Germany History: From the Peace of Westphalia to the Congress of Vienna (1648–1815) Part II

By | October 24, 2021

After the “Great Elector” Friedrich Wilhelm (1640–88) had laid the foundations for the state expansion of his territories, Elector Friedrich III. of Brandenburg (since 1688) on January 18, 1701 in Königsberg, Prussia, which did not belong to the empire, became a kingdom (until 1713 king as Friedrich I), while the Wittelsbach elector Maximilian II. Emanuel von Bayern (1679–1726) received such an increase in rank failed inside and outside the empire. King Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia, the “Soldier King” (1713–40), built up a tight state administration, established a powerful standing army and thus created the conditions for a second great power of the Holy Roman Empire.  Learn more about Germany and Europe, please click

The court keeping of many German princes in the style of a scaled-down Versailles (baroque) corresponded to the cultural model of France in language and literature, fashion and customs. Of course, the imperial court also had a cultural orientation function in and around Vienna.

Emperor Charles VI. (1711–40) strove to succeed his heir, Maria Theresa, in the Habsburg hereditary lands (Pragmatic Sanction, April 19, 1713).

After the unfortunate war for the succession to the Polish throne (1733-35), which – like the War of the Spanish Succession – was also fought as an imperial war, the preliminary peace in Vienna of 1735 (definitive peace 1738) laid the foundation for the later fall of Lorraine to France (1765). As with the death of Charles VI. who, like his predecessors Leopold I (1658–1705) and Joseph I (1705–11), had further strengthened the position of emperors in the empire, the Habsburg male line died out, King Frederick II, the Great, of Prussia conquered Silesia, the richest province in Austria (1st and 2nd Silesian War, 1740–42 and 1744/45).

Elector Karl Albrecht of Bavaria, as the son-in-law of Emperor Joseph I, raised claims to inheritance and opened the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48). The opponents of Habsburg elected him emperor after a two-year interregnum (Charles VII, 1742–45). Maria Theresa asserted herself in the Habsburg domain; Her husband, Franz Stephan von Lothringen, owed the imperial crown as Franz I (1745–65) to her assertiveness. In the league with France and Russia, she strove to overthrow her Prussian rival as part of a foreign policy largely conceived by her State Chancellor W. A. ​​Graf Kaunitz. The successful resistance Frederick II raised Prussia to a major European power in the Seven Years’ War (3rd Silesian War, 1756–63) against the strong superiority. The Prussian-Austrian antagonism dominated German history from then until the founding of the empire in 1871. When Emperor Joseph II (1765–90) wanted to expand Habsburg power in the south of the empire by annexing Bavaria, Friedrich II joined him . in the War of the Bavarian Succession (1778/79), later countered by the Foundation of the German Princes’ Union (1785). Since the Treaty of Teschen (May 13, 1779), Russia sought to gain a decisive position between Prussia and Austria. It induced Austria and Prussia to participate in the partitions of Poland (1772, 1793 and 1795). The resulting »Polish question« had an impact in the history of the European state system up to the 20th century.

Enlightenment and Economic Liberalism

The predominant intellectual current of the 18th century, the Enlightenment, contributed significantly to the weakening of religious contradictions during this period. Through them the bourgeoisie gained new importance, but the Enlightenment also found a strong following among the nobility; under their influence, a multifaceted internal reform policy began in most of the imperial territories; Friedrich II. And Joseph II. were the most important but not the only representatives of “enlightened absolutism” (“reform absolutism”) in the empire. These developments also spread to territories that were ruled by strongly Christian monarchs, as well as to areas of the imperial church that were ruled by prince-bishops and prince-archbishops. From around 1770 the heyday of classical literature (Weimar), romanticism and bourgeois philosophy in Germany.

In the second half of the 18th century, mercantilism and cameralism began to give way to the new ideas of economic liberalism. The political control of the economy was viewed with skepticism and the automatic system of economic activity began to be trusted. This was particularly evident in agriculture. If the commercial upswing was to continue, the production of food had to be increased (tillage of the dormant third of the three-field economy, increased potato cultivation). The most severe inhibitions against the necessary conversion were the inheritance of the peasants and the compulsion to land. In the north and north-east of the empire, the good agricultural economy promoted the loosening of older social ties and the first phenomena of self-liberation among the peasant population. The mostly multi-stage peasant liberation in many parts of the empire, begun in the last quarter of the 18th century and completed around 1850, solved the problem by breaking old ties and moving to free property for the owners. The different ways of implementation decisively determined the social structure of the German states in the 19th century.

From the Peace of Westphalia to the Congress of Vienna 2