Frederick the Great
- Berlin, Prussia
- January 24, 1712 – Born
Life Sketch from The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff
King of Prussia 1712-1786
Copyright © Taken from the book: The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Special thanks to Vicki Jo Anderson. Please do not copy.
Frederick the Great is one of the eminent spirits who appeared to President Wilford Woodruff in the St. George Temple (Latter-day Saint, LDS) on August 21, 1877. This interesting story is detailed in the Eminent Spirits Appear to Wilford Woodruff wiki.
A student of history, Frederick II of Prussia, often called Frederick the Great, concluded that history was an excellent teacher but drew few pupils. He wrote: “It is in the nature of man that no one learns from experience. The follies of the father are lost on their children; each generation has to commit its own.” Frederick’s own knowledge of history led him to establish a new era. In his memoirs of the House of Brandenburg, written in 1758, he wrote a startling new philosophy of state that the ruler was in reality the servant of his state. The concept of royalty serving the people was unknown to the people of that age. Frederick helped inaugurate the age of enlightenment. The rulers of state could not easily turn their backs on this leadership style for Frederick proved it so highly successful.
The grand enterprise of Frederick, on of this biographers, Thomas Carlyle, tells us, was making the populace happy. He proclaimed to the public of Berlin: “Our grand care will be further the Country’s well being, and to make every one of our subject contented and happy. Our will is, not that you strive to enrich us by vexation of our subjects; but rather you aim steadily as well towards that advantage of the country…” He further wrote: “My will henceforth is if it ever chance that my particular interest and the general good of my countries should seam to go against each other, –in that case, my will is, that the latter preferred.” Unlike many rulers, Frederick meant what he said. The day after his ascension to the throne, he began his startling reforms.
“A man that seeks truth, and loves it, must be reckoned precious in any human society.”
– Frederick the Great
That first year Prussia experienced an extremely cold summer. Many of the crops froze, and famine threatened parts of the land. Frederick opened the public granaries and ordered grain to be sold at reasonable rates to the suffering poor.
As King of Prussia
Having traveled rather extensively throught the land as crown-prince, he was a keen observer of the conditions of the people. After opening the granaries he appointed an “Inspector of the Poor” who was charged to do something immediatly; particularly to assist the poor, helpless women. “The destitute of Berlin” were “set to spin” at Frederick’s expense, and the “vacant houses, hired for them in certain streets and suburbs, [were] new-planked, partitioned, warmed; and spinning [was] there for any diligent female soul…” Justice, the opening of the granaries, and the care of the destitute were the first acts of Frederick’s reign.
Frederick gave economic reform and reconstruction priority in time and money. Cites that had been devastated by war were relieved of paying taxes anywhere from six months to two years. When the Seven Year War was over, a goodly portion of the military horses were sent to farmers for plowing. Immigrants were paid to come to the land pf Prussia and her new possessions for the purpose of settling new lands.
He pronounced that the common soldier would no longer be treated with harshness when not deserved and abolished the use of torture in criminal trials. He freed the peasants from servitude. His courts became known as the most in corruptible in Europe. He set upon a revision of the criminal code which was very advanced in its approach. Included in this code was religious freedom. Frederick wrote concerning this matter: “All religions must be tolerated and the fiscal must have an eye that none of them make unjust encroachment on the other; for in this country every man must get to heaven in his own way.”
The struggling Protestants throughout Europe greeted this proclamation with shouts of “bravisimo.” Soon after this the Pope obtained permission to build a large cathedral in Berlin. Frederick supported freedom of religion although he felt much of religion was cloaked in superstition from which it was needed to be freed.
Frederick’s tolerance extended to the press and he made one of the first attempts to give freedom to the press. This freedom, however, was not the freedom of the press we experience today; nevertheless, in practice it always had some from of a real existence throughout his reign.
Education was especially important to him, and in this cause he was very active. Every child in Prussia, from five to fourteen was to attend school. It is said that he founded as many as sixty schools in one year. Because of his military leanings, old soldiers were appointed as schoolmasters and Latin was dropped from curriculum. Much of the learning was in military drill style. Frederick wrote: “It is a good thing that the schoolmasters in the country teach the youngsters religion and morals….”
Frederick’s love for education was formed in his youth by his mother and his tutors. He long had the idea of building up or re-establishing the Academy of Sciences. When he became king he sought for the finest minds in Europe to come and teach and direct the Academy. Among those who came were Voltaire, the French philosopher, Maupertius, the brilliant scientist who became president of the Academy, and Herr Wolf, who had been exiled by Frederick’s father.
As a youth Frederick had been rather free and easy-going, but upon assuming the crown many of his old friends were astonished to find him every inch a king. Many came to approach him in a casual way as they and done before and were instantly reproached for their lack of respect toward the position of the throne. It was not for himself that he made these demands, but out of respect for the throne he required it. Carlyle relates that one of Frederick’s old friends encouraged him to be vices with women in return for favors. But Frederick was born to be a king and a king he was. The old companion stood much reproved; it is reported that in despair he hung himself.
Presumption of “Heartlessness”
Because of his restraint for the sake of the ruling position of the country, Frederick is often seen as heartless and without personal attachment. But there were two people we know for whom he held great tenderness and affection this was his sister and his mother. When his mother approached him after he had been made king, she addressed him as “Your Majesty.” He responded to her, “Call me son; that is the title of all others most agreeable to me!” He also refused to have her called “Queen Dowager” as was tradition for widowed queens. Her title was to be “Her Majesty the Queen Mother.” He never approached her except with his hat in his hand, and when in Berlin regardless of how busy he was, he seldom failed to visit her daily.
Frederick’s mother was the Princess Sophia-Dorothea, daughter of King George I of England, who was actually a German from the Hanoverian line. Frederick was born on 12 January 1712. His father, Frederick William, was terribly disappointed in his son’s below average size. His father was further annoyed when his son spent his days in a dressing gown, reading French history, philosophy, and literature, and playing his flute. Frederick’s father was a man who loved military exactness and ran his family and country accordingly. He was especially fond of his palace guards, a crack regiment consisting of what was considered at that time as “giants.” All of the guards were over six feet tall. Frederick William had recruiters go through Europe continually seeking tall recruits for his regiment. He also built a fine army.
Though young Frederick wasn’t the least bit interested in military drill he was forced to memorize the entire military history of the royal family in detail. Because his father considered many of Frederick’s actions effeminate, he abused his son. He forbade Frederick, eventually, to read or study in French. And when he did not measure up, his father shouted at him in public and often as not, a handy item was thrown at him.
Much to his militate father’s dismay Frederick learned to excel in playing the flute. His love of music extended into his reign. He composed over 120 songs in his free time. He constructed an opera house and brought in Italian operas. He was unceasing in his efforts to life his people. He loved to play flute sonatas with Johann Sebastian Back at the harpsichord.
Escape and Capture
By the time Frederick was eighteen, he had determined to flee to his relatives in England. With the help of his loyal friend, Lieutenant Latte, Frederick reached the borders of Prussia, but the pair were discovered by the King and both were locked up and placed under guard. Latte was marched in front of young Frederick’s door and executed by order of the Kings. A tribunal was held on young Frederick, and he was sentenced to die. Through the pleading of the kings of Sweden, Austria, and others, the crown prince was saved.
However he was not released only to be a prisoner in a small town from which he was not free to leave. He was dismissed from his military rank. The king ordered soldiers to refrain from saluting him. He had to take his meals alone. It was his duty to learn the management of the governments of that small town, even to the balancing of its books. Though this was a devastating and traumatic experience it was providential, for through it Frederick learned the very innermost workings of government. However, Frederick was never the same after this ordeal. His boyhood had swiftly been broken in intense pain. His grief was so great at the loss of his loyal friend that he wrote: “In this world of ours, one must love nothing too much.”
His father died in 1740, and as the new king Frederick began his sweeping reform by dismantling his father’s “giant” regiment. The ruling powers of Europe saw this action and hoped that in King Frederick II they had a weak ruler who might be overpowered. But in this hope they were sadly mistaken. Frederick knew their intent and established an elaborate network of spies. He did not disband the army as many had hoped, but doubled its size and readiness.
Before his death, Frederick’s father had signed the Pragmatic sanction with Austria, granting the right to make the daughter of King Charles queen, because there was no male heir. This Sanction was signed by Prussia on the condition that Austria would help Prussia obtain Berg and Julich, but Austria had not fulfilled her part of the bargain and gave the territory away. Because of this action Frederick did not feel he was bound by the sanction.
In 1741, he entered with his army into the province of Silesia, which is now part of Czechoslovakia, and took possession of the whole of it. Silesia at this time was part of Ausrtia. This invasion had often been called the most unwarranted act in history. However, it was not without its precedent in Europe. At one time Silesia had its own ruling family. Austria was devoutly Catholic and most of Silesia was Protestant. In 1707 the Silesians had pled with the Swedish King Karl, who was marching through with his army, to pressure the Kaiser of Austria to allow them to be free from persecution. When Frederick and his army approached the little country, the Silesians offered little resistance, for they looked upon the Prussians as Protestant liberators. Some even exclaimed: “Bless God for raising such a defender.”
But Austria returned fire, and in the heat of the first battle Frederick was seen leaving the battle, fleeing into the night. He remained in a small village nearby not seeing anyone. When Frederick appeared again, he was not the same man. Something had gone through the very soul of Frederick in that short time.
He knew what he had to do. He said; “The ox must plow the furrow, the nightingale must sing, the dolphin must swim and I must fight.” And then prophetically he announced: “This small event changes the entire system of Europe. It is the little stone which Nebuchadnezzar saw, in his dream, loosening itself, and rolling down on the image made of four metals, which it shivers to ruin.
Seven Years War
So began the Seven Years Wars, the war that changed the face of Europe, breaking down the old and setting up the new. Though Frederick’s army was set against the major armies of Europe, he prevailed, outnumbered by more that two to one. A brilliant strategist, he was not afraid of his purpose and personally led his army. In one skirmish he had two horses shot out from under him. His clothes were riddled by a hail of shrapnel. And once, as he took out his silver snuff-box, it was crushed by a bullet.
Though the boundary lines of Europe changed but little, the changes that resulted from this war were great. France lost India, and the English drove the French out of North America. France was bankrupt. Spain had lost Havana and Manila. England was glad for peace. She needed to turn her attention to he colonies, for she was now the ruler of the seas and in an ascendancy which was to last for many years. Perhaps the greatest gain was for German patriotism and nationalism, which was essential for progress. It was soon after the reign of Frederick that the great names of Germany began to appear. Goethe, Schiller and others.
Upon his return to Berlin, a battle weary Frederick was deeply moved by the sight of his people, whom he and not seen for six years. “Long live my dear people!” he cried. “Long live my children.” Truly they were his children, for he had none of his own. Frederick died in 1786.
Napoleon, after defeating the Prussians at Jena sought out the tomb of Frederick. And in a fitting tribute, Napoleon turned to his generals and declared, “If he were alive we should not be here.”
Copyright © Taken from the book: The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Special thanks to Vicki Jo Anderson. Please do not copy 1
- Anderson, Vicki Jo. (1994). The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Cottonwood, AZ: Zichron Historical Research Institute. ↩