Frederick The Great Biography

Frederick II, also known as ‘Frederick the Great’, was a powerful and influential King of Prussia. His reign was marked by numerous military victories that expanded the territories of Prussia and made it a prominent military power in Europe. He successfully reorganized the Prussian army and implemented enlightened absolutism, bringing about reforms in the civil, bureaucratic, and judicial systems. Despite his achievements, he held prejudiced views towards the Jews. Frederick II’s reign also saw the construction of notable buildings and his patronage of art and music. He remains an iconic figure, even being glorified by the Nazis.

Quick Facts

  • French Celebrities Born In January
  • German Celebrities Born In January
  • Also Known As: Frederick II of Prussia, Friedrich II
  • Died At Age: 74
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Elisabeth Christine von Braunschweig-Bevern
    • Father: Frederick William
    • Mother: Sophia Dorothea of Hanover
    • Siblings: Heinrich, Wilhelmina
    • Children: NO
  • Born Country: Germany
  • Quotes By Frederick The Great
  • Died on: August 17, 1786
  • Place of death: Sanssouci Palace, Potsdam, Germany
  • City: Berlin, Germany
  • Epitaphs: Quand je serai la, je serai sans souci.

Childhood & Early Life

Frederick II was born on January 24, 1712, in Berlin to Frederick William I and Sophia Dorothea of Hanover. His father became the King of Prussia in 1713 and Frederick II became the crown prince. His father was a martinet who advocated centralized government and ruled Brandenburg-Prussia with absolute monarchy. He was known for his violent temper and was considered paranoid. Frederick II was taken care of by Huguenot governesses in his childhood and had several tutors. However, his father strictly controlled his education and upbringing, leading to a bitter conflict between them. Frederick II faced physical violence, humiliation, and public criticism from his father. Despite his father’s disapproval, Frederick II secretly maintained a library with the help of his tutor Jacques Duhan, where he obtained books on French philosophy, poetry, and Roman and Greek classics. His mother, who was the daughter of future King George I of Britain, was a polite and knowledgeable lady. The conflict between Frederick II and his father escalated in 1730 when he tried to run away with Lieutenant Hans Hermann von Katte. He was caught at the border and imprisoned in the fortress of Küstrin. He was forced to watch the execution of Hans Hermann von Katte on November 6. Although he was released on November 18, 1730, he was appointed as a junior official in the local administration, depriving him of a military rank. He had a close bond with his sister Wilhelmina and was allowed to visit Berlin on November 20, 1731, to attend her wedding. He finally returned to Berlin on February 26, 1732.


Frederick II’s first experience in active military service was during the War of the Polish Succession, where Prussia aided Austria with troops to combat France in the Rhineland. He came under the tutelage of the great Austrian commander, Prince Eugene of Savoy. On May 31, 1740, Frederick II became the King of Prussia, succeeding his father. At that time, most of his territories were scattered and disconnected. His objective was to expand and unite several territories of Prussia, and he successfully fought many wars to achieve this. He raised a dispute on Maria Theresa’s succession after the death of her father, Emperor Charles VI of the Holy Roman Empire. This led to the start of the War of Austrian Succession on December 16, 1740. Frederick II invaded Silesia and occupied it quickly. This was followed by a series of Silesian wars, including the Battle of Mollwitz on April 10, 1741, where Prussia emerged victorious. However, Frederick II mistakenly believed that he had been defeated by the Austrians and fled the battlefield, giving command of the army to Field Marshal Kurt Schwerin. He later regretted this decision. In the Battle of Chotusitz on May 17, 1742, the Austrian troops faced defeat by the powerful force led by Frederick II. The Austrians were compelled to sign the Treaty of Breslau with Prussia in June 1742, allowing Austria to retain only one section of Upper Silesia while Prussia took control of the rest of Silesia and Glatz County. Frederick II remained victorious in the next couple of wars, including the Battle of Hohenfriedberg and the Battle of Soor. The Treaty of Dresden was signed on December 25, 1745, and Austria was compelled to comply with the previously signed Treaty of Breslau. Frederick II overcame great odds and succeeded in the Seven Years’ War, which started on August 29, 1756, and ended in 1763. His allies in the war were Great Britain, Hanover, Brunswick, and Hesse, while he confronted a coalition of Austria, Russia, Sweden, Saxony, and certain minor states of Germany. The anti-Prussian coalition crumbled after January 1762 following the succession of pro-Prussian Peter III after the death of Empress Elizabeth of Russia. This incident was referred to as the “Miracle of the House of Brandenburg,” and the Treaty of Hubertusburg was signed. During the First Partition of Poland in 1772, Frederick II claimed several territories of Poland, thus connecting most of his royal domain.

Personal Life & Legacy

Frederick II was persuaded by Prince Eugene of Savoy to marry Elizabeth Christine of Brunswick-Bevern, a scion of a minor German princely family. Although he resented the political marriage, Frederick II reluctantly agreed to it on June 12, 1733. He hardly cared for his wife and neglected her, even preventing her from visiting his court in Potsdam after he became king in 1740. However, she remained devoted to him. He granted her the Schönhausen Palace and several apartments at the Berliner Stadtschloss. He made his brother Augustus William the heir to the throne and died on August 17, 1786, in his Sanssouci palace. He was buried in the Potsdam Garrison Church, contrary to his last instructions. However, on August 17, 1991, his body was finally buried in the vineyard terrace of Sanssouci, complying with his last wishes.

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