Frederick II (German: Friedrich; 24 January
1712 – 17 August 1786) was King of Prussia from 1740 until 1786, the longest reign of
any Hohenzollern king. His most significant accomplishments during his reign included
his military victories, his reorganization of Prussian armies, his patronage of the arts
and the Enlightenment and his final success against great odds in the Seven Years’ War.
Frederick was the last Hohenzollern monarch titled King in Prussia and declared himself
King of Prussia after achieving sovereignty over most historically Prussian lands in 1772.
Prussia had greatly increased its territories and became a leading military power in Europe
under his rule. He became known as Frederick the Great (Friedrich der Große) and was nicknamed
Der Alte Fritz (“The Old Fritz”) by the Prussian people and eventually the rest of Germany.In
his youth, Frederick was more interested in music and philosophy than the art of war.
Nonetheless, upon ascending to the Prussian throne he attacked Austria and claimed Silesia
during the Silesian Wars, winning military acclaim for himself and Prussia. Toward the
end of his reign, Frederick physically connected most of his realm by acquiring Polish territories
in the First Partition of Poland. He was an influential military theorist whose analysis
emerged from his extensive personal battlefield experience and covered issues of strategy,
tactics, mobility and logistics. Considering himself “the first servant of
the state”, Frederick was a proponent of enlightened absolutism. He modernized the Prussian bureaucracy
and civil service and pursued religious policies throughout his realm that ranged from tolerance
to segregation. He reformed the judicial system and made it possible for men not of noble
stock to become judges and senior bureaucrats. Frederick also encouraged immigrants of various
nationalities and faiths to come to Prussia, although he enacted oppressive measures against
Polish Catholic subjects in West Prussia. Frederick supported arts and philosophers
he favored as well as allowing complete freedom of the press and literature. Frederick is
buried at his favorite residence, Sanssouci in Potsdam. Because he died childless, Frederick
was succeeded by his nephew, Frederick William II, son of his brother, Augustus William.
Nearly all 19th-century German historians made Frederick into a romantic model of a
glorified warrior, praising his leadership, administrative efficiency, devotion to duty
and success in building up Prussia to a great power in Europe. Historian Leopold von Ranke
was unstinting in his praise of Frederick’s “heroic life, inspired by great ideas, filled
with feats of arms … immortalized by the raising of the Prussian state to the rank
of a power”. Johann Gustav Droysen was even more extolling. Frederick remained an admired
historical figure through the German Empire’s defeat in World War I. The Nazis glorified
him as a great German leader pre-figuring Adolf Hitler, who personally idolized him.
Associations with him became far less favorable after the fall of the Nazis, largely due to
his status as one of their symbols. However, by the 21st century a re-evaluation of his
legacy as a great general and enlightened monarch returned opinion of him to favour.==Youth==Frederick, the son of Frederick William I
and his wife, Sophia Dorothea of Hanover, was born in Berlin on 24 January 1712. He
was baptised with only one name, Friedrich, and was not given any other names. The birth
of Frederick was welcomed by his grandfather, Frederick I, with more than usual pleasure,
as his two previous grandsons had both died in infancy. With the death of his father in
1713, Frederick William became King in Prussia, thus making young Frederick the crown prince.
The new king wished for his sons and daughters to be educated not as royalty, but as simple
folk. He had been educated by a Frenchwoman, Madame de Montbail, who later became Madame
de Rocoulle, and he wished that she educate his children.
Frederick William I, popularly dubbed as the Soldier-King, had created a large and powerful
army led by his famous “Potsdam Giants”, carefully managed his treasury finances and developed
a strong, centralized government. However, he also possessed a violent temper (in part
due to porphyritic illness) and ruled Brandenburg-Prussia with absolute authority. As Frederick grew,
his preference for music, literature and French culture clashed with his father’s militarism,
resulting in Frederick William frequently beating and humiliating him. In contrast,
Frederick’s mother Sophia was polite, charismatic and learned. Her father, George Louis of Brunswick-Lüneburg,
succeeded to the British throne as King George I in 1714. Frederick was brought up by Huguenot governesses
and tutors and learned French and German simultaneously. In spite of his father’s desire that his education
be entirely religious and pragmatic, the young Frederick, with the help of his tutor Jacques
Duhan, procured for himself a three thousand volume secret library of poetry, Greek and
Roman classics, and French philosophy to supplement his official lessons.Although Frederick William
I was raised a Calvinist, he feared he was not of the elect. To avoid the possibility
of Frederick being motivated by the same concerns, the king ordered that his heir not be taught
about predestination. Nevertheless, although Frederick was largely irreligious, he to some
extent appeared to adopt this tenet of Calvinism. Some scholars have speculated that he did
this to spite his father.==Crown Prince==
In the mid-1720s, a double marriage was proposed. Queen Sophia Dorothea attempted to arrange
Frederick and his sister Wilhelmine with Amelia and Frederick, the children of her brother,
King George II of Great Britain. Fearing an alliance between Prussia and Great Britain,
Field Marshal von Seckendorff, the Austrian ambassador in Berlin, bribed the Prussian
Minister of War, Field Marshal von Grumbkow, and the Prussian ambassador in London, Benjamin
Reichenbach. The pair slandered the British and Prussian courts in the eyes of the two
kings. Angered by the idea of the effete Frederick’s being so honored by Britain, Frederick William
presented impossible demands to the British, such as “securing Prussia’s rights to the
principalities of Jülich-Berg”, and after 1728, only Berg, which led to the collapse
of the marriage proposal.Frederick found an ally in his sister, Wilhelmine, with whom
he remained close for life; he was later devastated by her death in 1758. At age 16, Frederick
formed a homosexual attachment to the king’s 17-year-old page, Peter Karl Christoph von
Keith. Wilhelmine recorded that the two “soon became inseparable. Keith was intelligent,
but without education. He served my brother from feelings of real devotion, and kept him
informed of all the king’s actions.” Margaret Goldsmith, a biographer of Frederick’s, suggests
the attachment was of a sexual and/or romantic nature, and as a result thereof, Keith was
sent away to an unpopular regiment near the Dutch frontier, while Frederick was temporarily
sent to his father’s hunting lodge at Königs Wusterhausen in order “to repent of his sin.”
Around the same time, he became close friends with Hans Hermann von Katte, a young Prussian
officer who served as one of his tutors; it is believed they held romantic feelings for
each other.===Katte affair===
When he was 18, Frederick plotted to flee to England with Katte and other junior army
officers. While the royal retinue was near Mannheim in the Electorate of the Palatinate,
Robert Keith, Peter Keith’s brother, had an attack of conscience when the conspirators
were preparing to escape and begged Frederick William for forgiveness on 5 August 1730;
Frederick and Katte were subsequently arrested and imprisoned in Küstrin. Because they were
army officers who had tried to flee Prussia for Great Britain, Frederick William leveled
an accusation of treason against the pair. The king briefly threatened the crown prince
with the death penalty, then considered forcing Frederick to renounce the succession in favour
of his brother, Augustus William, although either option would have been difficult to
justify to the Imperial Diet of the Holy Roman Empire. The king forced Frederick to watch
the decapitation of his confidant Katte at Küstrin on 6 November, leading the crown
prince to faint right before the fatal blow was struck.Frederick was granted a royal pardon
and released from his cell on 18 November, although he remained stripped of his military
rank. Instead of returning to Berlin, however, he was forced to remain in Küstrin and began
rigorous schooling in statecraft and administration for the War and Estates Departments on 20
November. Tensions eased slightly when Frederick William visited Küstrin a year later, and
Frederick was allowed to visit Berlin on the occasion of his sister Wilhelmine’s marriage
to Margrave Frederick of Bayreuth on 20 November 1731. The crown prince returned to Berlin
after finally being released from his tutelage at Küstrin on 26 February 1732.===Marriage and War of the Polish Succession
===Frederick William considered marrying Frederick
to Elisabeth of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, the niece of Empress Anna of Russia, but this
plan was ardently opposed by Prince Eugene of Savoy. Frederick himself proposed marrying
Maria Theresa of Austria in return for renouncing the succession. Instead, Eugene persuaded
Frederick William, through Seckendorff, that the crown prince marry Elisabeth Christine
of Brunswick-Bevern, a Protestant relative of the Austrian Habsburgs. Although Frederick
wrote to his sister that, “There can be neither love nor friendship between us,” and he considered
suicide, he went along with the wedding on 12 June 1733 despite this. He had little in
common with his bride and resented the political marriage as an example of the Austrian political
interference which had plagued Prussia since 1701. Once Frederick secured the throne in
1740, he prevented Elisabeth from visiting his court in Potsdam, granting her instead
Schönhausen Palace and apartments at the Berliner Stadtschloss. Frederick bestowed
the title of the heir to the throne, “Prince of Prussia”, on his brother Augustus William;
despite this, his wife remained devoted to him. In their early married life, the royal
couple resided at the Crown Prince’s Palace in Berlin. Although Frederick gave Elisabeth
Christine all the honors befitting her station, he rarely saw her during his reign and never
showed her any affection. Frederick was restored to the Prussian Army
as Colonel of the Regiment von der Goltz, stationed near Nauen and Neuruppin. When Prussia
provided a contingent of troops to aid the Army of the Holy Roman Empire during the War
of the Polish Succession, Frederick studied under Reichsgeneralfeldmarschall Prince Eugene
of Savoy during the campaign against France on the Rhine; he noted the weakness of the
Imperial Army under the command of the Archduchy of Austria, something that he would capitalize
on at Austria’s expense when he later took the throne. Frederick William, weakened by
gout brought about by the campaign and seeking to reconcile with his heir, granted Frederick
Schloss Rheinsberg in Rheinsberg, north of Neuruppin. In Rheinsberg, Frederick assembled
a small number of musicians, actors and other artists. He spent his time reading, watching
dramatic plays, composing and playing music, and regarded this time as one of the happiest
of his life. Frederick formed the Bayard Order to discuss warfare with his friends; Heinrich
August de la Motte Fouqué was made the grand master of the gatherings.The works of Niccolò
Machiavelli, such as The Prince, were considered a guideline for the behavior of a king in
Frederick’s age. In 1739, Frederick finished his Anti-Machiavel, an idealistic refutation
of Machiavelli. It was written in French and published anonymously in 1740, but Voltaire
distributed it in Amsterdam to great popularity. Frederick’s years dedicated to the arts instead
of politics ended upon the 1740 death of Frederick William and his inheritance of the Kingdom
of Prussia. Frederick and his father were more or less reconciled at the latter’s death,
and Frederick later admitted, despite their constant conflict, that Frederick William
had been an effective ruler: “What a terrible man he was. But he was just, intelligent,
and skilled in the management of affairs… it was through his efforts, through his tireless
labor, that I have been able to accomplish everything that I have done since.”==
Inheritance==In one defining respect Frederick would come
to the throne with an exceptional inheritance. A Prussian population estimated at 2.24 million
might not be enough to confer great power status, but it turned out that an army of
80,000 men could be. The ratio of one soldier for every 28 citizens can be compared with
a ratio of one soldier for every 310 citizens in Great Britain, frequently an indispensable
ally and another aggressively expansionist power during the middle part of the eighteenth
century. Moreover, the Prussian infantry trained by Frederick William I were, at the time of
Frederick’s accession, arguably without rival in discipline and firepower. By 1770, after
two decades of punishing war alternating with intervals of peace, Frederick would have doubled
the size of the huge army that he had inherited from his father, and which during his reign
would consume 86% of the state budget. The situation is summed up in a widely translated
and quoted aphorism attributed to Mirabeau who asserted in 1786 that Prussia under Frederick
was not a state in possession of an army, but an army in possession of a state (“La
Prusse n’est pas un pays qui a une armée, c’est une armée qui a un pays”).==Reign (1740–1786)==Prince Frederick was twenty-eight years old
when his father Frederick William I died and he ascended to the throne of Prussia. Before
his accession, Frederick was told by D’Alembert, “The philosophers and the men of letters in
every land have long looked upon you, Sire, as their leader and model.” Such devotion,
however, had to be tempered by political realities. When Frederick ascended the throne as “King
in Prussia” in 1740, Prussia consisted of scattered territories, including Cleves, Mark,
and Ravensberg in the west of the Holy Roman Empire; Brandenburg, Hither Pomerania, and
Farther Pomerania in the east of the Empire; and the Kingdom of Prussia, the former Duchy
of Prussia, outside of the Empire bordering the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. He was
titled King in Prussia because this was only part of historic Prussia; he was to declare
himself King of Prussia after acquiring most of the rest in 1772.===War of the Austrian Succession===Frederick’s goal was to modernize and unite
his vulnerably disconnected lands; toward this end, he fought wars mainly against Austria,
whose Habsburg dynasty reigned as Holy Roman Emperors almost continuously from the 15th
century until 1806. Frederick established Prussia as the fifth and smallest European
great power by using the resources his frugal father had cultivated.
Upon succeeding to the throne on 31 May 1740 at the death of his father, and desiring the
prosperous Austrian province of Silesia (which Prussia also had a minor claim to), Frederick
declined to endorse the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713, a legal mechanism to ensure the inheritance
of the Habsburg domains by Maria Theresa of Austria, daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Charles
VI. Thus, upon the death of Charles VI on 29 October 1740, Frederick disputed the succession
of the 23-year-old Maria Theresa to the Habsburg lands, while simultaneously making his own
claim on Silesia. Accordingly, the First Silesian War (1740–1742, part of the War of the Austrian
Succession) began on 16 December 1740, when Frederick invaded and quickly occupied the
province. Frederick was worried that if he did not move to occupy Silesia, Augustus III,
King of Poland and Elector of Saxony, would seek to connect his own disparate lands through
Silesia. Therefore, the Prussian king struck preemptively and quickly occupied Silesia,
using as justification an obscure treaty from 1537 between the Hohenzollern and the Piast
dynasty of Brieg (Brzeg). Frederick occupied Silesia, except for three
fortresses at Glogau, Brieg and Breslau, in just seven weeks, despite poor roads and bad
weather. The fortress at Ohlau fell to Frederick almost immediately and became the winter quarters
for Frederick’s army. In late March 1741, Frederick set out on his campaign again but
was forced to fall back by a sudden surprise attack by the Austrians. The first real battle
Frederick faced in Silesia was the Battle of Mollwitz on 10 April 1741. Though Frederick
had actually served under Prince Eugene of Savoy, this was the first time he would command
an army. Believing that his army had been defeated by the Austrians, Frederick sought
to avoid capture and galloped away, leaving Field Marshal Kurt Schwerin in command of
the army. In actuality, the Prussians had won the battle at the very moment that Frederick
had fled. Frederick would later admit to humiliation at this breach of discipline and would later
state: “Mollwitz was my school.” Disappointed with the performance of his cavalry, whose
training his father had neglected in favor of the infantry, Frederick spent much of his
time in Silesia establishing a new doctrine for them.In early September 1741, the French
entered the war against Austria and together with their allies, the Electorate of Bavaria,
marched on Prague. With Prague under threat, the Austrians pulled their army out of Silesia
to defend Bohemia. When Frederick pursued them into Bohemia and blocked their path to
Prague, the Austrians attacked him on 17 May 1742. However, Frederick’s re-trained cavalry
proved to be a powerful force and ultimately Prussia claimed victory at the Battle of Chotusitz.
After this dramatic victory, and with the Franco-Bavarian forces having captured Prague,
Frederick forced the Austrians to seek peace. The terms of the Treaty of Breslau between
the Austrians and the Prussians, negotiated in June 1742, gave Prussia all of Silesia
and Glatz County, with the Austrians retaining only that portion of Upper Silesia called
“Austrian or Czech Silesia.” Prussian possession of Silesia gave the kingdom control over the
navigable Oder River as well as nearly doubling the size of its population, economy and territory.
In 1744, Frederick also gained the minor territory of East Frisia (located on the North Sea coast
of Germany) after its last ruler died without issue.
By 1743, the Austrians had subdued Bavaria and driven the French out of Bohemia. Frederick
strongly suspected Maria Theresa would resume war with Prussia in an attempt to recover
Silesia. Accordingly, he renewed his alliance with the French and preemptively invaded Bohemia
in August 1744, beginning the Second Silesian War. By late August 1744, all of Frederick’s
columns had crossed the Bohemian frontier. Frederick marched straight for Prague and
laid siege to the city. On 11 September 1744, the Prussians began a three-day artillery
bombardment of Prague, which fell a few days later. Three days after the fall of Prague,
Frederick’s troops were again on the march into the heart of central Bohemia. However,
the Austrians refused to directly engage in battle with Frederick and simply harassed
his supply lines, eventually forcing him to withdraw to Silesia as winter approached.
With the death of Holy Roman Emperor Charles VII of Bavaria in January 1745, Maria Theresa’s
husband Francis of Lorraine was elected Emperor and Saxony joined the Austrians’ side against
Frederick. On 4 June 1745, Frederick trapped a joint
force of Saxons and Austrians that had crossed the mountains to invade Silesia. After allowing
them to cross the mountains (“If you want to catch a mouse, leave the trap open,” Frederick
is quoted as saying at the time), Frederick then pinned the enemy force down and defeated
them at the Battle of Hohenfriedberg. Pursuing the Austrians into Bohemia, Frederick caught
the enemy on 30 September 1745 and delivered a flanking attack on the Austrian right wing
at the Battle of Soor, which set the Austrians to flight. Frederick then turned towards Dresden
when he learned the Saxons were preparing to march on Berlin. However, on 15 December
1745, the Saxons were soundly defeated at the Battle of Kesselsdorf by Prussian commander
Leopold of Anhalt-Dessau. After linking up his army with Leopold’s, Frederick occupied
the Saxon capitol of Dresden, forcing the Saxon Elector (and King of Poland) Augustus
III to capitulate. Once again, Frederick’s stunning victories
on the battlefield caused his enemies to seek peace terms. Under the terms of the Treaty
of Dresden, signed on 25 December 1745, Austria was forced to adhere to the terms of the Treaty
of Breslau giving Silesia to Prussia.===Seven Years’ War===Habsburg Austria and Bourbon France, traditional
enemies, allied together in the Diplomatic Revolution of 1756 following the collapse
of the Anglo-Austrian Alliance. Frederick swiftly made an alliance with Great Britain
at the Convention of Westminster. When the neighboring countries began conspiring against
him, Frederick was determined to strike first. On 29 August 1756 his well-prepared army crossed
the frontier and preemptively invaded Saxony, thus beginning the Third Silesian War and
the larger Seven Years’ War, both of which lasted until 1763. He faced widespread criticism
for his attack on neutral Saxony and for his forcible incorporation of the Saxon forces
into the Prussian army following the Siege of Pirna in October 1756. While the Prussian
invasion of Saxony was successful, it took uncharacteristically long to complete, costing
Prussia the initiative. Frederick’s subsequent 1757 invasion of Austrian Bohemia, though
initially successful, ended in his first defeat at the Battle of Kolin and forced him into
retreat. However, when the French and the Austrians attempted to counter-attack into
Saxony and Silesia, Frederick decisively defeated them at the battles of Rossbach and Leuthen.
Frederick hoped these two great victories would force Austria to negotiate, but Maria
Theresa was determined not to make peace until she had recovered Silesia, and so the war
continued. Despite its excellent performance, the Prussian army became increasingly stretched
thin by various costly battles. Facing a coalition including Austria, France,
Russia, Saxony and Sweden, and having only Great Britain, Hesse, Brunswick, and Hanover
as his allies, Frederick narrowly kept Prussia in the war despite having his territories
repeatedly invaded. He suffered some severe defeats himself and was frequently at the
last gasp, but he always managed to recover. His position became even more desperate in
1761 when Britain (having made gains in India and the Americas) ended its financial support
for Prussia after the death of King George II, Frederick’s uncle. On 6 January 1762,
he wrote to Count Karl-Wilhelm Finck von Finckenstein, “We ought now to think of preserving for my
nephew, by way of negotiation, whatever fragments of my territory we can save from the avidity
of my enemies”. With the Russians slowly advancing towards Berlin, it looked as though Prussia
was about to collapse. The sudden death of Empress Elizabeth of Russia
in January 1762 led to the succession of her Germanized nephew (Duke of Holstein-Gottorp),
pro-Prussian Peter III. This “Miracle of the House of Brandenburg” led to the collapse
of the anti-Prussian coalition; Peter immediately ended the Russian occupation of East Prussia
and Pomerania, returning them to Frederick. One of Peter III’s first diplomatic endeavors
was to seek a Prussian title from Frederick, which Frederick naturally obliged. Peter III
was so enamored of Frederick that he not only offered him the full use of a Russian corps
for the remainder of the war against Austria, he also wrote to Frederick that he would rather
have been a general in the Prussian army than Tsar of Russia. More significantly, Russia’s
about-face from once an enemy of Prussia to its patron rattled the leadership of Sweden,
who, seeing the writing on the wall, hastily made peace with Frederick as well. With the
threat to his eastern borders over, and France also seeking peace after its defeats by Britain,
Frederick was able to fight the Austrians to a stalemate and finally brought them to
the peace table. While the ensuing Treaty of Hubertusburg simply returned the European
borders to what they had been before the Seven Years’ War, Frederick’s ability to retain
Silesia in spite of the odds earned Prussia admiration throughout the German-speaking
territories. A year following the Treaty of Hubertusberg, Catherine the Great (Peter III’s
widow and usurper) signed an eight-year alliance with Prussia. Frederick’s ultimate success in the Seven
Years’ War came at a heavy price, both to him and to Prussia. According to the Anglo-Prussian
Convention, Frederick received from 1758 till 1762 yearly ₤670,000 British subsidies,
stopped by George III of England and the Parliament of Great Britain when Frederick allied with
Peter III of Russia, who planned to solve the Gottorp question and attacking Danish
Holstein in 1762 after the death of Frederick Charles, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Plön.
During the war Frederick devalued the Prussian coin five times in order to finance the war;
debased coins were produced (with the help of Veitel Heine Ephraim and Daniel Itzig,
mintmasters in Leipzig) and spread outside Prussia: in Saxony, Poland, and Kurland. Saxony,
occupied by Prussia for most of the conflict, was bled dry to support the war effort. While
Prussia lost no territory, her population and army were severely depleted by constant
combat and invasions by Austria, Russia and Sweden. Many of Frederick’s closest friends
(as well as his sister Wilhelmine, his brother Augustus William and his mother) and the best
of his officer corps died during the war. By 1772, with his economy largely recovered,
Frederick had managed to bring his army up to 190,000 men (making it the third-largest
army in Europe), but almost none of the officers were veterans of his generation, and the King’s
attitude towards them was extremely harsh.===First Partition of Poland===Frederick had despised Polish people since
his youth, and numerous statements are known in which he expressed anti-Polish prejudice,
calling Polish society “stupid” and stating that “all these people with surnames ending
with -ski, deserve only contempt”. He passionately hated everything associated with Poland, while
justifying his hatred and territorial expansion with ideas of the Enlightenment. He described
Poles as “slovenly Polish trash”; referring to them in a letter from 1735 as “dirty” and
“vile apes”, and compared the Polish peasants to American Indians. Frederick undertook the conquest of Polish
territory under the pretext of an enlightened and civilizing mission, particularly given
his negative perceptions about Poland and the traditions of its ruling elite, all of
which merely provided a convenient path for the “sanguine ameliorism” of the Enlightenment
and heightened assurance in the “distinctive merits of the ‘Prussian way'”. He prepared
the ground for the partition of Poland-Lithuania in 1752 at the latest, hoping to gain territorial
bridge between Pomerania, Brandenburg and East Prussian provinces. Frederick was himself
partly responsible for the weakness of the Polish government, having inflated its currency
with Polish coin dies obtained during the conquest of Saxony in 1756. The profits exceeded
twice the peacetime national budget of Prussia. He opposed attempts of political reform in
Poland, and his troops bombarded customs ports on the Vistula, thwarting Polish efforts to
create a modern fiscal system. As early as 1731 Frederick had suggested that the country
would be well-served by annexing Polish Prussia in order to join the separated territories
of the Kingdom of Prussia.According to Scott, Frederick was eager to exploit Poland economically
as part of his wider aim of increasing Prussia’s wealth. Scott views this as a continuation
of his previous violations of Polish territory in 1759 and 1761 and raids within Greater
Poland until 1765. After acquiring dies from which the currency of Poland was struck Prussia
issued debased Polish coins, which drove money out of Poland into Hohenzollern territory
– this resulted in 25 million thalers in profit, while causing considerable monetary
problems for Poland.Lewitter says: “The conflict over the rights of religious dissenters [in
Poland] had led to civil war and foreign intervention.” Out of 11 to 12 million people in Poland,
200,000 were Protestants and 600,000 Eastern Orthodox. The Protestant dissidents were still
free to practice their religion, although their schools were shut down. All dissidents
could own property, but Poland increasingly reduced their civic rights after a period
of considerable religious and political freedoms. They were allowed to serve in the army and
vote in elections, but were barred from public offices and the Polish Parliament the Sejm,
and during the 1760s their importance became out of proportion compared to their numbers.
Frederick exploited this conflict as means to keep Poland weak and divided.Empress Catherine
II of Russia was staunchly opposed to Prussia. At the same time Frederick opposed Russia,
whose troops had been allowed to freely cross the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth during
the Seven Years’ War of 1756–63. Despite their personal hostility, Frederick and Catherine
signed a defensive alliance in 1764 that guaranteed Prussian control of Silesia in return for
Prussian support for Russia against Austria or the Ottoman Empire. Catherine’s candidate
for the Polish throne, Stanisław August Poniatowski, was then elected King of Poland in September
of that year, and she controlled Polish politics. Frederick became concerned, however, after
Russia gained significant influence over Poland in the Repnin Sejm of 1767, a position which
also threatened Austria and the Ottoman Turks. In the ensuing Russo-Turkish War (1768–74),
Frederick supported Catherine with a subsidy of 300,000 rubles, albeit with reluctance
as he did not want Russia to become even stronger through acquisitions of Ottoman territory.
The Prussian king achieved a rapprochement with Emperor Joseph and the Austrian chancellor
Kaunitz. After Russia occupied the Danubian Principalities
in 1769–70, Frederick’s representative in Saint Petersburg, his brother Prince Henry,
convinced Frederick and Maria Theresa that the balance of power would be maintained by
a tripartite division of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth instead of Russia taking land
from the Ottomans. They agreed to the First Partition of Poland in 1772, which took place
without a war. Frederick claimed most of the Polish province of Royal Prussia. Prussia
annexed 20,000 square miles (52,000 km2) and 600,000 inhabitants, the least of the partitioning
powers. However, Prussia’s Polish territory was also the best-developed economically.
The newly created province of West Prussia connected East Prussia and Farther Pomerania
and granted Prussia control of the mouth of the Vistula River. Frederick also invited
German immigrants to the province, hoping they would displace the Poles. Maria Theresa
had only reluctantly agreed to the partition, to which Frederick sarcastically commented,
“she cries, but she takes”.Frederick himself tried further propaganda to justify the Partition,
portraying the acquired provinces as underdeveloped and improved by Prussian rule. According to
Karin Friedrich these claims were accepted for a long time in German historiography and
sometimes still reflected in modern works. Frederick did not justify his conquests on
an ethnic basis, however, unlike later nationalist, 19th-century German historians. Dismissive
of contemporary German culture, Frederick instead pursued an imperialist policy, acting
on the security interests of his state. Frederick II settled 300,000 colonists in territories
he had conquered, and enforced Germanization.After the first partition Frederick engaged in plunder
of Polish property, confiscating Polish estates and monasteries to support German colonization,
and in 1786 he ordered forced buy-outs of Polish holdings. The new strict tax system
and bureaucracy was particularly disliked among the Polish population, as was the compulsory
military service in the army, which didn’t exist previously in Poland. Frederick abolished
the gentry’s freedom from taxation and restricted its power. Royal estates formerly belonging
to the Polish Crown were redistributed to German landowners, reinforcing Germanization.
Both Protestant and Roman Catholic teachers (mostly Jesuits) taught in West Prussia, and
teachers and administrators were encouraged to be able to speak both German and Polish.
Economic exploitation of Poland, especially by Prussia and Austria, followed the territorial
seizures. Frederick looked upon many of his new Polish
citizens with scorn, but carefully concealed that scorn when actually dealing with them.
Frederick’s long-term goal was to remove all Polish people from his territories, both peasants
and nobility. He sought to expel the nobles through an oppressive tax system and the peasantry
by eradicating the Polish national character of the rural population by mixing them with
Germans invited in their thousands by promises of free land. By such means, Frederick boasted
he would “gradually…get rid of all Poles”.Frederick wrote that Poland had “the worst government
in Europe with the exception of Turkey”. After a prolonged visit to West Prussia in 1773,
Frederick informed Voltaire of his findings and accomplishments: “I have abolished serfdom,
reformed the savage laws, opened a canal which joins up all the main rivers; I have rebuilt
those villages razed to the ground after the plague in 1709. I have drained the marshes
and established a police force where none existed. … [I]t is not reasonable that the
country which produced Copernicus should be allowed to moulder in the barbarism that results
from tyranny. Those hitherto in power have destroyed the schools, thinking that the uneducated
people are easily oppressed. These provinces cannot be compared with any European country—the
only parallel would be Canada.” Howver in a letter to his favorite brother, Prince Henry,
Frederick admitted that the Polish provinces were economically profitable: It is a very good and advantageous acquisition,
both from a financial and a political point of view. In order to excite less jealousy
I tell everyone that on my travels I have seen just sand, pine trees, heath land and
Jews. Despite that there is a lot of work to be done; there is no order, and no planning
and the towns are in a lamentable condition.Frederick also sent in Jesuits to open schools, and
befriended Ignacy Krasicki, whom he asked to consecrate St. Hedwig’s Cathedral in 1773.
He also advised his successors to learn Polish, a policy followed by the Hohenzollern dynasty
until Frederick III decided not to let the future William II learn the language.===War of the Bavarian Succession===Late in his life Frederick involved Prussia
in the low-scale War of the Bavarian Succession in 1778, in which he stifled Austrian attempts
to exchange the Austrian Netherlands for Bavaria. For their part, the Austrians tried to pressure
the French to participate in the War of Bavarian Succession since there were guarantees under
consideration related to the Peace of Westphalia, clauses which linked the Bourbon dynasty of
France and the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty of Austria. Unfortunately for the Austrian Emperor
Joseph II, the French were unable to provide sufficient manpower and resources to the endeavor
since they were already struggling on the North American continent against the British,
aiding the American cause for independence in the process. Frederick ended up as a beneficiary
of the French and British struggle across the Atlantic, as Austria was left more or
less isolated.Moreover, Saxony and Russia, both of which had been Austria’s allies in
the Seven Years’ War, were now allied with Prussia. Although Frederick was weary of war
in his old age, he was determined not to allow the Austrians dominance in German affairs.
Frederick and Prince Henry marched the Prussian army into Bohemia to confront Joseph’s army,
but the two forces ultimately descended into a stalemate, largely living off the land and
skirmishing rather than actively attacking each other. Frederick’s longtime rival Maria
Theresa (Joseph’s mother and co-ruler) did not want a new war with Prussia, and secretly
sent messengers to Frederick to discuss peace negotiations. Finally, Catherine II of Russia
threatened to enter the war on Frederick’s side if peace was not negotiated, and Joseph
reluctantly dropped his claim to Bavaria. When Joseph tried the scheme again in 1784,
Frederick created the Fürstenbund, allowing himself to be seen as a defender of German
liberties, in contrast to his earlier role of attacking the imperial Habsburgs. In the
process of checking Joseph II’s attempts to acquire Bavaria, Frederick enlisted two very
important players, the Electors of Hanover and Saxony along with several other second-rate
German princes. Perhaps even more significant, Frederick benefited from the defection of
the senior prelate of the German Church (Archbishop of Mainz) who was also the arch-chancellor
of the Holy Roman Empire, which further strengthened Frederick and Prussia’s standing amid the
German states.===Military theorist===Contrary to what his father had feared, Frederick
proved himself very courageous in battle (with the exception of his first battlefield experience,
Mollwitz). He frequently led his military forces personally and had six horses shot
from under him during battle. During his reign he commanded the Prussian Army at sixteen
major battles (most of which were victories for him) and various sieges, skirmishes and
other actions. He is often admired as one of the greatest tactical geniuses of all time,
especially for his usage of the oblique order of battle, in which attack is focused on one
flank of the opposing line, allowing a local advantage even if his forces were outnumbered
overall (which they often were). Even more important were his operational successes,
especially preventing the unification of numerically superior opposing armies and being at the
right place at the right time to keep enemy armies out of Prussian core territory.
An example of the place that Frederick holds in history as a ruler is seen in Napoleon
Bonaparte, who saw the Prussian king as the greatest tactical genius of all time; after
Napoleon’s victory of the Fourth Coalition in 1807, he visited Frederick’s tomb in Potsdam
and remarked to his officers, “Gentlemen, if this man were still alive I would not be
here”. Napoleon frequently “pored through Frederick’s campaign narratives and had a
statuette of him placed in his personal cabinet.” Frederick and Napoleon are perhaps the most
admiringly quoted military leaders in Clausewitz’ On War. More than Frederick’s use of the oblique
order, Clausewitz praised particularly the quick and skillful movement of his troops.Frederick
the Great’s most notable and decisive military victories on the battlefield were the Battles
of Hohenfriedberg, fought during the War of Austrian Succession in June 1745; the Battle
of Rossbach, where Frederick defeated a combined Franco-Austrian army of 41,000 with a mere
21,000 soldiers (10,000 dead for the Franco-Austrian side with only 550 casualties for Prussia);
and the Battle of Leuthen, which was a follow up victory to Rossbach pitting Frederick’s
36,000 troops against Charles of Lorraine’s Austrian force of 80,000—Frederick’s masterful
strategy and tactics at Leuthen inflicted 7,000 casualties upon the Austrians and yielded
20,000 prisoners. Frederick the Great believed that creating
alliances was necessary, as Prussia did not have the comparable resources of nations like
France or Austria. After the Seven Years’ War, the Prussian military acquired a formidable
reputation across Europe. Esteemed for their efficiency and success in battle, the Prussian
army of Frederick became a model emulated by other European powers, most notably by
Russia and France; the latter of which quickly applied the lessons of Frederick’s military
tactics under the direction of Napoleon Bonaparte upon their erstwhile European neighbors.Frederick
was an influential military theorist whose analysis emerged from his extensive personal
battlefield experience and covered issues of strategy, tactics, mobility and logistics.
Austrian co-ruler Emperor Joseph II wrote, “When the King of Prussia speaks on problems
connected with the art of war, which he has studied intensively and on which he has read
every conceivable book, then everything is taut, solid and uncommonly instructive. There
are no circumlocutions, he gives factual and historical proof of the assertions he makes,
for he is well versed in history.”Historian Robert M. Citino describes Frederick’s strategic
approach: In war … he usually saw one path to victory,
and that was fixing the enemy army in place, maneuvering near or even around it to give
himself a favorable position for the attack, and then smashing it with an overwhelming
blow from an unexpected direction. He was the most aggressive field commander of the
century, perhaps of all time, and one who constantly pushed the limits of the possible.Historian
Dennis Showalter argues: “The King was also more consistently willing than any of his
contemporaries to seek decision through offensive operations.”Foresight ranked among the most
important attributes when fighting an enemy, according to the Prussian monarch, as the
discriminating commander must see everything before it takes place, so “nothing will be
new to him.” Thus it was flexibility that was often paramount to military success. Donning
both the skin of a fox or a lion in battle, as Frederick once remarked, reveals the intellectual
dexterity he applied to the art of warfare. Much of the structure of the more modern German
General Staff owed its existence and extensive structure to Frederick, along with the accompanying
power of autonomy given to commanders in the field. According to Citino, “When later generations
of Prussian-German staff officers looked back to the age of Frederick, they saw a commander
who repeatedly, even joyfully, risked everything on a single day’s battle – his army, his
kingdom, often his very life.” As far as Frederick was concerned, there were two major battlefield
considerations – speed of march and speed of fire. So confident in the performance of
men he selected for command when compared to those of his enemy, Frederick once quipped,
“A general considered audacious in another country is only ordinary in [Prussia]; [our
general] is able to dare and undertake anything it is possible for men to execute.”Even the
later military reputation of Prussia under Bismarck and Moltke rested on the weight of
mid-eighteenth century military developments and the territorial expansion of Frederick
the Great. Despite his dazzling success as a military commander, Frederick was no fan
of protracted warfare, and once wrote, “Our wars should be short and quickly fought…
A long war destroys … our [army’s] discipline; depopulates the country, and exhausts our
resources.” Martial adeptness and that thoroughness and discipline so often witnessed on the battlefield
was not correspondingly reflected on the domestic front for Frederick. In lieu of his military
predilections, Frederick administered his Kingdom justly and ranks among the most “enlightened”
monarchs of his era; this, notwithstanding the fact that in many ways, “Frederick the
Great represented the embodiment of the art of war”. Consequently, Frederick continues
to be held in high regard as a military theorist the world over.===Modernization of Prussia===Frederick helped transform Prussia from a
European backwater to an economically strong and politically reformed state. He protected
his industries with high tariffs and minimal restrictions on domestic trade. He reformed
the judicial system, allowed freedom of speech, the press and literature. He abolished most
uses of judicial torture, except the flogging of soldiers, as punishment for desertion.
The death penalty could be carried out only with a warrant signed by the King himself;
Frederick only signed a handful of these warrants per year, and then only for murder. He made
it possible for men not of noble stock to become judges and senior bureaucrats. Langer
finds that “Prussian justice became the most prompt and efficient in Europe.” Frederick
the Great promoted a more active population policy, which meant more tax revenues, but
also soldiers for the army. New agricultural land was reclaimed at the Oder.
In January 1750, Johann Philipp Graumann was appointed as Frederick’s confidential adviser
on finance, military affairs, and royal possessions, as well as the Director-General of all mint
facilities. Graumann had two main tasks: first, he was to secure the availability of coin
silver for the Prussian monetary system; second, he was to eliminate the currency chaos of
the Austrian War of Succession and rationalize the Prussian coinage. Prussia adopted a Prussian
thaler containing ​1⁄14 of a Cologne mark of silver, rather than ​1⁄12 (in use since
1690), probably in the expectation that this realistic coin foot would prevail throughout
the empire. In addition, he wanted to compete with the French Louis d’or, which was used
all over Germany and the Dutch currency which was used for trading in the Baltic states.
Graumann announced that he would be able to achieve high coin seignorage for the state
and that Berlin would become the largest exchange center in Central and Northern Europe.
Frederick reorganized the Prussian Academy of Sciences and attracted many scientists
to Berlin. Around 1751 he founded the Emden Company to promote trade with China. He introduced
Friedrich d’or, a lottery, a fire insurance and to stabilize the economy a giro discount
and credit bank.One of Frederick’s achievements after the Seven Years’ War included
the control of grain prices, whereby government storehouses would enable the civilian population
to survive in needy regions, where the harvest was poor. He commissioned Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky
to promote the trade and — to take on the competition with France — put a silk factory
where soon 1,500 people found employment. Frederick the Great followed his recommendations
in the field of toll levies and import restrictions. When Gotzkowsky asked for a deferral during
the Amsterdam banking crisis of 1763, Frederick took over his porcelain factory, now known
as KPM.Frederick modernized the Prussian bureaucracy and civil service and promoted religious tolerance
throughout his realm to attract more settlers in East Prussia. With the help of French experts,
he organized a system of indirect taxation, which would provide the state with more revenue
than direct taxation; the French officials who would have to lease the tax failed. In
1781, Frederick made coffee a royal monopoly and employed disabled soldiers to spy on citizens
sniffing in search of illegally roasted coffee, much to the annoyance of the general population.===Religious policies===While Frederick was something of a religious
skeptic (in contrast to his devoutly Calvinist father) and tolerated all faiths in his realm,
Protestantism remained the favored religion, and Catholics were not chosen for higher state
positions. Frederick was known to be more tolerant of Jews and Catholics than many neighboring
German states, although he considered “most Jews (and all serfs) as less than human.”Frederick
retained Jesuits as teachers in Silesia, Warmia, and the Netze District after their suppression
by Pope Clement XIV. Just like Catherine II, Frederick recognised the educational skills
the Jesuits had as an asset for the nation. He was interested in attracting a diversity
of skills to his country, whether from Jesuit teachers, Huguenot citizens, or Jewish merchants
and bankers; the best known were the Rothschilds of Frankfurt, who eventually attained the
status of court bankers in Hesse-Kassel in 1795 after Frederick’s passing. Nonetheless,
Frederick wanted development throughout the country, specifically in areas that he judged
as needing a particular kind of development. Thus, he accepted countless Protestant weavers
from Bohemia, who were fleeing from the devoutly Catholic rule of Maria Theresa. Frederick
granted the weavers freedom from taxes and military service. As an example of Frederick’s
practical-minded but not fully unprejudiced tolerance, Frederick wrote the following in
his Testament politique: We have too many Jews in the towns. They are
needed on the Polish border because in these areas Hebrews alone perform trade. As soon
as you get away from the frontier, the Jews become a disadvantage, they form cliques,
they deal in contraband and get up to all manner of rascally tricks which are detrimental
to Christian burghers and merchants. I have never persecuted anyone from this or any other
sect; I think, however, it would be prudent to pay attention, so that their numbers do
not increase. Jews on the Polish border were therefore encouraged
to perform all the trade they could and received all the protection and support from the king
as any other Prussian citizen. The success in integrating the Jews into those areas of
society that Frederick encouraged them in can be seen by the role played by Gerson von
Bleichröder in financing Bismarck’s efforts to reunite Germany.In territories he conquered
from Poland, Frederick persecuted Polish Roman Catholic churches by confiscating goods and
property, exercising strict control of churches, and interfering in church administrationAs
Frederick made more wasteland arable, Prussia looked for new colonists to settle the land.
To encourage immigration, he repeatedly emphasized that nationality and religion were of no concern
to him. This policy allowed Prussia’s population to recover very quickly from the considerable
losses it suffered during Frederick’s three wars.Like many leading figures in the Age
of Enlightenment, Frederick was a Freemason and his membership legitimized the group and
protected it against charges of subversion.===Architecture===Frederick had famous buildings constructed
in his capital, Berlin, most of which still exist today, such as the Berlin State Opera,
the Royal Library (today the State Library Berlin), St. Hedwig’s Cathedral, and Prince
Henry’s Palace (now the site of Humboldt University). However, the king preferred spending his time
in his summer residence at Potsdam, where he built the palace of Sanssouci, the most
important work of Northern German rococo. Sanssouci, which translates from French as
“carefree” or “without worry”, was a refuge for Frederick. “Frederician Rococo” developed
under Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff.===Picture gallery at Sanssouci===
As a great patron of the arts, Frederick was a collector of paintings and ancient sculptures;
his favorite artist was Jean-Antoine Watteau. The picture gallery at Sanssouci “represents
a unique synthesis of the arts in which architecture, painting, sculpture and the decorative arts
enter into dialogue with each other, forming a compendium of the arts.” The gilded stucco
decorations of the ceilings were created by Johann Michael Merck (1714–1784) and Carl
Joseph Sartori (1709–1770). Both the wall paneling of the galleries and the diamond
shapes of the floor consist of white and yellow marble. Paintings by different schools were
displayed strictly separately: 17th-century Flemish and Dutch paintings filled the western
wing and the gallery’s central building, while Italian paintings from the High Renaissance
and Baroque were exhibited in the eastern wing. Sculptures were arranged symmetrically
or in rows in relation to the architecture.===Music, arts and education===Frederick was a patron of music as well as
a gifted musician who played the transverse flute. He composed more than 100 sonatas for
the flute as well as four symphonies. The Hohenfriedberger Marsch, a military march,
was supposedly written by Frederick to commemorate his victory in the Battle of Hohenfriedberg
during the Second Silesian War. His court musicians included C. P. E. Bach, Johann Joachim
Quantz, Carl Heinrich Graun and Franz Benda. A meeting with Johann Sebastian Bach in 1747
in Potsdam led to Bach’s writing The Musical Offering.Frederick also aspired to be a Platonic
philosopher king like the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. The king joined the Freemasons in
1738 and stood close to the French Enlightenment, corresponding with some of its key figures,
such as Voltaire. The personal friendship of Frederick and Voltaire came to an unpleasant
end after Voltaire’s visit to Berlin and Potsdam in 1750–1753, although they reconciled from
afar in later years. While using German as a working language in
the army and with his administration, Frederick read and wrote his literary works in French
and also generally used that language with his closest relatives or friends. Though he
had a good command of this language, his writing style was flawed; he had troubles with its
orthography and always had to rely on French proofreaders.Frederick disliked the German
language and literature, explaining that German authors “pile parenthesis upon parenthesis,
and often you find only at the end of an entire page the verb on which depends the meaning
of the whole sentence”. He discarded many Baroque era authors as uncreative pedants
and especially despised German theatre. Also, Frederick II was mostly indifferent to the
revival of German culture in the later part of his reign, as he was unimpressed by the
authors of the “Sturm und Drang” movement and remained of essentially classical taste.
His main inspirations were ancient philosophers and poets as well as French authors of the
17th century. However, interest in foreign cultures was by no means an exception in Germany
at that time. The Habsburg court at Vienna was open to influences from Italy, Spain and
France. Many German rulers sought to emulate the success of Louis XIV of France and adopted
French tastes and manners, though often adapted to the German cultural context. In the case
of Frederick II, it might also have been a reaction to the austerity of the familial
environnement in which he grew up, as his father had a deep aversion for France and
was not interested in the cultural development of his state. On the other hand, while still considering
the German culture of his time to be inferior to that of France or Italy, he did actually
take an interest in its development. He thought that it had partly been hindered by the great
wars of the 17th century (the Thirty Years’ War, the Ottoman wars, the invasions of Louis
XIV) but that with some time and effort, it could equal or even surpass that of its rivals.
In his view, this would require a complete codification of the German language with the
help of official academies, the emergence of talented classical German authors and extensive
patronage of the arts from Germanic rulers. However, he did not expect to see this happen
in his lifetime. His love for French culture was not without limits either. Frederick II
was not appreciative of the luxury and extravagance of the French royal court, and he ridiculed
German princes (especially Augustus III, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland) who mimicked
the French by indulging in those pleasures. His own court remained quite Spartan, frugal
and small, restricted to a limited circle of close friends- a layout similar to his
father’s court, though Frederick and his friends were far more cultured than Frederick William.
Also, Frederick the Great was dismissive of the radical philosophy of later French thinkers
such as Rousseau (though he in fact sheltered Rousseau from persecution for a number of
years), and grew to believe that the French cultural golden age was drawing to a close.Despite
his distaste for German, Frederick did sponsor the Königliche Deutsche Gesellschaft (Royal
German Society), founded in Königsberg in 1741, the aim of which was to promote and
develop the German language. He allowed the association to be titled “royal” and have
its seat at the Königsberg Castle. However, he does not seem to have taken much interest
in the work of the society. Frederick also promoted the use of German instead of Latin
in the field of law, though mainly for practical reasons. Moreover, it was under his reign
that Berlin became an important center of German enlightenment.
The king’s criticism led many German writers to attempt to impress Frederick with their
writings in the German language and thus prove its worthiness. Many statesmen, including
Baron vom und zum Stein, were also inspired by Frederick’s statesmanship. Johann Wolfgang
von Goethe gave his opinion of Frederick during a visit to Strasbourg (Strassburg) by writing: Well, we had not much to say in favour of
the constitution of the Reich; we admitted that it consisted entirely of lawful misuses,
but it rose therefore the higher over the present French constitution which is operating
in a maze of unlawful misuses, whose government displays its energies in the wrong places
and therefore has to face the challenge that a thorough change in the state of affairs
is widely prophesied. In contrast when we looked towards the north, from there shone
Frederick, the Pole Star, around whom Germany, Europe, even the world seemed to turn …===
Environment and agriculture===Frederick the Great was keenly interested
in land use, especially draining swamps and opening new farmland for colonizers who would
increase the kingdom’s food supply. He called it “peopling Prussia” (Peuplierungspolitik).
About a thousand new villages were founded in his reign that attracted 300,000 immigrants
from outside Prussia. He told Voltaire, “Whoever improves the soil, cultivates land lying waste
and drains swamps, is making conquests from barbarism”. Using improved technology enabled
him to create new farmland through a massive drainage program in the country’s Oderbruch
marsh-land. This program created roughly 60,000 hectares (150,000 acres) of new farmland,
but also eliminated vast swaths of natural habitat, destroyed the region’s biodiversity,
and displaced numerous native plant and animal communities. Frederick saw this project as
the “taming” and “conquering” of nature, which, in its wild form, he regarded as “useless”
and “barbarous”—an attitude that reflected his enlightenment-era, rationalist sensibilities.
He presided over the construction of canals for bringing crops to market, and introduced
new crops, especially the potato and the turnip, to the country. For this, he was sometimes
called Der Kartoffelkönig (the Potato King).Frederick’s interest in land reclamation may have resulted
from his upbringing. As a child, his father, Frederick I, made young Frederick work in
the region’s provinces, teaching the boy about the area’s agriculture and geography. This
created an interest in cultivation and development that powered the boy as he became ruler.The
king founded the first veterinary school in Germany. Unusual for his time and aristocratic
background, he criticized hunting as cruel, rough and uneducated. When someone once asked
Frederick why he didn’t wear spurs when riding his horse, he replied, “Try sticking a fork
into your naked stomach, and you will soon see why.” He loved dogs and his horse and
wanted to be buried with his greyhounds. In 1752 he wrote to his sister Wilhelmine that
people indifferent to loyal animals would not be more grateful to other humans and that
it was better to be too sensitive than too harsh. He was also close to nature and issued
decrees to protect plants.===Berlin Academy===
Aarsleff notes that before Frederick came to the throne in 1740, the Prussian Academy
of Sciences (Berlin Academy) was overshadowed by similar bodies in London and Paris. During
the reign of Frederick’s father, the Academy had been closed down as an economy measure,
but Frederick promptly re-opened it when he took the throne in 1740. Frederick made French
the official language and speculative philosophy the most important topic of study. The membership
was strong in mathematics and philosophy and included Immanuel Kant, Jean D’Alembert, Pierre
Louis de Maupertuis, and Étienne de Condillac. However the Academy was in a crisis for two
decades at mid-century, due to scandals and internal rivalries such as the debates between
Newtonianism and Leibnizian views, and the personality conflict between Voltaire and
Maupertuis. At a higher level Maupertuis, the director 1746–59 and a monarchist, argued
that the action of individuals was shaped by the character of the institution that contained
them, and they worked for the glory of the state. By contrast d’ Alembert took a republican
rather than monarchical approach and emphasized the international Republic of Letters as the
vehicle for scientific advance. By 1789, however, the academy had gained an international repute
while making major contributions to German culture and thought. Frederick invited Joseph-Louis
Lagrange to succeed Leonhard Euler at the Berlin Academy; both were world-class mathematicians.
Other intellectuals attracted to the philosopher’s kingdom were Francesco Algarotti, d’Argens,
and Julien Offray de La Mettrie. Immanuel Kant published religious writings in Berlin
which would have been censored elsewhere in Europe.===Sexuality===
Recent major biographers are unequivocal that he was primarily homosexual, and that his
sexuality was central to his life and character. After a lowering defeat on the battlefield,
Frederick wrote: “Fortune has it in for me; she is a woman, and I am not that way inclined.”At
age 16, Frederick seems to have embarked upon a youthful affair with Peter Karl Christoph
Keith, a 17-year-old page of his father. Rumors of the liaison spread in the court and the
“intimacy” between the two boys provoked the condemnation of even his elder and favorite
sister, Wilhelmine, who wrote, “Though I had noticed that he was on more familiar terms
with this page than was proper in his position, I did not know how intimate the friendship
was.” Rumors finally reached King Frederick William, who cultivated an ideal of ultramasculinity
in his court, and derided his son’s “effeminate” tendencies. As a result, Keith was dismissed
from his service to the king and sent away to a regiment by the Dutch border, while Frederick
was sent to Wusterhausen in order to “repent of his sin.” Frederick’s relationship with
Hans Hermann von Katte was also believed by King Frederick William to be romantic, a suspicion
which enraged him, and he had von Katte put to death. Frederick’s physician Johann Georg Ritter
von Zimmermann claimed that Frederick had suffered a minor deformity during an operation
to cure gonorrhea in 1733, and convinced himself that he was impotent, but pretended to be
homosexual in order to appear that he was still virile and capable of intercourse, albeit
with men. This story is doubted by Wolfgang Burgdorf, who is of the opinion that “Frederick
had a physical disgust of women” and therefore “was unable to sleep with them”. In 1739,
Frederick met the Venetian philosopher Francesco Algarotti, and they were both infatuated.
Frederick planned to make him a count. Challenged by Algarotti that northern Europeans lacked
passion, Frederick penned for him an erotic poem which imagined Algarotti in the throes
of sexual intercourse with a female partner referred to as Chloris. In 1740, Frederick
was forced to marry Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Bevern, with whom he had no children.
He immediately separated from his wife when his father died the same year. He would later
only pay her formal visits once a year. These were on her birthday and were some of the
rare occasions when Frederick did not wear military uniform.William Hogarth’s painting
The Toilette features a flautist (who stands next to a painting of Zeus, as an eagle, abducting
Ganymede), which may be a satirical depiction of Frederick – thereby publicly outing him
as a homosexual as early as 1744. Frederick certainly spent much of his time at Sanssouci,
his favourite residence in Potsdam, in a circle that was exclusively male, though a number
of his entourage were happily married. The palace gardens include a Temple of Friendship
(built as a memorial to Wilhelmine), which celebrate the homoerotic attachments of Greek
Antiquity, and which is decorated with portraits of Orestes and Pylades, amongst others. At
Sanssouci, Frederick entertained his most privileged guests, especially the French philosopher
Voltaire, whom he asked in 1750 to come to live with him. Their literary correspondence
and friendship, which spanned almost 50 years, was marked by mutual intellectual fascination,
and began as a flirtation. However, in person Frederick found Voltaire difficult to live
with, and was often annoyed by Voltaire’s many quarrels with his other friends. Voltaire’s
angry attack on Maupertuis, the President of Frederick’s academy, in the form of Le
Diatribe du Docteur Akakia provoked Frederick to burn the pamphlet publicly and put Voltaire
under house arrest, after which Voltaire left Prussia. In the 1750s Voltaire began writing his Mémoires.
The manuscript was stolen and a pirate copy was published in Amsterdam in 1784 as The
Private Life of the King of Prussia. In it, Voltaire explicitly detailed Frederick’s homosexuality
and the circle surrounding him. The revelations and language were strikingly similar to those
detailed in a scurrilous pamphlet published in French, in London in 1752. After a temporary
cooling of Frederick and Voltaire’s friendship, they resumed their correspondence, and aired
mutual recriminations, to end as friends once more. A further intimate friendship was with
his first valet Michael Gabriel Fredersdorf who, Frederick confided to his diary, had
“a very pretty face”: Fredersdorf was provided with an estate, and acted as unofficial prime
minister.===Later years and death===In 1785, Frederick signed a Treaty of Amity
and Commerce with the United States of America, recognising the independence of the new nation.
The agreement included a novel clause, whereby the two leaders of the executive branches
of either country guaranteed a special and humane detention for prisoners of war.Near
the end of his life, Frederick grew increasingly solitary. His circle of close friends at Sanssouci
gradually died off with few replacements, and Frederick became increasingly critical
and arbitrary, to the frustration of the civil service and officer corps. The populace of
Berlin always cheered the king when he returned to the city from provincial tours or military
reviews, but Frederick evinced little pleasure from his popularity with the common people,
preferring instead the company of his pet Italian greyhounds, whom he referred to as
his “marquises de Pompadour” as a jibe at the French royal mistress. Even in his late
60s and early 70s when his health was increasingly poor, he rose before dawn, drank six to eight
cups of coffee a day, “laced with mustard and peppercorns”, and attended to state business
with characteristic tenacity.On the morning of 17 August 1786, Frederick died in an armchair
in his study at Sanssouci, aged 74. He left instructions that he should be buried next
to his greyhounds on the vineyard terrace, on the side of the corps de logis of Sanssouci.
His nephew and successor Frederick William II instead ordered the body to be entombed
next to his father in the Potsdam Garrison Church. Near the end of World War II, Hitler
ordered Frederick’s coffin, along with those of his father Frederick William I, World War
I Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, and Hindenburg’s wife Gertrud, to be hidden in a salt mine
as protection from destruction. The United States Army relocated the remains to Marburg
in 1946; in 1953, the coffins of Frederick and his father were moved to Burg Hohenzollern. On the 205th anniversary of his death, on
17 August 1991, Frederick’s casket lay in state in the court of honor at Sanssouci,
covered by a Prussian flag and escorted by a Bundeswehr guard of honor. After nightfall,
Frederick’s body was finally laid to rest in the terrace of the vineyard of Sanssouci—in
the still existing crypt he had built there—without pomp, in accordance with his will.==Historiography and memory==
In German memory, Frederick became a great national hero in the 19th century and many
Germans said he was the greatest monarch in modern history. German historians often made
him the romantic model of a glorified warrior, praising his leadership, administrative efficiency,
devotion to duty and success in building up Prussia to a leading role in Europe.
Historian Leopold von Ranke was unstinting in his praise of Frederick’s “heroic life,
inspired by great ideas, filled with feats of arms … immortalized by the raising of
the Prussian state to the rank of a power”. Johann Gustav Droysen was even more favorable.
Nationalist historian Heinrich von Treitschke presented Frederick as the greatest German
in centuries. Onno Klopp was one of the few German historians of the 19th century who
denigrated and ridiculed Frederick. The novelist Thomas Mann in 1914 also attacked Frederick,
arguing—like Empress Maria Theresa—that he was a wicked man who robbed Austria of
Silesia, precipitating the alliance against him. Nevertheless, with Germany humiliated
after World War I, Frederick’s popularity as a heroic figure remained high in Germany.
Frederick’s place in British historiography was established by Thomas Carlyle’s History
of Frederick the Great (8 vol. 1858–1865), emphasizing the power of one great “hero”
to shape history. In 1933–1945, the Nazis glorified Frederick
as a precursor to Adolf Hitler and presented Frederick as holding out hope that another
miracle would again save Germany at the last moment. Nevertheless, the nationalist (but
anti-Nazi) historian Gerhard Ritter condemned Frederick’s brutal seizure in the first partition
of Poland, although he praised the results as beneficial to the Polish people. Ritter’s
biography of Frederick, published in 1936, was designed as a challenge to Nazi claims
that there was a continuity between Frederick and Hitler. Dorpalen says: “The book was indeed
a very courageous indictment of Hitler’s irrationalism and recklessness, his ideological fanaticism
and insatiable lust for power”.Throughout the World War II, Hitler often compared himself
to Frederick the Great. British-American historian Gordon A. Craig relates that to help legitimize
Nazi rule Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels commissioned artists to render fanciful images
of Frederick, Bismarck, and Hitler together to postulate a historical continuum between
them. Hitler kept an oil painting of Anton Graff’s portrait of Frederick with him to
the end in the Führerbunker in Berlin.Frederick’s reputation was sharply downgraded after 1945
in both East and West Germany. His diminished legacy in Germany was due in part to the Nazis’
fascination with him, to say nothing of his supposed connection with Prussian militarism.
Nonetheless, nowadays Frederick is generally held in high regard, especially for his statesmanship—and
for his enlightened reforms that positively changed not only Germany, but European society
in general, allowing German intellectuals to assert that the revolutions in both France
and America were to some extent “belated” attempts to “catch up with Prussia”.In the
21st century, his reputation as a warrior remains strong among military historians.
Historians in general continue to debate the issue of continuity versus innovation. How
much of the king’s achievement was based on developments already under way, and how much
can be attributed to his initiative? How closely linked was he to the Enlightenment? Is the
category of “enlightened absolutism” still useful for the scholar?==Frederick in popular culture=====
Places===King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, is named after
the King of Prussia Inn, itself named in honour of Frederick.===German films===
The Great King (German: Der Große König) is a 1942 German drama film directed by Veit
Harlan and starring Otto Gebühr. It depicts the life of Frederick the Great. It received
the rare “Film of the Nation” distinction. Otto Gebühr also played the King in many
other films. Films with Otto Gebühr as Frederick the Great1920:
The Dancer Barberina – director: Carl Boese 1921–1923: Fridericus Rex – director:
Arzén von CserépyTeil 1 – Sturm und Drang Teil 2 – Vater und Sohn
Teil 3 – Sanssouci Teil 4 – Schicksalswende1926: The Mill at
Sanssouci – director: Siegfried Philippi 1928: The Old Fritz – 1. Teil Friede – director:
Gerhard Lamprecht 1928: Der alte Fritz – 2. Teil Ausklang
– director: Gerhard Lamprecht 1930: The Flute Concert of Sanssouci – director:
Gustav Ucicky 1932: The Dancer of Sanssouci – director:
Friedrich Zelnik 1933: Der Choral von Leuthen – director:
Carl Froelich 1936. Heiteres und Ernstes um den großen
König – director: Phil Jutzi 1936: Fridericus – director: Johannes Meyer
1937: Das schöne Fräulein Schragg – director: Hans Deppe
1942: The Great King – director: Veit HarlanIn the 2004 German film Der Untergang (Downfall),
Adolf Hitler is shown sitting in a dark room forlornly gazing at a painting of Frederick.
This is based on an incident witnessed by Rochus Misch.The 2012 German made-for-television
film Friedrich – ein deutscher König (Frederick – a German King) starred the actresses Katharina
Thalbach and her daughter Anna Thalbach in the title roles as the old and young king
respectively.===Other===
Frederick has been included in the Civilization computer game series, the computer games Age
of Empires III, Empire Earth II, Empire: Total War, and the board games Friedrich and Soldier
Kings.He is recorded as the first to claim that “dog is man’s best friend”, as he referred
to one of his Italian greyhounds as his best friend.==Ancestry====Titles, styles, honours and arms=====
Titles and styles===24 January 1712 – 31 May 1740 – His Royal
Highness The Crown Prince [of Prussia] 31 May 1740 – 19 February 1772 – His Majesty
The King in Prussia. 19 February 1772 – 17 August 1786 – His
Majesty The King of Prussia.===Honours===
Royal Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter
Master and Sovereign of the Order of the Black Eagle 1740–1786==See also==
Battle of Gross-Jägersdorf Battle of Hohenfriedberg
Battle of Kolín Battle of Liegnitz (1760)
Battle of Rossbach Der Hohenfriedberger (Marsch)
First Partition of Poland List of people from Berlin
Pierre Louis Maupertuis Treaty of Hubertusburg
Voltaire

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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