Memoirs of the House of Brandenburg

by Frederick the Great

A New Translation by Levi Bookin


At Koenigsberg in the year 1594, John-Sigismund had married Anne, the only daughter of Albert, Duke of Prussia, and heiress to this duchy and to the succession of Cleves. This succession was composed of the states of Juelich, Berg, Cleves, the Mark, Ravensberg and Ravenstein. The morsel was too tempting not to excite the greed of all who hoped to partake of it.

Before speaking of the rights of the electors of Brandenburg and of the dukes of Neuburg, it would be as well to explain the claims of Saxony, in order not to confuse the subjects.

In default of all heirs, male and female, of the dukes of Cleves, the Emperor Maximilian had given the expectation of this succession to the princes of the two lines of Saxony, namely the Ernestine and the Albertine. The letters patent obtained from the Emperor by George-William, Duke of Juelich, clearly show that this fief could descend to females. John-Frederick, last elector of Saxony of the Ernestine house, married Sybille, daughter of John 3rd, Duke of Juelich.

Duke William of Cleves, son of John of Juelich, married Ferdinand's daughter, niece of the Emperor Charles 5th. This marriage added to the discontent that the Emperor felt concerning Frederick of Saxony, one of the members of the union of Smalkald. It induced the Emperor to confirm to Duke John-William the right he had to dispose of the succession in favor of his daughters, in default of male heirs. The son of this duke, named like him John-William, died without issue in 1609 and thus the succession reverted to his sisters. The elder, named Marie-Eleonore, had married Albert-Frederick, Duke of Prussia; the second, Anne, was married to the Prince Palatine of Neuburg; the third, Madeleine, was wife of the Count Palatine of Zweibrucken; the fourth, Sybille, was married to the Count of Burgau, an Austrian prince. These four princesses and their children had claims on this succession. To its right of reversion, the house of Saxony added the marriage of the Elector Frederick to the Princess Sybille, aunt of the deceased.

Marie-Eleonore, wife of Albert of Prussia, based her rights on her contract of marriage in 1572. It expressly provided that, if her brother should die without issue, she and her descendants would inherit the six duchies by virtue of the pacts made in the years 1418 and 1496, by which the eldest daughters had the right of succession. The Duke of Prussia undertook to pay two hundred thousand florins to his wife's sisters, to satisfy them by this sum, in respect of all their pretentions. If Marie-Eleonore had been alive at her brother's decease, it is most probable that there would have been no dispute; but because she was dead her rights devolved on her daughter Anne, wife of the Elector John-Sigismund. This succession should therefore have fallen on her senior, since she represented Marie-Eleonore; and this was the point of the dispute.

The pretentions of Anne, Duchess of Neuburg, were based on the fact that, her sister Marie-Eleonore being dead, she took over her rights, becoming consequently the eldest of the sisters, being a nearer relative than Anne of Brandenburg, who was a niece of the deceased. Against this reasoning were only family compacts and the contract of marriage of Marie-Eleonore.

The two younger sisters of Duke John-William did not demand the entire succession; they did not propose such dismemberment.

What rendered the rights of these three younger sisters entirely void was that, by their marriage contracts, they had renounced all their rights, as long as there were children of their elder sister.

The Elector John-Sigismund and the Duke Wolfgang-William of Neuburg agreed to put themselves in possession of the contested succession, while reserving their respective rights. The Emperor Rudolph, who wanted to appropriate this inheritance under the pretext of sequestering it, facilitated the agreement. The Archduke Leopold effectively took it upon himself to appropriate it; but the Protestant princes opposed him, and formed the famous alliance named the Union, into which John-Sigismund was among the first to enter. To balance the Union, the Catholic princes made a similar treaty at Wurzburg, known as the League. The Elector was favored by the Dutch, who feared the sequestration; and the Duke of Neuburg was favored by Henry 4th, King of France; but when this king prepared to assist him, he was assassinated by Ravaillac.

The Elector had attempted a compromise with the Duke of Neuburg; but in the heat of the dispute at a meeting, John-Sigismund gave him a blow, which stirred matters up anew. By this singular action, one may judge the courtesy and manners of the time. In 1611 at Jueterbog, in the absence of the princes, for the meetings were becoming dangerous, another compromise was attempted with the Elector of Saxony on the subject of the same succession; but the Duke of Neuburg protested against this treaty, and it was never put into operation.

Duke Albert of Prussia, husband of Marie-Eleonore and father-in-law of John-Sigismund was unfortunate enough to fall into insanity. Joachim-Frederick had administered Prussia since this sad situation had developed and John-Sigismund was subsequently charged with the same responsibility. From King Sigismund 3rd of Poland, he received the investiture of Prussia for himself and his descendants; this was the third investiture which had been given to the electoral house.

As Prussia was united to the house of Brandenburg by John-Sigismund, it will not be amiss to give, in a few words, an idea of how this country originally was, of its government; and how it passed to Duke Albert, the Elector's father-in-law.

The name Borussia, which has become Prussia, is compose of Bo (on the); and Russia (the Russe), a branch of the river Niemen which is now called the Memel. Prussia was originally inhabited by Bohemians, Sarmatians, Russians, and Venetii. These peoples were plunged in the grossest idolatry, worshipping the gods of the forests, lakes, rivers, and even snakes and elks. Their rustic and savage devotions knew nothing of the magnificence of temples. The cult of their principal idols, Potrimpos, Percunos and Piccolos, was established under oak-trees at Romowe and Heiligenbeil . These Prussians even sacrificed enemy prisoners to their false gods.

Towards the year 1000, St. Adelbert was the first to preach Christianity to these peoples and to receive the crown of the martyr. According to Cryspus, three kings of Poland, all three named Boleslas, made war on the Prussians in order to convert them; but these peoples had become accustomed to warfare, and ravaged Mazovia and Kuyavia. Conrad, Duke of Kuyavia, summoned the Teutonic Knights of Germany to his assistance, of whom Hermann of Salza was, at the time, the Grand Master. In 1239, he entered Prussia and, with the aid of the Livonian Knights, who were a type of Templars, established the four bishoprics of Culm, Pomesan, Ermland and Samland. The war conducted by the Order against the Prussians lasted fifty-three years. The Knights subsequently conducted wars, sometimes against Poland and sometimes against the dukes of Pomerania, who were jealous of their establishment. Since that time, the families of the Knights began to establish themselves in Prussia; and it is from them, for the most part, that the illustrious nobility of today are descended.

In 1450, the cities of Danzig, Thorn and Elbing declared themselves tired of obeying the Grand Master, Conrad of Erlichshausen, and transferred their allegiance to Casimir, son of Jagellon, King of Poland. The ensuing war between the Knights and the Poles over Prussia lasted thirteen years. The victorious Poles laid down the law: Prussia on the nearer side of the Vistula was annexed to that kingdom, and was called Royal Prussia; the Order kept Farther Prussia, but was forced to pay homage to the victors.

In 1510, Albert of Brandenburg was elected Grand Master by the Order; this was the grandson of Albert Achilles, as mentioned above. In order to avenge the honor of the Order, the new Grand Master undertook a new war against the Poles, which ended very fortunately for him because he was created Duke of Prussia by Sigismund 1st, King of Poland, who bestowed this dignity hereditarily upon this prince and his descendants. Albert only undertook to pay the customary homage to Poland.

Duke Albert, [now] master of Far Prussia, abandoned the habit, the cross, and the arms, of the Teutonic Order. The Knights behaved as the weakest do: they were content with protesting against what they could not prevent. In 1563, the new duke had a war to maintain, against Eric, Duke of Brunswick and commander of Memel. Eric entered Prussia at the head of twelve thousand men but Albert stopped him on the banks of the Vistula. As nothing remarkable happened, and both banks of the river were covered with soldiers gathering nuts, this expedition was called the War of the Nuts.

Albert became a Protestant in 1519, and Prussia followed his example. His son, Frederick-Albert, succeeded him in 1568. He received the investiture from King Sigismund-August in which the envoy of the Elector Joachim 2nd played a part. This Albert-Frederick married Marie-Eleonore, daughter of John-William and sister of the last Duke of Cleves. John-Sigismund was the son-in-law and tutor of this Duke of Prussia. With the death of his father-in-law in the year 1618, he entered into the entire possession of this duchy.

Since the year 1614, John-Sigismund had become reformed [Calvinist], in order to please the people of Cleves, who were to become his subjects. The Emperor Rudolph 2nd died during the Elector's rule. The Electoral College elected Matthias in his place, brother of the deceased. The Elector, feeling the approach of old age and seeing himself broken with infirmities, resigned the government to his son, George-William, and died not long afterwards.

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