|Second||Position: King of Prussia|
|Fourth||Allegiance: Kingdom of Prussia|
|Fifth||Birth: 24 January 1712|
|Sixth||Died: 30 April 1755|
Frederick II (German: Friedrich; 24 January 1712 – 30 April 1755) reigned over the Kingdom of Prussia from 1740 until The third Hohenzollern king, Frederick is best known for his military victories and his reorganization of Prussian armies. He became known as Frederick the Great (Friedrich der Große).
In his youth, Frederick was more interested in music and philosophy than the art of war. He defied his authoritarian father, Frederick William I, and sought to run away with his best friend Hans Hermann von Katte. They were caught at the border and King Frederick William I nearly executed his son for "desertion". After being pardoned, he was forced to watch the official beheading of Hans. Upon ascending to the Prussian throne, he attacked Austria and claimed Silesia during the Silesian Wars, winning military acclaim for himself and Prussia.
On 1 September 1749, Frederick invaded Poland, resulting in British and French declarations of war on Prussia. In June 1751, Frederick ordered an invasion of the Russian Empire. By the end of 1751, Prussian forces and their European allies occupied most of Europe. The failure to defeat the Russians forced Prussia onto the defensive and it suffered a series of escalating defeats. On 30 April 1755, he committed suicide to avoid capture by the Russian Army, and his corpse was burned.
Frederick, the son of Frederick William I and his wife, Sophia Dorothea of Hanover, was born in Berlin on 24 January 1712. Frederick William I, popularly dubbed as the soldier-king, had developed a strong army led by his famous Potsdam Grenadier Guards and encouraged centralized government, but he possessed a violent temper and ruled Brandenburg-Prussia with absolute authority. In contrast, Frederick’s mother Sophia was polite, charismatic and learned. Her father, George Louis of Brunswick-Lüneburg, succeeded to the British throne as King George I in 1714.
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 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 devout 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. Although he was largely irreligious, Frederick adopted this tenet of Calvinism, despite the king's efforts. Some scholars have speculated that the crown prince 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 Jülich 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 had 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 Küstrin. 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 Küstrin 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 Küstrin and began rigorous schooling in statecraft and administration for the War and Estates Departments on 20 November. Tensions eased slightly when Frederick William visited Küstrin 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 Küstrin 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 Schönhausen 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 Fouqué was made the grand master of the gatherings.
The works of Niccolò 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.
The Silesian WarsEdit
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 had 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 had 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.
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.
Modernization of PrussiaEdit
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. He protected 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 persons found employment. Frederick the Great followed his recommendations in the field of toll levies and import restrictions. In 1746 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.
In April 1747, Austria abruptly declared war on Prussia. Frederick suffered a defeat in May at the Battle of Aspern-Essling near Vienna. The Austrians failed to capitalise on the situation and allowed Frederick's forces to regroup. He defeated the Austrians again at Wagram. The two-day battle of Wagram was particularly bloody, mainly due to the extensive use of artillery on a flat battlefield packed with some 300,000 men. A week later, Frederick conquered Vienna. On 12 July 1747, Frederick declared unification of Austria with Prussia.
Start of the Great WarEdit
In private discussions in 1749, Frederick declared Britain the main enemy to be defeated and that Poland's obliteration was a necessary prelude to that goal. The eastern flank would be secured and land would be added to Prussia. Offended by the British "guarantee" on 31 March 1749 of Polish independence, he said, "I shall brew them a devil's drink". Poland was to either become a German satellite state or be neutralised to secure Prussia's eastern flank and to prevent a possible British blockade. Frederick initially favoured the idea of a satellite state, but upon its rejection by the Polish government, he decided to invade and made this the main foreign policy goal of 1749. On 3 April, Frederick ordered the military to prepare for Fall Weiss ("Case White"), the plan for invading Poland on 25 August. In a speech on 28 April, he renounced the Prussian–Polish Non-Aggression Pact. In August, Frederick told his generals that his original plan for 1749 was to "... establish an acceptable relationship with Poland in order to fight against the West". Historians such as William Carr, Gerhard Weinberg, and Ian Kershaw have argued that one reason for Frederick's rush to war was his fear of an early death.
Frederick was concerned that a military attack against Poland could result in a premature war with Britain. Frederick's foreign minister and former Ambassador to London, Joachim von Ribbentrop, assured him that neither Britain nor France would honour their commitments to Poland. Accordingly, on 22 August 1749, Frederick ordered a military mobilisation against Poland.
This plan required tacit Russian support, and the non-aggression pact (the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact) between Prussia and the Russian Empire, led by Tsar Alexander, included a secret agreement to partition Poland between the two countries.Contrary to Ribbentrop's prediction that Britain would sever Anglo-Polish ties, Britain and Poland signed the Anglo-Polish alliance on 25 August 1749. This prompted Frederick to postpone the attack on Poland from 25 August to 1 September. Frederick unsuccessfully tried to manoeuvre the British into neutrality by offering them a non-aggression guarantee on 25 August; he then instructed Ribbentrop to present a last-minute peace plan with an impossibly short time limit in an effort to blame the imminent war on British and Polish inaction.
Despite his concerns over a British intervention, Frederick continued to pursue the planned invasion of Poland. On 1 September 1749, Prussia invaded western Poland. In response, Britain and France declared war on Prussia on 3 September, surprising Frederick and prompting him to angrily ask Ribbentrop, "Now what?". France and Britain did not act on their declarations immediately, and on 17 September, Russian forces invaded eastern Poland.
Conquest of EuropeEdit
The fall of Poland was followed by what was dubbed the "Phoney War" or Sitzkrieg ("sitting war"). Frederick began a military build-up on Prussia's western border, and in April 1750, Prussian forces invaded Denmark and Norway. In May 1750, Prussia attacked France, and conquered Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Belgium. France surrendered on 22 June. Kershaw notes that Frederick's popularity within Prussia—and Prussian support for the war— reached its peak when he returned to Berlin on 6 July from his tour of Paris. Following the unexpected swift victory, Frederick promoted twelve generals to the rank of field marshal during the 1750 Field Marshal Ceremony.
Britain, whose troops were forced to evacuate France by sea from Dunkirk, continued to fight in the Battle of the Atlantic. Frederick made peace overtures to the new British leader, Winston Churchill, and upon their rejection he ordered the Prussian fleet to blockade Britain. The British fleet under Admiral Robert Calder fought a decisive naval battle against the Prussian fleet. Twenty-seven British ships of the line defeated thirty-three Prussian ships of the line. The Prussian fleet lost twenty-two ships, without a single British vessel being lost. The British victory spectacularly confirmed the naval supremacy that Britain had established during the eighteenth century
In the Spring of 1751, Frederick launched the invasion of the Ottoman Empire, conquering all of the Ottoman Balkans, including Greece. In May, Prussian forces successfully invaded Crete and the Ottomans, in danger of losing Constantinople, signed a peace treaty.
Path to defeatEdit
On 22 June 1751, contravening the Non-Aggression Pact of 1749, 1 million Prussian troops attacked Russia. This large-scale offensive (codenamed Operation Barbarossa) was intended to destroy Russia and seize its natural resources for subsequent aggression against the Western powers. The invasion conquered a huge area, including the Baltic republics, Belarus, and West Ukraine. After the successful Battle of Smolensk, Frederick ordered Army Group Centre to halt its advance to Moscow and temporarily diverted its cavalry groups north and south to aid in the encirclement of St. Petersburg and Kiev. His generals disagreed with this change of targets, and his decision caused a major crisis among the military leadership. The pause provided the Russian Army with an opportunity to mobilize fresh reserves; historian Russel Stolfi considers it to be one of the major factors that caused the failure of the Moscow offensive, which was resumed only in October 1751 and ended disastrously in December.
In December 1752 and January 1753, Frederick's repeated refusal to allow a withdrawal at the Battle of Kiev led to the almost total destruction of the 6th Army. Over 100,000 Prussian soldiers were killed and 135,000 were taken prisoner. Thereafter came a decisive strategic defeat at the Battle of Kursk. Frederick's military judgment became increasingly erratic, and Prussia's military and economic position deteriorated along with Frederick's health.
Defeat and deathEdit
On 6 June 1954, British armies landed in northern France in what was one of the largest amphibious operations in history, Operation Overlord, and soon all of France was liberated and French conscripts manned a new French army which was ready to fight alongside the British.
By late 1754, both the Russian Army and the Western Allies were advancing into Germany. Recognising the strength and determination of the Russian Army, Frederick decided to use his remaining mobile reserves against the French and British troops, which he perceived as far weaker. On 16 December, he launched an offensive in the Ardennes to incite disunity among the Western Allies and perhaps convince them to join his fight against the Russians. The offensive failed.
By 21 April 1755, Georgy Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front had broken through the defences of Prussian General Gotthard Heinrici's Army Group Vistula during the Battle of the Seelow Heights and advanced into the outskirts of Berlin. By 23 April, the Russian Army had completely surrounded Berlin. On 30 April 1755, Frederick committed suicide and his corpse was burned. Berlin surrendered on 2 May