Frederick, the son of Frederick William I and his wife, Sophia Dorothea of Hanover, was born in Berlin on 24 January 1712.The birth of Frederick was welcomed by his grandfather, Frederick I, with more than usual pleasure, as two of his grandsons had already died at an early age. With the death of his father in 1713, Frederick William became King of Prussia, thus making young Frederick the crown prince. The new king wished for his sons and daughters 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 Grenadier Guards, 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-Luneburg, 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.
In 1732, Queen Sophia Dorothea attempted to arrange a dual marriage of Frederick and his sister Wilhelmina 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 Prussia's acquiring Julich and Berg, which led to the collapse of the marriage proposal.
Frederick found an ally in his sister, Wilhelmina, with whom he remained close for life. At age 16, Frederick formed an attachment to the king's 13-year-old page, Peter Karl Christoph Keith. Wilhelmina 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."
When he was 18, Frederick plotted to flee to England with Hans Hermann von Katte and other junior army officers. While the royal retinue was near Mannheim in the Electorate of the Palatinate, Robert Keith, Peter'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 Kustrin. 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 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 Kustrin on 6 November, leaving the crown prince to faint away and suffer hallucinations for the following two days.
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 Kustrin and began rigorous schooling in statecraft and administration for the War and Estates Departments on 20 November. Tensions eased slightly when Frederick William visited Kustrin a year later, and Frederick was allowed to visit Berlin on the occasion of his sister Wilhelmina'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 Kustrin on 26 February 1732.
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. He had little in common with his bride and resented the political marriage as an example of the Austrian 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 Schonhausen 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.
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 Austria during the War of the Polish Succession, Frederick studied under Prince Eugene of Savoy during the campaign against France on the Rhine. Frederick William, weakened by gout brought about by the campaign, 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, making and listening to 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 Fouque was made the grand master of the gatherings.
The works of Niccolo 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 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.
Prince Frederick was twenty-eight years of age when his father Frederick William I died and he acceded 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.
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 upon the death of his father, and desiring the prosperous Austrian province of Silesia, 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. Thus, upon the death of Emperor Charles VI of the Holy Roman Empire on 29 October 1740, Frederick disputed the succession of Charles VI's 23-year-old daughter, Maria Theresa, as the new Empress of the Holy Roman Empire and in particular to the Province of Silesia. Accordingly, the War of Austrian Succession began on 16 December 1740, when Frederick invaded and quickly occupied Silesia. 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 pre-emptively 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 actual fact, 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."
In early September 1741, the French entered the war against Austria and together with their allies, the Electorate of Bavaria, marched on Vienna. With Vienna under threat, the Austrians pulled troops out of Silesia to defend Vienna, while the remaining forces countered against the Prussian army of Frederick the Great on 17 May 1742. However, the Prussian cavalry proved to be a powerful force and ultimately Prussia claimed victory. The battle became known as the Battle of Chotusitz. This was only the second real battle in which Frederick led troops since becoming king. Dramatically winning the Battle of Chotusitz, Frederick forced the Austrians to seek peace with him in the First Silesian War (1740–1742). Peace 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. In 1744, Frederick also gained the territory of East Frisia (located on the North Sea coast of Germany) after its' last ruler died without issue.
Frederick strongly suspected that the Austrians would start another war in an attempt to recover Silesia. Accordingly, he quickly made another alliance with the French and preemptively invaded Bohemia in August 1744. 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. Thus the Second Silesian War (1744–1745) began. Frederick's artillery arrived before Prague on 8 September 1744. On 11 September 1744, the Prussians began a three-day artillery bombardment of Prague, in which Prague 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.
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. Austrian morale was so bad at several points during the battle that Austrian Field-Marshal, Prince of Lobkowitz, was prompted to shoot three officers for cowardice. This defeat at Soor cast a pall over the coronation ceremonies just a few days later, crowning Maria Theresa as the Empress of the Holy Roman Empire. The Silesian Wars were, after all, a mere part of the larger international conflict known as the "War of the Austrian Succession" (1740-1748).
Once again, Frederick's stunning victory 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.
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. As 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 Seven Years' War, 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.
Facing a coalition which included Austria, France, Russia, Saxony, Sweden and several minor German states, 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 always managed to recover. 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", which means, that he was resolved to seek a soldier's death on the first opportunity.
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. 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, 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 occupied in its struggle with Britain, Frederick was able to win back his territories from the Austrians (including Silesia), and finally brought them to the peace table. Although Frederick did not gain or lose any territory in the ensuing Treaty of Hubertusburg, his ability to retain Silesia during the Silesian Wars made him and Prussia popular throughout the German-speaking territories. A year following the Treaty of Hubertusberg, Catherine the Great (Peter III's widow) concluded an eight-year alliance with Prussia.
Late in his life Frederick also 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 Holy Roman Empire. Unfortunately for 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 the ultimate beneficiary of the French and British struggle across the Atlantic. When Emperor Joseph II tried the scheme again in 1784, Frederick created the Furstenbund, 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's standing amid the German states.
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. 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 to a perhaps overall weaker force. 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 of 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.
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 with ideas of Enlightenment. He described Poles as "slovenly Polish trash".
Frederick undertook the conquest of Polish territory as 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.
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.
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 – it is estimated that it gained Frederick 25 million thalers of profit, while causing considerable monetary problems for Poland.
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 1756-1763. Despite their personal hostility, Frederick and Catherine signed a defensive alliance in 1764 which 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, Stanislaw 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 (1768–1774), Frederick supported Catherine with a subsidy of 300,000 rubles with reluctance as he did not want Russia to become even stronger through the acquisitions of Ottoman territory. The Prussian king achieved a rapprochement with Emperor Joseph and the Austrian chancellor Kaunitz.
After Russia had occupied the Danubian Principalities in 1769/1770, 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. Although Maria Theresa had reluctantly agreed to the partition, Frederick commented, "she cries, but she takes".
Frederick invited German immigrants to the province also hoping they would displace the Poles.
Frederick himself tried further propaganda justifying 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 however did not justify his conquests on ethnic basis, unlike later, nationalist, 19th-century German historians. Dismissive of contemporary German culture, Frederick was instead pursuing an imperialist policy, acting on the security interests of his state. Frederick II settled 300,000 colonists on 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 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, by expelling the nobles through an oppressive tax system and through "other measures" and 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 (32,599 people in and around Danzig perished); I have drained the marshes and established a police force where none existed. . . it 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 countrythe only parallel would be Canada." But in a letter to Henry, Frederick admitted that the Polish provinces were in good state:
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."
He also sent in Jesuits to open schools. Frederick did befriend 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.
Frederick compared the Polish peasants to American Indians. Polish authors have argued that already during his early days Frederick detested Poles, referring to them in a letter from 1735 as "dirty" and as "vile apes".
Frederick helped transform Prussia from a European backwater to an economically strong and politically reformed state. His conquest of Silesia gave Prussia's fledgling industries access to raw materials and fertile agricultural lands. He protected his industries with high tariffs and minimal restrictions on domestic trade.
With the help of French experts, he organized a system of indirect taxation, which provided the state with more revenue than direct taxation. Frederick the Great 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. In 1763 when Gotzkowsky went broke during a financial crisis, which started in Amsterdam, Frederick took over his porcelain factory, known as KPM, but refused to buy more of his paintings.
One of Frederick's greatest achievements included the control of grain prices, whereby government storehouses would enable the civilian population to survive in needy regions, where the harvest was poor.
During the reign of Frederick, the effects of the Seven Years' War and the gaining of Silesia greatly changed the economy. The circulation of depreciated money kept prices high. To revalue the Thaler, the Mint Edict of May 1763 was proposed. This stabilized the rates of depreciated coins that would not be accepted and provided for the payments of taxes in currency of prewar value. This was replaced in northern Germany by the Reichsthaler, worth one-fourth of a Conventionsthaler. Prussia used a Thaler containing one-fourteenth of a Cologne mark of silver. Many other rulers soon followed the steps of Frederick in reforming their own currencies—this resulted in a shortage of ready money thus lowering prices.
In 1781 Frederick decided to make coffee a royal monopoly and disabled soldiers were employed to spy on citizens sniffing in search of illegally roasted coffee, much to the annoyance of general population
Frederick gave his state a modern bureaucracy whose mainstay until 1760 was the able War and Finance Minister Adam Ludwig von Blumenthal, succeeded in 1764 by his nephew Joachim who ran the ministry to the end of the reign and beyond. Prussia's education system was seen as one of the best in Europe. He modernized the Prussian bureaucracy and civil service and promoted religious tolerance throughout his realm. He reformed the judicial system and abolished most uses of judicial torture, except for the flogging of soldiers as punishment for desertion. 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 began titling himself "King of Prussia" after the acquisition of Royal Prussia (West Prussia) in 1772; the phrasing "King in Prussia" had been used prior to this, beginning with the coronation of Frederick I in Konigsberg in 1701.
While Frederick tolerated all faiths in his realm, Protestantism became the favored religion, and Catholics were not chosen for higher state positions. Fredrick 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 recognized 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 in his Testament politique that:
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 Bleichroder 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 administration
As 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.
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.
Frederick was a patron of music as well as a gifted musician who played the transverse flute. He composed 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 inspiration were ancient philosophers and poets as well as French authors of the 17th century. It should however be noted that 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 who indulge in those pleasures. His own court remained quite simple and small, restricted to a limited circle of friends. Also, Frederick the great was dismissive of the radical philosophy of later French thinkers such as Rousseau, and grew to believe that the French cultural golden age was drawing to a close.
In spite of his lack of taste for German, Frederick did sponsor the "Konigliche Deutsche Gesellschaft" whose aim was to promote and develop the German language. He allowed the association to be qualified as "royal" and gave it the right to have its seat at the castle of Konisgberg. 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 ...
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 as 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 Kartoffel Konig (the Potato King).
The king founded the first veterinary school in Germany. Unusual for his time and aristocratic background, he criticized hunting as cruel, rough and uneducated. He loved dogs and his horse and wanted to be buried with his greyhounds. In 1752 he wrote to his sister 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.
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. 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 Etienne 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.
Many historians have considered whether Frederick the Great was homosexual or bisexual (and perhaps possibly celibate), and his relationship with Hans Hermann von Katte was widely speculated in the Prussian court to be romantic. After Katte's execution by Frederick's father, Frederick was forced to marry Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Bevern, with whom he had no children. He immediately separated from his wife when Frederick William I died in 1740. In later years, Frederick would pay his wife formal visits only once a year.
Frederick spent much of his time at Sanssouci, his favourite residence in Potsdam. The grounds there included a Friendship Temple (built as a memorial to his favourite sister, Wilhelmine), and celebrating the homoerotic attachments of Greek Antiquity, decorated with portraits of Orestes and Pylades, among 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. The correspondence between Frederick and Voltaire, which spanned almost 50 years, was marked by mutual intellectual fascination. In person, however, their friendship was often contentious, as Voltaire abhorred Frederick's militarism. Voltaire's angry attack on Maupertuis, the President of Frederick's academy, provoked Frederick to burn the pamphlet publicly and put Voltaire under house arrest. Voltaire was accused by some of anonymously publishing The Private Life of the King of Prussia, wittily claiming Frederick's homosexuality and parade of male lovers, after he had left Prussia. Frederick neither admitted nor denied the contents of the book, nor ever accused Voltaire of having written it. Some years later, Voltaire and Frederick resumed their correspondence and eventually aired their mutual recriminations, to end as friends once more.
Other historians disagree on the nature of Frederick's sexuality, saying that Frederick's writings indicate that he simply had greater priorities than women. In 2011, an unpublished erotic poem by Frederick was discovered amongst his letters; it was written, according to correspondence with Voltaire, in response to an Italian friend's contention that northern Europeans were not as passionate as southern Europeans. Frederick's physician, Johann Georg Ritter von Zimmermann, claimed that the king let rumors of homosexuality appear to be true in order to avoid the public knowing that his genitalia were harmed by "a cruel surgical operation" to save his life from an unnamed venereal disease. However, after one particular defeat on the battlefield he wrote: "Fortune has it in for me; she is a woman, and I am not that way inclined." Historian Christopher Clark concludes Frederick "may well have abstained from sexual acts with anyone of either sex after his accession to the throne, and possibly even before. But if he did not do it, he certainly talked about it; the conversation of the inner court circle around him was peppered with homoerotic banter." Blanning goes further and suggests that Frederick's homosexuality was central to his character, and the evidence compelling.
In 1785, Frederick signed a Treaty of Amity and Commerce with the United States of America, recognizing 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 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. In his late 60s and early 70s, 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.
Frederick II died in an armchair in his study in the palace of Sanssouci on 17 August 1786, 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 last will.
Frederick in German memory became a great national hero in the 19th century. 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 the World War, 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. 1858-65), emphasizing the power of one great "hero" to shape history.
In 1933-45, the Nazis glorified Frederick as a precursor to 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; however, 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 Second World War, Hitler often compared himself to Frederick the Great. British-American historian Gordon A. Craig relates that to help legitimize Nazi rule, Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels commissioned artists to render fanciful images of Frederick, Bismarck, and Hitler together to postulate a historical continuum between them. Hitler kept an oval version of Anton Graff's portrait of Frederick with him to the end in the bunker 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?
King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, is named after the King of Prussia Inn, itself named in honor of Frederick.
The Great King (German: Der Grose Konig) is a 1942 German drama film directed by Veit Harlan and starring Otto Gebuhr. It depicts the life of Frederick the Great. It received the rare "Film of the Nation" distinction. Otto Gebuhr also played the King in many other films.Films with Otto Gebuhr as Frederick the Great1920: Die Tanzerin Barbarina – director: Carl Boese1921–23: Fridericus Rex – director: Arzen von Cserepy
Teil 1 – Sturm und DrangTeil 2 – Vater und SohnTeil 3 – SanssouciTeil 4 – Schicksalswende1926: Die Muhle von Sans Souci – director: Siegfried Philippi1928: Der alte Fritz – 1. Teil Friede – director: Gerhard Lamprecht1928: Der alte Fritz – 2. Teil Ausklang – director: Gerhard Lamprecht1930: Das Flotenkonzert von Sanssouci –director: Gustav Ucicky1932: Die Tanzerin von Sans Souci – director: Friedrich Zelnik1933: Der Choral von Leuthen – director: Carl Froelich1936. Heiteres und Ernstes um den grosen Konig – director: Phil Jutzi1936: Fridericus – director: Johannes Meyer1937: Das schone Fraulein Schragg – director: Hans Deppe1942: Der grose Konig – director: Veit Harlan
In the 2004 German film Der Untergang (Downfall), Adolf Hitler is shown sitting in a dark room forlornly gazing at a painting of Frederick, possibly a reference to the dictator's fading hopes for another Miracle of the House of Brandenburg. This is based on an incident witnessed by Rochus Misch.
The 2012 German made-for-television film Friedrich – ein deutscher Konig ('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.
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.
Frederick is also depicted in the webcomic Axis Powers Hetalia as a dear friend of Gilbert Beilschmidt, the anthropomorphic personification of Prussia.
"King of Prussia" is the name of a song by the Post-Rock band Amonie of the album Last Rites.
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.24 January 1712 – 31 May 1740 – His Royal Highness The Crown Prince31 May 1740 – 19 February 1772 – His Majesty The King in Prussia19 February 1772 – 17 August 1786 – His Majesty The King of Prussia Royal Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter Master and Sovereign of the Order of the Black Eagle 1740–1786