- NAME: Frederick II
- OCCUPATION: King
- BIRTH DATE: January 24, 1712
- DEATH DATE: August 17, 1786
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Berlin, Germany
- PLACE OF DEATH: Potsdam, Germany
- AKA: Frederick the Great
- AKA: Friedrich II
- AKA: Frederick Hohenzollern
- Nickname: Frederick the Great
- Nickname: King of Prussia
- Nickname: "Old Fritz"
Best Known For
Frederick II, known as Frederick the Great, was Prussia's king from 1740 to 1786. By winning wars and expanding territories, he established Prussia as a strong military power.
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"A crown is merely a hat that lets the rain in."
"An educated people can be easily governed."
"Don't forget your great guns, which are the most respectable arguments of the rights of kings."
Frederick was born into the House of Hohenzollern on January 24, 1712, to Frederick William I of Prussia and Princess Sophia-Dorothea—the sister of George II of Great Britain. The couple enjoyed a political marriage and not much else. Frederick William was authoritarian and quick-tempered; Sophia was well-educated and loved the richness of life. Unlike in every way, Frederick's parents sought to raise him in their own, if totally different, images.
During Frederick's childhood, his mother brought him many of the treasures of the Enlightenment. He spent his early years with tutors, learning poetry, French culture, and the Greek and Roman classics. However, his father chafed at such notions and pushed to have his son educated in the practical matters of running and defending a state. When he came of age, Frederick was forced into the army and set on a course of military science and governance.
Frederick William abused his son, often beating and humiliating him for trifling reasons. Finally, in 1730, at age 18, Frederick attempted to escape with childhood friend Hans Herman von Katte. They were caught and arrested for treason, however, and Katte was beheaded in Frederick's presence. His father pardoned Frederick, but placed him as a junior official in local administration to learn the ways of government.
After a tepid reconciliation, Frederick's father arranged for him a marriage to Elizabeth Christine of Brunswick-Bevern, in 1733. Frederick quickly separated from her and, for the rest of his life, showed no interest in women. Frederick ascended the throne upon the death of his father in 1749, and abandoned peaceful pursuits to make his place in the geopolitical intrigue of 18th-century Europe. Fortunately, his loathsome father left Frederick with a strong army and ample funds.
In 1741, Prussia consisted of scattered territories across central Europe and few significant allies save for Great Britain. Sensing weakness in the Austrian Empire, Frederick deceived Habsburg Queen Maria Theresa to allow his armies to occupy Lower Silesia in exchange for protection from France, Spain and Bavaria. He then proceeded to invade key areas, forcing Maria Theresa to cede almost all of Silesia by 1745.
In 1756, Austria, backed by France and Russia, tried to regain control of Silesia. Frederick struck preemptively, invading Saxony, and with his ally Great Britain started the Seven Years War. In a series of battles to the death, Frederick lost territory, then gained it, then lost it again. In 1760, Austro-Russian forces occupied Berlin, and Frederick, reduced to despair, considered suicide.
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