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Who was Frederick the Great?

Updated on December 3, 2016

Frederick the Great (1712-1786) King of Prussia (from 1740 to 1786), was the son of Frederick William I, a tyrant who ruled his people and his family with almost insane brutality. Frederick 's love of music and literature so enraged his father that the young man resolved to escape to England.

He was apprehended, forced to witness his companion's execution and treated like a criminal.

Later, however, at his chateau Sans Souci Prince Frederick was ab le to surround himself with writers , musicians and scientists and to enjoy French culture.

On his father's death Frederick , at the head of the splendid Prussian army, seized Silesia, a province belonging to Maria Theresa the Empress of Austria, and this led to the War of the Austrian Succession (1741-48). After a victory at Mollwitz and further fighting, he managed to keep the province, but in 1756 the Seven Years War broke out, in which France, Austria, Sweden and Russia attacked Prussia, whose ally was Britain. In this war Frederick won a world wide reputation as a general, gaining brilliant victories at times (as at Rossbach, 1757, over the French and at Leuthen, 1757, over the Austrians), at others staving off disaster by masterly retreats and somehow scraping together yet another army when he appeared to be about to be overwhelmed .

All seemed to be lost as his enemies closed in and George III withdrew British support (chiefly in gold), when the death of the Tsarina Elizabeth brought about a change in Russian policy. The Russians quit the war and their exhausted allies followed suit, so that by the Treaty of Paris, 1763, Frederick kept Silesia and after twenty years of war turned his energies to rebuilding his ruined country.

Living like a pauper and working with ferocious intensity, he restored Prussia's trade and agriculture, founded schools and improved justice and the roads. Hence in 1772 he was strong enough to snatch more territory when he divided Poland between himself, Catherine of Russia and Maria Theresa.

This cold ruthless autocrat always retained his interest in the arts, but his claim to greatness lies in his military and political skill. He made Prussia in to a great Power.


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