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Frederick II of Prussia

(Redirected from Frederick the Great)
Frederick the Great

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".

Friedrick preferred to speak French rather than German. He had little sympathy for the German literature of his time.

His mother was Princess Sophia Dorothea of Hanover (1687-1757). Contrary to her husband she was well educated and knew how to behave.

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.

After the crisis in the relationship with the King in the early 1730s, son and father made a chilly peace in the late 1730s.

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:

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 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.

Preceded by:
Frederick William I
King of Prussia Succeeded by:
Frederick William II

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45