This series has three easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Elector of Brandenburg’s Royal Ambition.
Leopold von Ranke raised the profession of history to the next level. He was known for strict standards of research and objectivity in his presentations. In world history, few stories have had more impact than the joining of Brandenburg to Prussia under the Hohenzollerns and their rise to kingdom and then to empire and finally in the 20th. century as the key originator of two world wars. This series is truly a top historian writing a story of top importance.
This selection is rom Memoirs of the House of Brandenburg and the History of Prussia During the 17th. and 18th. Centuries by Leopold von Ranke published in 1849. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
And now, Leopold von Ranke.
Frederick I, the next heir and successor to the “Great Elector,” though far inferior to his father in native energy of character, cannot be accused of having flinched from the task imposed on him. Above all, the warlike fame of the Brandenburg troops suffered no diminution under his reign. His army took a very prominent and active part in the most important events of that period.
Prince William of Orange might, perhaps, have hesitated whether to try the adventure which made him king of England, had not the Dutch troops, which he was forced to withdraw from the Netherlands for his expedition, been replaced by some from Brandenburg. The fact has indeed been disputed, but on closer investigation its truth has been established, beyond doubt, that many other Brandenburg soldiers in his service and that of his republic followed him to England, where they contributed essentially to his success.
In the war which now broke out upon the Rhine the young Elector, Frederick, took the field himself, inflamed by religious enthusiasm, patriotism, and personal ambition. On one occasion, at the siege of Bonn, when he was anxious about the result, he stepped aside to the window and prayed to God that he might suffer no disgrace in this his first enterprise. He was successful in his attack upon Bonn, and cleared the whole lower Rhine of the hostile troops; he at the same time gained a high reputation for personal courage.
Long after, at the beginning of the War of the Spanish Succession, the presence of the Elector contributed in a great measure to the speedy termination of the first important siege — that of Kaiserswerth, a point from which the French threatened at once both Holland and Westphalia.
But it was not only when led by the Elector that his troops distinguished themselves by their courage; they fought most bravely at the battle of Hochstadt. Prince Eugene, under whose command they stood, could scarce find words strong enough to praise the “undaunted steadfastness” with which they first withstood the shock of the enemy’s attack, and then helped to break through his tremendous fire. Two years later, at Turin, they helped to settle the affairs of Italy in the same manner as they had already done in those of Germany; headed by Prince Leopold of Anhalt, they climbed over the enemy’s entrenchments, under the full fire of his artillery, shouting the old Brandenburg war-cry of “Gah to” (“Go on”). The warlike enterprise of Brandenburg never spread over a wider field than under Frederick I. Then it was that they first met the Turks in terrible battles; they showed themselves in the South of France at the siege of Toulon; in their camp the Protestant service was performed for the first time in the territories of the pope, and the inhabitants of the surrounding country came to look on and displayed a certain satisfaction at the sight. But the Netherlands were always the scene of their greatest achievements and at that time an excellent school for their further progress in the art of war; there they might at once study sieges under the Dutch commanders, Vauban and Cochorn, and campaigns under Marlborough, one of the greatest generals of all times.
Throughout all the years of his reign Frederick steadily adhered to the Great Alliance which his father had helped to form so long as that alliance continued to subsist; and, indeed, the interest which he took in the affairs of Europe at large was in the end of great advantage to himself and to his house. That very alliance was the original cause of his gaining a crown — the foundation of the Prussian monarchy. It will not be denied, even by those who think most meanly of the externals of rank and title, that the attainment of a higher step in the European hierarchy, as it then stood, was an object worth striving for.
The Western principalities and republics still formed a great corporation, at the head of which was the German Emperor. Even the crown of France had to submit to manifold and wearisome negotiations in order to obtain the predicate of “majesty,” which until then had belonged exclusively to the Emperor. The other sovereigns then laid claim to the same dignity as that enjoyed by the King of France, and the Venetian republic to an equal rank with those, on the score of the kingdoms which she once possessed; and, accordingly, the electoral ambassadors to Vienna had to stand bareheaded while the Venetian covered his head. The electors and reigning dukes were but ill-pleased with such precedence, and in their turn laid claim to the designation of “serenissimus,” and the title of “brother,” for themselves, and the style of “excellency” for their ambassadors. But even the most powerful among the electors found it difficult to advance a single step in this matter, because whatever privileges were conceded to them were immediately claimed by all the rest, many of whom were mere barons of the empire. It is evident that Brandenburg was interested in being freed at once from these negotiations, which only served to impede and embarrass all really important business. There exists the distinct assertion of a highly placed official man that the royal title had been promised to the Elector, Frederick William: his son now centered his whole ambition in its attainment.