Birthday: January 24, 1712
Nationality: German, Prussian
Died At Age: 74
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Also Known As: Frederick the Great
Born Country: Germany
Born in: Berlin, Germany
Famous as: King
Emperors & Kings
Spouse/Ex-: Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel-Bevern
father: Frederick William I of Prussia
mother: Sophia Dorothea of Hanover
siblings: Charlotte Albertine Prinzessin von Preußen, Frederick Louis Frederick William I of Prussia, Frederick William Frederick William I of Prussia, Louis Charles William, Louisa Ulrika of Prussia, Prince Augustus Ferdinand of Prussia, Prince Augustus William of Prussia, Prince Henry of Prussia, Princess Anna Amalia, Princess Friederike Luise of Prussia, Princess Philippine Charlotte of Prussia, Princess Sophia Dorothea of Prussia, Wilhelmine von Bayreuth
Died on: September 17, 1786
City: Berlin, Germany
Who was Frederick II of Prussia?
Frederick II was the King of Prussia from 1740 to 1786. He won several battles against Austria and its allies. Under his reign, the Prussian army flourished and grew in strength, too. Soon, the state ran out of resources to support the army. Even though Frederick had lost more battles than he had won, the victories turned Prussia into a modern consolidated state and, eventually, a formidable power in Europe. Frederick was a great patron of the arts, music, and the sciences. Hence Prussian people, too, developed culturally under his rule. However, these interests led to his tumultuous relationship with his father, who pushed him into military training and administrative studies. Nevertheless, the gruelling training eventually led to the expansion of Prussian power, which directly led to the establishment of the German Empire in the 19th century and contributed to making it a world power. Frederick, also known as the "philosopher king," was quite open about his sexual orientation. His marriage, a mere political union, was never consummated. Hence, he had no children and was succeeded by his nephew.
Childhood & Early Life
Frederick the Great was born on January 24, 1712, into the House of Hohenzollern in the Prussian capital of Berlin, to Crown Prince Frederick Wilhelm I, a Calvinist, and his wife, Sophia Dorothea of Hanover.
He was named Friedrich after being baptized.
He became the crown prince in 1713, when his father succeeded Frederick I.
Frederick's father strictly supervised his education. He discouraged Frederick's pursuits in music and the arts, which he had inherited from his mother.
His sister, Wilhelmina, supported him in his pursuits, which brought him the wrath of his father.
Raised by Huguenot governesses and tutors, Frederick learned French and German languages, poetry, and Greek and Roman classics. However, his father pushed him into military training.
The conflict between him and his father eventually took a violent turn. He was criticized publicly. Physical violence for trivial reasons, too, became common between them.
The conflict aggravated when in 1730, Frederick fled to England with his close Prussian officer friend Hans Hermann von Katte, who was several years older than him.
They were caught and arrested for treachery, in Küstrin. Frederick was made to witness Katte's execution. He was punished by being drafted as a junior official in the local administration and was made to learn the royal ways of administration. He was deprived of his military rank.
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In the mid-1720s, Frederick's mother made a failed attempt to arrange his marriage to Amelia, the daughter of her brother, King George II.
Finally, on June 12, 1733, after much resistance and a partial reconciliation with his father, Frederick married Elizabeth Christine of Brunswick-Bevern, a Protestant relative of the Austrian Habsburgs, who belonged to a minor German princely family.
The union, being strictly political, never flourished. Frederick never mistreated her, but he never cared for her either, and thoroughly neglected her instead.
In 1734, Frederick began his active military service. He was reappointed to the 'Prussian Army' as the colonel of the 'Regiment von der Goltz.'
He was posted near Nauen and Neuruppin and was under the command of Austrian commander Eugene of Savoy when Prussia aided the 'Army of the Holy Roman Empire' during the War of the Polish Succession.
Under Eugene of Savoy, Frederick participated in the campaign against France on the Rhine. He established the 'Bayard Order' to discuss warfare with his friends.
Around the same time, he became a voracious reader. He learned about the government and international relations. The period was regarded as his happiest ever.
His relations with his father, too, improved to some extent, but it remained largely strained throughout his life.
Accession to the Throne
Frederick succeeded his father on May 31, 1740, and immediately declared his monopoly in decision-making to his ministers.
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He proved he was right when his decisions revolutionized Prussia's international position.
On the personal front, he had barred Elizabeth from visiting him in Potsdam, but had granted her the 'Schönhausen Palace' and the 'Berliner Stadtschloss' apartments.
The War of Austrian Succession
In 1741, Frederick was hailed as a military prodigy and was honored with the moniker "Frederick the Great."
In 1741, in an attempt to seize the weak empire of Austria, he offered Habsburg queen Maria Theresa protection from France, Spain, and Bavaria, in exchange for Lower Silesia (the 'Convention of Klein-Schnellendorf').
Additionally, Maria Theresa, who held the title of ''Holy Roman Empress,'' was traditionally ineligible for the position of the ''Head of Habsburg.'' Frederick did not recognize her legitimacy and considered it an advantage in the plans of occupying the province of Silesia.
Frederick made a sudden attack on the Austrian region of Silesia, which led to the 8-year War of Austrian Succession. He made Maria surrender all of Silesia according to the 'Treaty of Berlin' in July 1742.
However, by 1744, Theresa grew stronger in Germany, which alarmed Frederick. He thus invaded Bohemia in August 1744.
Augustus III, king of Poland and the elector of Saxony, became an ally of Maria Theresa and plotted to attack Frederick in Silesia. The latter, however, successfully crushed the rebel with his victories at Hohenfriedberg in June 1745 and at Soor in September that year.
Saxony was finally invaded. With the 'Treaty of Dresden,' signed on December 25, 1745, The War of Austrian Succession ended, and Silesia officially came under Prussian rule.
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The Seven Years' War
During the 'Diplomatic Revolution' in 1756, Austria allied with France and Russia (to recapture Silesia), while Prussia allied with England.
The period of peace in Prussia thus ended, and Frederick launched a proactive attack on the Austrian allied power of the neutral land of Saxony, which led to The Seven Years' War.
In the subsequent years of the war, Frederick registered many tactical victories, but at the huge cost of his well-trained army.
Russia's sudden withdrawal in 1762 ended the deadlock war, though it formally ended in 1763.
Though Frederick did not gain Silesia, according to the subsequent treaty, Silesia was under his control. He rose to fame throughout many German-speaking territories, making Prussia one of the foremost European powers of the era.
The Partition of Poland
The second half of Frederick's reign witnessed the development of foreign policies, among which the most prominent was the first partition of Poland, in 1772.
The partition expanded the Prussian territory to the Polish province of West Prussia (leaving the industrial city of Danzig). The monarchies of Brandenburg and Pomerania were then linked to East Prussia, which provided Prussia greater territorial unity and security.
Frederick resolved the social and political conflicts in the east that had often separated it from the western European states. The region thus became Prussia 's geographic center.
Frederick abhorred Polish people and wanted to capture Poland so that he could exploit it. He regarded Poles as an inferior race and thought they were sub-human, and undeserving of respect.
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He eventually did seize a major part of Poland, which increased Prussian influence and power.
As the King of Prussia, Frederick introduced many reforms and domestic projects, revamped and standardized Prussia's judiciary (following the Enlightenment values passed on to him from his mother), banned torture, and announced a demand for a uniform national criminal code.
He made efforts to train the army well and to establish a military education system. The size of his army grew from 83,000 men, at the time he took to the throne in 1740, to 190,000, at the time of his death.
Frederick adopted a conservative approach while making administrative, economic, and social policies, while his economic policies were relatively mercantilist. In his 'Testament Politique' of 1752, he had mentioned that the economy of a state could flourish only with the reduction of imports and an increment in exports.
He encouraged the production of porcelain, which benefitted a few chosen industrialists such as David Splitgerber and Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky. However, the flip side was that Prussian resources were highly misused.
In 1772, the 'Maritime Trading Company' (Seehandlung), a government-aided corporation, was established to promote overseas trade.
Agriculture, too, was promoted. Turnips and potatoes became major food crops of the era.
He liberated the press and provided moderate religious freedom. He allowed the construction of a Catholic church in Berlin, which was considered Protestant in the 1740s.
He supported every religion publicly. However, in private, he dismissed spirituality and religion. He even referred to Christianity as an "odd metaphysical fiction."
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He made efforts to unite Prussia economically, reduce internal duties, encourage trade through canals, and enact protective duties.
Under his reign, Berlin became a cultural capital.
He was a prolific flute player and composed music, too.
He preferred the French language over German. In most of his French literary works, he displayed high intolerance for the German language.
In 1746, Frederick presented a musical composition to composer Johann Sebastian Bach, who later used it to establish rules and fugues titled 'The Musical Offering.'
A prolific writer, he wrote on contemporary history and politics. His 'Histoire de Mon Temps' (1746) is regarded as an accurate account of his reign.
In 1749 and 1764, peasants were granted more liberty, and in 1748, Frederick banned cruel treatment of officers' employees.
After 'The Seven Years' War' ended, Frederick focused on developing and inhabiting vacant land in his expanded territory. Under this settlement program, he attracted immigrants to the depopulated regions, which eventually compensated for the losses of the war.
With age, Frederick's Enlightenment values got tainted with cynicism and suspicion.
Some sources claim that Frederick was probably gay. Such sources claim that he was open about his sexual orientation even after becoming the king of Prussia.
He would often retreat to his estate in Potsdam, where he had several clandestine affairs with male officers. He had also romanced his valet.
He used his poetic skills (which, however, were mediocre) to compose erotic poems about the male form. He would also often commission homoerotic sculptures and artwork.
Death & Succession
Frederick died on August 17, 1786, at his Rococo palace in Potsdam, outside Berlin.
He was succeeded by his nephew, son of brother Augustus William. Though he was intellectually sound and a patron of the arts, after taking to the throne, he was unable to display his leadership skills. Hence Prussia was controlled by a handful of the court's favorites.
Nevertheless, Prussia still managed to expand its territories, acquiring Ansbach and Bayreuth in 1791. It also acquired Danzig (Gdańsk), Thorn (Toruń), and the majority of central Poland (including Warsaw) in the second (1793) and the third (1795) partitions of the countries.