While Austria was molding a strong Catholic state, Prussia emerged as a new Protestant German-speaking power in the north. In the 1600s, the Hohenzollern (HOH un tsahl urn) family ruled scattered lands across north Germany. After the Peace of Westphalia, ambitious Hohenzollern rulers united their holdings by taking over states between them. Like absolute rulers elsewhere, they imposed royal power on all their subjects and reduced the independence of their nobles, called Junkers (YOON kerz).
To achieve their goals, Hohenzollern rulers set up an efficient central bureaucracy and forged one of the best-trained armies in Europe. One Prussian military leader boasted, “Prussia is not a state which possesses an army, but an army which possesses a state.”
Emperor Frederick William I, who came to power in 1713, gained the loyalty of the Junkers by giving them positions in the army and government. His tactic reduced the nobles' independence and increased his own control. By 1740, Prussia was strong enough to challenge its rival Austria.
Hohenzollern rulers united their lands to create a Prussian empire. This 18th-century print shows a Prussian army camp in Pomerania, territory that lay between East Prussia and West Prussia.
That year, young Frederick II inherited the throne. From an early age, Frederick was trained in the art of war, as his father insisted.
His tutor must take the greatest pains to imbue my son with a sincere love for the soldier's profession and to impress upon him that nothing else in the world can confer upon a prince such fame and honor as the sword.
—Frederick William I
However, Frederick preferred playing the flute and writing poetry. His father despised these pursuits and treated the young prince so badly that he tried to flee the country. Discovering these plans, Frederick William put his son in solitary confinement. Then he forced the 18-year-old prince to watch as the friend who had helped him was beheaded.
Frederick's harsh military training had an effect. After becoming king in 1740, Frederick II lost no time in using his army. He boldly seized Silesia from Austria, sparking the War of the Austrian Succession.
In several later wars, Frederick continued to brilliantly use his disciplined army, forcing all to recognize Prussia as a great power. His exploits and his power as an absolute monarch earned him the name Frederick the Great.
How did Frederick William increase his power?
From 1604 to 1613, Russia was in a period of disorder, plagued by foreign invasions and internal rebellion. The rise of the first Romanov tsar restored a measure of order. Still, Russia remained a medieval state, untouched by the Renaissance or Reformation and largely isolated from Western Europe.
At the end of the century, a tsar emerged who was strong enough to regain the absolute power of earlier tsars. Just 10 years old when he took the throne in 1682, Peter I took control of the government seven years later. Peter the Great, as he came to be called, used his power to put Russia on the road to becoming a great modern power.
The young tsar was a striking figure, nearly seven feet tall, with a booming laugh and a furious temper. Although he was not well educated, he was immensely curious. He spent hours in the Moscow neighborhood where many Dutch, Scottish, English, and other foreigners lived. There, he heard of the new technology that was helping Western European monarchs forge powerful empires.