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Frederick II, King of Prussia

Frederick II, King of Prussia[1]

Male 1712 - 1786  (74 years)

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  • Name Frederick II  
    Frederick the Great
    Frederick the Great
    Johann Georg Ziesenis (1716–1776), artist.
    Suffix King of Prussia 
    Born 24 Jan 1712  Berlin, Germany Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Gender Male 
    House Hohenzollern 
    Also Known As Frederick the Great 
    Died 17 Aug 1786  Potsdam, Brandenburg, Germany Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Buried Friedenskirche, Potsdam, Brandenburg, Germany Find all individuals with events at this location 
    • FREDERICK II., known as 'the Great' (1712-1786), king of Prussia, born on the 24th of January 1712, was the eldest son of Frederick William I. He was brought up with extreme rigour, his father devising a scheme of education which was intended to make him a hardy soldier, and prescribing for him every detail of his conduct. So great was Frederick William's horror of everything which did not seem to him practical, that he strictly excluded Latin from the list of his son's studies. Frederick, however, had free and generous impulses which could not be restrained by the sternest system. Encouraged by his mother, and under the influence of his governess Madame de Roucoulle, and of his first tutor Duhan, a French refugee, he acquired an excellent knowledge of French and a taste for literature and music. He even received secret lessons in Latin, which his father invested with all the charms of forbidden fruit. As he grew up he became extremely dissatisfied with the dull and monotonous life he was compelled to lead; and his discontent was heartily shared by his sister, Wilhelmina, a bright and intelligent young princess for whom Frederick had a warm affection.

      Frederick William, seeing his son apparently absorbed in frivolous and effeminate amusements, gradually conceived for him an intense dislike, which had its share in causing him to break off the negotiations for a double marriage between the prince of Wales and Wilhelmina, and the princess Amelia, daughter of George II., and Frederick; for Frederick had been so indiscreet as to carry on a separate correspondence with the English court and to vow that he would marry Amelia or no one. Frederick William's hatred of his son, openly avowed, displayed itself in violent outbursts and public insults, and so harsh was his treatment that Frederick frequently thought of running away and taking refuge at the English court. He at last resolved to do so during a journey which he made with the king to south Germany in 1730, when he was eighteen years of age. He was helped by his two friends, Lieutenant Katte and Lieutenant Keith; but by the imprudence of the former the secret was found out. Frederick was placed under arrest, deprived of his rank as crown prince, tried by court-martial, and imprisoned in the fortress of Cüstrin. Warned by Frederick, Keith escaped; but Katte delayed his flight too long, and a court-martial decided that he should be punished with two years' fortress arrest. But the king was determined by a terrible example to wake Frederick once for all to a consciousness of the heavy responsibility of his position. He changed the sentence on Katte to one of death and ordered the execution to take place in Frederick's presence, arranging its every detail; Frederick's own fate would depend upon the effect of this terrible object-lesson and the response he should make to the exhortations of the chaplain sent to reason with him. On the morning of the 7th of November Katte was beheaded before Frederick's window, after the crown prince had asked his pardon and received the answer that there was nothing to forgive. On Frederick himself lay the terror of death, and the chaplain was able to send to the king a favourable report of his orthodoxy and his changed disposition. Frederick William, whose temper was by no means so ruthlessly Spartan as tradition has painted it, was overjoyed, and commissioned the clergyman to receive from the prince an oath of filial obedience, and in exchange for this proof of 'his intention to improve in real earnest' his arrest was to be lightened, pending the earning of a full pardon. 'The whole town shall be his prison,' wrote the king; 'I will give him employment, from morning to night, in the departments of war, and agriculture, and of the government. He shall work at financial matters, receive accounts, read minutes and make extracts. . . . But if he kicks or rears again, he shall forfeit the succession to the crown, and even, according to circumstances, life itself.'

      For about fifteen months Frederick lived in Cüstrin, busy according to the royal programme with the details of the Prussian administrative system. He was very careful not to 'kick or rear,' and his good conduct earned him a further stage in the restoration to favour. During this period of probation he had been deprived of his status as a soldier and refused the right to wear uniform, while officers and soldiers were forbidden to give him the military salute; in 1732 he was made colonel in command of the regiment at Neuruppin. In the following year he married, in obedience to the king's orders, the princess Elizabeth Christina, daughter of the duke of Brunswick-Bevern. He was given the estate of Rheinsberg in the neighbourhood of Neuruppin, and there he lived until he succeeded to the throne. These years were perhaps the happiest of his life. He discharged his duties with so much spirit and so conscientiously that he ultimately gained the esteem of Frederick William, who no longer feared that he would leave the crown to one unworthy of wearing it. At the same time the crown prince was able to indulge to the full his personal tastes. He carried on a lively correspondence with Voltaire and other French men of letters, and was a diligent student of philosophy, history and poetry. Two of his best-known works were written at this time - Considérations sur l'état présent du corps politique de l'Europe and his Anti-Macchiavel. In the former he calls attention to the growing strength of Austria and France, and insists on the necessity of some third power, by which he clearly means Prussia, counterbalancing their excessive influence. The second treatise, which was issued by Voltaire in Hague in 1740, contains a generous exposition of some of the favourite ideas of the 18th-century philosophers respecting the duties of sovereigns, which may be summed up in the famous sentence: 'the prince is not the absolute master, but only the first servant of his people.'

      On the 31st of May 1740 he became king. He maintained all the forms of government established by his father, but ruled in a far more enlightened spirit; he tolerated every form of religious opinion, abolished the use of torture, was most careful to secure an exact and impartial administration of justice, and, while keeping the reins of government strictly in his own hands, allowed every one with a genuine grievance free access to his presence. The Potsdam regiment of giants was disbanded, but the real interests of the army were carefully studied, for Frederick realized that the two pillars of the Prussian state were sound finances and a strong army. On the 20th of October 1740 the emperor Charles VI. died. Frederick at once began to make extensive military preparations, and it was soon clear to all the world that he intended to enter upon some serious enterprise. He had made up his mind to assert the ancient claim of the house of Brandenburg to the three Silesian duchies, which the Austrian rulers of Bohemia had ever denied, but the Hohenzollerns had never abandoned. Projects for the assertion of this claim by force of arms had been formed by more than one of Frederick's predecessors, and the extinction of the male line of the house of Habsburg may well have seemed to him a unique opportunity for realizing an ambition traditional in his family. For this resolution he is often abused still by historians, and at the time he had the approval of hardly any one out of Prussia. He himself, writing of the scheme in his Mémoires, laid no claim to lofty motives, but candidly confessed that - it was a means of acquiring reputation and of increasing the power of the state. He firmly believed, however, in the lawfulness of his claims; and although his father had recognized the Pragmatic Sanction, whereby the hereditary dominions of Charles VI. were to descend to his daughter, Maria Theresa, Frederick insisted that this sanction could refer only to lands which rightfully belonged to the house of Austria. He could also urge that, as Charles VI. had not fulfilled the engagements by which Frederick William's recognition of the Pragmatic Sanction had been secured, Prussia was freed from her obligation.

      Frederick sent an ambassador to Vienna, offering, in the event of his rights in Silesia being conceded, to aid Maria Theresa against her enemies. The queen of Hungary, who regarded the proposal as that of a mere robber, haughtily declined; whereupon Frederick immediately invaded Silesia with an army of 30,000 men. His first victory was gained at Mollwitz on the 10th of April 1741. Under the impression, in consequence of a furious charge of Austrian cavalry, that the battle was lost, he rode rapidly away at an early stage of the struggle - a mistake which gave rise for a time to the groundless idea that he lacked personal courage. A second Prussian victory was gained at Chotusitz, near Caslau, on the 17th May 1742; by this time Frederick was master of all the fortified places of Silesia. Maria Theresa, in the heat of her struggle with France and the elector of Bavaria, now Charles VII., and pressed by England to rid herself of Frederick, concluded with him, on the 11th of June 1742, the peace of Breslau, conceding to Prussia, Upper and Lower Silesia as far as the Oppa, together with the county of Glatz. Frederick made good use of the next two years, fortifying his new territory, and repairing the evils inflicted upon it by the war. By the death of the prince of East Friesland without heirs, he also gained possession of that country (1744). He knew well that Maria Theresa would not, if she could help it, allow him to remain in Silesia; accordingly, in 1744, alarmed by her victories, he arrived at a secret understanding with France, and pledged himself, with Hesse-Cassel and the palatinate, to maintain the imperial rights of Charles VII., and to defend his hereditary Bavarian lands. Frederick began the second Silesian War by entering Bohemia in August 1744 and taking Prague. By this brilliant but rash venture he put himself in great danger, and soon had to retreat; but in 1745 he gained the battles of Hohenfriedberg, Soor and Hennersdorf; and Leopold of Dessau (Der alte Dessauer) won for him the victory of Kesselsdorf in Saxony. The latter victory was decisive, and the peace of Dresden (December 25, 1745) assured to Frederick a second time the possession of Silesia. (See Austrian Succession, War of the .)

      Frederick had thus, at the age of thirty-three, raised himself to a great position in Europe, and henceforth he was the most conspicuous sovereign of his time. He was a thoroughly absolute ruler, his so-called ministers being mere clerks whose business was to give effect to his will. To use his own famous phrase, however, he regarded himself as but 'the first servant of the state'; and during the next eleven years he proved that the words expressed his inmost conviction and feeling. All kinds of questions were submitted to him, important and unimportant; and he is frequently censured for having troubled himself so much with mere details. But in so far as these details related to expenditure he was fully justified, for it was absolutely essential for him to have a large army, and with a small state this was impossible unless he carefully prevented unnecessary outlay. Being a keen judge of character, he filled the public offices with faithful, capable, energetic men, who were kept up to a high standard of duty by the consciousness that their work might at any time come under his strict supervision. The Academy of Sciences, which had fallen into contempt during his father's reign, he restored, infusing into it vigorous life; and he did more to promote elementary education than any of his predecessors. He did much too for the economic development of Prussia, especially for agriculture; he established colonies, peopling them with immigrants, extended the canal system, drained and diked the great marshes of the Oderbruch, turning them into rich pasturage, encouraged the planting of fruit trees and of root crops; and, though in accordance with his ideas of discipline he maintained serfdom, he did much to lighten the burdens of the peasants. All kinds of manufacture, too, particularly that of silk, owed much to his encouragement. To the army he gave unremitting attention, reviewing it at regular intervals, and sternly punishing negligence on the part of the officers. Its numbers were raised to 160,000 men, while fortresses and magazines were always kept in a state of readiness for war. The influence of the king's example was felt far beyond the limits of his immediate circle. The nation was proud of his genius, and displayed something of his energy in all departments of life. Lessing, who as a youth of twenty came to Berlin in 1749, composed enthusiastic odes in his honour, and Gleim, the Halberstadt poet, wrote of him as of a kind of demi-god. These may be taken as fair illustrations of the popular feeling long before the Seven Years' War.

      He despised German as the language of boors, although it is remarkable that at a later period, in a French essay on German literature, he predicted for it a great future. He habitually wrote and spoke French, and had a strong ambition to rank as a distinguished French author. Nobody can now read his verses, but his prose writings have a certain calm simplicity and dignity, without, however, giving evidence of the splendid mental qualities which he revealed in practical life. To this period belong his Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire de Brandebourg and his poem L'Art de la guerre. The latter, judged as literature, is intolerably dull; but the former is valuable, throwing as it does considerable light on his personal sympathies as well as on the motives of important epochs in his career. He continued to correspond with French writers, and induced a number of them to settle in Berlin, Maupertuis being president of the Academy. In 1752 Voltaire, who had repeatedly visited him, came at Frederick's urgent entreaty, and received a truly royal welcome. The famous Hirsch trial, and Voltaire's vanity and caprice, greatly lowered him in the esteem of the king, who, on his side, irritated his guest by often requiring him to correct bad verses, and by making him the object of rude banter. The publication of Doctor Akakia, which brought down upon the president of the Academy a storm of ridicule, finally alienated Frederick; while Voltaire's wrongs culminated in the famous arrest at Frankfort, the most disagreeable elements of which were due to the misunderstanding of an order by a subordinate official.

      The king lived as much as possible in a retired mansion, to which he gave the name of Sanssouci - not the palace so called, which was built after the Seven Years' War, and was never a favourite residence. He rose regularly in summer at five, in winter at six, devoting himself to public business till about eleven. During part of this time, after coffee, he would aid his reflections by playing on the flute, of which he was passionately fond, being a really skilful performer. At eleven came parade, and an hour afterwards, punctually, dinner, which continued till two, or later, if conversation happened to be particularly attractive. After dinner he glanced through and signed cabinet orders written in accordance with his morning instructions, often adding marginal notes and postscripts, many of which were in a caustic tone. These disposed of, he amused himself for a couple of hours with literary work; between six and seven he would converse with his friends or listen to his reader (a post held for some time by La Mettrie); at seven there was a concert; and at half-past eight he sat down to supper, which might go on till midnight. He liked good eating and drinking, although even here the cost was sharply looked after, the expenses of his kitchen mounting to no higher figure than £1800 a year. At supper he was always surrounded by a number of his most intimate friends, mainly Frenchmen; and he insisted on the conversation being perfectly free. His wit, however, was often cruel, and any one who responded with too much spirit was soon made to feel that the licence of talk was to be complete only on one side.

      At Frederick's court ladies were seldom seen, a circumstance that gave occasion to much scandal for which there seems to have been no foundation. The queen he visited only on rare occasions. She had been forced upon him by his father, and he had never loved her; but he always treated her with marked respect, and provided her with a generous income, half of which she gave away in charity. Although without charm, she was a woman of many noble qualities; and, like her husband, she wrote French books, some of which attracted a certain attention in their day. She survived him by eleven years, dying in 1797.

      Maria Theresa had never given up hope that she would recover Silesia; and as all the neighbouring sovereigns were bitterly jealous of Frederick, and somewhat afraid of him, she had no difficulty in inducing several of them to form a scheme for his ruin. Russia and Saxony entered into it heartily, and France, laying aside her ancient enmity towards Austria, joined the empress against the common object of dislike. Frederick, meanwhile, had turned towards England, which saw in him a possible ally of great importance against the French. A convention between Prussia and Great Britain was signed in January 1756, and it proved of incalculable value to both countries, leading as it did to a close alliance during the administration of Pitt. Through the treachery of a clerk in the Saxon foreign office Frederick was made aware of the future which was being prepared for him. Seeing the importance of taking the initiative, and if possible, of securing Saxony, he suddenly, on the 24th of August 1756, crossed the frontier of that country, and shut in the Saxon army between Pirna and Königstein, ultimately compelling it, after a victory gained over the Austrians at Lobositz, to surrender. Thus began the Seven Years' War, in which, supported by England, Brunswick and Hesse-Cassel, he had for a long time to oppose Austria, France, Russia, Saxony and Sweden. Virtually the whole Continent was in arms against a small state which, a few years before, had been regarded by most men as beneath serious notice. But it happened that this small state was led by a man of high military genius, capable of infusing into others his own undaunted spirit, while his subjects had learned both from him and his predecessors habits of patience, perseverance and discipline. In 1757, after defeating the Austrians at Prague, he was himself defeated by them at Kolin; and by the shameful convention of Closter-Seven, he was freely exposed to the attack of the French. In November 1757, however, when Europe looked upon him as ruined, he rid himself of the French by his splendid victory over them at Rossbach, and in about a month afterwards, by the still more splendid victory at Leuthen, he drove the Austrians from Silesia. From this time the French were kept well employed in the west by Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, who defeated them at Crefeld in 1758, and at Minden in 1759. In the former year Frederick triumphed, at a heavy cost, over the Russians at Zorndorf; and although, through lack of his usual foresight, he lost the battle of Hochkirch, he prevented the Austrians from deriving any real advantage from their triumph, Silesia still remaining in his hands at the end of the year. The battle of Kunersdorf, fought on the 12th of August 1759, was the most disastrous to him in the course of the war. He had here to contend both with the Russians and the Austrians; and although at first he had some success, his army was in the end completely broken. 'All is lost save the royal family,' he wrote to his minister Friesenstein; 'the consequences of this battle will be worse than the battle itself. I shall not survive the ruin of the Fatherland. Adieu for ever!' But he soon recovered from his despair, and in 1760 gained the important victories of Liegnitz and Torgau. He had now, however, to act on the defensive, and fortunately for him, the Russians, on the death of the empress Elizabeth, not only withdrew in 1762 from the compact against him, but for a time became his allies. On the 29th of October of that year he gained his last victory over the Austrians at Freiberg. Europe was by that time sick of war, every power being more or less exhausted. The result was that, on the 15th of February 1763, a few days after the conclusion of the peace of Paris, the treaty of Hubertusburg was signed, Austria confirming Prussia in the possession of Silesia. (See Seven Years' War.)

      It would be difficult to overrate the importance of the contribution thus made by Frederick to the politics of Europe. Prussia was now universally recognized as one of the great powers of the Continent, and she definitely took her place in Germany as the rival of Austria. From this time it was inevitable that there should be a final struggle between the two nations for predominance, and that the smaller German states should group themselves around one or the other. Frederick himself acquired both in Germany and Europe the indefinable influence which springs from the recognition of great gifts that have been proved by great deeds.

      His first care after the war was, as far as possible, to enable the country to recover from the terrific blows by which it had been almost destroyed; and he was never, either before or after, seen to better advantage than in the measures he adopted for this end. Although his resources had been so completely drained that he had been forced to melt the silver in his palaces and to debase the coinage, his energy soon brought back the national prosperity. Pomerania and Neumark were freed from taxation for two years, Silesia for six months. Many nobles whose lands had been wasted received corn for seed; his war horses were within a few months to be found on farms all over Prussia; and money was freely spent in the re-erection of houses which had been destroyed. The coinage was gradually restored to its proper value, and trade received a favourable impulse by the foundation of the Bank of Berlin. All these matters were carefully looked into by Frederick himself, who, while acting as generously as his circumstances would allow, insisted on everything being done in the most efficient manner at the least possible cost. Unfortunately, he adopted the French ideas of excise, and the French methods of imposing and collecting taxes - a system known as the Regie. This system secured for him a large revenue, but it led to a vast amount of petty tyranny, which was all the more intolerable because it was carried out by French officials. It was continued to the end of Frederick's reign, and nothing did so much to injure his otherwise immense popularity. He was quite aware of the discontent the system excited, and the good-nature with which he tolerated the criticisms directed against it and him is illustrated by a well-known incident. Riding along the Jäger Strasse one day, he saw a crowd of people. 'See what it is,' he said to the groom who was attending him. 'They have something posted up about your Majesty,' said the groom, returning. Frederick, riding forward, saw a caricature of himself: 'King in very melancholy guise,' says Preuss (as translated by Carlyle), 'seated on a stool, a coffee-mill between his knees, diligently grinding with the one hand, and with the other picking up any bean that might have fallen. 'Hang it lower,' said the king, beckoning his groom with a wave of the finger; 'lower, that they may not have to hurt their necks about it.' No sooner were the words spoken, which spread instantly, than there rose from the whole crowd one universal huzzah of joy. They tore the caricature into a thousand pieces, and rolled after the king with loud 'Lebe Hoch, our Frederick for ever,' as he rode slowly away. There are scores of anecdotes about Frederick, but not many so well authenticated as this.

      There was nothing about which Frederick took so much trouble as the proper administration of justice. He disliked the formalities of the law, and in one instance, ?the miller Arnold case,? in connexion with which he thought injustice had been done to a poor man, he dismissed the judges, condemned them to a year's fortress arrest, and compelled them to make good out of their own pockets the loss sustained by their supposed victim ? not a wise proceeding, but one springing from a generous motive. He once defined himself as ?l'avocat du pauvre,? and few things gave him more pleasure than the famous answer of the miller whose windmill stood on ground which was wanted for the king's garden. The miller sturdily refused to sell it. ?Not at any price?? said the king's agent; ?could not the king take it from you for nothing, if he chose?? ?Have we not the Kammergericht at Berlin?? was the answer, which became a popular saying in Germany. Soon after he came to the throne Frederick began to make preparations for a new code. In 1747 appeared the Codex Fridericianus, by which the Prussian judicial body was established. But a greater monument of Frederick's interest in legal reform was the Allgemeines preussisches Landrecht, completed by the grand chancellor Count Johann H. C. von Carmer (1721-1801) on the basis of the Project des Corporis Juris Fridericiani, completed in the year 1740-1751 by the eminent jurist Samuel von Cocceji (1670-1755). The Landrecht, a work of vast labour and erudition, combines the two systems of German and Roman law supplemented by the law of nature; it was the first German code, but only came into force in 1794, after Frederick's death.

      Looking ahead after the Seven Years' War, Frederick saw no means of securing himself so effectually as by cultivating the goodwill of Russia. In 1764 he accordingly concluded a treaty of alliance with the empress Catherine for eight years. Six years afterwards, unfortunately for his fame, he joined in the first partition of Poland, by which he received Polish Prussia, without Danzig and Thorn, and Great Poland as far as the river Netze. Prussia was then for the first time made continuous with Brandenburg and Pomerania.

      The emperor Joseph II. greatly admired Frederick, and visited him at Neisse, in Silesia, in 1769, a visit which Frederick returned, in Moravia, in the following year. The young emperor was frank and cordial; Frederick was more cautious, for he detected under the respectful manner of Joseph a keen ambition that might one day become dangerous to Prussia. Ever after these interviews a portrait of the emperor hung conspicuously in the rooms in which Frederick lived, a circumstance on which some one remarked. ?Ah yes,? said Frederick, ?I am obliged to keep that young gentleman in my eye.? Nothing came of these suspicions till 1777, when, after the death of Maximilian Joseph, elector of Bavaria, without children, the emperor took possession of the greater part of his lands. The elector palatine, who lawfully inherited Bavaria, came to an arrangement, which was not admitted by his heir, Charles, duke of Zweibrücken. Under these circumstances the latter appealed to Frederick, who, resolved that Austria should gain no unnecessary advantage, took his part, and brought pressure to bear upon the emperor. Ultimately, greatly against his will, Frederick felt compelled to draw the sword, and in July 1778 crossed the Bohemian frontier at the head of a powerful army. No general engagement was fought, and after a great many delays the treaty of Teschen was signed on the 13th of May 1779. Austria received the circle of Burgau, and consented that the king of Prussia should take the Franconian principalities. Frederick never abandoned his jealousy of Austria, whose ambition he regarded as the chief danger against which Europe had to guard. He seems to have had no suspicion that evil days were coming in France. It was Austria which had given trouble in his time; and if her pride were curbed, he fancied that Prussia at least would be safe. Hence one of the last important acts of his life was to form, in 1785, a league of princes (the ?Fürstenbund?) for the defence of the imperial constitution, believed to be imperilled by Joseph's restless activity. The league came to an end after Frederick's death; but it is of considerable historical interest, as the first open attempt of Prussia to take the lead in Germany.

      Frederick's chief trust was always in his treasury and his army. By continual economy he left in the former the immense sum of 70 million thalers; the latter, at the time of his death, numbered 200,000 men, disciplined with all the strictness to which he had throughout life accustomed his troops. He died at Sanssouci on the 17th of August 1786; his death being hastened by exposure to a storm of rain, stoically borne, during a military review. He passed away on the eve of tremendous events, which for a time obscured his fame; but now that he can be impartially estimated, he is seen to have been in many respects one of the greatest figures in modern history.

      He was rather below the middle size, in youth inclined to stoutness, lean in old age, but of vigorous and active habits. An expression of keen intelligence lighted up his features, and his large, sparkling grey eyes darted penetrating glances at every one who approached him. In his later years an old blue uniform with red facings was his usual dress, and on his breast was generally some Spanish snuff, of which he consumed large quantities. He shared many of the chief intellectual tendencies of his age, having no feeling for the highest aspirations of human nature, but submitting all things to a searching critical analysis. Of Christianity he always spoke in the mocking tone of the ?enlightened? philosophers, regarding it as the invention of priests; but it is noteworthy that after the Seven Years' War, the trials of which steadied his character, he sought to strengthen the church for the sake of its elevating moral influence. In his judgments of mankind he often talked as a misanthrope. He was once conversing with Sulzer, who was a school inspector, about education. Sulzer expressed the opinion that education had of late years greatly improved. ?In former times, your Majesty,? he said, ?the notion being that mankind were naturally inclined to evil, a system of severity prevailed in schools; but now, when we recognize that the inborn inclination of men is rather to good than to evil, schoolmasters have adopted a more generous procedure.? ?Ah, my dear Sulzer,? replied the king, ?you don't know this damned race? (?Ach, mein lieber Sulzer, er kennt nicht diese verdammte Race?). This fearful saying unquestionably expressed a frequent mood of Frederick's; and he sometimes acted with great harshness, and seemed to take a malicious pleasure in tormenting his acquaintances. Yet he was capable of genuine attachments. He was beautifully loyal to his mother and his sister Wilhelmina; his letters to the duchess of Gotha are full of a certain tender reverence; the two Keiths found him a devoted friend. But the true evidence that beneath his misanthropical moods there was an enduring sentiment of humanity is afforded by the spirit in which he exercised his kingly functions. Taking his reign as a whole, it must be said that he looked upon his power rather as a trust than as a source of personal advantage; and the trust was faithfully discharged according to the best lights of his day. He has often been condemned for doing nothing to encourage German literature; and it is true that he was supremely indifferent to it. Before he died a tide of intellectual life was rising all about him; yet he failed to recognize it, declined to give Lessing even the small post of royal librarian, and thought Götz von Berlichingen a vulgar imitation of vulgar English models. But when his taste was formed, German literature did not exist; the choice was between Racine and Voltaire on the one hand and Gottsched and Gellert on the other. He survived into the era of Kant, Goethe and Schiller, but he was not of it, and it would have been unreasonable to expect that he should in old age pass beyond the limits of his own epoch. As Germans now generally admit, it was better that he let their literature alone, since, left to itself, it became a thoroughly independent product. Indirectly he powerfully promoted it by deepening the national life from which it sprang. At a time when there was no real bond of cohesion between the different states, he stirred among them a common enthusiasm; and in making Prussia great he laid the foundation of a genuinely united empire.

      Bibliographical Note. ? The main sources for the biography of Frederick the Great are his own works, which, in the words of Leopold von Ranke, ?deal with the politics and wars of the period with the greatest possible objectivity, i.e. truthfulness, and form an imperishable monument of his life and opinions.? A magnificent edition of Frederick's complete works was issued (1846-1857), at the instance of Frederick William IV., under the supervision of the historian Johann D. E. Preuss (1785-1868). It is in thirty volumes, of which six contain verse, seven are historical, two philosophical, and three military, twelve being made up of correspondence. So long as the various state archives remained largely inaccessible historians relied upon this as their chief authority. Among works belonging to this period may be mentioned Thomas Carlyle, History of Frederick II. of Prussia (6 vols., London, 1858-1865); J. G. Droysen, Friedrich der Grosse (2 vols., Leipzig, 1874-1876, forming part V. of his Geschichte der preussischen Politik); Ranke, Friedrich II. König, von Preussen (Werke, vols. li. and lii.). A great stimulus to the study of Frederick's history has since been given by the publication of collections of documents preserved in various archives. Of these the most important is the great official edition of Frederick's political correspondence (Berlin, 1879), of which the thirty-first vol. appeared in 1906. Of later works, based on modern research, may be mentioned R. Koser, König Friedrich der Grosse, Bd. 2 (Stuttgart, 1893 and 1903; 3rd ed., 1905); Bourdeau, Le Grand Frédéric (2 vols., Paris, 1900-1902); L. Paul-Dubois, Frédéric le Grand, d'après sa correspondence politique (Paris, 1903); W. F. Reddaway, Frederick the Great and the Rise of Prussia, (London, 1904). Of the numerous special studies may be noticed E. Zeller, Friedrich der Grosse als Philosoph (Berlin, 1886); H. Pigge, Die Staatstheorie Friedrichs des Grossen (Münster, 1904); T. von Bernhardi, Friedrich der Grosse als Feldherr (2 vols., Berlin, 1881); Ernest Lavisse, La Jeunesse du Grand Frédéric (Paris, 1891, 3rd ed., 1899; Eng. transl., London, 1891); R. Erode, Friedrich der Grosse und der Konflikt mit seinem Vater (Leipzig, 1904); W. von Bremen, Friedrich der Grosse (Bd. ii. of Erzieher des preussischen Heeres, Berlin, 1905); G. Winter, Friedrich der Grosse (3 vols. in Geisteshelden series, Berlin, 1906); Dreissig Jahre am Hofe Friedrichs des Grossen. Aus den Tagebüchern des Reichsgrafen Ahasuerus Heinrich von Lehndorff, Kammerherrn der Königin Elisabett Christine von Preussen (Gotha, 1907). The great work on the wars of Frederick is that issued by the Prussian General Staff: Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen (12 vols. in three parts, Berlin, 1890-1904). For a full list of other works see Dahlmann-Waitz, Quellenkunde (Leipzig, 1906).

      (J. Si; W. A. P.) [2]
    Person ID I24620  Dickinson
    Last Modified 19 Aug 2019 

    Father Frederick William I of Prussia, King in Prussia,   b. 14 Aug 1688, Berlin, Germany Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 31 May 1740, Berlin, Germany Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 51 years) 
    Relationship Birth 
    Mother Sophia Dorothea of Hanover, Queen consort in Prussia,   b. 26 Mar 1685, Hanover, Lower Saxony, Germany Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 28 Jun 1757, Monbijou Palace, Berlin, Germany Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 72 years) 
    Relationship Birth 
    Married 17 Nov 1706  Hanover, Lower Saxony, Germany Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Family ID F7631  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel-Bevern, Queen consort of Prussia,   b. 8 Nov 1715, Schloss Bevern, Bevern, Lower Saxony, Germany Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 13 Jan 1797, Berliner Schloss, Berlin, Germany Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 81 years) 
    Married 12 Jun 1733  Schloss Salzdahlum, Salzdahlum, Germany Find all individuals with events at this location 
    • No issue.
    Last Modified 19 Aug 2019 
    Family ID F7632  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Event Map
    Link to Google MapsBorn - 24 Jan 1712 - Berlin, Germany Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsMarried - 12 Jun 1733 - Schloss Salzdahlum, Salzdahlum, Germany Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsDied - 17 Aug 1786 - Potsdam, Brandenburg, Germany Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsBuried - - Friedenskirche, Potsdam, Brandenburg, Germany Link to Google Earth
     = Link to Google Earth 
    Pin Legend  : Address       : Location       : City/Town       : County/Shire       : State/Province       : Country       : Not Set

  • Sources 
    1. [S336470] Wikipedia, (Online:, "Frederick the Great" at

    2. [S398] Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th Ed., (Cambridge: University of Cambridge, 1911), "Frederick II. of Prussia" at vol. 11 and online at