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This book provides a radical new interpretation of the aims of the lesser German princes during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries through the example of the duchy of Württemberg. Arguing that the princes’ political ambitions were fundamental in shaping the internal development of their territories, the author sheds new light on the political importance of the notorious German ‘soldier trade’ and its role in international diplomacy. The wider social and political impact of these policies is also investigated in a comparative framework, while traditional interpretations of the dramatic struggle between duke and estates are challenged in a reassessment of the role of early modern representative institutions in German state development. The relationship of these internal political struggles to the different elements of the Holy Roman Empire is revealed, opening up new perspectives on the role of the German states within the imperial structure and revealing the empire as a flawed but functioning political system.