BUILDING THE PRUSSIAN ARMY

Weapons and Warfare

The test of state power that really mattered was its ability to sustain a standing army. Prussia not only had a big one, it came to be synonymous with militarism. In the eighteenth century, however, this status was of recent origin. In 1610, when the Elector Johann Sigismund instructed his militia to conduct training exercises, the timorous soldiers declined on the ground that firing their guns might frighten their women. Alas, this pleasing sense of priorities did not serve Brandenburg well when the Thirty Years’ War erupted eight years later. For a state stretched out across the North German Plain with no natural frontiers, security could only come from a strong army. The attempt by the Elector Georg Wilhelm (r. 1619–40) to stay out of the conflict ended in disaster. In 1630 he sent an emissary to his brother-in-law, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, who had just landed in Pomerania…

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