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Frederick IIcalledthe Great

Frederick II., called the Great (1712-1786), whose father was Frederick William I. (q.v.) and mother Sophia Dorothea, daughter of George I. of England, was born at Berlin. In his youth he fell into great disgrace because he wished to devote some of his time to other things beside those military exercises which the king considered as the whole duty of a prince. So harshly was he treated in consequence that in 1730 he concerted with his friend Lieutenant Katte an escape to England. The result was disastrous; Katte was executed, and the young prince, barely escaping with his life, was imprisoned at Kustrin. Frederick soon thought it best to submit, and was rewarded by being allowed more freedom in the little court at Rheinsberg, where he resided after his marriage in 1733 with the Princess of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel. Here he corresponded with Voltaire, studied other French writers, and composed music. On May 31st, 1740, he became king, and soon showed that his studious tastes had not unfitted him for the sterner pursuits of an ambitious ruler. Frederick William had left him a highly-efficient army and a carefully-hoarded treasure. With these he immediately began his long struggle with Austria. After a short and sharp campaign, he gained possession of the greater part of Silesia by the treaty of Breslau (1742), and in a second war (1744-45) obtained the rest. Frederick had already shown himself to be at least as great a commander as any of his ancestors; and in the Seven Years' War, which followed after eleven years' peace, he displayed extraordinary ability. Instead of having to fight with a young princess, taken by surprise, and but faintly supported by her own subjects, with her hereditary foe as his ally, he had now to defend his own dominions against the combined attack of Austria (with the Empire at her back), France, Russia, Sweden, and Saxony, England alone affording him some slight diversion from the west. The victories of Rossbach (November, 1757) over the French, Leuthen (December, 1757) over the Austrians, Zorndorf (August, 1758) over the Russians attested his prowess, and he showed marvellous fortitude and resource after the terrible disasters at Hochkirchen (October, 1758) and Kunersdorf, 1759). In 1762 circumstances delivered him from the enmity of the northern powers, and the Peace of Hubertsbourg (1763) secured his position. He gained a further increase of territory in the first partition of Poland (1772) and in the Bavarian campaign of 1778, and had at his death raised Prussia from a second-rate to a first-rate power.

As regards internal government, he encouraged manufactures by a heavy protective tariff and by welcoming skilled artisans from other countries; while he attended himself to the minutest details of administration. The legal system was thoroughly organised, and Frederick saw that justice was done to all his subjects. A large measure of toleration in religion was granted. The strength of the army was increased, and the finances were carefully nursed. Taxation was remitted where it was seen to be too great a burden. By the formation of the Furstenbund("League of Princes") in his last years, Frederick assumed the position of head of Northern Germany, and began the process which ended in 1866, when Prussia took the place of Austria as first German power.

Frederick the Great was popular in England, which he visited in 1744, as "the Protestant hero;" but he was in reality a Deist, strongly imbued with the writings of the philosophes. In fact, he was thoroughly French, always using that language in his writings, and utterly neglecting German literature. His works fill thirty-one volumes, and consist chiefly of historical memoirs. An edition of his Political Correspondence was published at Berlin in 1878. He was undoubtedly the greatest monarch of the 18th century; but his success cannot blind us to the unscrupulous ambition, as well as ingratitude (for to her father he owed his life) of his attack upon Maria Theresa, or to the meanness of his personal conduct towards Voltaire. There are long German biographies of Frederick by Preuss, Droysen, and Kugler, the last of which has been translated; while his life may be read in English in the Life by Carlyle, the history of his reign by Tuttle (1888), and in one of! Macaulay's Essays.