Frederick the Great

Frederick the Great: A Visionary General of Prussia

Frederick the Great, also known as Frederick II of Prussia, was one of the most remarkable monarchs in European history. Born on January 24, 1712, he ruled the Kingdom of Prussia from 1740 until his death in 1786. Frederick’s reign was marked by military prowess, cultural enlightenment, and political reforms that transformed Prussia into a major European power. He is famously recognized as the greatest and one of the most dominant generals of ancient Germany. He was given the title of Fredrick the Great because of his astonishing achievements.

Frederick II was born in Berlin as the eldest son of King Frederick William I of Prussia and Queen Sophia Dorothea of Hanover. From a young age, Frederick displayed an aptitude for the arts and sciences, which set him apart from his father’s militaristic focus. Fredrick had to endure tough experiences in his life while growing up. His relationship with his father was strained due to their differing interests and personalities. Often dominated by his strict father, he had a hard time accepting his life as a future king.

In the beginning years of his life, he wanted to become a musician. He also later wrote a musical theme titled “The Musical Offering”. While he was interested in music and languages, his father forced him to join military training. He often became the target of physical violence from his father and was publicly criticized for this reason. The young man couldn’t take so much bullying and was in need of freedom. So, he decided to flee from Prussia at the age of eighteen. The attempt was failed and as a punishment, he was locked in the fortress of Küstrin where he was often beaten by his father. The torture gifted by his father influenced his life in a drastic manner.

Later in 1733, as a wish of his father, he married Elizabeth Christine. He was completely uninterested in his marriage and never paid attention to his wife. Later in coming years, he became involved in military and experienced military life under Eugene of Savoy, an Austrian Commander, against the French Army. In late the 1730s, he took a time off and visited Rheinsberg near Berlin where he was his own master. There he could do everything he loved. He learned about the government and the dynamics of the country’s relation with other countries. This was a great achievement as it guided him throughout his life. He had some of the best years in that period of time. In these years, his relationship with his father also improved.

It was in the May of 1740, when Fredrick William I died, and Fredrick was coronated on the throne. Soon, he declared that he would be the only person to decide policies. Frederick inherited a well-organized and prosperous kingdom, thanks to his father’s frugal fiscal policies and military reforms. Prussia, at the time, was a relatively small state in northeastern Europe, but Frederick was determined to elevate it to the ranks of the great European powers.

After coming to power, it took him just a few months to transform the position of Prussia. When Maria Theresa came into power after her father, Charles VI- a Roman Emperor, died, she was left with the poor army and financial problems. But it was the wise decision to make an alliance with her because Fredrick had plans to attack the province of Silesia. Silesia was a place where his family had dynastic claims. At that time, Russia was the biggest threat to it, and persuading Maria Theresa was the hardest step. She did not agree with the proposal which made the war inevitable. Later in April 1741, Fredrick got his first victory in the Battle of Mollwitz and Maria’s reign soon became endangered by France, Spain, and Bavaria therefore she had to act in favor of the Convention of Klein-Schnellendorf through which Frederick successfully came in the possession Lower Silesia.

When things were finally about to go in Fredrick’s hand, he attacked Moravia (part of Silesia) which was then under Austrian rule. This made Maria change her mind and she then surrendered the whole Silesia through the Treaty of Berlin in 1742. Soon, Maria’s position in Germany was becoming strong and therefore Fredrick was alerted by this. He invaded Bohemia in 1744 and had an upper hand there but soon circumstances forced him to retreat. He had victories in the year of 1745 at Hohenfriedberg and at Soor by invading Saxony. Frederick’s military prowess was again evident as he defended his gains, ultimately securing Silesia once more in the Treaty of Dresden in 1745.

Even after attaining Silesia, Maria was a threat to it. She was dedicated to claiming Silesia back. However, Prussia’s relation with France stood tall. Whereas the hatred for Fredrick was increasing in Russia which made possible the close relations between Russia and Great Britain. It was in 1755 when Britain and Russia signed an agreement where Russia provided military forces to Britain to fight against French and Prussian attacks in return for subsidies from Britain. This seemed like a threat to Fredrick so he resulted in making an agreement with Britain for abating the Prussia in Anglo-French colonial and naval war. This made the French government offended which caused the agreement of the Franco-Austrian defensive alliance possible. This made Fredrick believe that Prussia would be attacked by Russo-Austrian with French support. He, as a result, invaded Saxony in 1756 and marched to Bohemia. His confidence in his army led him to dominate the whole of Austria. Seeing the destruction and bare chances of winning, Austria had no option but to hand Silesia to Prussia. This victory was big because of the years of efforts Fredrick had invested in it. After this victory, Fredrick was given the title “Fredrick the Great”.

The Seven Years’ War, a global conflict, presented Frederick with perhaps his greatest challenge. Prussia faced a formidable coalition of enemies, including Austria, Russia, France, and Sweden. Frederick’s ability to hold off these powerful adversaries and preserve Prussia’s independence is a testament to his military acumen. At that time, the French Army was neutralized with the help of Britain. But in 1757, the salary and pensions of Prussian civil servants and judges were stopped by cabinet order. While in 1757, he gained victories at Rossbach and Leuthen, he also faced defeat in 1758 at Zorndorf, Liegnitz, Hochkirch, and Torgau. Most importantly, he was defeated at Kunersdorf in August 1759 against Russia. This was the darkest time in his life where he often thought of committing suicide. The position of Prussia was in downfall again and by 1761 it was in the need to get back to life.

But soon in 1762, Elizabeth- empress of Russia, the most resentful enemy of Fredrick, died. Her death made things for Prussia easier. The successor of Elizabeth, Peter III, signed an armistice with Prussia which was followed by a Russo-Prussian peace treaty. After this, it became impossible for Maria to reclaim Silesia. Things suddenly started coming back to Fredrick’s hand, the province was in his hand after the Treaty of Hubertusburg in 1763. This indeed ended the war in Germany and the value of the Prussian army increased but the loss of approximately 2,00,000 men in the army was noticeable. Fredrick tried to avoid any further conflict after that. He made an alliance with Russia in 1764 till 1780. Later, there was a failed attempt by Maria’s son, Joseph II, to reclaim Bavaria. Later in July 1785, Fredrick made the formation of League of Princes which made possible the unification of German states including Saxony, Mainz, and Hanover against Joseph II.

As Fredrick was always interested in gaining territories, the partition of Poland came as an opportunity for him. During the later times of his rule, the reign of Fredrick was the first part of the Poland Partition which happened in the year of 1772. By this West Prussia’s Polish province was gained by Prussia. That was one of the notable achievements for Fredrick.

Frederick later introduced a series of fiscal reforms aimed at increasing state revenues and reducing wasteful spending. He improved tax collection, streamlined government expenditures, and encouraged agricultural and industrial development. These measures helped finance his ambitious military campaigns and bolstered Prussia’s economic stability.

Frederick expanded and professionalized the Prussian bureaucracy, favoring merit-based appointments over nepotism. He established a civil service academy to train administrators, ensuring competence and efficiency in government affairs. His reforms laid the foundation for a more effective and centralized administration. He also initiated legal reforms to create a more just and equitable society. He codified Prussian laws, promoted religious tolerance, and limited torture in criminal trials. These reforms reflected the Enlightenment ideals of reason and justice, fostering a more enlightened and humane legal system.

Frederick was a patron of the arts and sciences, and his reign witnessed a flourishing of intellectual and cultural life. He founded the Berlin Academy of Sciences, attracting prominent philosophers, scientists, and writers to Prussia. His court became a hub of Enlightenment thought, with Voltaire and other luminaries in attendance.

Fredrick worked hard to have a strong army. The power of Prussia just grew through his focus on his army which led Prussia to become one of the notable states in the Europe. His military commander skills defeated the lower expectations of his father. His contribution in the government and many reforms transformed Prussia and it also influenced the whole Europe. He also influenced or established the minds of literate Europeans about enlightened despotism, as he made the revolutionary change in the history of Prussia. His actions did good to Prussia but most of them were reckless and desperate actions. He lacked sympathy and did not think about nationalism. But he never failed to follow his duties. His effort and discipline towards Prussia is still appreciated.

In later parts of his life, he became distant to people. He had problems like asthma, gout and other ailments. At the age of 74, while sitting in his armchair he took his last breath. It was the morning of 17 August 1786, at Sanssouci when he left the world. But he left behind the instruction to bury him on the side of the corps de logis of Sanssouci beside his greyhounds on vineyard terrace but his successor Frederick William II buried his body next to his father Frederick William I, in the Potsdam Garrison Church. Later, during World War 2, Adolf Hitler hid his coffin under salt mine to protect it from destruction. While later in 1991, his coffin was placed in the terrace of the vineyard of Sanssouci.

His dominance mostly came out of clear desperation to save his country but he wrote his name in the history of Prussia as one of the greatest general in the history. Frederick the Great’s legacy is multifaceted and enduring. He transformed Prussia from a relatively small and fragmented state into a formidable European power. His military successes and administrative reforms laid the groundwork for Prussia’s eventual rise to become the German Empire in the 19th century. Beyond the realm of politics and warfare, Frederick’s support for the Enlightenment and the arts left an indelible mark on Prussian culture. His commitment to religious tolerance, legal reform, and intellectual discourse paved the way for a more enlightened and progressive society. Please give your comments below, this will help us in improving this article. Thanks for reading!

Fredrick the Great
Personal Details
Date of Birth : 24th January 1712
Died : 17th August 1786
Place of Birth : Berlin, Prussia
Father : King Frederick William
Mother : Queen Sophia Dorothea
Spouse/Partners : Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Bevern
Ruling History
Served As : King of/to Prussia
Ruling Period : 1740-1786
Predecessor : Frederick William I
Successor : Frederick William II
Academic references on Frederick the Great
  • Blanning, T. C. W. (2016). Frederick the Great: King of Prussia. Penguin.
  • Mitford, Nancy (2011). Frederick the Great. Random House.
  • Duffy, Christopher (2014). Frederick the Great: A Military Life. Routledge.
  • Anderson, Matthew Smith (1995). War and Society in Europe of the Old Regime, 1618-1789. Sutton Publishing.
  • Schaeper, Thomas J. (1976). “The King’s Friends: Voltaire and Frederick the Great.” The Historian, 38(3), 417-431.
  • Gagliardo, John G. (1970). “Frederick the Great and the Project for a Political History of Mankind.” Central European History, 3(1), 52-65.
  • MacDonogh, Giles (2005). “Enlightenment and Despotism in Prussia: Frederick II (1740–1786) and His Equivocal Role.” German History, 23(3), 369-393.
  • Wilson, Peter H. (2011). “Frederick the Great and the Politics of Prussian Foreign Policy.” In War, State, and Society in Württemberg, 1677–1793, 283-301. Oxford University Press.
  • Browning, Reed (2008). “Frederick the Great and the German Empire.” In The Cambridge History of Eighteenth-Century Political Thought, 365-386. Cambridge University Press.
Famous quotes on Fredrick the Great
“I would have liked to have been a valet in the court of Frederick the Great.” – Voltaire:
“Gentlemen, if this man were still alive, we would not be here.” – Napoleon Bonaparte
The German literary giant Goethe said, “Frederick the Great was a complete man. He corresponded on every subject; he was a philosopher and an author; he was a soldier and a statesman; he was a king and a father of the muses.” – Johann Wolfgang
“On War,” praised Frederick’s military strategy, saying, “He who would study this art should begin with the campaigns of Frederick the Great.” – Carl von Clausewitz
“Great Contemporaries,” wrote, “It is an astonishing circumstance that the contemporary and rival sovereigns, George II and Frederick the Great, and their governments, should be forgotten and neglected by history to this extent.” – Winston Churchill
“Since the time of Caesar no such greatness in war and warlike preparation has been seen, and so it is unlikely that one such will appear again in the future.” – Immanuel Kant
“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Frederick
“All religions must be tolerated, for every man must get to heaven in his own way.” – Frederick
“My people and I have come to an agreement which satisfies us both. They are to say what they please, and I am to do what I please.” – Frederick

Family of Fredrick the Great

Father: Frederick was the son of King Frederick William I of Prussia and Queen Sophia Dorothea of Hanover. His father, Frederick William I, was known as the “Soldier King” due to his strong emphasis on the military and discipline in Prussia.

Mother: His mother, Sophia Dorothea of Hanover, was the daughter of King George I of Great Britain and Elector of Hanover, making Frederick the Great’s maternal lineage part of the British royal family.

Siblings: Frederick had several siblings, including his younger brothers, Augustus William, Henry, and Ferdinand. Augustus William, in particular, played a significant role in Prussian politics and military affairs.

Spouse: Frederick married Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Bevern in 1733. Their marriage was politically arranged, and it was known to be an unhappy one. The couple did not have any children.

Nephew and Successor: Frederick the Great was succeeded by his nephew, Frederick William II, as he had no children of his own. Frederick William II ruled Prussia from 1786 to 1797.

This Article will answer your questions like:
  • What were Frederick the Great’s major accomplishments?
  • How did Frederick the Great come to power in Prussia?
  • What were Frederick the Great’s military successes?
  • What were the key battles of Frederick the Great?
  • How did Frederick the Great reform Prussia?
  • What was Frederick the Great’s relationship with Voltaire?
  • What were Frederick the Great’s views on philosophy and enlightenment?
  • How did Frederick the Great impact European politics?
  • What was Frederick the Great’s relationship with his father, Frederick William I?
  • What were Frederick the Great’s architectural projects?
  • What was Frederick the Great’s religious policy in Prussia?
  • What was Frederick the Great’s attitude towards art and culture?
  • How did Frederick the Great handle the Seven Years’ War?
  • What was Frederick the Great’s legacy in Prussian and European history?
  • What were Frederick the Great’s reforms in education and administration?
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