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The Brandenburg Recess: Resolutions agreed to by Frederick William ("the Great Elector") and the Brandenburg Estates in the Recess of July 26, 1653 (1653)

The historical literature long viewed this important document as the founding charter of “Prussian absolutism.” It was seen to have introduced a standing army financed by the new taxes agreed to in this treaty (or recess) in exchange for far-reaching powers granted to the landed nobility to fasten the chains of servitude on their village subjects. Moreover, by this agreement, the Estates were thought to have acquiesced in their own supersession by “absolute monarchy.” More recent scholarship has shown that such deductions are unjustified by the recess’s own terms, as well as by subsequent Brandenburg-Prussian history, in which the noble-dominated Estates and their administrative-fiscal organs continued to wield significant authority. The landlord-villager relationship remained contentious, both in light of the severe labor shortage that prevailed long after the Thirty Years War (and which strengthened the villagers’ bargaining position) and the Electors’ refusal to block village appeals to the princely courts against seigneurial abuses. The villagers learned various ways to defend themselves by playing off the nobility against the state.

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We, Frederick William, by Grace of God Margrave in Brandenburg, Lord High Chamberlain and Elector of the Holy Roman Empire, Duke in Magdeburg, in Prussia, Jülich, Cleves, Berg, Stettin, Pomerania, of the Cassubes and the Wends, also in Crossen and Jägerndorf in Silesia, Burgrave in Nuremberg, Prince in Halberstadt and Minden, Count in Mark and Ravensberg, Lord of Ravenstein, etc.,

do hereby profess and make known in Our name and that of Our heirs and successors, Margraves and Electors of Brandenburg that after Our loyal and obedient Estates of Prelates, Lords, Knights, and towns of Our Electorate and Mark of Brandenburg on both sides of the Oder and the Elbe have at the Diet now convoked and held most loyally and obediently declared their consent to pay — — — thalers and even more, as specified hereafter, and have in return submissively requested Us not only to confirm all the articles signed and sealed to them heretofore by their Electoral Highnesses, Our most noble ancestors, but also graciously to remedy their grievances:

We, having regarded and maturely considered the good will and most submissive loyalty they have always displayed toward Us and Our Electoral House, and have also shown, by action and in truth, at the present Diet, have most graciously acceded to their most submissive request.

[ . . . ]

[Arts. 1 to 10 of the Recess are concerned with the religious question, on which, as we have already seen, a difference existed between the Calvinist Electors and the majority of their subjects, who had retained the “unchanged” Lutheran doctrine. The main purpose of these articles is to assure the Lutherans against encroachments by their rivals, while a digression confines the benefits of any such concessions exclusively to the two main branches of the Protestant faith. The protection enjoyed by Catholics in Cleves under the Treaty of Westphalia and in Prussia under that of Wehlau did not extended to Brandenburg.]

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