|If a man had the misfortune of being a very tall man in Prussia during the
time of Friedrich Wilhelm I, there was a very good possibility he would end
up being one of the king's tall toys in a special regiment, a unit known as the
Potsdamer Riesengarde ( the "Potsdam giant guard" ), nicknamed the
"Lange Kerls" by the Prussian people. The original required height was
5'11", then well above average male height. The tallest soldiers were
reportedly about 7 feet and some of the Potsdam giants actually towered
above eight feet. It was reported that the recorded height of a Scottish
member of the Grenadiers was at eight feet three inches. It was said that no
ordinary man could reach the top of some of their heads. In 1707, they
were provided a new garrison.
The King, who was said to have only been between only about 5 foot tall
himself, organized three battalions so that all who stood near seven feet tall
and above were assigned to the first ranks. The Guards regiment consisted
of 60 officers, 165 grenadiers, 53 drummers, 15 horses, 15 medics and
about 2,160 musketeers, not one of which was less than six feet tall.
Irish born Grenadier James Kirkland measured 6 foot 11inches. Decked out
in red hats, blue jackets with gold trim, scarlet trousers, white stockings,
black shoes and a brimless hat, their weapons included muskets, daggers
and white bandoleers. The regiment had benefits that the regular soldiers
lacked: more pay and allowances as well as land and houses, and King
Friedrich William I. increased the army by a full one fourth in his first year.
However, few new recruits came voluntarily. Some were simply abducted
or tricked into service, and they were recruited from all over the known
world. He offered rewards for tall men who joined the army on their own
and gave substantial rewards to fathers who sired tall sons; he also offered
riches to tall men serving in the armies of other nations, hoping they would
desert and join the Prussian army. Although the king was notoriously frugal,
it cost Prussian taxpayers around 36 million crowns for the establishment
and maintenance of this regiment.
One seven-foot-two Irish giant was purchased at a reported cost of over
6,000 pounds. Occasionally, other European kings gave the Prussian king
tall men as special gifts.
|Russian Czar Peter I, the Great, who stood six feet seven inches tall himself, sent an annual supply
of "Giants", including Grenadier Schwerid Rediwanoff of Moskow, above bottom left. The Sultan of
the Ottoman Empire sent him some big boys and 12 very tall Africans were also added.
The king found big, powerful peasant girls for his giants in hopes that they would sprout more giants.
As an added benefit, the King never actually sent his giants into battle. Rather, they were an
amusement. Voltaire stated of the King: "armed with a huge sergeant's cane," (he) "marched forth
every day to review his regiment of giants. These giants were his greatest delight, and the things for
which he went to the heaviest expense" (and) "he played with them as a child would with enormous
living toys." When suffering from illness and confined to his bed, the King sometimes ordered two
or three hundred of them to visit and "preceded by tall, turbaned Moors with cymbals and trumpets
and the grenadiers' mascot, an enormous bear, they would march in a long line through the King's
chamber to cheer him up." Being a passable artist, he enjoyed painting the giants as well.
But it may have been more than that. He might rightly have thought of how intimidating a sight it
would seem to an average size foreign army. He gave his son, the future Friedrich the Great, his own
toy regiment, the Crown Prince Cadets, made up of 131 little boys whom the Prince could command
and play with as he liked. Friedrich was made a major of the giant Potsdam Grenadiers at age 14,
and he commanded the giants on the parade ground daily. When his father died in 1740, Friedrich
relieved the giants, over 3,000 by then, of duty and allowed them to return to their homes. With the
money saved, he was able to establish four regiments of men of ordinary height in their place.
|THE SALZBURGERS: EAST PRUSSIA