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A biography and life work of frederick the great third king of prussia

See Article History Alternative Titles: An enlightened absolute monarch, he favoured French language and art and built a French Rococo palace, Sanssouci, near Berlin. Frederick, the third king of Prussiaranks among the two or three dominant figures in the history of modern Germany.

Under his leadership Prussia became one of the great states of Europe. Its territories were greatly increased and its military strength displayed to striking effect.

  • Fear of Habsburg ambitions continued to haunt Frederick to the end of his reign;
  • Ruthless exploitation of every available resource notably of much of Saxony, which was under Prussian military occupation during most of the war , debasement of the currency, and a British subsidy that he received in 1758—62 allowed Frederick with increasing difficulty to keep up the unequal struggle;
  • In September 1755 Britain signed an agreement with Russia by which Russia, in return for British subsidies, was to provide a large military force in its Baltic provinces to protect, if necessary, the electorate of Hanover, ruled by George II, against possible French or Prussian attack.

From early in his reign Frederick achieved a high reputation as a military commander, and the Prussian army rapidly became a model admired and imitated in many other states. He also emerged quickly as a leading exponent of the ideas of enlightened government, which were then becoming influential throughout much of Europe; indeed, his example did much to spread and strengthen those ideas. Notably, his insistence on the primacy of state over personal or dynastic interests and his religious toleration widely affected the dominant intellectual currents of the age.

His actual achievements, however, were sometimes less than they appeared on the surface; indeed, his inevitable reliance on the landowning officer Junker class set severe limits in several respects to what he could even attempt. Nevertheless, his reign saw a revolutionary change in the importance and prestige of Prussia, which was to have profound implications for much of the subsequent history of Europe.

Encouraged and supported by his mother and his sister Wilhelmina, Frederick soon came into bitter conflict with his father. His disappointment and contempt took the form of bitter public criticism and even outright physical violence, and Frederick, beaten and humiliated by his father, often over trifling details of behaviour, took refuge in evasion and deceit.

During the next year or more Frederick, as a punishment, was employed as a junior official in local administration and deprived of his military rank. A biography and life work of frederick the great third king of prussia effects of this terrible early life are impossible to measure with accuracy, but there is little doubt that the violent and capricious bullying of his father influenced him deeply.

In 1733, after a partial reconciliation with his father, Frederick was married to a member of a minor German princely family, Elizabeth Christine of Brunswick-Bevern, for whom he never cared and whom he systematically neglected. In the following year he saw active military service for the first time under the great Austrian commander Eugene of Savoy against the French army in the Rhineland. In the later 1730s, in semiretirement in the castle of Rheinsberg near Berlin and able for the first time to give free rein to his own tastes, he read voraciously, absorbing the ideas on government and international relations that were to guide him throughout his life.

These years were perhaps the happiest that Frederick ever experienced. However, his relations with his father, though somewhat improved, remained strained. Accession to the throne and foreign policy Frederick William I died on May 31, 1740, and Frederick, on his accession, immediately made it clear to his ministers that he alone would decide policy. The Holy Roman emperor Charles VIof the Austrian house of Habsburgdied on October 20, leaving as his heir a daughter, the archduchess Maria Theresawhose claims to several of the heterogeneous Habsburg territories were certain to be disputed.

Moreover, her army was in a poor state, the financial position of the Habsburg government very difficult, and her ministers mediocre and in many cases old. Frederick, however, thanks to his father, had a fine army and ample funds at his disposal. The most important threat to his plans was Russian support for Maria Theresa, which he hoped to avert by judicious bribery in St.

Petersburg and by exploiting the confusion that was likely to follow the imminent death of the empress Anna. He also hoped that Maria Theresa would cede most of Silesia in return for a promise of Prussian support against her other enemies, but her refusal to do so made war inevitable. However, the Habsburg successes against the French and Bavarians that followed so alarmed Frederick that early in 1742 he invaded Moravia, the region south of Silesia, which was under Austrian rule.

His rather incomplete victory at Chotusitz in May nonetheless forced Maria Theresa to cede almost all of Silesia by the Treaty of Berlin of 1742 in July. Frederick, again alarmed by this, invaded Bohemia in August 1744 and rapidly overran it. However, by the end of the year lack of French support and threats to his lines of communication had forced him to retreat.

He was rescued from this threatening situation by the prowess of his army; victories at Hohenfriedberg in June 1745 and at Soor in September were followed by a Prussian invasion of Saxony.

The Treaty of Dresdensigned on December 25, 1745, finally established Prussian rule in Silesia and ended for the time being the complex series of struggles that had begun five years earlier.

Silesia was a valuable acquisition, being more developed economically than any other major part of the Hohenzollern dominions. Moreover, military victory had now made Prussia at least a semigreat power and marked Frederick as the most successful ruler in Europe. He was well aware, however, that his situation was far from secure. Maria Theresa was determined to recover Silesia, and the peace she signed with France and Spain at Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748 allowed her to accelerate significant improvements in the administration of her territories and the organization of her army.

More serious, anti-Prussian feeling was now running high in Russia, where both the empress Elizabethwho had ascended the throne in 1741, and her chancellor, Aleksey Bestuzhev-Ryumin, bitterly disliked Frederick.

Frederick II

In September 1755 Britain signed an agreement with Russia by which Russia, in return for British subsidies, was to provide a large military force in its Baltic provinces to protect, if necessary, the electorate of Hanover, ruled by George II, against possible French or Prussian attack.

Frederick was deeply alarmed by this: In January 1756 he attempted to escape from this menacing situation by an agreement with Britain for the neutralization of Germany in the Anglo-French colonial and naval war that had just begun.

The result was the signature in May of a Franco-Austrian defensive alliance. This did not in itself threaten Frederick, but he soon became convinced that a Russo-Austrian attack on him, with French support, was imminent. He determined to forestall his enemies and, in a daring move, invaded Saxony in August 1756 and marched on into Bohemia. Ruthless exploitation of every available resource notably of much of Saxony, which was under Prussian military occupation during most of the wardebasement of the currency, and a British subsidy that he received in 1758—62 allowed Frederick with increasing difficulty to keep up the unequal struggle.

More than anything, however, he was helped by the complete failure of his enemies to cooperate effectively, while a partly British and British-financed army in western Germany from 1758 onward neutralized the French military effort.

Nevertheless, the strain was immense; in October 1757 a cabinet order suspended all payment of salaries and pensions to Prussian civil servants and judges apart from diplomats serving abroad. Frederick could still win victories in the field, as, for example, at Zorndorf August 1758 against the Russians at heavy cost or at Liegnitz and Torgau August and November 1760 against the Austrians.

But he also suffered serious defeats at Hochkirch in October 1758 and above all at the hands of a Russian army at Kunersdorf in August 1759. This disaster temporarily reduced him to despair and thoughts of suicide; if it had been effectively followed up by his adversaries, he could not have continued the struggle.

As the forces he could put in the field dwindled and resistance grew among his subjects to the unprecedented burdens imposed by the war in 1760 the landowners of Brandenburg refused to contribute furtherthe Prussian position became increasingly difficult; by 1761 it was desperate.

The Treaty of Hubertusburg Feb. Prussia had survived, and its military reputation was now greater than ever. The cost had been enormous, however. The Prussian army had lost 180,000 men during the struggle, and some Prussian provinces had been completely devastated.

Henceforth Frederick was determined to avoid another such conflict: Nevertheless, he still firmly opposed any growth of Habsburg power in Germany, and in July 1778 a new Austro-Prussian struggle broke out over the efforts of the emperor Joseph IIthe son of Maria Theresa, to gain a large part of Bavaria. But this new conflict showed unmistakably that Austro-Prussian rivalry stemming from the events of 1740—41 was now a deeply ingrained fact of German political life. Fear of Habsburg ambitions continued to haunt Frederick to the end of his reign.

By this Prussia gained the Polish province of West Prussia though without the great commercial city of Danzigand thus Brandenburg and Pomerania, the core of the monarchy, became linked with the theretofore isolated East Prussia. This gave the state a much greater territorial coherence and more defensible frontiers. It also moved its geographic centre decisively to the east and sharpened the social and political differences that tended to separate it from the states of western Europe.

Frederick had always hoped for territorial gains of this kind, and, as the weakness and confusion of the internally divided Polish republic increased during the 1760s, the possibilities of realizing them grew. In 1769 he tried indirectly to interest Catherine II of Russia in a partition but in vain. By January 1771, however, faced a biography and life work of frederick the great third king of prussia strong Austrian opposition to her expansionist ambitions in southeastern Europe, the empress had changed her mind.

The visit to St. Frederick bears much of the responsibility for the partition, for he alone of the monarchs who took part had consciously desired it. Since both Russia and Austria were persuaded to follow a policy that was largely Prussian in inspiration, it ranks as perhaps his greatest diplomatic success.

Much of what he did in these areas was little more than a development of policies pursued by his father. Frederick, in spite of his appalling personal relationship with his father, admired him as a ruler and freely acknowledged the debt he owed him. To him it entailed obligations to be met only by untiring and conscientious work. It was his duty to protect his subjects from foreign attack, to make them prosperous, to give them efficient and honest administration, and to provide them with laws that were simple and adapted to their wants and their particular temperament.

In order to achieve these objectives, the ruler must sacrifice his own interests and any purely personal or family feeling. The ruler could carry out his duties effectively only if he kept the reins of government firmly in his own hands. His rule must be personal. He must not rely on ministers who were likely to be influenced by selfish ambitions or factional feeling and who might well keep important information from their master if they were allowed to.

Personal rule alone could produce the unity and consistency essential to any successful policy. In his Anti-Machiavel, a somewhat conventional discussion of the principles of good government published in 1740 just before his accession, Frederick wrote that there were two sorts of princes—those who ruled in person and those who merely relied on subordinates.

Yet he would have rejected outright, and on the whole with justification, any suggestion that he ruled as a despot. On the contrary, he would have claimed that his power, however great, was exercised only within limits set by law and that the obligations inherent in his position made it impossible for him to govern in an arbitrary way.

Problems of autocracy The insistence that any effective monarchical rule must be intensely personal had obvious potential dangers. As Frederick grew older, these showed themselves with increasing clarity. His whole psychology was hostile to the development in the Prussian administration or army of any real originality, new ideas, or willingness to take initiatives or accept individual responsibilities.

He fostered among those who served him a tendency to play safe and to perform their duties conscientiously but to do no more than that. Under him the Prussian administration was the most honest and hardworking in Europe.

Its achievements, however, stemmed from the impetus supplied from above by the king rather than from any creative force inherent in the system itself. The provincial War and Domains Chambers established by Frederick William I in 1722 remained very important, and their number grew from 9 to 12. The General Directory, again created by Frederick William, as the main organ of central government with wide-ranging powers, acquired under Frederick several new departments for commerce and manufactures in 1740, for mines and metallurgy in 1768, for forestry a few years later but tended, as the reign went on, to become ossified and to lose a good deal of its former importance.

But tradition and continuity rather than innovation were the hallmarks of the Prussian administration under him; many of what new departures there were for example, an effort in 1770 to introduce a system of state examinations for a biography and life work of frederick the great third king of prussia into the civil service were not very effective.

Many of the truly successful innovations were in the judicial systemwhere the reforming efforts of Samuel von Cocceji resulted in all judges in higher and appellate courts being appointed only after they had passed a rigorous examination. His desire to foster education and cultural life was sincere, but these humanitarian goals were secondary compared with the task of building a great army and gaining the financial resources needed to maintain it.

The army was the pivot around which all else turned, and the administrative system existed essentially to recruit, feed, equip, and pay it. In proportion to the resources available to support it, its size was unequaled anywhere in Europe.

In 1740 Frederick inherited a standing army of 83,000 men; when he died, this figure had risen to 190,000 though of these only about 80,000 were Prussian subjects. Under him it remained a force of peasants and of numerous foreign recruits obtained often by outright kidnapping, officered by landowners. In Prussia the army was recruited almost entirely in the countryside; the function of townsmen was to pay for it through their taxes, not to serve in it.

Up to a point Frederick tried to protect the peasants and the soldiers against the demands of the Junker landlord-officers. In order to finance the great army, heavy demands were made on territories that for the most part were poor. Nothing, however, seemed more important to the monarch than amassing a large reserve of cash to be used for the recruitment of men in case of war.

The financial demands that a serious conflict would make were constantly on his mind, and the desperate struggles of 1756—62 confirmed him in his beliefs.