The Politics of Military Recruitment in Eighteenth‐Century Germany

TitleThe Politics of Military Recruitment in Eighteenth‐Century Germany
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2002
AuthorsWilson, Peter H.
JournalThe English Historical Review
Date Published06/2002

Of the great states of early modern Europe, the Holy Roman Empire is usually numbered amongst the weakest, not least because other powers were able to tap its resources by recruiting its inhabitants into their armies. The apparent inability of the imperial institutions and German territorial governments to control this ‘soldier trade’ has long been taken as evidence for the Empire's general disunity and inability to confront substantial problems. By examining the scale, scope and process of military recruitment, this paper reaches four main conclusions. Despite the prominence normally given to Prussian recruitment, it is clear that the Austrian monarchy was the more significant recruiter, both politically and militarily. Austria's ability to call on the good will and resources of the lesser German territories was a significant factor behind its great power status and a reason for Habsburg's continued interest in the Empire. Prussian recruitment threatened the Empire's political equilibrium, because the Hohenzollern's disputed the emperor's traditional prerogatives in this area. Nonetheless, the Empire successfully regulated recruitment by external powers and helped preserve the autonomy of the lesser territories which developed a variety of methods to supplement the formal institutional framework.

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