In the 17th Century there was a shortage of giants in Europe, and only one man was to blame. The giant-greedy Fredrick the First of Prussia.
Fredrick was into war. And he had assembled a regiment of extraordinarily large soldiers called the ‘Grand Grenadiers of Potsdam.” The king’s agents fanned out across Europe, on the look out for tall men who would be offered huge amounts of money to join the regiment. If they refused the king’s generosity, they would simply be kidnapped. Diplomats trying to get on his good side learned to send Freddy larger-than-normal men to add to his regiment. Every year the Russian Tsar Peter the Great—who stood at six foot seven inches tall himself—would send the Prussians fifty giants. Once, when Peter took back an especially large specimen and replaced him with a shorter one, Fredrick refused to speak to any Russian diplomat for months. “The wound,” he explained, “is still too raw.” Fredrick even tried to ensure a race of giants by forcing all the tall men in Prussia to marry and breed with tall women. In this way, he collected over 2,400 giants.
|A Grand Grenadier in all his mitred glory.|
King Fredrick didn’t let his giant army just gather dust in a cupboard. He trained with the regiment every day, and showed them off to foreign dignitaries. Whenever he was feeling gloomy, laying in bed ill or morose, he would have the regiment march through his rooms—led by the regiment’s mascot, an actual live bear. But protective of his huge charges, Fredrick would never let them fight in anything close to a real battle.