Frederick William II of Prussia

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Frederick William II
Friedrich Wilhelm II., Konig von Preussen (Graff Kopie).jpg
Frederick Wilhelm II painted by Anton Graff, c.1792
King of Prussia
Elector of Brandenburg
Reign17 August 1786 – 16 November 1797
Predecessor Frederick II
Successor Frederick William III
Born(1744-09-25)25 September 1744
Stadtschloss, Berlin, Prussia
Died16 November 1797(1797-11-16) (aged 53)
Marmorpalais, Potsdam, Prussia
Burial
Spouse

Julie von Voß (morganatic)
(m. 1787;died 1789)

Sophie von Dönhoff (morganatic)
(m. 1790;separated 1792)
Issue Frederica Charlotte, Duchess of York
Frederick William III
Prince Louis Charles
Wilhelmine, Queen of the Netherlands
Augusta, Landgravine of Hesse-Kassel
Prince Heinrich
Prince Wilhelm
House Hohenzollern
Father Prince Augustus William of Prussia
Mother Duchess Luise of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel
Religion Calvinist
Prussian Royalty
House of Hohenzollern
Coat of Arms of the Kingdom of Prussia 1873-1918.svg
Frederick William II
Children
Princess Frederica Charlotte, Duchess of York and Albany
Frederick William III
Princess Christine
Prince Louis Charles
Wilhelmine, Queen of the Netherlands
Augusta, Electress of Hesse
Prince Charles
Prince Wilhelm

Frederick William II (German : Friedrich Wilhelm II.; 25 September 1744 – 16 November 1797) was King of Prussia from 1786 until his death. He was in personal union the Prince-elector of Brandenburg and (via the Orange-Nassau inheritance of his grandfather) sovereign prince of the Canton of Neuchâtel. Pleasure-loving and indolent, he is seen as the antithesis to his predecessor, Frederick II. Under his reign, Prussia was weakened internally and externally, and he failed to deal adequately with the challenges to the existing order posed by the French Revolution. His religious policies were directed against the Enlightenment and aimed at restoring a traditional Protestantism. However, he was a patron of the arts and responsible for the construction of some notable buildings, among them the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

German language West Germanic language

German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol (Italy), the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages which are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch: Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are also strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.

Kingdom of Prussia Former German state (1701–1918)

The Kingdom of Prussia was a German kingdom that constituted the state of Prussia between 1701 and 1918. It was the driving force behind the unification of Germany in 1871 and was the leading state of the German Empire until its dissolution in 1918. Although it took its name from the region called Prussia, it was based in the Margraviate of Brandenburg, where its capital was Berlin.

A personal union is the combination of two or more states that have the same monarch while their boundaries, laws, and interests remain distinct. A real union, by contrast, would involve the constituent states being to some extent interlinked, such as by sharing some limited governmental institutions. In a federation and a unitary state, a central (federal) government spanning all member states exists, with the degree of self-governance distinguishing the two. The ruler in a personal union does not need to be a hereditary monarch.

Contents

Early life

Frederick William was born in Berlin, the son of Prince Augustus William of Prussia (the second son of King Frederick William I of Prussia) and Duchess Luise of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. His mother's elder sister, Elisabeth, was the wife of Augustus William's brother King Frederick II ("Frederick the Great"). Frederick William became heir-presumptive to the throne of Prussia on his father's death in 1758, since Frederick II had no children. The boy was of an easy-going and pleasure-loving disposition, averse to sustained effort of any kind, and sensual by nature.

Berlin Capital of Germany

Berlin is the capital and largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3,748,148 (2018) inhabitants make it the second most populous city proper of the European Union after London. The city is one of Germany's 16 federal states. It is surrounded by the state of Brandenburg, and contiguous with its capital, Potsdam. The two cities are at the center of the Berlin-Brandenburg capital region, which is, with about six million inhabitants and an area of more than 30,000 km², Germany's third-largest metropolitan region after the Rhine-Ruhr and Rhine-Main regions.

Prince Augustus William of Prussia German general

Augustus William of Prussia was Prince of Prussia and a younger brother and general of Frederick II.

Frederick William I of Prussia King of Prussia

Frederick William I, known as the "Soldier King", was the King in Prussia and Elector of Brandenburg from 1713 until his death in 1740, as well as Prince of Neuchâtel. He was succeeded by his son, Frederick the Great.

His marriage with Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, Crown Princess of Prussia, daughter of Charles I, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, contracted 14 July 1765 in Charlottenburg, was dissolved in 1769. He then married Frederica Louisa of Hesse-Darmstadt, daughter of Ludwig IX, Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt on 14 July 1769 also in Charlottenburg. Although he had seven children by his second wife, he had an ongoing relationship with his mistress, Wilhelmine Enke (created Countess Wilhelmine von Lichtenau in 1796), a woman of strong intellect and much ambition, and had five children by her—the first when she was still in her teens.

Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, Crown Princess of Prussia Prussian princess

Elisabeth Christine Ulrike of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, was a Crown Princess of Prussia as the first wife of Crown Prince Frederick William, her cousin and the future king Frederick William II of Prussia.

Charles I, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel

Charles, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, reigned as Prince of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel from 1735 until his death.

Charlottenburg Quarter of Berlin in Germany

Charlottenburg is an affluent locality of Berlin within the borough of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf. Established as a town in 1705 and named after late Sophia Charlotte of Hanover, Queen consort of Prussia, it is best known for Charlottenburg Palace, the largest surviving royal palace in Berlin, and the adjacent museums.

Wilhelmine von Lichtenau Grafin Lichtenau.jpg
Wilhelmine von Lichtenau

Frederick William, before the corpulence of his middle age, was a man of singularly handsome presence, not without mental qualities of a high order; he was devoted to the arts — Beethoven and Mozart enjoyed his patronage, and his private orchestra had a Europe-wide reputation. He also was a talented cellist. [1] But an artistic temperament was hardly what was required of a king of Prussia on the eve of the French Revolution, and Frederick the Great, who had employed him in various services (notably in an abortive confidential mission to the court of Russia in 1780), openly expressed his misgivings as to the character of the prince and his surroundings. For his part, Frederick William, who had never been properly introduced to diplomacy and the business of rulership, resented his uncle for not taking him seriously. [1]

Ludwig van Beethoven 18th and 19th-century German classical and romantic composer

Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the classical and romantic eras in classical music, he remains one of the most recognized and influential musicians of this period, and is considered to be one of the greatest composers of all time.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Austrian composer of the Classical period

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, baptised as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, was a prolific and influential composer of the classical era.

Cello musical instrument

The cello ( CHEL-oh; plural celli or cellos) or violoncello ( VY-ə-lən-CHEL-oh; Italian pronunciation: [vjolonˈtʃɛllo]) is a bowed (and occasionally plucked) string instrument of the violin family. Its four strings are usually tuned in perfect fifths: from low to high, C2, G2, D3 and A3, an octave lower than the viola. Music for the cello is generally written in the bass clef, with tenor clef and treble clef used for higher-range passages.

Reign

The misgivings of Frederick II appear justified in retrospect. Frederick William′s accession to the throne (17 August 1786) was, indeed, followed by a series of measures for lightening the burdens of the people, reforming the oppressive French system of tax-collecting introduced by Frederick, and encouraging trade by the diminution of customs dues and the making of roads and canals. This gave the new king much popularity with the masses; the educated classes were pleased by his removal of Frederick's ban on the German language, with the admission of German writers to the Prussian Academy, and by the active encouragement given to schools and universities. Frederick William also terminated his predecessor's state monopolies for coffee and tobacco [2] and the sugar monopoly. [3] However, under his reign the codification known as Allgemeines Preußisches Landrecht , initiated by Frederick II, continued and was completed in 1794. [4]

Prussian Academy of Arts organization

The Prussian Academy of Arts was a state arts academy first established in Berlin, Brandenburg, in 1694/1696 by prince-elector Frederick III, in personal union Duke Frederick I of Prussia, and later king in Prussia.

General State Laws for the Prussian States

The General State Laws for the Prussian States were an important code of Prussia, promulgated in 1794 and codified by Carl Gottlieb Svarez and Ernst Ferdinand Klein, under the orders of Frederick II. The code had over 17,000 articles, and covered fields of civil law, penal law, family law, public law, administrative law etc.

Mysticism and religious policies

In 1781 Frederick William, then prince of Prussia, inclined to mysticism, had joined the Rosicrucians, and had fallen under the influence of Johann Christoph von Wöllner and Johann Rudolf von Bischoffwerder. On 26 August 1786 Wöllner was appointed privy councillor for finance (Geheimer Oberfinanzrath), and on 2 October 1786 was ennobled. Though not in name, he in fact became prime minister; in all internal affairs it was he who decided; and the fiscal and economic reforms of the new reign were the application of his theories. Bischoffswerder, too, still a simple major, was called into the king′s counsels; by 1789 he was already an adjutant-general. The opposition to Wöllner was, indeed, at the outset strong enough to prevent his being entrusted with the department of religion; but this too in time was overcome, and on 3 July 1788 he was appointed active privy councillor of state and of justice and head of the spiritual department for Lutheran and Catholic affairs. From this position Wöllner pursued long lasting reforms concerning religion in the Prussian state.

Mysticism Practice of religious experiences during alternate states of consciousness

Mysticism is the practice of religious ecstasies, together with whatever ideologies, ethics, rites, myths, legends, and magic may be related to them. It may also refer to the attainment of insight in ultimate or hidden truths, and to human transformation supported by various practices and experiences.

Rosicrucianism A spiritual and cultural movement originating in 17th century Europe

Rosicrucianism is a spiritual and cultural movement which arose in Europe in the early 17th century after the publication of several texts which purported to announce the existence of a hitherto unknown esoteric order to the world and made seeking its knowledge attractive to many. The mysterious doctrine of the order is "built on esoteric truths of the ancient past", which "concealed from the average man, provide insight into nature, the physical universe, and the spiritual realm." The manifestos do not elaborate extensively on the matter, but clearly combine references to Kabbalah, Hermeticism, alchemy, and mystical Christianity.

Johann Christoph von Wöllner Prussian pastor and politician

Johann Christoph von Wöllner was a Prussian pastor and politician under King Frederick William II. He inclined to mysticism and joined the Freemasons and Rosicrucians.

The king proved eager to aid Wöllner's crusade. On 9 July 1788 a religious edict was issued forbidding Evangelical ministers from teaching anything not contained in the letter of their official books, proclaimed the necessity of protecting the Christian religion against the "enlighteners" (Aufklärer), and placed educational establishments under the supervision of the orthodox clergy. On 18 December 1788 a new censorship law was issued to secure the orthodoxy of all published books. This forced major Berlin journals like Christoph Friedrich Nicolai's Allgemeine Deutsche Bibliothek and Johann Erich Biester's Berliner Monatsschrift to publish only outside the Prussian borders. Moreover, people like Immanuel Kant were forbidden to speak in public on the topic of religion. [3]

Finally, in 1791, a Protestant commission was established at Berlin (Immediate-Examinationscommission) to watch over all ecclesiastical and scholastic appointments. Although Wöllner's religious edict had many critics, it was an important measure that, in fact, proved an important stabilizing factor for the Prussian state. Aimed at protecting the multi-confessional rights enshrined in the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, the provisions of Wöllner's edict were intended to safeguard against religious strife by imposing a system of state sponsored limits. [5] The edict was also a notable step forward regarding the rights of Jews, Mennonites, and Herrnhut brethren, who now received full state protection. [5] Given the confessional divides within Prussian society, primarily between Calvinists and Lutherans but increasingly Catholics as well, such a policy was important for maintaining a stable civil society.

In his zeal for establishing Prussia as a paragon of stable Christian statehood, Frederick William outstripped his minister; he even blamed Wöllner′s "idleness and vanity" for the inevitable failure of the attempt to regulate opinion from above, and in 1794 deprived him of one of his secular offices in order that he might have more time "to devote himself to the things of God"; in edict after edict the king continued to the end of his reign to make regulations "in order to maintain in his states a true and active Christianity, as the path to genuine fear of God".

Foreign policies

The attitude of Frederick William II towards the army and foreign policy proved fateful for Prussia. The army was the very foundation of the Prussian state, as both Frederick William I and Frederick the Great had fully realised. The army had been their first care, and its efficiency had been maintained by their constant personal supervision. Frederick William II had no taste for military matters and put his authority as "Warlord" (Kriegsherr) into commission under a supreme college of war (Oberkriegs-Collegium) under the Duke of Brunswick and General Wichard Joachim Heinrich von Möllendorf. It was the beginning of the process that ended in 1806 at the disastrous Battle of Jena. Although the Prussian army reached its highest peacetime level of manpower under Frederick William II (189,000 infantry and 48,000 cavalry), under his reign the Prussian state treasury incurred a substantial debt, and the quality of the troops' training deteriorated. [4]

Under the circumstances, Frederick William′s interventions in European affairs were of little benefit to Prussia. The Dutch campaign of 1787, entered into for purely family reasons, was indeed successful, but Prussia received not even the cost of her intervention. An attempt to intervene in the war of Russia and Austria against the Ottoman Empire failed to achieve its objective; Prussia did not succeed in obtaining any concessions of territory, and the dismissal of minister Hertzberg (5 July 1791) marked the final abandonment of the anti-Austrian tradition of Frederick the Great.

Meanwhile, the French Revolution alarmed the ruling monarchs of Europe, and in August 1791 Frederick William, at the meeting at Pillnitz Castle, agreed with Emperor Leopold II to join in supporting the cause of King Louis XVI of France. However the king's character and the confusion of the Prussian finances could not sustain effective action in this regard. A formal alliance was indeed signed on 7 February 1792, and Frederick William took part personally in the campaigns of 1792 and 1793, but the king was hampered by want of funds, and his counsels were distracted by the affairs of a deteriorating Poland, which promised a richer booty than was likely to be gained by the anti-revolutionary crusade into France. A subsidy treaty with the sea powers (Great Britain and the Netherlands, signed at The Hague, 19 April 1794) filled Prussia's coffers, but at the cost of a promise to supply 64,000 land troops to the coalition. The insurrection in Poland that followed the partition of 1793, and the threat of unilateral intervention by Russia, drove Frederick William into the separate Treaty of Basel with the French Republic (5 April 1795), which was regarded by the other great monarchies as a betrayal, and left Prussia morally isolated in the struggle between the monarchical principle and the new republican creed of the Revolution. Although the land area of the Prussian state reached a new peak under his rule after the third partition of Poland in 1795, the new territories included parts of Poland such as Warsaw that had virtually no German population, severely straining administrative resources due to various pro-Polish revolts. [2]

It is said that George III mistook a tree for him shaking its hand and having a conversation with it (due to his deteriorating mental health)

Personal life and patronage of the arts

Frederick William with his family by Anna Dorothea Lisiewska, ca. 1777, National Museum in Warsaw. Lisiewska Portrait of a Princely family.jpg
Frederick William with his family by Anna Dorothea Lisiewska, ca. 1777, National Museum in Warsaw.

Frederick William's first marriage, to Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick (his first cousin) had ended after four years during which both spouses had been unfaithful. Their uncle, Frederick II, granted a divorce reluctantly, as he was more fond of Elisabeth than of Frederick William. [6] His second marriage lasted until his death, but he continued his relationship with Wilhelmine Enke. In 1794–1797 he had a castle built for her on the Pfaueninsel. Moreover, he was involved in two more (bigamist) morganatic marriages: with Elisabeth Amalie, Gräfin von Voß, Gräfin von Ingenheim in 1787 and (after her death in 1789) with Sophie Juliane Gräfin von Dönhoff. He had another seven children with those two women, which explains why his people also called him der Vielgeliebte ("the much loved") and der dicke Lüderjahn ("the fat scallywag"). [1] His favourite son—with Wilhelmine Enke—was Graf Alexander von der Mark. [2] His daughter from Sophie Juliane, Countess Julie of Brandenburg (4 January 1793, Neuchâtel – 29 January 1848, Vienna), married to Frederick Ferdinand, Duke of Anhalt-Köthen.

Other buildings constructed under his reign were the Marmorpalais in Potsdam and the world-famous Brandenburger Tor in Berlin. [1]

On 16 November 1797, Frederick William II died in Potsdam. He was succeeded by his son, Frederick William III, who had resented his father's lifestyle and acted swiftly to deal with what he considered the immoral state of the court. Frederick William II is buried in the Berliner Dom.

Ancestry

Children

Tomb of Frederick William II in Hohenzollern crypt in the Berliner Dom Friedrich Wilhelm II. von Preussen, Ruhestatte.JPG
Tomb of Frederick William II in Hohenzollern crypt in the Berliner Dom

Frederick William II had the following children:

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References

  1. 1 2 3 4 Feldhahn, Ulrich (2011). Die preußischen Könige und Kaiser (German). Kunstverlag Josef Fink, Lindenberg. pp. 15–16. ISBN   978-3-89870-615-5.
  2. 1 2 3 Komander, Gerhild H. M. "Friedrich Wilhelm II. König von Preußen (German)". Verein für die geschichte Berlins e.V. Retrieved 29 April 2013.
  3. 1 2 "Preussenchronik: Der neue König macht wenig besser und vieles schlimmer (German)". Rundfunk Berlin Brandenburg. Retrieved 29 April 2013.
  4. 1 2 "Preussenchronik: Friedrich Wilhelm II. Preußen (German)". Rundfunk Berlin Brandenburg. Retrieved 29 April 2013.
  5. 1 2 Clark, Christopher (2006). Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600 to 1947. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 270.
  6. Nancy Mitford, "Frederick the Great" (1970) pp. 206-207.
  7. Genealogie ascendante jusqu'au quatrieme degre inclusivement de tous les Rois et Princes de maisons souveraines de l'Europe actuellement vivans [Genealogy up to the fourth degree inclusive of all the Kings and Princes of sovereign houses of Europe currently living] (in French). Bourdeaux: Frederic Guillaume Birnstiel. 1768. p. 17.
Frederick William II of Prussia
Born: 25 September 1744 Died: 16 November 1797
Preceded by
Frederick II
King of Prussia
Elector of Brandenburg
Prince of Neuchâtel

1786–1797
Succeeded by
Frederick William III

Wikisource-logo.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Frederick William II. of Prussia"  . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.