Peter the Great & Frederick William “The Great Elector”

Peter the great was the tsar of Russia from 1682-1725. Peter favored the westernization and modernization of Russia. He tried to impose Western customs and ideas on the Russians. Peter thought that the Russian people were backward and superstitious and needed to be opened up to foreign customs. Peter declared that all Russian men had to shave their beards with the exception of the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox church. He also told his people they had to dress like westerners and told the men they had to cut their long hair.

After a Russian army of 40,000 men was defeated by a mere 8,000 Swedes, Peter decided that the Russian army needed to be modernized as well. Peter instituted a draft and got Western military officers to train and command his army. Peter also got men working in factories to produce uniforms and other items that would be needed by an army. Peter came up with new taxes and enforced old ones to fund his project. There was a large amount of items taxed, and these taxes became a large burden for the Russians. Peter’s army grew stronger, and eventually they were able to defeat the Swedes when they fought each other again.

Frederick William, who came to be known as “The Great Elector” due to to the changes he did in his territory, was the ruler of Brandenburg-Prussia from 1640-1688. Brandenburg was a poor rural area ruled by diets dominated by Junkers (lower class nobles). Frederick was concerned with the power of Sweden and Saxony, and decided to amass a large standing army to defend and extend his lands. Problem is, he needed the permission of the diets to approve taxes to fund his army.

Frederick solved this problem by making a deal with the Junkers. The Junkers would be allowed to be army officers in his new army and reduce the peasants to serfdom in exchange for voting Frederick the necessary taxes for his army. The Junkers agreed to this deal, and voted to approve his taxes. After Frederick’s army turned into a powerful force, he didn’t need the diets anymore because his army could force them to vote him whatever he wanted. After he was voted the right to levy taxes of his own accord, he disbanded the diets and never called them again. Frederick sometimes resorted to cruel measures to get his way. In 1669, Frederick had a nobleman kidnapped, tortured, and killed for protesting one of his new taxes.

Frederick allowed many persecuted religious minorities to settle in his territory, which enabled him to get more taxes and soldiers for his army. Soon, his standing army consisted of 3% of the total population. As with Peter the great of Russia several decades later, the people were burdened by his heavy taxes. The army continued to grow under his son, Frederick I.


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