Where was Prussia
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What was Prussia?

Prussia no longer exists.  It was a territory adjacent to the Baltic Sea in north eastern Europe.  The original people that lived in this area were the Prussi or Borussi who were a Baltic people related to Lithuanians (they lived around Duchy of Prussia in Fig 1).  They were conquered and largely exterminated by the Teutonic Knights (a German Roman Catholic crusading religious order) in the 13th cent after which the Baltic area, including Silesia, was effectively Germanised with intensive settlement by German peasant colonists.  However, in the fourteenth century, with the Black Death and the revival of Slavonic Kingdoms (Hungary, Poland and Bohemia), this colonisation ended and thousands of farms and cottages together with large tracts of land were abandoned.  During the 17th century, a protestant family with the name Hohenzollern rose to power in northern Europe. Besides creating an orderly army and capable government system, they filled their Treasury with tax money with which schools and roads were built and improved.  A relatively stable 'dynasty' resulted with their leader taking the title of 'King' of lands that were called 'Prussia'. 


Thus Prussia became a kingdom and a monarchy in north eastern Europe (under Friedrich I) from the beginning of the eighteenth century (1700).   It reached the peak of its power under King Wilhelm I (1861-1888) and his prime minister, Otto von Bismarck.  From 1871, it became part of a series of German nations: the German Empire (1871-1918), the Weimar Republic (1919-1933), the centralized German Third Reich (1934-1945)).  During the Third Reich, the Nazis centralised power with Hitler formally becoming the governor of Prussia.  In effect, free states such as Prussia were dissolved.  After World War II, the former state of Prussia was split up, and like Poland in the eighteenth century, legally erased from the map of Europe.

Where was Prussia in the late 1700s?

Since Prussia no longer exists as a political entity, it is not a simple matter to explain where the Prussia in which the Schaefers lived was located since its boundaries were in a state of flux.  Fig 1 provides an indication of extent of Prussia prior to 1740 under King Friedrich I.  At that time, Prussian territory was mostly in parts of what are now Germany and Poland (Fig 1).  Silesia, where the Schaefers lived, was not a part of Prussia at that time; it belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg Monarchy to the south.


Prussia 1740

Fig 1: Extent of Prussian territory prior to 1740 in relation to the boundaries of Germany, Poland & Czech Republic today.[1]

Prussia then become a militaristic power with a large standing army which, in the mid 1700s, consumed 80% of state tax revenue even in peacetime.  Freidrich II (Frederick the Great: 1740-1786) had increased the army to 150,000 with the land owning nobility providing an elite officer corps.  The militarism of Prussia inspired fear and hatred from other European peoples [2].  In the decades prior to the Schaefers' birth, Frederick the Great had wrested Silesia from the Habsburg Monarchy (Austro-Hungarian) in the First Silesian War (1740-42) and Prussia became a major expansionist power in Europe from 1742. Consequently, after the Second and Third Silesian Wars (1744-5 and 1756-63), the Austrian Habsburgs were finally convinced that they could not have Silesia back and it formally became part of Prussia.  It was made a Prussian province as it was valuable as a barrier to Austrian expansionism northwards.  Thus, by 1763, the extent of Prussian territory had grown to that shown in Fig 2.  This would have been around the time, or a little before, Christian Schaefer Snr's parents were born.


Prussia 1763

Fig 2: Prussia expansion into Silesia and East Frisia by 1863.[1]

Prussia continued to expand under Frederick the Great.  Via diplomacy with Russia, he managed to have a part of Poland partitioned off and added as West Prussia in 1772 which provided a joining of the east and western parts of his territory (Fig 3).


Prussia 1786

Fig 3: Addition of West Prussia and the Netze District to the Kingdom of Prussia prior to 1786.[1]

Consequently, when the Schaefers were born in the latter half of the 1700s, Silesia had become an established Prussian province and Prussia was in expansionist mode.


By the last decade of the century, Prussia purchased the principalities of Anabach and Bayreuth (Fig 4).  In addition, more parts of Poland were partitioned off and divided between Russia, Prussia and Austria.  In effect, Poland was erased from the map and Prussia gained South Prussia and New East Prussia.  It would have been unthinkable, at the time, that, in the twentieth century, the tables would be turned, and Prussia would no longer appear on maps. 


Prussia 1795

Fig 4: Prussia's gain of most of the rest of Poland prior to 1795.[1]

By the first decade of the nineteenth century (1800s), Prussia gained more territory in the east (Fig 5).


Prussia 1803

Fig 5: Prussian territory gains in the East prior to 1803.[1]

However, the French, under Napoleon Bonaparte, were beginning to increase their territory throughout Europe, devastating what was left of the Holy Roman Empire.  Prussia remained neutral at first, but Napoleon defeated neighbouring Austria in 1804 and crowned himself Emperor of France.  A new political order was emerging in Europe and Prussia was the only state not dominated by France.  Until 1805 (the year great great great grandmother Schaefer gave birth to Christian Schaefer Snr), Prussia briefly occupied even more territory in the East (including Hannover) (Fig 6).      


Prussia 1895 

Fig 6: Prussian territory gains in the East prior to 1805.[1]

That status did not last for long.  In 1806, the Prussian Army, by then corrupt and poorly organised, was first defeated in a battle with Britain, and then humiliated by Napoleon who entered Berlin (then in Prussia) unopposed.   As a result, in 1806-7, Prussia was forced to cede about half its territory in both the east and west (Fig 7).  If Russia had not interceded on its behalf, it may well have disappeared completely.[4]


Prussia 1815

Fig 7: Prussia after defeat by Napoleon in 1806.[1]

Prussia was also faced with a French occupation financed by contributions which Prussia had to pay, and with French demands for the payment of indemnities.


Thus over the period that this generation of Schaefers would have grown up and married, Prussia expanded right across the northern part of Europe from the border with Russia, across all of Poland, and much of Germany; and then, when their son Christian Snr was a baby and toddler, their country was invaded by Napoleon's forces.  As a result, the Prussian King relocated to Konigsberg (between what is now Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea), and the Schaefers possibly endured the hardship of French occupation. 

1. Map adapted from data from "History of Prussia" , World History at KMLA @ http://www.zum.de/whkmla/region/germany/preu17861807.html
2. Prussia's Emergence as a Military Power, German Culture @ www.germanculture.com.ua/library/facts/bl_prussia_military_power.htm
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