Frederick William, elector of Brandenburg

Frederick William, known as the Great Elector, 1620–88, elector of Brandenburg (1640–88), son and successor of George William. At his accession the scattered lands of the Hohenzollern were devastated and depopulated by the Thirty Years War and occupied by Swedish troops. Frederick William immediately negotiated an armistice with Sweden and then turned to building his military strength. Beginning with few resources and no dependable troops, he raised an efficient army. At the Peace of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years War, he received E Pomerania and several other territories. Frederick William subsequently joined Sweden in its war against Poland (1655–60) but deserted the Swedes after Russia and Denmark entered the war. In a treaty with Poland (1657) he obtained recognition of his sovereignty over Prussia, previously held as a fief of the Polish crown. Now allied against Sweden, he gained W Pomerania, but was deprived of it by the Peace of Oliva (1660). In succeeding years Frederick William continued in his attempt to consolidate his widely scattered lands, at the same time trying to avoid French or Hapsburg domination. In the Dutch War of 1672–78 he achieved his objective of uniting all of Pomerania, but was forced to give up his conquest as a result of the peace between France and the Holy Roman Empire. Nevertheless, his prestige was enormously enhanced by his brilliant victory at Fehrbellin (1675) over France's Swedish allies. Frederick William laid the foundation of the Prussian state by repressing the estates, strengthening central administration, husbanding the resources of his lands, improving communication, and building the army. His son became king of Prussia as Frederick I.

See biography by F. Schevill (1947).

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