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Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg

Frederick William
The Elector by Frans Luycx
Duke of Prussia
Elector of Brandenburg
Reign 1 December 1640 – 29 April 1688
Predecessor George William
Successor Frederick III
Born (1620-02-16)16 February 1620
Stadtschloss, Berlin, Brandenburg-Prussia
Died 29 April 1688(1688-04-29) (aged 68)
Stadtschloss, Potsdam, Brandenburg-Prussia
Spouse Luise Henriette of Nassau
Sophia Dorothea of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg
Issue William Henry, Electoral Prince of Brandenburg
Charles, Electoral Prince of Brandenburg
Frederick I of Prussia
Philip William, Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt
Marie Amelie, Hereditary Princess of Mecklenburg-Güstrow
Prince Margrave Albert Frederick
Prince Charles
Elisabeth Sophie, Duchess of Saxe-Meiningen
Prince Christian Ludwig
House House of Hohenzollern
Father George William
Mother Elisabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate
Religion Calvinism

Frederick William (German: Friedrich Wilhelm) (16 February 1620 – 29 April 1688) was Elector of Brandenburg and Duke of Prussia – and thus ruler of Brandenburg-Prussia – from 1640 until his death. A member of the House of Hohenzollern, he is popularly known as "the Great Elector"[1] (der Große Kurfürst) because of his military and political prowess. Frederick William was a staunch pillar of the Calvinist faith, associated with the rising commercial class. He saw the importance of trade and promoted it vigorously. His shrewd domestic reforms gave Prussia a strong position in the post-Westphalian political order of north-central Europe, setting Prussia up for elevation from duchy to kingdom, achieved under his son and successor.


  • Biography 1
  • Foreign diplomacy 2
  • Military career 3
  • Domestic policies 4
  • Marriages 5
  • Ancestry 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Elector Frederick William was born in Elisabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate. His inheritance consisted of the Margraviate of Brandenburg, the Duchy of Cleves, the County of Mark, and the Duchy of Prussia.

Foreign diplomacy

During the Protestant and Catholic forces fighting throughout the Holy Roman Empire. Out of these unpromising beginnings Frederick William managed to rebuild his war-ravaged territories. In contrast to the religious disputes that disrupted the internal affairs of other European states, Brandenburg-Prussia benefited from the policy of religious tolerance adopted by Frederick William. With the help of French subsidies, he built up an army to defend the country. In the Second Northern War, he was forced to accept Swedish vassalage for the Duchy of Prussia according to the terms of the Treaty of Königsberg (1656),[2] but as the war progressed he succeeded in gaining full sovereignty for the Prussian duchy in the treaties of Labiau, Wehlau, Bromberg and Oliva, leaving the Holy Roman Emperor as his only liege for his imperial holdings.[3]

In the conflict for Pomerania inheritance, Frederick William had to accept two setbacks, one in the Northern War and one in the Scanian War. Though militarily successful in Swedish Pomerania, he had to bow to France's demands and return his gains to Sweden in the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (1679).[4]

Military career

Frederick William was a military commander of wide renown, and his standing army would later become the model for the Prussian Army. He is notable for his joint victory with Swedish forces at the Battle of Warsaw (1656), which, according to Hajo Holborn, marked "the beginning of Prussian military history",[5] but the Swedes turned on him at the behest of King Louis XIV of France and invaded Brandenburg. After marching 250 kilometres in 15 days back to Brandenburg, he caught the Swedes by surprise and managed to defeat them on the field at the Battle of Fehrbellin, destroying the myth of Swedish military invincibility. He later destroyed another Swedish army that invaded the Duchy of Prussia during the Great Sleigh Drive in 1678. He is noted for his use of broad directives and delegation of decision-making to his commanders, which would later become the basis for the German doctrine of Auftragstaktik, and he is noted for using rapid mobility to defeat his foes.[6]

Domestic policies

Frederick William is notable for raising an army of 40,000 soldiers by 1678, through the Georg Steenke; the system is still in use today.


Painting of his 1646 wedding ceremony by Johannes Mytens.
Portrait engraving after a painting by Anselm van Hulle.

On 7 December 1646 in The Hague, Frederick William entered into a marriage, proposed by Blumenthal as a partial solution to the Jülich-Berg question, with Luise Henriette of Nassau (1627–1667), daughter of Frederick Henry of Orange-Nassau and Amalia of Solms-Braunfels and his 1st cousin once removed through William the Silent. Their children were as follows:

  1. William Henry, Electoral Prince of Brandenburg (1648–1649),
  2. Charles, Electoral Prince of Brandenburg (1655–1674),
  3. Frederick I of Prussia (1657–1713), his successor,
  4. Amalie (1656–1664),
  5. Henry (1664–1664),
  6. Louis (1666–1687), who married Ludwika Karolina Radziwiłł.

On 13 June 1668 in Gröningen, Frederick William married Sophie Dorothea of Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, daughter of Philip, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg and Sophie Hedwig of Saxe-Lauenburg. Their children were the following:

  1. Philip William (1669–1711),
  2. Marie Amalie (1670–1739) married:
  3. Charles of Mecklenburg-Güstrow, son of Gustav Adolph, Duke of Mecklenburg-Güstrow
  4. Maurice William of Saxe-Zeitz, son of Maurice, Duke of Saxe-Zeitz
  5. Albert Frederick (1672–1731),
  6. Charles Philip (1673–1695),
  7. Elisabeth Sofie (1674–1748), who married Christian Ernst of Brandenburg-Bayreuth (6 August 1644 – 20 May 1712) on 30 March 1703.
  8. Dorothea (1675–1676),
  9. Christian Ludwig (1677–1734), recipient of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos.
  10. Ancestry

    8. Joachim Frederick, Elector of Brandenburg
    4. John Sigismund, Elector of Brandenburg
    9. Margravine Catherine of Brandenburg-Küstrin
    2. George William, Elector of Brandenburg
    10. Albert Frederick, Duke of Prussia
    5. Duchess Anna of Prussia
    11. Marie Eleonore of Cleves
    1. Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg
    12. Louis VI, Elector Palatine
    6. Frederick IV, Elector Palatine
    13. Landgravine Elisabeth of Hesse
    3. Elizabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate
    14. William the Silent
    Prince of Orange and Count of Nassau
    7. Countess Louise Juliana of Nassau
    15. Princess Charlotte of Bourbon


    1. ^  
    2. ^
    3. ^
    4. ^
    5. ^
    6. ^ Citino, Robert. The German Way of War. From the Thirty Years War to the Third Reich. pp 1–35. University Press of Kansas, 2005.

    External links

    • Media related to at Wikimedia Commons
    Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg
    Born: 16 February 1620 Died: 29 April 1688
    Regnal titles
    Preceded by
    George William
    Elector of Brandenburg
    Duke of Prussia

    Succeeded by
    Frederick III

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