The Historical Background of Prussia's Unique Military
Prussia was unique in that, more than in any other country, the army developed a life of its own, almost independent of the life of the state. The distinctive military history of Prussia was developed early on it its history from the origins of the Teutonic knights and brought to a level of perfection throughout the reigns of Frederick William the Great Elector, Frederick William I and Frederick II. These gifted strategists due to their individual history and the accomplishments of the previous generation achieved military innovations.
The Teutonic knights were the German order of knights who were sent by Pope Gregory IX in 1225 to convert the Prussians after the failure of their attempt to conquer the Holy land. At that point in time Prussians were a people related to Lithuanians and Latvians, who were among the last remaining pagans in Europe. The Poles were pleased by the presence of the Teutonic knights, especially the Duke of Mazovia, to whom the Prussians were not only heathens, but also a constant militaristic nuisance. In a long war the Teutonic knights finally conquered Prussia by 1285, killing some, converting some and creating a feudal state.
Two centuries later the order of knight succumbed to the growing power of Poland and Lithuania. Under the terms of the second Peace of Torun in 1466, the order cedes their territories west of the Vistula River to the Poles. In 1511 the knights elected Margrave Albert of Brandenburg from the Franconian line of the house of Hohenzollern as their grand master. In the time of the reformation, he introduced Lutheranism into his territory and dissolved the Teutonic Order. He headed Luther's advice to marry and secularize Prussia in order to save it from absorption by Poland. He married the daughter of the king of Denmark and was successful in his secularization of Prussia. His actions lead to Poland recognizing Margrave as the first duke of Prussia in 1525, thereby creating the Duchy of East Prussia. The house of Hohenzollern was now established in Prussia.
Relatives in Brandenburg were quick to see their opportunity in Prussia and act on it. Elector Joachim II secured his and his son John Sigismund's place in Ducal Prussia. In 1611 when the last male heir of the Prussian Duke's die, it is passed to the Brandenburg elector of the House of Hohenzollern, John Sigismund. John's grandson, Frederick William the Great Elector gained complete sovereignty over Ducal Prussia in 1660. Frederick William was a strong man with an intellectual strength and an iron will. He was educated at the electorate until the age of fourteen and then sent to live with his relatives in Holland, which was a center for European diplomacy at the time. Frederick William managed to keep his territories out of the thirty years war and away from Polish hands. He chose to marry Louisa Henrietta, the eldest daughter of Frederick...