Although the Holy Roman Empire no longer had a significant role in European politics after the Thirty Years' War, it remained important in Germany, providing a framework for the many German states' and cities' conduct of their public affairs. The Reichstag, which remained in session at Regensburg from 1663 until the empire's dissolution in 1806, provided a forum for the settlement of disputes. On occasion, votes were taken to remove incompetent or tyrannical rulers of member states. The empire's most important service was that it provided a measure of security to Germany's many small states and free cities, without which some would have been swallowed up by larger neighbors.
The knightly house of Hohenzollern was originally owners of a single castle -- Hohenzollern -- which stood on the hill of Zollern about 15 m. south of Hechingenon the upper Danube, not very far from the ancestral seat of the Habsburgs. Dominating the little town of Hechingen is the magnificent Hohenzollern castle. The castle was first built in the 14th century and has been rebuilt and updated several times since then. The castle is the private property of the Hohenzollern family.
The first historical mention of the name Hohenzollern is in the Chronicon of a certain Berthold (d. 1088), who refers to Burkhard and Wezil, or Werner, of Zollern, or Zolorin. These men appear to have been counts of Zollern, and to have met their death in 1061. The family of Wezil died out in 1194, and the existing branches of the Hohenzollerns are descended from Burkhard and his son Frederick.
The Hohenzollerns had become influential at the Swabian court, and in 1192 Frederick I became burggraf of Nuremberg, where the family was established, with the rich territories of Ansbach and Bayreuth spreading on either hand. It was a Hohenzollern who had saved the day for the first Habsburg, when the troops of Ottocar went down before the valour of Rudolf I and of Frederick of Nuremberg.
Brandenburg included a large stretch of country extending from the Elbe to the Oder and Vistula. In the early centuries its inhabitants were Slavs and its conquest and conversion to Christianity were as difficult as those of Saxony had been. Although the scene of border warfare under the early German emperors, it was not until about 1135 that it was finally conquered. The conqueror was the famous Albert the Bear, who founded the Askanian house, which with the Wettins and Guelfs ranked among the most powerful feudal families of Germany. About the middle of the fourteenth century the Askanian house became extinct, however, and the royal house of Luxemburg claimed Brandenburg as fief of the empire. Charles IV had treated it rather as personal property, however, and willed it to Sigismund. But Sigismund had more land than power or money, and in 1411 he made a bargain with the wealthy Frederick of Hohenzollern, burggraf of Nuremberg, by which Frederick advanced the needy Sigismund 150,000 marks, and received in turn the stewardship of Brandenburg.
When in 1415 Sigismund wished to raise more money for his expenses at Constance, he borrowed 250,000 marks more from his most helpful creditor, and for his whole debt of 400,000 marks gave up Brandenburg and its electoral dignity, to the shrewd man of business who was at the head of the Hohenzollern house. In this way the Hohenzollerns came to Berlin. Frederick received Brandenburg from King Sigismund, and became margrave of Brandenburg as Frederick I. On his brother's death in 1420 he reunited the lands of his branch of the family, but in 1427 he sold his rights as burgrave to the town of Nuremberg. The subsequent history of this branch of the Hohenzollerns is identified with that of Brandenburg from 1415 to 1701, and with that of Prussia since the latter date.
Up to the accession in 1640 of that Frederick William who was later known as the Great Elector, the family of Hohenzollern could boast of no very distinguished members, and their territory consisted of scattered provinces with no real bond of union. The Mark Brandenburg had been in Hohenzollern hands for two centuries and a quarter, and the early margraves, save for fulfilling their occasional duties as electors of the Holy Roman Empire, had spent their time in conflicts with their own nobles and cities. In 1640 Brandenburg was a small state in northern Germany. It had been ruled by the Hohenzollern Dynasty since the late fifteenth century and consisted of the core region and its capital, Berlin; eastern Pomerania; an area around Magdeburg; the former holdings of the Knights of the Teutonic Order in eastern Prussia; and some smaller holdings in western Germany.
Prussia's increase in size and influence may be attributed to a succession of capable leaders, all of whom enjoyed long reigns. The first was Frederick William (r. 1640-88), known as the Great Elector. At the Council of Constance, the Emperor Sigismund conferred the Mark on Frederick I, in recognition of his belligerent ways and administrative talents. He increased his family's power by granting favors to the nobility, weakening the independence of the towns, and maintaining a professional standing army.
His son Frederick I (r. 1688-1713) established Prussia as a kingdom. Brandenburg became known as Prussia in 1701 when its ruler crowned himself King Frederick I of Prussia. Frederick further strengthened the army [ but not nearly as much as his son Frederick William I]
Frederick William I (r. 1713-40), greatly strengthened the army, and also modernized the kingdom's bureaucracy. Prussia acquired the rest of Pomerania after defeating Sweden in the Great Northern War (1700-21).
Frederick II (r. 1740-86), known to posterity as Frederick the Great, continued along the same lines as his father but showed much greater imagination and ruthlessness, transforming his small kingdom into one of the great powers of Europe. Frederick II purchased from the insolvent Teutonic Order the province known as the New Mark, stretching from the Oder on the west, and the Warthe on the south, far north into Pomerania. In 1740 Frederick seized Silesia, a wealthy province that belonged to the Habsburgs and had a population of about 1 million inhabitants. Maria Theresa (r. 1740-80), the new Habsburg empress, was unable to regain possession of Silesia, which remained under Prussian control at the end of the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48). Frederick retained Silesia even after facing a coalition of France, Austria, and Russia during the Seven Years' War (1756-63). Frederick expanded Prussian territory still further in 1772, when, with his erstwhile enemies Russia and Austria, he took part in the First Partition of Poland. This last seizure was highly beneficial to Frederick because it linked eastern Prussia with much of his kingdom's western holdings.
Thus was inaugurated that specially Hohenzollern policy of widening the inherited boundaries. From that day onwards, with but one or two exceptions, each ruler in turn, by inheritance, by purchase, by conquest, or by peaceful annexation, added something to his original domains.
Europe endured hard times during much of the 1840s. A series of bad harvests culminating in the potato blight of 1845-46 brought widespread misery and some starvation. An economic depression added to the hardship, spreading discontent among the poor and the middle class alike. A popular uprising in Paris in February 1848 turned into a revolution, forcing the French king Louis Philippe to flee to Britain. The success of the revolution sparked revolts elsewhere in Europe. Numerous German cities were shaken by uprisings in which crowds consisting mainly of the urban poor, but also of students and members of the liberal middle class, stormed their rulers' palaces and demanded fundamental reform. Berlin and Vienna were especially hard hit by what came to be called the revolutions of 1848.
In consequence of the political troubles of 1848 Princes Frederick William of Hohenzollern- Hechingen and Charles Anton of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen resigned their principalities, and accordingly these fell to the king of Prussia, who took possession on the 12th of March 1850. By a royal decree of the 20th of May following the title of "highness," with the prerogatives of younger sons of the royal house, was conferred on the two princes.
Once the conservatives regrouped and launched their successful counterattack across Germany, many of the reforms promised in March 1848 were forgotten. The National Assembly published the constitution it had drafted during months of hard debate. It proposed the unification of Germany as a federation with a hereditary emperor and a parliament with delegates elected directly.
The Prussian king, Friedrich Wilhelm IV (r. 1840-58), was elected united Germany's first emperor. He refused the crown, stating that he could be elected only by other kings. At that point, the assembly disbanded. A few subsequent rebellions by democratic liberals drew some popular support in 1849, but they were easily crushed and their leaders executed or imprisoned. Some of these ardent democrats fled to the United States. The German Confederation was reestablished, and conservatives held the reins of power even more tightly than before.
On 09 November 1918, Wilhelm II abdicated, also for his son and successor Crown Prince William (1882-1951), both choosing to live in exile in the Netherlands. Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia (German: Louis Ferdinand Viktor Eduard Albert Michael Hubertus Prinz von Preussen) (November 9, 1907 - September 26, 1994), son of Crown Prince William, was the pretender to the abolished German monarchy, opponent of the National Socialist German Workers Party in Germany, a business man, and patron of the arts. Prince Louis Ferdinand Oskar of Prussia (25 August 1944-11 July 1977) (German: Louis Ferdinand Oskar Christian Prinz von Preußen), also called Louis Ferdinand II, or Louis Ferdinand jr., was the fifth of seven children of Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia. His son, Georg Friedrich Ferdinand, Prince of Prussia, (legal name: Georg Friedrich Ferdinand Prinz von Preußen) (born June 10 1976 in Bremen) is the current head of the royal House of Hohenzollern and pretender to the German and Prussian thrones.
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