The Smaller German States
The small and middle-sized states of the Holy Roman Empire may very well be the last frontier of the debate over enlightened absolutism. They have generally been ignored by historians, who have all too often been content to regard them as insignificant postage-stamp states whose petty despots were more likely to expend their tiny revenues on comic opera armies and extravagant imitations of Versailles than on innovative domestic programmes. That has all changed. We now realise that many of the German regimes were as committed to introducing Enlightenment ideas and benevolent government as were the dynastic ‘Big Three’ of enlightened absolutism — Joseph II, Frederick the Great and Catherine the Great — themselves German-born monarchs who had sprung from the same cultural heritage.
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