Grand Duchy of Posen

Grand Duchy of Posen
Großherzogtum Posen (de)
Wielkie Księstwo Poznańskie (pl)
Client state of Prussia

Flag Coat of arms
The Grand Duchy of Posen (red) in 1848.
{{#if:Posen (Poznań)| Capital Posen (Poznań)
52°24′N 16°55′E / 52.400°N 16.917°E / 52.400; 16.917Coordinates: 52°24′N 16°55′E / 52.400°N 16.917°E / 52.400; 16.917
Government Absolute Monarchy
Grand Duke
  1815–1840 Frederick William III
  1840–1848 Frederick William IV
  1815–1830 Antoni Radziwiłł
  1830–1841 Eduard von Flottwell
  1841–1848 Adolf von Arnim-Boitzenburg
Legislature Sejm
  Congress of Vienna 9 June 1815
  Greater Poland Uprising 19 March 1848
  Autonomy abolished 5 December 1848
  1848 28,951 km2 (11,178 sq mi)
  1848 1,350,000 
Density 46.6 /km2  (120.8 /sq mi)

The Grand Duchy of Posen (German: Großherzogtum Posen; Polish: Wielkie Księstwo Poznańskie) was part of the Kingdom of Prussia, created from territories annexed by Prussia after the Partitions of Poland, and formally established following the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. Per agreements derived at the Congress of Vienna it was to have some autonomy. However in reality it was subordinated to Prussia and the proclaimed rights for Polish subjects were not fully implemented. The name was unofficially used afterward for denoting the territory, especially by Poles, and today is used by modern historians to refer to different political entities until 1918. Its capital was Posen (Polish: Poznań). The Grand Duchy was formally replaced by the Province of Posen in the Prussian constitution of December 5, 1848.



The Prussian Province of Posen. Yellow colour: Polish-speaking areas according to German authorities, as of 1905

Originally part of the Kingdom of Poland, this area largely coincided with Greater Poland. The mid-17th century brought devastation from invading Swedish forces during "the Deluge". The eastern portions of the territory were taken by the Kingdom of Prussia during the Partitions of Poland; during the first partition (1772), Prussia took just the Netze District, the portion along the Noteć (German: Netze) river. Prussia added the remainder during the second partition in 1793. Prussia briefly lost control during the Kościuszko Uprising in (1794).

It was initially administered as the province of South Prussia. The Poles were the primary ally of Napoleon Bonaparte in Central Europe, participating in the Greater Poland Uprising of 1806 and supplying troops for his campaigns. After the defeat of Prussia by Napoleonic France, the Duchy of Warsaw was created by the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807.


According to the Congress of Vienna, put into action after the fall of Napoleon in 1815, parts of the Prussian territory partitioned from Poland were passed on to Russia. From the remainder the Grand Duchy of Posen was to be created, that was to be a nominally autonomous province under Hohenzollern rule with the rights of "free development of Polish nation, culture and language", and was outside the German Confederation. Originally the Grand Duchy was to include Chełmno and Toruń. Prussia however disregarded this promise from Congress of Vienna. At this time the city of Poznań was the administrative centre and the seat of the Statthalter "Prince Antoni Henryk Radziwiłł of Poznań". In reality the actual administrative power over the region was awarded by Prussia to provincial upper-president Joseph Zerboni di Sposetti, who was a Prussian of German ethnicity.[1]

At the beginning of the Prussian takeover of Polish territories, the discrimination and repression of Poles consisted of reducing their access to education and the judicial system. Prussian officials identified Germanisation as the progress of higher culture over a lower one. As a result the local administration discriminated against Poles. After 1824 attempts to Germanise the school system were hastened and the government refused to establish a Polish university in Poznań. Polish politicians issued protests against Prussian policies and a secret, patriotic Polish organisation was founded called Towarzystwo Kosynierów (Society of Scythemen). Resistance activity of Poles resulted in reaction from Berlin, where a trial was held in connection to links between Poles from the Grand Duchy with Poles from Russian-ruled Congress Poland.[2]


The 1830 November Uprising within Congress Poland against the Russian Empire was significantly supported by Poles from the Grand Duchy. Afterward, the Prussian administration under Oberpräsident Eduard Flottwell known for his anti-Polonism[1] introduced a stricter system of repression against the Poles. Prussian authorities attempted to expel Poles from administration to weaken the Polish nobility by buying its lands, and, after 1832, the role of the Polish language in education was significantly repressed. Local self-government in the landed estates of land-lords, which was dominated by Polish nobility, was abolished, and instead the Prussian state appointed commissioners. Monasteries and their assets were confiscated by Prussia.[1] The office of the governor (Statthalter) was abolished. Germanisation of institutions, education as well through colonisation was implemented.[3]

Before 1848 repressions intensified in the Grand Duchy, censorship was strengthened, settlers of German ethnicity were brought in.[4] Large patriotic demonstrations were held in memory of Antoni Babiński, a member of the Polish Democratic Society. He had been wounded by a gunshot, when the Prussian gendarme attempting to arrest him, engaged in a fight with him. Babiński was then captured, sentenced to death and executed in Poznań. His public execution in February 1847 was accompanied by public mourning. Cloth soaked in his blood and other remains were distributed as national relics. Large prayers were held in his memory, often against orders of Prussia. Members of such gatherings were persecuted by police.[4] At the same time the national self-awareness grew among the rural population of Polish and German ethnicity alike. Whereas two thirds of the grand ducal population identified as ethnically Polish (mostly in the centre, south and east), one third envisioned themselves as being of German ethnicity. Anti-Prussian sentiment grew as response to policy of Germanisation and repression by Prussian authorities and the conspiracy organisation called Związek Plebejuszy found a potent ground. It was led by bookseller Walenty Stefański, poet Ryszard Berwiński and lawyer Jakub Krauthofer-Krotowski.[4]

Frankfurt Parliament of 1848 and the Duchy

During the Revolutions of 1848 the Frankfurt Parliament attempted to divide the grand duchy, now part of the German Confederation, into two parts: the Province of Posen, which would have been annexed to a to-be-created united Germany, and the Province of Gniezno, which would have remained outside Germany, but because of the protest of Polish parliamentarians these plans failed and the integrity of the grand duchy was preserved. However, on February 9, 1849, after a series of broken assurances, the Prussian administration renamed the grand duchy to the Province of Posen. However the Prussian Kings up to William II, German Emperor still held the title "Grand Duke of Posen" until 1918.

Area and population

Grand Duchy of Posen (light blue) after its creation, in 1815

The area was 28,951 km² and contained most of the territories of the historical province of Greater Poland, which comprised the western parts of the Duchy of Warsaw (Departments of Poznań, Bydgoszcz, partly Kalisz) that were ceded to Prussia according to the Congress of Vienna (1815) with an international guarantee of self-administration and free development of the Polish nation.


Since in the first half of the 19th century there was no census or other statistics also recording the ethnic identities of the inhabitants of the grand duchy[5] its ethnic composition can only be derived from its religious makeup then recorded in the census. By 1815 in the grand duchy Catholics were by majority Polish-speaking, most Protestants were native speakers of German and many Jews then spoke Yiddish. Based on the religious data it was estimated that in 1815 ethnic Poles made up about 657,000 persons (or 73% of the overall population), while ethnic Germans were 225,000 (25%) and 18,000 (or 2%) were of the Yiddish culture.[6] However, a simple identification of religion and ethnicity is misleading.

Whereas in 1812 Jews in then Prussia proper had been emancipated and naturalised, the Jews of the grand duchy were excluded from citizens franchise, but like women and non-propertied classes mere subjects of the grand duke. Only Christian men, if owning land, were enfranchised as citizens. Whereas Christians had freedom of moving from the grand duchy to Prussia proper, the grand duchy's Jews were forbidden to immigrate into Prussia.[7] Prussian policy, however, opened an exception, Germanized Jews were enfranchised as citizens and granted freedom of move. So most adherents of the Yiddish culture Germanised themselves within a short period. Many traditional or newly established educational institutions using German language were attended by local Jews who, equipped with Prussian educational and German language skills, often emigrated to Prussia proper with some making their careers.[8] Despite Germanisation efforts, the Polish-speaking population more than doubled to 1,344,000 and remained the majority, however, its percentage decreased to 64% of the population by 1910.[1] However, there were regional differences, with Polish being the prevailing language in the centre, east and south, and German speakers majorities in the west and north.


According to contemporary statistics of 1825 the population consisted of the 65.6% Roman Catholics, 28.1% Protestants and 6.3% Jews.[9] The Roman Catholic congregations formed part of the Ecclesiastical Province of Gnesen-Posen led by Primates of Poland, a Roman Catholic jurisdiction formed in 1821 by merging the archdioceses of Gniezno and Poznań, separated again in 1946. The bulk of the Lutheran and Reformed (Calvinist) congregations became part of the Ecclesiastical Province of Posen within the Evangelical Church in Prussia after 1817, with the congregations usually retaining their previous separate confessions. With the persisting resistance of some Lutherans against this administrative Prussian Union of churches the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Prussia emerged in 1841, government-recognised in 1845, with about 3,000 Old Lutherans in several congregations spread in the area of the grand duchy.[10] Jewish religious life was organised in about 130 congregations spread all over the grand duchy.[11] Since the government tolerated Judaism, but did not recognise it, no Jewish umbrella organisation, comparable to those of the Christian denominations or the former Council of Four Lands, forbidden in 1764, did emerge in the grand duchy.[11] The migration of Posen Jews to Prussia was mostly blocked until 1850, when they were finally naturalised.[7]

Territorial administration

The monarch of the grand duchy, with title of Grand Duke of Posen, was the Hohenzollern king of Prussia and his representative was the Duke-Governor (Statthalter): the first was Prince Antoni Radziwiłł (1815–1831), who was married to Princess Louise of Prussia, the king's cousin. The governor was assigned to give advice in matters of Polish nationality, and had the right to veto the administration decisions; in reality, however, all administrative power was in the hands of the Prussian upper-president of the province.

The Prussian administrative unit that covered the territory of the Grand Duchy was called the Province of the Grand Duchy of Posen in the years 1815–1849, and later to simplify just the Province of Posen (German: Provinz Posen, Polish: Prowincja Poznańska).

The territory of the grand duchy was divided into two regions (Polish: Rejencja), that of Bromberg and of Posen, whose borders reflected those of the Bydgoszcz and the Poznań Department of the previous Duchy of Warsaw. The regions were further divided into 26 original districts (German: Kreis(e), Polish: Powiat(y)) headed by Landräte ("district councillors"). Later, these were redivided into 40 districts, plus two urban districts. In 1824, the Grand Duchy also received a provincial council (term started in 1827) but with little administrative power, limited to providing advice. In 1817, the Culmerland (Chełmno Land) was moved to West Prussia. From the 1820s, the grand duchy had a parliament, the Sejm of the Grand Duchy of Posen.


Organisations for items of general interest or province-wide purposes:

Polish organisations

German organisations

Organisations aiming at promoting German-speaking culture, settlements, or expressively addressing German-speaking audiences:

Notable people

(in alphabetical order)
(see also Notable people of Province of Posen)

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 Historia. Encyklopedia Szkolna. Warszawa 1993. Page 670
  2. "Lands of Partitioned Poland 1795–1918"Piotr Stefan Wandycz Washington University Press 1974
  3. Historia 1789–1871 Page 255. Anna Radziwiłł and Wojciech Roszkowski.
  4. 1 2 3 Historia 1789–1871 Page 278. Anna Radziwiłł and Wojciech Roszkowski.
  5. Jerzy Kozłowski, „Die Einführung der preußischen Verwaltung im Großherzogtum Posen 1815–1830“, on: Polen Didaktik: Wissenschaft und Praxis, retrieved on February 4, 2013.
  6. Historia 1789–1871 Page 224. Anna Radziwiłł and Wojciech Roszkowski.
  7. 1 2 Philo-Lexikon: Handbuch des jüdischen Wissens, Berlin: Philo Verlag, 31936, reprint Frankfurt upon Main: Jüdischer Verlag, 1992, p. 570. ISBN 3-633-54053-9.
  8. Examples are Berthold Kempinski, founder of Kempinski Hotels, Rudolf Mosse, etc.
  9. Gotthold Rhode, Geschichte Polens. Ein Überblick, Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 31980, pp. 374–375. ISBN 3-534-00763-8.
  10. Eduard Kneifel Geschichte der Evangelisch-Augsburgischen Kirche in Polen, Niedermarschacht: author's edition, 1964, p. 17. No ISBN.
  11. 1 2 Gabriele von Glasenapp, "Herzberg, Isaak", in: Biographisches Lexikon für Ostfriesland, vol. IV, Aurich: 2007, pp. 195–197.
  12. "Freymark, Karl", on: Baza osób polskich – polnische Personendatenbank, retrieved on May 6, 2012.


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