Frederick the Great

Frederick II
Friedrich Zweite Alt.jpg
Portrait of Frederick the Great;
By Anton Graff, 1781
Reign31 May 1740 – 17 August 1786
PredecessorFrederick William I
SuccessorFrederick William II
Chief Ministers
Born(1712-01-24)24 January 1712
Berlin, Kingdom of Prussia
Died17 August 1786(1786-08-17) (aged 74)
Potsdam, Kingdom of Prussia
BurialSanssouci, Potsdam
SpouseElisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel-Bevern
HouseHouse of Hohenzollern
FatherFrederick William I of Prussia
MotherSophia Dorothea of Hanover
ReligionCalvinist[1][2][3]

Frederick II (German: Friedrich; 24 January 1712 – 17 August 1786) was King of Prussia from 1740 until 1786, the longest reign of any Hohenzollern king.[4] His most significant accomplishments during his reign included his military victories, his reorganization of Prussian armies, his patronage of the arts and the Enlightenment in Prussia, and his final success against great odds in the Seven Years' War. Frederick was the last Hohenzollern monarch titled King in Prussia and declared himself King of Prussia after achieving full sovereignty for all historical Prussian lands. Prussia had greatly increased its territories and became a leading military power in Europe under his rule. He became known as Frederick the Great (Friedrich der Große) and was affectionately nicknamed Der Alte Fritz ("Old Fritz") by the Prussian and later by all German people.[5]

In his youth, Frederick was more interested in music and philosophy than the art of war. Nonetheless, upon ascending to the Prussian throne, he attacked Austria and claimed Silesia during the Silesian Wars, winning military acclaim for himself and Prussia. Toward the end of his reign, Frederick physically connected most of his realm by acquiring Polish territories in the First Partition of Poland. He was an influential military theorist whose analysis emerged from his extensive personal battlefield experience and covered issues of strategy, tactics, mobility and logistics.

Considering himself "the first servant of the state",[6] Frederick was a proponent of enlightened absolutism. He modernized the Prussian bureaucracy and civil service and pursued religious policies throughout his realm that ranged from tolerance to segregation.[7] He reformed the judicial system and made it possible for men not of noble stock to become judges and senior bureaucrats. Frederick also encouraged immigrants of various nationalities and faiths to come to Prussia. Some critics, however, point out his oppressive measures against conquered Polish subjects during the First Partition.[8][9] Frederick supported arts and philosophers he favored, as well as allowing complete freedom of the press and literature.[10] Frederick is buried at his favorite residence, Sanssouci in Potsdam. Because he died childless, Frederick was succeeded by his nephew, Frederick William II, son of his brother, Augustus William.

Nearly all 19th-century German historians made Frederick into a romantic model of a glorified warrior, praising his leadership, administrative efficiency, devotion to duty and success in building up Prussia to a great power 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 extolling.[11] Frederick remained an admired historical figure through the German Empire's defeat in the First World War, and the Nazis glorified him as a great German leader pre-figuring Hitler, but his reputation in both East and West Germany became far less favorable after the fall of the Nazi regime, largely due to his status as a favorite icon of the Nazis.[12] However, by the 21st century, a re-evaluation of his legacy as a great general and enlightened monarch returned opinion of him to favour.[13]

Youth

Baptism of Frederick, 1712 (Harper's Magazine, 1870)
Frederick as Crown Prince (1739)

Frederick, the son of Frederick William I and his wife, Sophia Dorothea of Hanover, was born in Berlin on 24 January 1712. He was baptised with only one name, Friedrich, and was not given any other names. The birth of Frederick was welcomed by his grandfather, Frederick I, with more than usual pleasure, as his two previous grandsons had both died in infancy. With the death of his father in 1713, Frederick William became King in Prussia, thus making young Frederick the crown prince. The new king wished for his sons and daughters to 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 Giants", 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-Lüneburg, succeeded to the British throne as King George I in 1714.

King Frederick with his brothers. Left to right: Frederick, Prince Ferdinand, Prince Augustus William and Prince Henry. Henry served as Frederick's most trusted general during the Seven Years' War.

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.[14]

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.[15]

Other Languages
беларуская: Фрыдрых II Вялікі
hornjoserbsce: Bjedrich II. (Pruska)
Bahasa Indonesia: Friedrich II dari Prusia
қазақша: II Фридрих
Кыргызча: Фридрих II
Lëtzebuergesch: Friedrich II. vu Preisen
монгол: Хөгшин Фриц
norsk nynorsk: Fredrik II av Preussen
پنجابی: فریڈرک
Plattdüütsch: Frederik II. (Preußen)
Simple English: Frederick II of Prussia
slovenščina: Friderik II. Veliki
српски / srpski: Фридрих Велики
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Fridrik II. Veliki
Tiếng Việt: Friedrich II của Phổ