When Frederick William, of the Hohenzollern family, later known as the Great Elector, gained power in 1640, in Brandenburg, Prussia, and scattered land along the Rhine in western Germany, he was determined to unify the areas and assert royal absolutism. During the early seventeenth century, the Estates of the provinces, dominated by the nobility and landowners, or the Junkers, controlled taxation. However, the Great Elector gained power over in Brandenburg in 1653 and in Prussia between 1661 and 1663 to levy taxes without the Junkers consent. The Great Elector took military actions to defend his land. In 1660, he first financed a permanent standing army.
He obtained the revenue to do so by imposing permanent taxes on the Estates without their consent. The soldiers doubled as tax collectors and policemen, becoming the core of the rapidly expanding state bureaucracy. Due to financial independence and an excellent army, Frederick William reduced the power of the Estates. He also tripled the states total revenue during his reign and greatly expanded the army, welcoming French Huguenot immigrants as talented, hard-working soldiers. War was a decisive factor in the rise of Prussia as an absolutist state.
In the mid sixteenth century, the wars between Sweden and Poland, the wars of Louis XIV, and the wild invasions of the Tartars brought about a belligerent atmosphere that caused the Estates to look to Frederick William for military protection against foreign invasion. Social factors also accounted for the rise of Prussia. The nobles had long dominated the government through the Estates; moreover, they were more concerned with their individual rights and privileges, particularly their unlimited control over the peasants. Therefore, in 1653 and after, when the Great Elector reconfirmed the power of the nobles over the peasants, they did not attack him for reducing their political power.
The nobility accepted a compromise, whereby the ruler had the power to tax and mainly taxed towns, but the landlords had power over the peasants and on their land. Elector Frederick III, who succeeded Frederick William, did virtually nothing profitable for Prussia. Frederick William I, the Soldiers King, succeeded Frederick III in 1713 and truly established Prussian absolutism. He created the best army in Europe, for its size, and infused military values into the whole society. His intense military power caused Prussias great expansion of royal absolutism.
Frederick William I created a strong centralized bureaucracy that allowed commoners to rise to top positions in the civil government, and with its creation, vanished the last traces of the parliamentary Estates and local autonomy. In order to prevent Junker rebellions, Frederick William enlisted the Junkers into the army and they comprised the officers. Similar to the social situation on the estates, the nobility also commanded the peasantry in the army. Frederick William achieved results in that the standing army increased by forty-five thousand soldiers during his reign. Prussia, twelfth in Europe in population, had the fourth largest army by 1740.
Only the much more populous states of France, Russia, and Austria had larger forces, and even Frances army was only twice as large as Prussias. The Prussian army became the best in Europe, admired for the soldiers precision, skill, and discipline. This army would usually win the crucial military battles for the next two hundred years. Between 1640 and 1786, under the rule of Frederick William and Frederick William I, Prussia rose to be a leading royal absolutist power in Europe. Military, political, and social factors account for this rise.
Frederick Williams organization of a permanent standing army and