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Prussia's 'Soldier King'

Frederick William, the ruler of Brandenburg-Prussia from 1713 to 1740, in addition to his reputation as the "soldier king," was a promoter of Pietism. He reinforced Lutheranism's subservience to the state and created a closer tie between his rule and the university at Halle, where Pietism dominated and where he sent his administrators for training. Frederick William saw the world as filled with sin and believed it was his duty to clean it up. Harlotry, he claimed, was the most terrible sin. He kept the devil away from his personal life by being busy providing his wife with fourteen children and with devotion to his work, arriving at his study each morning at seven. He was also devoted to cleanliness, careful not to soil his uniform and quick to wash his hands. He disliked everything French and was devoted to frugality and the stern discipline associated with his military.

Frederick William believed in the sword more than the pen. He saw military strength as dominating international realities, and after he made peace with Sweden in 1720 (at the end of the Great Northern War) he maintained and trained an army of conscripted peasants. They were to be led by noble officers. He believed that noblemen were more inclined to act on family honor while commoners were inclined to give greater consideration to personal safety.

Like some other armies, Frederick William's military had a free-enterprise element. Military commanders were also entrepreneurs. Captured wealth went to them to divide as they pleased, and they could amass a fortune in weapons and demand payment in selling r these weapons to the military when they retired.

Frederick William tried to advance his realm economically. He had spent several years with his relatives among the Dutch, learning economic advancements, but in agriculture – the most important economic activity – his kingdom remained handicapped by a soil that was more sandy than some other places in Europe. His government assumed control over the realm's economy – Frederick William hoping for more income to pay for his military. He protected domestic production with high tariffs. New industries were founded, and textile manufacturing received special government attention as a state industry. Frederick William imported sheep from Spain, and he founded a warehouse in Berlin through which all wool had to pass.

As in Germany as a whole, William's kingdom had a smaller middle-class and less manufacturing than did Britain or the United Netherlands. But he did achieve some efficiency in government administration, giving Brandenburg-Prussia a reputation as a highly bureaucratized state. His inspectors supervised all aspects of production to assure quality. His government offered workers in state-owned enterprises above average wages. He abolished labor guilds, and he made illegal exports of wool products a capital offense.

In the area of crime and punishment, Frederick William remained a stern conformist. He left in place various traditional punishments: branding, pinching with hot tongs, beheading, drawing and quartering, breaking on the wheel, and hanging. Infanticide was punished by sewing the offending woman into a leather bag and throwing her into a river to drown. But he demanded the removal from public squares all stakes upon which accused witches had been burned.

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