1688: Frederick Wilhelm I: The Prussian King who Founded the Giant Guard

1688: Frederick Wilhelm I: The Prussian King who Founded the Giant Guard
Photo Credit To Wikipedia Commons

Story Highlights

  • Historical event:
  • 14 August 1688
  • Involvement of the Prussian ruling dynasty in the military profession is very significant and was linked to the general militarization of Prussian society. This tradition was still felt in the time of Hitler’s Wehrmacht in World War II.

On this day Prussian King Frederick Wilhelm I, who was also called the “Soldatenkönig” (Soldier-King), was born.

Already at birth he became the nominal commander of a military detachment because his father wanted his son incorporated within military structures as early as possible. Involvement of the Prussian ruling dynasty in the military profession is very significant and was linked to the general militarization of Prussian society. This tradition was still felt in the time of Hitler’s Wehrmacht in World War II.

An interesting whim of King Frederick Wilhelm I was his recruitment of unusually tall soldiers. His special unit was called the “Potsdamer Riesengarde” (Giant Guard of Potsdam) after Potsdam near Berlin. It consisted of soldiers at least six Prussian feet tall (about 188 centimeters). One of the popular names for the unit was the “Lange Kerls” (“Long Lads”).

The king recruited tall men from as far away as Ireland (James Kirkland, Tomás Ó Caiside) and Finland (Daniel Cajanus). Foreign rulers reportedly sent him tall soldiers from their countries to establish friendly relations with him. Some particularly tall young men were allegedly even kidnapped and forcibly recruited.

It is worth noting that the son and heir of King Frederick Wilhelm I was none other than the famous Friedrich II the Great, one of the most famous militant rulers in European modern history (he snatched Silesia from Empress Maria Theresa and nearly went to war with the whole of Europe). It is known that Friedrich II the Great was a kind of a role model for Hitler, who kept his portrait in his premises.

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