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Örjan Martinsson

Prussia 1740-1807

= Prussia 1740   = Territorial gains   = Territorial losses   = Other principalities in the Holy Roman Empire

When Friedrich the Great succeeded his father as King of Prussia 1740 he inherited a large and well-trained army which he unlike his father would use frequently. The same year Maria Theresia inherited the Habsburg lands, her father Karl VI had to no use acquired guarantees for her succession in all parts of the Habsburg empire. Friedrich the Great was the first who challenged her inheritance when he started the First Silesian War 1740-1742, this move encouraged other states to attack Austria whereby the War of the Austrian Succession broke out. Friedrich the Great’s successes forced Maria Theresia to conclude peace with Prussia by ceding Silesia 1742. But Friedrich feared an attack from Maria Theresia when Austria’s fortunes of war against her other enemies turned and he decided therefore to attack first and start the Second Silesian War 1744-1745. The Prussian army was once again successful and Prussia’s possession of Silesia was secured in the following peace, but the price for that conquest was a long-lasting enmity between Prussia and Austria. A more peaceful territorial gain at the same time was the inheritance of the county of Ostfriesland 1744.

Austria had not given up the hope to regain Silesia and Maria Theresia forged a powerful coalition against Prussia consisting of Austria, Russia, France, the Holy Roman Empire and Sweden. Prussia’s only allies were Great Britain with Hanover and a few small German principalities, but Friedrich the Great also possessed the Prussian army that was widely admired in Europe for its capabilities. In 1756 he forestalled his enemies by attacking Saxony, which he hoped to incorporate with Prussia. But unlike the Silesian Wars Friedrich failed to deliver a quick decisive blow to the Austrian army. Instead for the expected short war the conflict developed into a seven year long war of attrition in which the Prussian army despite of several successive battles were shrinking fast and gradually pressed back. The only thing that saved Prussia from being wiped out from the map was the dissolution of the enemy coalition as a result of Friedrich’s admirer Peter III’s ascension to the Russian throne.

After the peace 1763 Friedrich was forced to spend much effort to rebuild his war-torn kingdom and severely depleted army. But a new significant territory was gained when Prussia participated in Poland’s first partition 1772 with Austria and Russia whereby the land between the original Prussian duchy and Brandenburg was incorporated. Friedrich the Great was also successful in frustrating Austria’s attempts to expand in Germany, which was the cause to the War of the Bavarian Succession 1778-1779. When Friedrich died 1786 he left a kingdom that was considerably larger than the one he had inherited and which possessed an incredible prestige in Europe, most of all for its 200 000 men strong army.

= Prussia 1786   = Territorial gains   = Territorial losses 1795

Friedrich Wilhelm II’s reign 1786-1797 was despite of territorial expansion marked by a weakening of Prussia’s power. Poland’s second and third partition 1793 and 1795 together with the inheritance of the margraviates of Ansbach and Bayreuth meant a great increase of Prussia’s territory, but it could not hide the fact that its finances and the quality of its army was deteriorating. This was shown in the Polish campaigns and the Revolutionary War in which Prussia lost all lands west of the Rhine to France 1795.

= Prussia 1797   = Territorial gains   = territorial losses 1805

The successes of Napoleons were at first beneficial for Prussia which remained neutral but relatively friendly towards France. The redrawing of the map over Germany meant that several smaller principalities, imperial cities and church lands were confiscated and redistributed primarily to the medium-sized principalities. Prussia gained the dioceses of Hildesheim and Paderborn, parts of Münster and Mainz, the imperial cities of Nordhausen and Goslar and other areas. In 1805 were Neuchatel, Ansbach and Kleve exchanged for Hanover, which Napoleon had occupied. This brought Prussia into a conflict with Great Britain who’s king was also elector of Hanover, most of Prussia’s merchant fleet was therefor sunk by the British navy.

= Prussia 1805   = Territorial losses 1807

The year 1806 is the darkest year in Prussia’s history. After Napoleon had forced the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire Prussia became also formally an independent state. But when France promised to return Hanover to the British king in exchange for peace Friedrich Wilhelm III (1797-1840) made the fatal decision to declare war against France. In the dual battle of Jena and Auerstädt the Prussian army was crushed and French troops occupied most of Prussia. It was only pressure from Russia that prevented Napoleon to dissolve the Prussian State altogether. But when peace was concluded 1807 Prussia was reduced to a second rate nation.

The history of Prussia continues on the next page.