In the early 18th century, during the Great Northern War, Peter the Great and Frederick-Wilhelm I negotiated an alliance against Sweden. In the course of these negotiations, Peter I promised Frederick-Wilhelm to give all the conquered lands in northern Poland that belonged to Sweden. As a token of gratitude, Friedrich-Wilhelm gave Peter the unfinished Amber Cabinet, which symbolized his father’s “vicious propensity” for luxury.
However, Peter the Great was also aware of Friedrich-Wilhelm’s passion for giants, which he collected for himself from all over Europe. As a sign of friendship and respect, Peter the Great gave him 55 selected Russian grenadiers under two meters tall. This gift was handed over to Friedrich-Wilhelm only a year later. Along with the grenadiers were given a lathe and a wooden goblet carved by Peter.
The tradition of exchanging giants continued after Friedrich-Wilhelm. Anna Ioanovna gave him 80 “big recruits” in return for his gift of five amber plaques depicting the five senses. However, only Elizabeth Petrovna, having listened to the requests of the relatives of the giants sent to Prussia for service, demanded their return to Russia. Friedrich-Wilhelm resisted this demand, but after several warnings from Elizabeth, the soldiers were returned.
These events led to tense relations between Russia and Prussia, which later escalated into the Seven Years’ War. To commemorate this history, portraits of the giant soldiers can be seen in the exhibition of the Amber Hall of the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo.