Frederick II of Prussia
Frederick II of Prussia (Friedrich der Große, Frederick the Great -- January 24, 1712 - August 17, 1786) was the Hohenzollern king of Prussia, from 1740-86. He was one of the so-called "enlightened monarchs".
Frederick succeeded his father Frederick William I (der Soldatenkönig, the "Soldier King"). He had to endure a very rigorous and austere upbringing. The relationship between the music loving and francophile Frederick and his militaristic father was difficult. At a manoeuvre the 18-year-old Frederick was once beaten in public by his father. Thereupon he tried to escape together with his friend Hans Hermann von Katte, but was caught (August 5 1730). Prince Frederick was imprisoned in the fortress Küstrin. An accusation of treason was leveled against them; both the prince and von Katte who were officers in the Prussian army and had tried to flee from Prussia and allegedly even planned on working together with England against the Prussian king. The prince was threatened with the death penalty, and the king did not rule out an execution. So the proud prince had to submit to his father's demands. Frederick was forced to watch the execution (by decapitation) of his friend on November 6 1730, and was strictly supervised in the following years.
He had to marry Elisabeth Christine von Braunschweig-Bevern on June 12 1733. The involuntary matrimony did not lead to children. After having become king, Frederick mostly ignored his wife. Some sources are taken to indicate that he was homosexual.
The father gave his son the chateau Rheinsberg . In Rheinsberg Frederick assembled a small number of musicians, actors and other artists. He spent his time on reading, watching dramatic plays, making and listening to music. It was a happy time for the prince.
The writings of Machiavelli were considered a guideline for the behavior of a king in Friedrick's age. In 1739, Frederick finished his "Antimachiavel, ou Examen du Prince de Machiavel" - a writing in which he opposes Machiavelli. It was published anonymously in 1740.
The following chronology of events took place during his life:
- 1740 May 31: Death of King Frederick William
- 1740 October 20: Death of the Emperor Karl VI.; The War of the Austrian Succession begins
- 1741 April 10: Battle of Mollwitz
- 1742 June 11 and July 28: Separate peace treaties with Austria; Silesia becomes part of Prussia
- 1748 Austrian war ends.
- 1744 August 10: War breaks out again with Austria
- 1745 December 25: Peace. Prussia and Frederick have won all 5 battles against Austria in the two Silesian War s
- 1756-1763 Seven Years' War. Frederick is confronted with a Austrian-French-Russian-Saxon alliance. Afraid of being attacked by a resentful Austria, he decides to take the initiative. Initial successes against Saxony and Austria in 1756-1757 are not severe enough to reach a conclusive decision. The Prussians have to retreat from Bohemia. For the rest of the war, Friedrick is busy trying to defend the triangle of Berlin - Silesia - Saxony. In the west Prussia is sheltered by England-Hanover from France. Defence in Northern and Eastern Prussia is only sporadic.
- 1757 June 6: First defeat of Frederick in the Battle of Kolin
- 1757: Frederick wins his greatest victory at the Battle of Leuthen against Prince Charles of Lorraine
- 1759 August 12: Disastrous defeat of Frederick and his army in the Battle of Kunersdorf
- 1762 Armistance and peace with Russia; Austria financially ruined
- 1763 Prussia neither gains nor loses territories
- After the war Frederick begins immediately to rebuild his country.
- 1778 After the death of the Bavarian Kurfürst(elector) Austria tries to annex Bavaria. Frederick (aged 66) invades Bohemia. Austria has to give in.
- 1786 August 17 Frederick William dies.
Frederick did not really have a vision for an unified Germany; this had to wait until Bismarck started and won several wars a century later. Actually he fought all his wars mainly against Austria (The Habsburg leaders of Austria were German kings, almost continuously from the 15th century until 1806). Frederick established Brandenburg/Prussia as the fifth and smallest European great power by using the resources his father had made available. For 100 years the Austro-Prussian dualism (ending with the Austrian defeat in 1866) made a unified Germany impossible.
Frederick led the Prussian forces during the War of the Austrian Succession, during the Seven Years' War (1756-1763), and in the campaign of 1778 - not only as king but also as military commander in the field. He was not only quite successful on the battlefield; Frederick is often admired as one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest, tactical genius of all time. Even more important were his operational successes (preventing unification of superior enemy armies, and being at the right place at the right time to keep enemy armies out of Prussian core territory).
In personal relationships, Frederick had a life-long rivalry with his younger brother Heinrich, Prince of Prussia and a long term friendship with Voltaire. Friedrick hosted Voltaire from July 1750 to March 1752 in Berlin and Potsdam.
Having no children of his own, his nephew succeeded him as King of Prussia.
Frederick had a great fondness for music, and in particular he played the flute to a more than acceptable standard. He was responsible directly or indirectly for the writing of many pieces of flute music, and also wrote over a hundred pieces himself. His court musicians included C. P. E. Bach and Johann Joachim Quantz. A meeting with Johann Sebastian Bach in 1747 in Potsdam led to Bach writing The Musical Offering.
- "[The monarch] is a perpetual sentinel , who must watch...enemies of the state...it is not that he should remain the shadow of authority, but that he should fulfill [his] duties."
- "Hier muss ein jeder nach seiner Facon selig werden." ("Here every one must find his salvation in his own way.")
- "Ich bin der erste Diener meines Staates." ("I am the first servant of my state.")
Frederick managed to take Prussia from being basically a European backwater and make it a modern state. He abolished torture and granted wide religious freedom (although he himself did not care much for religion). He gave his state a modern bureaucracy based on respect for law and ethics, as well as pride in one's profession. This legacy was passed on into the modern German state and is a main reason why he is still so admired as a historical figure within Germany.
Frederick William I
|King of Prussia||Succeeded by:
Frederick William II