Today’s installment concludes Prussia Proclaimed a Kingdom,
our selection from 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.
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Previously in Prussia Proclaimed a Kingdom. Now we continue.
At this juncture Brandenburg offered to make common cause with the Emperor, not alone against France, but even against England and Holland, with whom it was otherwise closely allied. The only recompense was to be the concession of royal rank to the Elector.
The principal opposition to this offer arose out of the difference of confessions. It is also quite true that the Emperor’s confessor, Pater Wolf, to whom the Elector wrote with his own hand, helped to overrule it, and took part in the negotiations. But the determining cause was, without doubt, the political state of affairs. A concession which involved no loss could not surely be thought too high a price to pay for the help of the most warlike of the German powers on so important an occasion. In the month of July, 1700, at the great conference, the imperial ministers came to the resolution that the wishes of the Elector should be complied with; and as soon as the conditions could be determined, involving the closest alliance both for the war and for the affairs of the empire, the treaty was signed on November 16, 1700. On the side of Brandenburg the utmost care was taken not to admit a word which might imply anything further than the assent and concurrence of the Emperor. The Elector affected to derive from his own power alone the right of assuming the royal crown. He would, nevertheless, have encountered much unpleasant oppositions in other quarters but for the concurrences which, very opportunely for him, now took place in France and Spain.
The last Spanish sovereign of the line of Hapsburg had died in the mean time; and on opening his will it was found to be entirely in favor of the King of France, whose grandson was appointed heir to the whole Spanish monarchy. Hereupon Louis XIV broke the treaty of partition which had recently been made under his own influence, and determined to seize the greater advantage, and to accept the inheritance. This naturally roused all the antipathies entertained by other nations against France, and England and Holland went over to the side of Austria. The opposition which these two powers had offered to the erection of a new throne was now silenced, and they beheld a common interest in the elevation of the house of Brandenburg.
Frederick had, moreover, already come to an understanding with the King of Poland, though not with the Republic; so that, thus supported, and with the consent of all his old allies, he could now celebrate the splendid coronation for which his heart had so long panted.
We will not describe here the ceremonial of January 18,1701; to our taste it seems overcharged when we read the account of it. But there is a certain grandeur in the idea of the sovereign’s grasping the crown with his own hand; and the performance of the ceremony of anointing after, instead of before, the crowning, by two priests promoted to bishoprics for the occasion, was a protest against the dependence of the temporal on the spiritual power, such as perhaps never was made at any other coronation either before or since. The spiritual element showed itself in the only attitude of authority left to it in Protestant states: that of teaching and exhortation. The provost of Berlin demonstrated, from the examples of Christ and of David, that the government of kings must be carried on to the glory of God and the good of their people. He lays down as the first principle that all rulers should bear in mind, they have come into the world for the sake of their subjects, and not their subjects for the sake of them. Finally, he exhorts all his hearers to pray to God that he will deeply impress this conviction upon the hearts of all sovereign princes.
The institution of the order of the Black Eagle, which immediately preceded the coronation, was likewise symbolical of the duties of royalty. The words “Suum cuique,” on the insignia of the order, according to Lamberty, who suggested them, contain the definition of a good government, under which all men alike, good as well as bad, are rewarded according to their several deserts. The laurel and the lightning denote reward and punishment. The conception at least is truly royal. Leibnitz, who was at that time closely connected with the court, and who busied himself very much with this affair, justly observes that nothing is complete without a name, and that, although the Elector did already possess every royal attribute, he became truly a king only by being called so.
Although the new dignity rested only on the possession of Prussia, all the other provinces were included in the rank and title; those belonging to the German empire were thus in a manner chosen out from among the other German states, and united into a new whole, though, at the same time, care was taken in other respects to keep up the ancient connection with the empire. Thus we see that the elevation of the Elector to a royal title was an important, nay, even a necessary, impulse to the progress of Prussia, which we cannot even in thought separate from the whole combination of events.
The name of Prussia now became inseparable from an idea of military power and glory, which was increased by splendid feats of arms, such as those which we have already enumerated.
This ends our series of passages on Prussia Proclaimed a Kingdom by Leopold von Ranke from his book Memoirs of the House of Brandenburg and the History of Prussia During the 17th. and 18th. Centuries published in 1849. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.