastening from Franconia to defend the electorate, Frederick William gained a complete victory over a superior number of the enemy at Fehrbellin on the 28th of June 1675, a great and glorious day for the arms of Brandenburg. Aided by the imperialists and the Danes, he followed up this success, and cleared Brandenburg and Pomerania of the Swedes, capturing Stettin in 1677 and Stralsund in 1678, while an attack made by Sweden on Prussia was successfully repelled. The general peace of Nijmwegen was followed by the treaty of St Germain-en-Laye in June 1679 between Sweden and Brandenburg. Owing, however, to the insistence of Louis XIV. and the indifference, or weakness, of the emperor Leopold I., the elector was forced to restore western Pomerania to Sweden, in return for the payment of 300,000 crowns by France. This feebleness on the part of his ally induced Frederick William to listen more readily to the overtures of Louis, and in 1679, and again in 1681, he bound himself to support the interests of France. He had, moreover, a further grievance against the emperor as Leopold refused to recognize his right to the Silesian duchies of Liegnitz, Brieg and Wohlau, which had been left without a ruler in 1675. About 1684, however, the foreign policy of Brandenburg underwent another change. Disliking the harshness shown by Louis to the Protestants, the elector concluded an alliance with William, prince of Orange, in August 1685; and entered into more friendly relations with the emperor. Further incensed against France by the revocation of the edict of Nantes in 1685, he made an alliance with Leopold in January 1686, agreeing in return for a subsidy to send troops against the Turks. Soon afterwards he received Schwiebus to compensate him for abandoning his claim on the Silesian duchies, and in a secret treaty made promises of support to Leopold. The great elector died in May 1688, leaving his territories to his eldest son, Frederick.
The remarkable services of Frederick William to his country can best be judged by comparing its condition in 1640 with that in 1688. At his accession the greater part of his territory was occupied by strangers and devastated by war, and in European politics Brandenburg was merely an appendage of the empire. Its army was useless; its soil was poor; its revenue was insignificant. At his death the state of Brandenburg-Prussia was a power to be reckoned with in all European combinations. Inferior to Austria alone among the states of the Empire, it was regarded as the head of the German Protestantism; while the fact that one-third of its territory lay outside the Empire added to its importance. Its area had been increased to over 40,000 sq. m.; its revenue had multiplied sevenfold; and its small army was unsurpassed for efficiency. The elector had overthrown Sweden and inherited her position on the Baltic, and had offered a steady and not ineffectual resistance to the ambition of France.
While thus winning for himself a position in the councils of Europe, Frederick William was not less active in strengthening the central authority within his own dominions. He found Brandenburg a constitutional state, in which the legislative power was shared between the elector and the diet; he left it to his successor substantially an absolute monarchy. Many circumstances assisted to bring about this change, among the chief of which were the want of harmonious action on the part of the estates, and the decline in the political power of the towns. The substitution of a permanent excise for the subsidies granted from time to time by the estates also tended to increase his independence, and the officials or Steuerräthe, appointed by him to collect this tax in the towns, gradually absorbed many of the administrative functions of the local authorities. The nobles and prelates generally preferred to raise their share of the revenue by the old method of a bede, or contribution, thus weakening the remaining bond between them and the burghers.
In matters of general administration Frederick William showed himself a prudent and careful ruler, and laid the foundation of the future greatness of Prussia in almost every department. The wounds inflicted by the Thirty Years’ War were in a great measure healed, and the finances and credit of the state were established on a firm basis. Agriculture and commerce were improved and encouraged by a variety of useful measures, and in this connexion the settlement of a large number of Flemings, and the welcome extended to French Protestants, both before and after the revocation of the edict of Nantes, were of incalculable service. A small but efficient navy was founded, and strict economy, together with increasing resources, enabled a disciplined army to be maintained. Education was not neglected, a trading company was established, and colonies were founded on the west coast of Africa. In religious matters Calvinists and Lutherans were placed upon an equality, but the elector was unable to impress his own spirit of tolerance upon the clergy, who were occupied with ecclesiastical squabbles while the state of education and of public morals left much to be desired. The condition of the peasantry, however, during this reign reached its lowest point, and the “recess,” or charter, of 1653 practically recognizes the existence of villenage. While the nobles had been losing power with regard to the ruler they had been increasing it at the expense of the peasants. The Thirty Years' War afforded them frequent opportunities of replacing the village Schulzen, or magistrates, with officials of their own; and the fact that their share of taxation was wholly wrung from the peasants made the burden of the latter much heavier than that of the townsmen.
The new elector, Frederick III., followed in general the policy of his father. Having persuaded his step-brothers to surrender the principalities bequeathed to them by the great elector, he assisted William of Orange to make his descent on England; then in 1688 allied himselfFrederick
III. with other German princes against Louis XIV., and afterwards fought for the Empire against both France and Turkey. Before he became elector Frederick had promised the emperor that he would restore Schwiebus, and he was now called upon to fulfil this engagement, which after some murmuring he did in 1695. This fact, however, together with some slights put upon him at the peace of 1697, led him to look with less favour upon imperial interests. Frederick’s chief adviser about this time was Eberhard Danckelmann (1643–1722), whose services in continuing the reforming work of the great elector were very valuable; but having made many enemies, the electress Sophia among them, he fell from power in 1697, and was imprisoned for several years. The most important work of the elector was to crown the labours of his father by securing the kingly title for himself and his descendants. Broached in 1692 this matter was brought up again in 1698 when the emperor and his ministers, faced with the prospect of a fight over the Spanish succession, were anxious to conciliate Brandenburg. It was at length decided that the title should be taken from Prussia rather than from Brandenburg as the former country lay outside the Empire, and in return Frederick promised to assist Leopold with 8000 men. The coronation ceremony took place at Königsberg on the 18th of January 1701. The territorial additions to Brandenburg during this reign were few and unimportant, but the comparative wealth and prosperity enabled the elector to do a good deal for education, and to spend some money on buildings. In 1694 the university of Halle was founded; academies for arts and sciences were established, and Berlin was greatly improved. The subsequent history of Brandenburg is merged in that of Prussia (q.v.).
Bibliography.—H. Brosien, Geschichte der Mark Brandenburg in Mittelalter (Leipzig, 1887); G. G. Küster, Bibliotheca historica Brandenburgensis (Breslau, 1743); and Accessiones (Breslau, 1768), and Collectio opusculorum historiam marchicam illustrantium (Breslau, 1731 – 1733); A. Voss and G. Stimming, Vorgeschichtliche Alterthümer aus der Mark Brandenburg (Berlin, 1886 – 1890); F. Voigt, Geschichte des brandenburgisch-preussischen Staats (Berlin, 1878); E. Berner, Geschichte des preussischen Staats (Berlin, 1890 – 1891); A. F. Riedel, Codex diplomaticus Brandenburgensis (Berlin, 1838 – 1865); J. Heidemann, Die Reformation in der Mark Brandenburg (Berlin, 1889); Forschungen zur brandenburgischen und preussischen Geschichte, edited by R. Koser (Leipzig, 1888 fol.); T. Carlyle, History of Frederick the Great, vol. i. (London, 1858); J. G. Droysen, Geschichte der preussischen Politik (Berlin, 1855 – 1886); E. Lavisse, Étude sur une des origines de la monarchie prussienne (Paris, 1875); B. Gebhardt, Handbuch der deutschen Geschichte, Band ii. (Leipzig, 1901). (A. W. H.*)