After the Thirty Years’ War, there was a dramatic rivalry between the Prussian King Frederick II and the ruler of the House of Habsburg Maria Theresa.
The path to German nationhood was riven with conflict. After the Thirty Years’ War, the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation resembled a territorial patchwork, an obstacle to any national development along Western European lines. The lack of a central power meant new powers emerged on the periphery. In particular, the rise of Brandenburg-Prussia changed the power structures in the Reich forever. Two nations in particular struggled for domination over the German Empire, which was fragmented into smaller principalities and monarchies. Austria was already a great power under the Habsburgs, Prussia wanted to become one. There was a power struggle between the vivacious Habsburg Maria Theresa from Catholic Vienna and the reserved Hohenzollern king Frederick II from Protestant Potsdam, also known as Frederick the Great. The two rulers never met in person. Both wanted to be absolute autocrats, but not despots. And both believed it was their first duty to serve their own state and that the interests of the Holy Roman Empire were of secondary importance. The conflict between the two powers culminated in the Seven Years’ War, which brought great devastation to Germany. Only the Peace of Hubertusburg in 1763 ended the fierce struggle for supremacy in the empire, which neither side could ultimately win. Both rulers encouraged cultural prosperity and diversity. Johann Sebastian Bach composed music for Frederick the Great, and the rulers of the many small territories were patrons of architects, poets, painters and musicians. It was the time of the rising romantic “Sturm und Drang” movement, and Lessing, Goethe and Schiller were writing their timeless works. The “dualism” of the two powers – embodied in the rulers Frederick II and Maria Theresa – finally brought about the end of the old empire and determined the course of German history until the middle of the 19th century.
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