The Reign Of Frederick The Great


Youth of Frederick the Great. --His attempted Escape. --Lieutenant von

Katte's Fate. --Frederick's Subjection. --His Marriage. --His first

Measures as King. --Maria Theresa in Austria. --The First Silesian

war. --Maria Theresa in Hungary. --Prussia acquires Silesia.

--Frederick's Alliance with France and the Emperor Karl VII. --The

Second Silesian war. --Frederick alone a
ainst Austria. --Battles

of Hohenfriedberg, Sorr and Kesselsdorf. --War of the Austrian

Succession. --Peace. --Frederick as a Ruler. --His Habits and

Tastes. --Answers to Petitions. --Religious Freedom. --Development

of Prussia. --War between England and France. --Designs against

Prussia. --Beginning of the Seven Years' War. --Battle at Prague.

--Defeat at Kollin. --Victory of Rossbach. --Battle of Leuthen.

--Help from England. --Campaign of 1758. --Victory of Zorndorf.

--Surprise at Hochkirch. --Campaign of 1759. --Battle of

Kunnersdorf. --Operations in 1760. --Frederick victorious. --Battle

of Torgau. --Desperate Situation of Prussia. --Campaign of 1761.

--Alliance with Russia. --Frederick's Successes. --The Peace of

Hubertsburg. --Frederick's Measures of Relief. --His arbitrary

Rule. --His literary Tastes. --First Division of Poland.

--Frederick's last Years. --His Death.


Few royal princes ever had a more unfortunate childhood and youth than

Frederick the Great. His mother, Sophia Dorothea of Hannover, a sister

of George II. of England, was an amiable, mild-tempered woman who was

devotedly attached to him, but had no power to protect him from the

violence of his hard and tyrannical father. As a boy his chief tastes

were music and French literature, which he could only indulge by

stealth: the king not only called him "idiot!" and "puppy!" when he

found him occupied with a flute or a French book, but threatened him

with personal chastisement. His whole education, which was gained almost

in secret, was chiefly received at the hands of French emigres, and

his taste was formed in the school of ideas which at that time ruled in

France, and which was largely formed by Voltaire, whom Frederick during

his boyhood greatly admired, and afterward made one of his chief

correspondents and intimates. The influence of this is most clearly to

be traced throughout his life.

[Sidenote: 1728.]

His music became almost a passion with him, though it is doubtful

whether any of the praises of his proficiency that have come down to us

are more than the remains of the flatteries of the time. His

compositions, which were performed at his concerts, to which leading

musicians were often invited, do not give any evidence of the genius

claimed for him in this respect; but it is certain that he attained a

considerable degree of mechanical skill in playing the flute. In

after-life his musical taste continued to influence him greatly, and the

establishment of the opera at Berlin was chiefly due to him. His

father's persistent opposition rather fanned than suppressed the

eagerness which he showed in this and other studies, as a boy; and

doubtless contributed to a thoroughness which afterward stood him in

good stead.

In 1728, when only sixteen years old, he accompanied his father on a

visit to the court of Augustus the Strong, at Dresden, and was for a

time led astray by the corrupt society into which he was there thrown.

The wish of his mother, that he should marry the Princess Amelia, the

daughter of George II., was thwarted by his father's dislike of England;

the tyranny to which he was subjected became intolerable, and in 1730,

while accompanying his father on a journey to Southern Germany, he

determined to run away.

His accomplice was a young officer, Lieutenant von Katte, who had been

his bosom-friend for two or three years. A letter written by Frederick

to the latter fell by accident into the hands of another officer of the

same name, who sent it to the king, and the plot was thus discovered.

Frederick had already gone on board of a vessel at Frankfort, and was on

the point of sailing down the Rhine, when his father followed, beat him

until his face was covered with blood, and then sent him as a prisoner

of State to Prussia. Katte was arrested before he could escape, tried by

a court-martial and sentenced to several years' imprisonment. Frederick

William annulled the sentence and ordered him to be immediately

executed. To make the deed more barbarous, it was done before the window

of the cell in which Frederick was confined. The young Prince fainted,

and lay so long senseless that it was feared he would never recover. He

was then watched, allowed no implements except a wooden spoon, lest he

might commit suicide, and only permitted to read a Bible and hymn-book.

The officer who had him in charge could only converse with him by means

of a hole bored through the ceiling of his cell.


The king insisted that he should be formally tried; but the

court-martial, while deciding that "Colonel Fritz" was guilty, as an

officer, asserted that it had no authority to condemn the Crown-Prince.

The king overruled the decision, and ordered his son to be executed.

This course excited such horror and indignation among the officers that

Frederick was pardoned, but not released from imprisonment until his

spirit was broken and he had promised to obey his father in all things.

For a year he was obliged to work as a clerk in the departments of the

Government, beginning with the lowest position and rising as he acquired

practical knowledge. He did not appear at Court until November, 1731,

when his sister Wilhelmine was married to the Margrave of Baireuth. The

ceremony had already commenced when Frederick, dressed in a plain suit

of grey, without any order or decoration, was discovered among the

servants. The King pulled him forth, and presented him to the Queen with

these words: "Here, Madam, our Fritz is back again!"

In 1732 Frederick was forced to marry the Princess Elizabeth of

Brunswick-Bevern, whom he disliked, and with whom he lived but a short

time. His father gave him the castle of Rheinsberg, near Potsdam, and

there, for the first time, he enjoyed some independence: his leisure was

devoted to philosophical studies, and to correspondence with Voltaire

and other distinguished French authors. During the war of the Polish

Succession he served for a short time under Prince Eugene of Savoy, but

had no opportunity to test or develop his military talent. Until his

father's death he seemed to be more of a poet and philosopher than

anything else: only the few who knew him intimately perceived that his

mind was occupied with plans of government and conquest.

When Frederick William I. died, the people rejoiced in the prospect of a

just and peaceful rule. Frederick II. declared to his ministers, on

receiving their oath of allegiance, that no distinction should be

allowed between the interests of the country and the king, since they

were identical; but if any conflict of the two should arise, the

interests of the country must have the preference. Then he at once

corrected the abuses of the game and recruiting laws, disbanded his

father's body-guard of giants, abolished torture in criminal cases,

reformed the laws of marriage, and established a special Ministry for

Commerce and Manufactures. When he set out for Koenigsberg to receive the

allegiance of Prussia proper, his whole Court travelled in three

carriages. On arriving, he dispensed with the ceremony of coronation, as

being unnecessary, and then succeeded in establishing a much closer

political union between Prussia and Brandenburg, which, in many

respects, had been independent of each other up to that time.

[Sidenote: 1740.]

The death of the Emperor Karl VI. was the signal for a general

disturbance. Maria Theresa, as the events of her reign afterwards

proved, was a woman of strong, even heroic, character; stately, handsome

and winning in her personal appearance, and morally irreproachable. No

Hapsburg Emperor before her inherited the crown under such discouraging

circumstances, and none could have maintained himself more bravely and

firmly than she did. The ministers of Karl VI. flattered themselves that

they would now have unlimited sway over the Empire, but they were

mistaken. Maria Theresa listened to their counsels, but decided for

herself: even her husband, Francis of Lorraine and Tuscany, was unable

to influence her judgment. The Elector Karl Albert of Bavaria, whose

grandmother was a Hapsburg, claimed the crown, and was supported by

Louis XV. of France, who saw another opportunity of weakening Germany.

The reigning Archbishops on the Rhine were of course on the side of

France. Poland and Saxony, united under Augustus III., at the same time

laid claim to some territory along the northern frontier of Austria.

Frederick II. saw his opportunity, and was first in the field. His

pretext was the right of Brandenburg to four principalities in Silesia,

which had been relinquished to Austria under the pressure of

circumstances. The real reason was, as he afterwards confessed, his

determination to strengthen Prussia by the acquisition of more

territory. The kingdom was divided into so many portions, separated so

widely from each other, that it could not become powerful and permanent

unless they were united. He had secretly raised his military force to

100,000 men, and in December, 1740, he marched into Silesia, almost

before Austria suspected his purpose. His army was kept under strict

discipline; the people were neither plundered nor restricted in their

religious worship, and the capital, Breslau, soon opened its gates.

Several fortresses were taken during the winter, and in April, 1741, a

decisive battle was fought at Mollwitz. The Austrian army had the

advantage of numbers and its victory seemed so certain that Marshal

Schwerin persuaded Frederick to leave the field; then, gathering

together the remainder of his troops, he made a last and desperate

charge which turned defeat into victory. All Lower Silesia was now in

the hands of the Prussians.


France, Spain, Bavaria and Saxony immediately united against Austria. A

French army crossed the Rhine, joined the Bavarian forces, and marched

to Linz, on the Danube, where Karl Albert was proclaimed Arch-Duke of

Austria. Maria Theresa and her Court fled to Presburg, where the

Hungarian nobles were already convened, in the hope of recovering the

rights they had lost under Leopold I. She was forced to grant the most

of their demands; after which she was crowned with the crown of St.

Stephen, galloped up "the king's hill," and waved her sword towards the

four quarters of the earth, with so much grace and spirit that the

Hungarians were quite won to her side. Afterwards, when she appeared

before the Diet in their national costume, with her son Joseph in her

arms, and made an eloquent speech, setting forth the dangers which beset

her, the nobles drew their sabres and shouted: "We will die for our

King, Maria Theresa!"

While the support of Hungary and Austria was thus secured, the combined

German and French force did not advance upon Vienna, but marched to

Prague, where Karl Albert was crowned King of Bohemia. This act was

followed, in February, 1742, by his coronation in Frankfort as Emperor,

under the name of Karl VII. Before this took place, Austria had been

forced to make a secret treaty with Frederick II. The latter, however,

declared that the conditions of it had been violated, and in the spring

of 1742 he marched into Bohemia. He was victorious in the first great

battle: England then intervened, and persuaded Maria Theresa to make

peace by yielding to Prussia both Upper and Lower Silesia and the

principality of Glatz. Thus ended the First Silesian War, which gave

Prussia an addition of 1,200,000 to her population, with 150 large and

small cities, and about 5,000 villages.

[Sidenote: 1742.]

The most dangerous enemy of Austria being thus temporarily removed, the

fortunes of Maria Theresa speedily changed, especially since England,

Holland and Hannover entered into an alliance to support her against

France. George II. of England took the field in person, and was

victorious over the French in the battle of Dettingen (not far from

Frankfort), in June, 1743. After this Saxony joined the Austrian

alliance, and the Landgrave of Hesse, who cared nothing for the war, but

was willing to make money, sold an equal number of soldiers to France

and to England. Frederick II. saw that France would not be able to stand

long against such a coalition, and he knew that the success of Austria

would probably be followed by an attempt to regain Silesia; therefore,

regardless of appearances, he entered into a compact with France and the

Emperor Karl VII., and prepared for another war.

In the summer of 1744 he marched into Bohemia with an army of 80,000

men, took Prague on the 16th of September, and conquered the greater

part of the country. But the Bohemians were hostile to him, the

Hungarians rose again in defence of Austria, and an army under Charles

of Lorraine, which was operating against the French in Alsatia, was

recalled to resist his advance. He was forced to retreat in the dead of

winter, leaving many cannon behind him, and losing a large number of

soldiers on the way. On the 20th of January, 1745, Karl VII. died, and

his son, Max Joseph, gave up his pretensions to the Imperial crown, on

condition of having Bavaria (which Austria had meanwhile conquered)

restored to him. France thereupon practically withdrew from the

struggle, leaving Prussia in the lurch. Frederick stood alone, with

Austria, Saxony and Poland united against him, and a prospect of England

and Russia being added to the number: the tables had turned, and he was

very much in the condition of Maria Theresa, four years before.

In May, 1745, Silesia was invaded with an army of 100,000 Austrians and

Saxons. Frederick marched against them with a much smaller force, met

them at Hohenfriedberg, and gave battle on the 4th of June. He began

with a furious charge of Prussian cavalry at dawn, and by nine o'clock

the enemy was utterly routed, leaving sixty-six standards, 5,000 dead

and wounded, and 7,000 prisoners. This victory produced a great effect

throughout Europe. England intervened in favor of peace, and Frederick

declared that he would only fight until the possession of Silesia was

firmly guaranteed to him; but Maria Theresa (who hated Frederick

intensely, as she had good reason to do) answered that she would sooner

part with the clothes on her body than give up Silesia.

[Sidenote: 1745. THE SECOND SILESIAN WAR.]

Frederick entered Bohemia with 18,000 men, and on the 30th of September

was attacked, at a village called Sorr, by a force of 40,000.

Nevertheless he managed his cavalry so admirably, that he gained the

victory. Then, learning that the Saxons were preparing to invade Prussia

in his rear, he garrisoned all the passes leading from Bohemia into

Silesia, and marched into Saxony with his main force. The "Old

Dessauer," as Prince Leopold was called, took Leipzig, and, pressing

forwards, won another great victory on the 15th of December, at

Kesselsdorf. Frederick, who arrived on the field at the close of the

fight, embraced the old veteran in the sight of the army. The next day,

the Prussians took possession of Dresden: the capital was not damaged,

but, like the other cities of Saxony, was made to pay a heavy

contribution. Peace was concluded with Austria ten days afterwards:

Prussia was confirmed in the possession of all Silesia and Glatz, and

Frederick agreed to recognize Francis of Lorraine, Maria Theresa's

husband, who had already been crowned Emperor at Frankfort, as Francis

I. Thus ended the Second Silesian War. Frederick was first called "the

Great," on his return to Berlin, where he was received with boundless

popular rejoicings.

The "War of the Austrian Succession," as it was called, lasted three

years longer, but its character was changed. Its field was shifted to

Italy and Flanders: in the latter country Maurice of Saxony (better

known as Marshal de Saxe), one of the many sons of Augustus the Strong,

was signally successful. He conquered the greater part of the

Netherlands for France, in the year 1747. Then Austria, although she had

regained much of her lost ground in Northern Italy, formed an alliance

with the Empress Elizabeth of Russia, who furnished an army of 40,000

men. The money of France was exhausted, and Louis XV. found it best to

make peace, which was concluded at Aix-la-Chapelle in October, 1748. He

gave up all the conquests which France had made during the war. Austria

yielded Parma and Piacenza to Spain, a portion of Lombardy to Sardinia,

and again confirmed Frederick the Great in the possession of Silesia.

[Sidenote: 1747.]

After the Peace of Dresden, in 1745, Prussia enjoyed a rest of nearly

eleven years. Frederick's first care was to heal the wounds which his

two Silesian wars had made in the population and the industry of his

people. He called himself "the first official servant of the State," and

no civil officer under him labored half so earnestly and zealously. He

looked upon his kingdom as a large estate, the details of which must be

left to agents, while the general supervision devolved upon him alone.

Therefore he insisted that all questions which required settlement, all

changes necessary to be made, even the least infractions of the laws,

should be referred directly to himself, so that his secretaries had much

more to do than his ministers. While he claimed the absolute right to

govern, he accepted all the responsibility which it brought upon him. He

made himself acquainted with every village and landed estate in his

kingdom, watched, as far as possible, over every official, and

personally studied the operation of every reform. He rose at four or

five o'clock, labored at his desk for hours, reading the multitude of

reports and letters of complaint or appeal, which came simply addressed

"to the King," and barely allowed himself an hour or two towards evening

for a walk with his greyhounds, or a little practise on his beloved

flute. His evenings were usually spent in conversation with men of

culture and intelligence. His literary tastes, however, remained French

all his life: his many works were written in that language, he preferred

to speak it, and he sneered at German literature at a time when authors

like Lessing, Klopstock, Herder and Goethe were gradually lifting it to

such a height of glory as few other languages have ever attained.

His rough, practical common-sense as a ruler is very well illustrated by

his remarks upon the documents sent for his inspection, many of which

are still preserved. On the back of the "Petition from the merchant

Simon of Stettin, to be allowed to purchase an estate for 40,000

thalers," he wrote: "40,000 thalers invested in commerce will yield

eight per cent., in landed property only four per cent.; this man does

not understand his own business." On the "Petition from the city of

Frankfort-on-Oder, against the quartering of troops upon them," he

wrote: "Why, it cannot be otherwise. Do they think I can put the

regiment in my pocket? But the barracks shall be rebuilt." And finally,

on the "Petition of the Chamberlain, Baron Mueller, for leave to visit

the baths of Aix-la-Chapelle," he wrote: "What would he do there? He

would gamble away the little money he has left, and come back like a

beggar." The expenses of Frederick's own Court were restricted to about

100,000 dollars a year, at a time when nearly every petty prince in

Germany was spending from five to ten times that sum.

[Sidenote: 1748. FREDERICK AS RULER.]

In the administration of justice and the establishment of entire

religious liberty, Prussia rapidly became a model which put to shame and

disturbed the most of the other German States. Frederick openly

declared: "I mean that every man in my kingdom shall have the right to

be saved in his own way:" in Silesia, where the Protestants had been

persecuted under Austria, the Catholics were now free and contented.

This course gave him a great popularity outside of Prussia among the

common people, and for the first time in two hundred years, the hope of

better times began to revive among them. Frederick was as absolute a

despot as any of his fellow-rulers of the day; but his was a despotism

of intelligence, justice and conscience, opposed to that of ignorance,

bigotry and selfishness.

Frederick's rule, however, was not without its serious faults. He

favored the education of his people less than his father, and was almost

equally indifferent to the encouragement of science. The Berlin Academy

was neglected, and another in which the French language was used, and

French theories discussed, took its place. Prussian students were for a

while prohibited from visiting Universities outside of the kingdom. On

the other hand, agriculture was favored in every possible way: great

tracts of marshy land, which had been uninhabited, were transformed into

fertile and populous regions; canals, roads and bridges were built, and

new markets for produce established. The cultivation of the potato, up

to that time unknown in Germany as an article of food, was forced upon

the unwilling farmers. In return for all these advantages, the people

were heavily taxed, but not to such an extent as to impoverish them, as

in Saxony and Austria. The army was not only kept up, but largely

increased, for Frederick knew that the peace which Prussia enjoyed could

not last long.

[Sidenote: 1755.]

The clouds of war slowly gathered on the political horizon. The peace of

Europe was broken by the quarrel between England and France, in 1755, in

regard to the boundaries between Canada and the English Colonies. This

involved danger to Hannover, which was not yet disconnected from

England, and the latter power proposed to Maria Theresa an alliance

against France. The minister of the Empress was at this time Count

Kaunitz, who fully shared her hatred of Frederick II., and determined,

with her, to use this opportunity to recover Silesia. She therefore

refused England's proposition, and wrote a flattering letter to Madame

de Pompadour, the favorite of Louis XV., to prepare the way for an

alliance between Austria and France. At the same time secret

negotiations were carried on with Elizabeth of Russia, who was mortally

offended with Frederick II., on account of some disparaging remarks he

had made about her. Louis XV., nevertheless, hesitated until Maria

Theresa promised to give him the Austrian (the former Spanish)

Netherlands, in return for his assistance: then the compact between the

three great military powers of the Continent was concluded, and

everything was quietly arranged for commencing the war against Prussia

in the spring of 1757. So sure were they of success that they agreed

beforehand on the manner in which the Prussian kingdom should be cut up

and divided among themselves and the other States.

Through his paid agents at the different courts, and especially through

the Crown Prince Peter of Russia, who was one of his most enthusiastic

admirers, Frederick was well-informed of these plans. He saw that the

coalition was too powerful to be defeated by diplomacy: his ruin was

determined upon, and he could only prevent it by accepting war against

such overwhelming odds. England was the only great power which could

assist him, and Austria's policy left her no alternative: she concluded

an alliance with Prussia in January, 1756, but her assistance,

afterwards, was furnished in the shape of money rather than troops. The

small States of Brunswick, Hesse-Cassel and Saxe-Gotha were persuaded to

join Prussia, but they added very little to Frederick's strength,

because Bavaria and all the principalities along the Rhine were certain

to go with France, in a general German war.

[Sidenote: 1756. WAR IN BOHEMIA.]

Knowing when the combined movement against him was to be made,

Frederick boldly determined to anticipate it. Disregarding the

neutrality of Saxony, he crossed its frontier on the 29th of August,

1756, with an army of 70,000 men. Ten days afterwards he entered

Dresden, besieged the Saxon army of 17,000 in their fortified camp on

the Elbe, and pushed a column forwards into Bohemia. Maria Theresa

collected her forces, and sent an army of nearly 70,000 in all haste

against him. Frederick met them with 20,000 men at Lobositz, on the 1st

of October, and after hard fighting gained a victory by the use of the

bayonet. He wrote to Marshal Schwerin: "Never have my Prussians

performed such miracles of bravery, since I had the honor to command

them." The Saxons surrendered soon afterwards, and Frederick went into

winter-quarters, secure against any further attack before the spring.

This was a severe check to the plans of the allied powers, and they made

every effort to retrieve it. Sweden was induced to join them, and "the

German Empire," through its almost forgotten Diet, declared war against

Prussia. All together raised an armed force of 430,000 men, while

Frederick, with the greatest exertion, could barely raise 200,000:

England sent him an utterly useless general, the Duke of Cumberland, but

no soldiers. He dispatched a part of his army to meet the Russians and

Swedes, marched with the rest into Bohemia, and on the 6th of May won a

decided but very bloody victory before the walls of Prague. The old

hero, Schwerin, charging at the head of his troops, was slain, and the

entire loss of the Prussians was 18,000 killed and wounded. But there

was still a large Austrian army in Prague: the city was besieged with

the utmost vigor for five weeks, and was on the very point of

surrendering when Frederick heard that another Austrian army, commanded

by Daun, was marching to its rescue.

He thereupon raised the siege, hastened onwards and met Daun at Kollin,

on the Elbe, on the 18th of June. He had 31,000 men and the Austrians

54,000: he prepared an excellent plan of battle, then deviated from it,

and commenced the attack against the advice of General Zieten, his chief

commander. His haste and stubbornness were well nigh proving his ruin;

he tried to retrieve the fortunes of the day by personally leading his

soldiers against the Austrian batteries, but in vain,--they were

repulsed, with a loss of 14,000 dead and wounded. That evening

Frederick was found alone, seated on a log, drawing figures in the sand

with his cane. He shed tears on hearing of the slaughter of all his best

guardsmen; then, after a long silence, said: "It is a day of sorrow for

us, my children, but have patience, for all will yet be well."

[Sidenote: 1757.]

The defeat at Kollin threw Frederick's plans into confusion: it was now

necessary to give up Bohemia, and simply act on the defensive, on

Prussian soil. Here he was met by the news of fresh disasters. His other

army had been defeated by a much superior Russian force, and the useless

Duke of Cumberland had surrendered Hannover to the French. But the

Russians had retreated after their victory, instead of advancing, and

Frederick's general, Lehwald, then easily repulsed the Swedes, who had

invaded Pomerania. By this time a combined French and German array of

60,000 men, under Marshal Soubise, was approaching from the west,

confident of an easy victory and comfortable winter-quarters in Berlin.

Frederick united his scattered and diminished forces: they only amounted

to 22,000, and great was the amusement of the French when they learned

that he meant to dispute their advance.

After some preliminary manoeuvring the two armies approached each

other, on the 5th of November, at Rossbach, not far from Naumburg. When

Marshal Soubise saw the Prussian camp, he said to his officers: "It is

only a breakfast for us!" and ordered his forces to be spread out so as

to cut off the retreat of the enemy. Frederick was at dinner when he

received the news of the approaching attack: he immediately ordered

General Seidlitz to charge with his cavalry, broke up his camp and

marshalled his infantry in the rear of a range of low hills which

concealed his movements. The French, supposing that he was retreating,

pressed forwards with music and shouts of triumph; then, suddenly,

Seidlitz burst upon them with his 8,000 cavalry, and immediately

afterwards Frederick's cannon began to play upon their ranks from a

commanding position. They were thrown into confusion by this surprise:

Frederick and his brother, Prince Henry, led the infantry against them,

and in an hour and a half from the commencement of the battle they were

flying from the field in the wildest panic, leaving everything behind

them. Nine generals, 320 other officers and 7,000 men were made

prisoners, and all the artillery, arms and stores captured. The

Prussian loss was only 91 dead and 274 wounded.

[Sidenote: 1757. THE BATTLE OF LEUTHEN.]

The remnant of the French army never halted until it reached the Rhine.

All danger from the west was now at an end, and Frederick hastened

towards Silesia, which had in the mean time been occupied by a powerful

Austrian army under Charles of Lorraine. By making forced marches, in

three weeks Frederick effected a junction near Breslau with his

retreating Prussians, and found himself at the head of an army of about

32,000 men. Charles of Lorraine and Marshal Daun had united their

forces, taken Breslau, and opposed him with a body of more than 80,000;

but, instead of awaiting his attack, they moved forward to meet him.

Near the little town of Leuthen, the two came together. Frederick

summoned his generals, and addressed them in a stirring speech: "Against

all the rules of military science," he said, "I am going to engage an

army nearly three times greater than my own. We must beat the enemy, or

all together make for ourselves graves before his batteries. This I

mean, and thus will I act: remember that you are Prussians. If one among

you fears to share the last danger with me, he may resign now, without

hearing a word of reproof from me."

The king's heroic courage was shared by his officers and soldiers. At

dawn, on the 5th of December, the troops sang a solemn hymn, after which

shouts of "It is again the 5th!" and "Rossbach!" rang through the army.

Frederick called General Zieten to him, and said: "I am going to expose

myself more than ordinarily, to-day. Should I fall, cover my body with

your cloak, and say nothing to any one. The fight must go on and the

enemy must be beaten." He concealed the movement of his infantry behind

some low hills, as at Rossbach, and surprised the left flank of the

Austrian army, while his cavalry engaged its right flank. Both attacks

were so desperate that the Austrians struggled in vain to recover their

ground: after several hours of hard fighting they gave way, then broke

up and fled in disorder, losing more than 20,000 in killed, wounded and

prisoners. The Prussian loss was about 5,000. The cold winter night came

down on the battle-field, still covered with wounded and dying and

resounding with cries of suffering. All at once a Prussian grenadier

began to sing the hymn: "Now let all hearts thank God;" the regiment

nearest him presently joined, then the military bands, and soon the

entire army united in the grand choral of thanksgiving. Thus gloriously

for Prussia closed the second year of this remarkable war.

[Sidenote: 1758.]

Frederick immediately took Breslau, with its garrison of 17,000

Austrians, and all of Silesia except the fortress of Schweidnitz. During

the winter Maria Theresa made vigorous preparations for a renewal of the

war, and urged Russia and France to make fresh exertions. The reputation

which Frederick had gained, however, brought him also some assistance:

after the victories of Rossbach and Leuthen, there was so much popular

enthusiasm for him in England that the Government granted him a subsidy

of 4,000,000 thalers annually, and allowed him to appoint a commander

for the troops of Hannover and the other allied States. Frederick

selected Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick, who operated with so much skill

and energy that by the summer of 1758 he had driven the French from all

Northern Germany.

Frederick, as usual, resumed his work before the Austrians were ready,

took Schweidnitz, re-established his rule over Silesia, penetrated into

Moravia and laid siege to Olmuetz. But the Austrian Marshal Laudon cut

off his communications with Silesia and forced him to retreat across the

frontier, where he established himself in a fortified camp near

Landshut. The Russians by this time had conquered the whole of the Duchy

of Prussia, invaded Pomerania, which they plundered and laid waste, and

were approaching the river Oder. On receiving this news, Frederick left

Marshal Keith in command of his camp, took what troops could be spared

and marched against his third enemy, whom he met on the 25th of August,

1758, near the village of Zorndorf, in Pomerania. The battle lasted from

nine in the morning until ten at night. Frederick had 32,000 men, mostly

new recruits, the Russian General Fermor 50,000. The Prussian lines were

repeatedly broken, but as often restored by the bravery of General

Seidlitz, who finally won the battle by daring to disobey Frederick's

orders. The latter sent word to him that he must answer for his

disobedience with his head, but Seidlitz replied: "Tell the king he may

have my head when the battle is over, but until then I must use it in

his service." When, late at night, the Russians were utterly defeated,

leaving 20,000 dead upon the field--for the Prussians gave them no

quarter--Frederick embraced Seidlitz, crying out: "I owe the victory to



The three great powers had been successively repelled, but the strength

of Austria was not yet broken. Marshal Daun marched into Saxony and

besieged the fortified camp of Prince Henry, thus obliging Frederick to

hasten to his rescue. The latter's confidence in himself had been so

exalted by his victories, that he and his entire army would have been

lost but for the prudent watchfulness of Zieten. All except the latter

and his hussars were quietly sleeping at Hochkirch, on the night of the

13th of October, when the camp was suddenly attacked by Daun, in

overwhelming force. The village was set on fire, the Prussian batteries

captured, and a terrible fight ensued. Prince Francis of Brunswick and

Marshal Keith were killed and Prince Maurice of Dessau severely wounded:

the Prussians defended themselves heroically, but at nine o'clock on the

morning of the 14th they were compelled to retreat, leaving all their

artillery and camp equipage behind them. This was the last event of the

campaign of 1758, and it was a bad omen for the following year.

Frederick tried to negotiate for peace, but in vain. The strength of his

army was gone; his victories had been dearly bought with the loss of all

his best regiments. Austria and Russia reinforced their armies and

planned, this time, to unite in Silesia, while the French, who defeated

the Duke of Brunswick in April, 1759, regained possession of Hannover.

Frederick was obliged to divide his troops and send an army under

General Wedel against the Russians, while he, with a very reduced force,

attempted to check the Austrians in Silesia. Wedel was defeated, and the

junction of his two enemies could no longer be prevented; they marched

against him, 70,000 strong, and took up a position at Kunnersdorf,

opposite Frankfort-on-Oder. Frederick had but 48,000 men, after calling

together almost the entire military strength of his kingdom, and many of

these were raw recruits who had never smelt powder.

On the 12th of August, 1759, after the good news arrived that Ferdinand

of Brunswick had defeated the French at Minden, Frederick gave battle.

At the end of six hours the Russian left wing gave way; then Frederick,

against the advice of Seidlitz, ordered a charge upon the right wing,

which occupied a very strong position and was supported by the Austrian

army. Seidlitz twice refused to make the charge; and then when he

yielded, was struck down, severely wounded, after his cavalry had been

cut to pieces. Frederick himself led the troops to fresh slaughter, but

all in vain: they fell in whole battalions before the terrible artillery

fire, until 20,000 lay upon the field. The enemy charged in turn, and

the Prussian army was scattered in all directions, only about 3,000

accompanying the king in his retreat. For some days after this Frederick

was in a state of complete despair, listless, helpless, unable to decide

or command in anything.

[Sidenote: 1759.]

Prussia was only saved by a difference of opinion between Marshal Daun

and the Russian general, Soltikoff. The latter refused to advance on

Berlin, but fell back upon Silesia to rest his troops: Daun marched into

Saxony, took Dresden, which the Prussians had held up to that time, and

made 12,000 prisoners. Thus ended this unfortunate year. Prussia was in

such an exhausted condition that it seemed impossible to raise more men

or more money, to carry on the war. Frederick tried every means to break

the alliance of his enemies, or to acquire new allies for himself, even

appealing to Spain and Turkey, but without effect. In the spring of

1760, the armies of Austria, "the German Empire," Russia and Sweden

amounted to 280,000, to meet which he was barely able, by making every

sacrifice, to raise 90,000. In Hannover Ferdinand of Brunswick had

75,000, opposed by a French army of 115,000.

Silesia was still the bone of contention, and it was planned that the

Austrian and Russian armies should unite there, as before, while

Frederick was equally determined to prevent their junction, and to hold

the province for himself. But he first sent Prince Henry and General

Fouque to Silesia, while he undertook to regain possession of Saxony. He

bombarded Dresden furiously, without success, and was then called away

by the news that Fouque with 7,000 men had been defeated and taken

prisoners near Landshut. All Silesia was overrun by the Austrians,

except Breslau, which was heroically defended by a small force. Marshal

Laudon was in command, and as the Russians had not yet arrived, he

effected a junction with Daun, who had followed Frederick from Saxony.

On the 15th of August, 1760, they attacked him at Liegnitz with a

combined force of 95,000 men. Although he had but 35,000, he won such a

splendid victory that the Russian army turned back on hearing of it, and

in a short time Silesia, except the fortress of Glatz, was restored to


[Sidenote: 1760. CAPTURE OF BERLIN.]

Nevertheless, while Frederick was engaged in following up his victory,

the Austrians and Russians came to an understanding, and moved suddenly

upon Berlin,--the Russians from the Oder, the Austrians and Saxons

combined from Lusatia. The city defended itself for a few days, but

surrendered on the 9th of October: a contribution of 1,700,000 thalers

was levied by the conquerors, the Saxons ravaged the royal palace at

Charlottenburg, but the Russians and Austrians committed few

depredations. Four days afterwards, the news that Frederick was

hastening to the relief of Berlin compelled the enemy to leave. Without

attempting to pursue them, Frederick turned and marched back to Silesia,

where, on the 3d of November, he met the Austrians, under Daun, at

Torgau. This was one of the bloodiest battles of the Seven Years' War:

the Prussian army was divided between Frederick and Zieten, the former

undertaking to storm the Austrian position in front, while the latter

attacked their flank. But Frederick, either too impetuous or mistaken in

the signals, moved too soon: a terrible day's fight followed, and when

night came 10,000 of his soldiers, dead or wounded, lay upon the field.

He sat all night in the village church, making plans for the morrow;

then, in the early dawn, Zieten came and announced that he had been

victorious on the Austrian flank, and they were in full retreat. After

which, turning to his soldiers, Zieten cried: "Boys, hurrah for our

King!--he has won the battle!" The men answered: "Hurrah for Fritz, our

King, and hurrah for Father Zieten, too!" The Prussian loss was 13,000,

the Austrian 20,000.

Although Prussia had been defended with such astonishing vigor and

courage during the year 1760, the end of the campaign found her greatly

weakened. The Austrians held Dresden and Glatz, two important strategic

points, Russia and France were far from being exhausted, and every

attempt of Frederick to strengthen himself by alliance--even with Turkey

and with Cossack and Tartar chieftains--came to nothing. In October,

1760, George II. of England died, there was a change of ministry, and

the four, millions of thalers which Prussia had received for three years

were cut off. The French, under Marshals Broglie and Soubise, had been

bravely met by Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, but he was not strong

enough to prevent them from quartering themselves for the winter in

Cassel and Goettingen. Under these discouraging aspects the year 1761


[Sidenote: 1761.]

The first events were fortunate. Prince Ferdinand moved against the

French in February and drove them back nearly to the Rhine; the army of

"the German Empire" was expelled from Thuringia by a small detachment of

Prussians, and Prince Henry, Frederick's brother, maintained himself in

Saxony against the much stronger Austrian army of Marshal Daun. These

successes left Frederick free to act with all his remaining forces

against the Austrians in Silesia, under Laudon, and their Russian allies

who were marching through Poland to unite with them a third time. But

their combined force was 140,000 men, his barely 55,000. By the most

skilful military tactics, marching rapidly back and forth, threatening

first one and then the other, he kept them asunder until the middle of

August, when they effected a junction in spite of him. Then he

entrenched himself so strongly in a fortified camp near Schweidnitz,

that they did not dare to attack him immediately. Marshal Laudon and the

Russian commander, Buturlin, quarrelled, in consequence of which a large

part of the Russian army left, and marched northwards into Pomerania.

Then Frederick would have given battle, but on the 1st of October,

Laudon took Schweidnitz by storm and so strengthened his position

thereby that it would have been useless to attack him.

Frederick's prospects were darker than ever when the year 1761 came to a

close. On the 16th of December, the Swedes and Russians took the

important fortress of Colberg, on the Baltic coast: half Pomerania was

in their hands, more than half of Silesia in the hands of the Austrians,

Prince Henry was hard pressed in Saxony, and Ferdinand of Brunswick was

barely able to hold back the French. On all sides the allied enemies

were closing in upon Prussia, whose people could no longer furnish

soldiers or pay taxes. For more than a year the country had been hanging

on the verge of ruin, and while Frederick's true greatness had been

illustrated in his unyielding courage, his unshaken energy, his

determination never to give up, he was almost powerless to plan any

further measures of defence. With four millions of people, he had for

six years fought powers which embraced eighty millions; but now half his

territory was lost to him and the other half utterly exhausted.


Suddenly, in the darkest hour, light came. In January, 1762, Frederick's

bitter enemy, the Empress Elizabeth of Russia, died, and was succeeded

by Czar Peter III., who was one of his most devoted admirers. The first

thing Peter did was to send back all the Prussian prisoners of war; an

armistice was concluded, then a peace, and finally an alliance, by which

the Russian troops in Pomerania and Silesia were transferred from the

Austrian to the Prussian side. Sweden followed the example of Russia,

and made peace, and the campaign of 1762 opened with renewed hopes for

Prussia. In July, 1762, Peter III. was dethroned and murdered, whereupon

his widow and successor, Catharine II., broke off the alliance with

Frederick; but she finally agreed to maintain peace, and Frederick made

use of the presence of the Russian troops in his camp to win a decided

victory over Daun, on the 21st of July.

Austria was discouraged by this new turn of affairs; the war was

conducted with less energy on the part of her generals, while the

Prussians were everywhere animated with a fresh spirit. After a siege of

several months Frederick took the fortress of Schweidnitz on the 9th of

October; on the 29th of the same month Prince Henry defeated the

Austrians at Freiberg, in Saxony, and on the 1st of November Ferdinand

of Brunswick drove the French out of Cassel. After this Frederick

marched upon Dresden, while small detachments were sent into Bohemia and

Franconia, where they levied contributions on the cities and villages

and kept the country in a state of terror.

In the meantime negotiations for peace had been carried on between

England and France. The preliminaries were settled at Fontainebleau on

the 3d of November, and, although the Tory Ministry of George II. would

have willingly seen Prussia destroyed, Frederick's popularity was so

great in England that the Government was forced to stipulate that the

French troops should be withdrawn from Germany. The "German Empire,"

represented by its superannuated Diet at Ratisbon, became alarmed at its

position and concluded an armistice with Prussia; so that, before the

year closed, Austria was left alone to carry on the war. Maria

Theresa's personal hatred of Frederick, which had been the motive power

in the combination against him, had not been gratified by his ruin: she

could only purchase peace with him, after all his losses and dangers, by

giving up Silesia forever. It was a bitter pill for her to swallow, but

there was no alternative; she consented, with rage and humiliation in

her heart. On the 15th of February, 1763, peace was signed at

Hubertsburg, a little hunting-castle near Leipzig, and the Seven Years'

War was over.

[Sidenote: 1763.]

Frederick was now called "the Great" throughout Europe, and Prussia was

henceforth ranked among the "Five Great Powers," the others being

England, France, Austria and Russia. His first duty, as after the Second

Silesian War, was to raise the kingdom from its weak and wasted

condition. He distributed among the farmers the supplies of grain which

had been hoarded up for the army, gave them as many artillery and

cavalry horses as could be spared, practised the most rigid economy in

the expenses of the Government, and bestowed all that could be saved

upon the regions which had most suffered. The nobles derived the

greatest advantage from this support, for he considered them the main

pillar of his State, and took all his officers from their ranks. In

order to be prepared for any new emergency, he kept up his army, and

finally doubled it, at a great cost; but, as he only used one-sixth of

his own income and gave the rest towards supporting this burden, the

people, although often oppressed by his system of taxation, did not

openly complain.

Frederick continued to be sole and arbitrary ruler. He was unwilling to

grant any participation in the Government to the different classes of

the people, but demanded that everything should be trusted to his own

"sense of duty." Since the people did honor and trust him,--since

every day illustrated his desire to be just towards all, and his own

personal devotion to the interests of the kingdom,--his policy was

accepted. He never reflected that the spirit of complete submission

which he was inculcating weakened the spirit of the people, and might

prove to be the ruin of Prussia if the royal power should fall into base

or ignorant hands. In fact, the material development of the country was

seriously hindered by his admiration of everything French. He introduced

a form of taxation borrowed from France, appointed French officials who

oppressed the people, granted monopolies to manufacturers, prohibited

the exportation of raw material, and in other ways damaged the interests

of Prussia, by trying to force a rapid growth.


The intellectual development of the country was equally hindered. In

1750 Frederick invited Voltaire to Berlin, and the famous French author

remained there nearly three years, making many enemies by his arrogance

and intolerance of German habits, until a bitter quarrel broke out and

the two parted, never to resume their intimacy. It is doubtful whether

Frederick had the least consciousness of the swift and splendid rise of

German Literature during the latter years of his reign. Although he

often declared that he was perfectly willing his subjects should think

and speak as they pleased, provided they obeyed, he maintained a

strict censorship of the press, and was very impatient of all opinions

which conflicted with his own. Thus, while he possessed the clearest

sense of justice, the severest sense of duty, his policy was governed by

his own personal tastes and prejudices, and therefore could not be

universally just. What strength he possessed became a part of his

government, but what weakness also.

One other event, of a peaceful yet none the less of a violent character,

marks Frederick's reign. Within a year after the Peace of Hubertsburg

Augustus III. of Poland died, and Catharine of Russia persuaded the

Polish nobles to elect Prince Poniatowsky, her favorite, as his

successor. The latter granted equal rights to the Protestant sects,

which brought on a civil war, as the Catholics were in a majority in

Poland. A long series of diplomatic negotiations followed, in which

Prussia, Austria, and indirectly France, were involved: the end was,

that on the 5th of August, 1772, Frederick the Great, Catharine II. and

Maria Theresa (the latter most unwillingly) united in taking possession

of about one-third of the kingdom of Poland, containing 100,000 square

miles and 4,500,000 inhabitants, and dividing it among them. Prussia

received the territory between Pomerania and the former Duchy of

Prussia, except only the cities of Dantzig and Thorn, with about 700,000

inhabitants. This was the region lost to Germany in 1466, when the

incapable Emperor Frederick III. failed to assist the German Order: its

population was still mostly German, and consequently scarcely felt the

annexation as a wrong, yet this does not change the character of the


[Sidenote: 1786.]

The last years of Frederick the Great were peaceful. He lived to see the

American Colonies independent of England, and to send a sword of honor

to Washington: he lived when Voltaire and Maria Theresa were dead,

preserving to the last his habits of industry and constant supervision

of all affairs. Like his father, he was fond of walking or riding

through the parks and streets of Berlin and Potsdam, talking familiarly

with the people and now and then using his cane upon an idler. His Court

was Spartan in its simplicity, and nothing prevented the people from

coming personally to him with their complaints. On one occasion, in the

streets of Potsdam, he met a company of school-boys, and roughly

addressed them with: "Boys, what are you doing here? Be off to your

school!" One of the boldest answered: "Oh, you are king, are you, and

don't know that there is no school to-day!" Frederick laughed heartily,

dropped his uplifted cane, and gave the urchins a piece of money that

they might better enjoy their holiday. The windmill at Potsdam, which

stood on some ground he wanted for his park, but could not get because

the miller would not sell and defied him to take it arbitrarily, stands

to this day, as a token of his respect for the rights of a poor man.

When Frederick died, on the 17th of August, 1786, at the age of

seventy-four, he left a kingdom of 6,000,000 inhabitants, an army of

more than 200,000 men, and a sum of 72 millions of thalers in the

treasury. But, what was of far more consequence to Germany, he left

behind him an example of patriotism, of order, economy and personal

duty, which was already followed by other German princes, and an example

of resistance to foreign interference which restored the pride and

revived the hopes of the German people.