John S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) Abbott.

History of Frederick the Second online

. (page 18 of 52)
Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 18 of 52)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

of Europe as a means of averting a war of succession, which might
involve all the nations of the Continent in the conflict.

The death-scene of the emperor was an event which must interest every
reader. Upon his return from a hunting excursion into Hungary, he was
attacked, on Thursday evening, October 16th, by slight indisposition,
which was supposed to have been caused by eating imprudently of
mushrooms. His sickness, baffling the skill of the doctors, increased,
and by Saturday night became alarming. On Tuesday it was thought that
he was dying. The pope’s nuncio administered to him the sacrament of
the Lord’s Supper. His majesty manifested great composure in view of
the sublime change before him, and said to one who was weeping at his

“I am not afraid in contemplating the dread tribunal before which I
must now so soon appear. I am certain of my cause. Look at me! A man
that is certain of his cause can enter on such a journey with good
courage and a composed mind.”

To his physicians, who were doubtful respecting the nature of his
disease, he said, “If Doctor Gazelli were here you would soon know what
is my complaint. As it is, you will only learn after you have dissected

He then requested to be shown the cup in which his heart would be
placed after that operation. His daughter, Maria Theresa, who had
married the Grand-duke Francis, was in a delicate state of health. The
death of her father would place the weighty crown upon her youthful
brow. Grief and agitation threw her helpless upon her bed. So important
was her life to the world that the emperor was unwilling that, in her
then condition, she should enter the death-chamber. “Tell my Theresa,”
said he, in faint and dying accents, “that I bless her, notwithstanding
her absence.”

The empress had fainted away at the bedside, and had been borne, in
the arms of the attendants, into her daughter Maria Theresa’s chamber.
She was now summoned, with the younger children, for the final adieu.
As the empress, almost delirious with grief, re-entered the apartment,
she threw herself upon the bed of her dying husband, and exclaimed, in
frenzied tones, “Do not leave me! Do not leave me!”

During all the day of Wednesday weeping friends stood around the bed,
as the lamp of life flickered in its socket. Every moment it was
expected that the emperor would breathe his last. At two o’clock the
next morning the spirit took its flight, and the lifeless clay alone
remained. The grief-stricken empress closed the eyes of her departed
husband, kissed his hands, and “was carried out more dead than alive.”
Thus ended the male line of the house of Hapsburg, after five centuries
of royal sway. The emperor died on the 20th of October 1740, in the
fifty-sixth year of his age.

As Frederick received the tidings of this death, he rose, dressed
himself, and his ague disappeared, to return no more. A courier was
immediately dispatched, at the top of his speed, to summon to his
presence General Schwerin and M. Podewils, his chief minister. Two days
must elapse before they could reach him. In the mean time, the king,
taking counsel of no one, was maturing his plans, and making quiet but
vigorous preparations for their execution. He wrote the next day to
Voltaire, in allusion to the emperor’s death,

“I believe that there will, by June next, be more talk of cannon,
soldiers, trenches, than of actresses and dancers for the ballet. This
small event changes the entire system of Europe. It is the little stone
which Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream, loosening itself and rolling
down on the image made of four metals, which it shivers to ruin.”

On the southeast frontier of Prussia, between that kingdom, and Poland,
and Hungary, there was an Austrian realm called Silesia. The country
embraced a territory of twenty thousand square miles, being about
twice as large as the State of Vermont. The population was about two
millions. For more than a century Silesia had been a portion of the
Austrian kingdom. Time, and the assent of Europe, had sanctioned the


But the young King Frederick was very ambitious of enlarging the
borders of his Liliputian realm, and of thus attaining a higher
position among the proud and powerful monarchs who surrounded him.
Maria Theresa, who had inherited the crown of Austria, was a remarkably
beautiful, graceful, and accomplished young lady, in the twenty-fourth
year of her age. She was a young wife, having married Francis, Duke of
Lorraine. Her health, as we have mentioned, was at that time delicate.
Frederick thought the opportunity a favorable one for wresting Silesia
from Austria, and annexing it to his own kingdom. The queen was
entirely inexperienced, and could not prove a very formidable military
antagonist. Her army was in no respect, either in number, discipline,
or _materiel_, prepared for war. Her treasury was deplorably empty.
There was also reason for Frederick to hope that several claimants
would rise in opposition to her, disputing the succession.

On the other hand, Frederick himself was in the very prime of manhood.
He was ambitious of military renown. He had a compact army of one
hundred thousand men, in better drill and more amply provided with all
the apparatus of war than any other troops in Europe. The frugality of
his father had left him with a treasury full to overflowing. To take
military possession of Silesia would be a very easy thing. There was
nothing to obstruct the rush of his troops across the frontiers. There
were no strongly garrisoned fortresses, and not above three thousand
soldiers in the whole realm. No one even suspected that Frederick
would lay any claim to the territory, or that there was the slightest
danger of invasion. The complicated claim which he finally presented,
in official manifestoes, was founded upon transactions which had taken
place a hundred years before. In conversation with his friends he did
not lay much stress upon any legitimate title he had to the territory.
He frankly admitted, to quote his own words, that “ambition, interest,
the desire of making people talk about me, carried the day, and I
decided for war.”[37]

The general voice of history has severely condemned the Prussian king
for this invasion of Silesia. Frederick probably owed his life to the
interposition of the father of Maria Theresa, when the young prince
was threatened with the scaffold by his own father. Prussia was bound
by the most solemn guarantees to respect the integrity of the Austrian
states. There was seemingly a great want of magnanimity in taking
advantage of the extreme youth, inexperience, and delicate health
of the young queen, who was also embarrassed by an empty treasury
and a weakened and undisciplined army. Frederick had also made, in
his _Anti-Machiavel_, loud protestations of his love of justice and
magnanimity. Mr. Carlyle, while honestly stating these facts, still
does not blame Frederick for seizing the opportunity which the death of
the emperor presented for him to enlarge his dominions by plundering
the domain of Maria Theresa.

[Illustration: MAP OF SILESIA.]

“It is almost touching,” Mr. Carlyle writes, “to reflect how
unexpectedly, like a bolt out of the blue, all this had come upon
Frederick, and how it overset his fine programme for the winter at
Reinsberg, and for his life generally. Not the Peaceable magnanimities,
but the Warlike, are the thing appointed Frederick this winter, and
mainly henceforth. Those ‘golden or soft radiances’ which we saw
in him, admirable to Voltaire and to Frederick, and to an esurient
philanthropic world, it is not those, it is the ‘steel bright or
stellar kind’ that are to become predominant in Frederick’s existence;
grim hail-storms, thunders, and tornado for an existence to him instead
of the opulent genialities and halcyon weather anticipated by himself
and others.

“Indisputably enough to us, if not yet to Frederick, ‘Reinsberg and
Life to the Muses’ are done. On a sudden, from the opposite side of
the horizon, see miraculous Opportunity rushing hitherward; swift,
terrible, clothed with lightning like a courser of the gods; dare you
clutch _him_ by the thunder-mane, and fling yourself upon him, and make
for the Empyrean by that course rather? Be immediate about it, then;
the time is now or never! No fair judge can blame the young man that he
laid hold of the flaming Opportunity in this manner, and obeyed the new
omen. To seize such an Opportunity and perilously mount upon it was the
part of a young, magnanimous king, less sensible to the perils and more
to the other considerations than one older would have been.”[38]



Deceptive Measures of Frederick. - Plans for the Invasion of Silesia. -
Avowed Reasons for the Invasion. - The Ball in Berlin. - The March of
the Army. - Hardships and Successes. - Letter to Voltaire. - Capture
of Glogau. - Capture of Brieg. - Bombardment of Neisse.

With the utmost secrecy Frederick matured his plans. It could not
be concealed that he was about to embark in some important military
enterprise. The embassadors from other courts exerted all their
ingenuity, but in vain, to ascertain in what direction the army was to
march. Though the French had an embassador at Berlin, still it would
seem that Voltaire was sent as a spy, under the guise of friendship,
to attempt to ferret out the designs of the king. These men, who did
not profess any regard to the principles of religion, seem also to have
trampled under feet all the instincts of honor. Voltaire endeavored to
conceal his treachery beneath smiles and flattery, writing even love
verses to the king. The king kept his own secret. Voltaire was not a
little chagrined by his want of success. In his billet of leave he

“Non, malgré vos vertus, non malgré vos appas,
Mon âme n’est point satisfaite:
Non, vous n’êtes qu’une coquette,
Qui subjuguez les cœurs, et ne vous donnez pas.”[39]

Frederick, while equally complimentary, while lavishing gifts and
smiles upon his guest, to whom he had written that as there “could be
but one God, so there could be but one Voltaire,” wrote from Ruppin to
M. Jordan, on the 28th of November, just before Voltaire took his leave.

“Thy miser” (Voltaire) “shall drink to the lees of his insatiable
desire to enrich himself. He shall have the three thousand thalers
[$2250]. He was with me six days. That will be at the rate of five
hundred thalers [$375] a day. That is paying dearly for a fool. Never
had court fool such wages before.”

The Austrian envoy expressed to his court a suspicion that Silesia
might be threatened. The reply which came back was that the Austrian
court would not, and could not, believe that a prince who was under
such obligations to the father of Maria Theresa, and who had made such
loud professions of integrity and philanthropy, could be guilty of such
an outrage.

Frederick did what he could to divert the attention of the court at
Reinsberg by multiplying gayeties of every kind. There was feasting,
and music, and dancing, and theatric exhibitions, often continuing
until four o’clock in the morning. In the mean time couriers were
coming and going. Troops were moving. Provisions and the _materiel_
of war were accumulating. Anxious embassadors watched every movement
of the king’s hand, weighed every word which escaped his lips, and
tried every adroit measure to elicit from him his secret. The Danish
minister, Prätorius, wrote to his court from Berlin:

“From all persons who return from Reinsberg the unanimous report is
that the king works the whole day through with an assiduity which is
unique, and then, in the evening, gives himself to the pleasures of
society with a vivacity of mirth and sprightly humor, which makes those
evening parties charming.”

The Marquis of Botta, the Austrian envoy, endeavoring to penetrate
the plans of Frederick, descanted upon the horrible condition of the
roads in Silesia, which province he had traversed in coming to Berlin.
The king listened with a quiet smile, and then, with much apparent
indifference, replied,

“The worst which can happen to those who wish to travel in Silesia is
to get spattered with the mud.”

The English envoy, Sir Guy Dickens, being utterly baffled in all his
endeavors to discover the enterprise upon which the king was about to
embark, wrote to his court:

“Nobody here, great or small, dares make any representation to this
young prince against the measures he is pursuing, though all are
sensible of the confusion which must follow. A prince who had the least
regard to honor, truth, and justice, could not act the part he is going
to do. But it is plain his only view is to deceive us all, and conceal
for a while his ambitious and mischievous designs.”

Dickens at length ventured to ask the king directly, “What shall I
write to England?”

Frederick angrily replied, “You can have no instructions to ask that
question. And if you had, I have an answer ready for you. England has
no right to inquire into my designs. Your great sea armaments, did I
ask you any question about them? No! I was, and am, silent on that

By the 10th of December, within a fortnight of the time that the king
received the tidings of the death of the emperor, he had collected such
a force on the frontiers of Silesia that there could be no question
that the invasion of that province was intended. As not the slightest
preparation had been made on the part of Austria to meet such an event,
the king could with perfect ease overrun the province and seize all
its fortresses. But Austria was, in territory, resources, and military
power, vastly stronger than Prussia. It was therefore scarcely possible
that Frederick could hold the province, after he had seized it, unless
he could encourage others to dispute the succession of Maria Theresa,
and thus involve Europe in a general war. Frederick, having made all
his arrangements for prompt and vigorous action, sent to Maria Theresa
a message which could be regarded only as an insult:

“Surrender to me peaceably,” was the substance of this demand, “the
province of Silesia, and I will be the ally of your majesty in
maintaining your right to the throne, and in defending the integrity
of all the rest of your realms. I will exert my influence to have
the Grand-duke Francis[41] chosen Emperor of Germany, and will also
immediately pay one million of dollars into the Austrian treasury.”

An embassador, Count De Gotter, was sent to Vienna to present this
demand to Maria Theresa. He was authorized, in case these terms were
not accepted, to declare war. But in the mean time, _before the
count could possibly reach Vienna_, consequently before there was
any declaration of war, or even any demand presented, Frederick, at
the head of his troops, had entered Silesia, and was seizing its
defenseless fortresses.[42]

As the king was about to embark upon this enterprise, it was proposed
to place upon the banners the words “For God and our Country.” But
Frederick struck out the words “For God,” saying that it was improper
to introduce the name of the Deity into the quarrels of men, and that
he was embarking in war to gain a province, not for religion.[43] In a
brief speech to his soldiers he said,

“Gentlemen, I do not look upon you as my subjects, but as my friends.
The troops of Brandenburg have always signalized themselves by their
courage, and given, on different occasions, the fullest evidences of
their bravery. I shall be an eye-witness to all your exploits. You
will always fight in my presence. I will recompense those who shall
distinguish themselves for their zeal in my service rather as a father
than as a sovereign.”

In reference to this campaign the king subsequently wrote: “At the
death of the emperor there were but two Austrian regiments in Silesia.
Being determined to assert my right to that duchy, I was obliged to
make war during the winter, that I might make the banks of the Neisse
the scene of action. Had I waited till the spring, what we gained by
one single march would certainly have cost us three or four difficult

To the summons which Frederick sent to Maria Theresa, demanding the
surrender of Silesia, no response could be returned, consistent with
the dignity of the crown, but a peremptory refusal. The reply was
unanswerable in its logic. Though it was, in general, couched in
courteous terms, one sentence crept into it of rather scornful defiance.

“It seems strange,” said the Austrian minister of war, “that his
Prussian majesty, whose official post in Germany, as chamberlain of the
emperor, is to present the basin and towel to the house of Austria,
should now presume to prescribe rules to it.”

On Tuesday night, the 12th of December, 1740, there was a very splendid
masked ball in Berlin. The king and queen were both present. The mind
of the king was evidently preoccupied, though he endeavored to assume
an air of gayety. Privately quitting the ball at a late hour, he set
out, early in the morning, to place himself at the head of forty
thousand troops whom he had assembled near the Silesian frontier. A
small escort only accompanied him. It was a cold winter’s day. Driving
rapidly, they reached Frankfort that night, sixty miles distant. In
the dawn of the next day the king was again upon the road, and, after
a drive of forty miles, reached Crossen, a border town, where he
established his head-quarters.

Two Silesian barons called upon him, and presented a protest from
the authorities they represented against his meditated invasion, the
design of which was now manifest to all. The king received them very
courteously, tossed the protest to a secretary to file away or to cast
into the waste-paper basket, and invited the two gentlemen to dine with

The next day the Prussian army, in two divisions, occupying a space
about ten miles long and ten broad in the lines of march, crossed the
frontiers, and entered the Silesian territory.[45] Frederick issued a
proclamation declaring that he had come as a friend; that no one would
be molested in person, property, or religious privileges; and that
every thing used by the army would be amply paid for.

In very rapid march, the troops advanced through Grünberg toward
Glogau, about forty miles in the interior. Here there was a fortified
town, which was considered the key of Northern Silesia. It was but
feebly garrisoned, and was entirely unprepared for resistance. By great
exertions, the Austrian governor of the province, Count Wallis, and
his second in command, General Browne, succeeded in placing behind the
works a little garrison of one thousand men. The whole population was
summoned to work upon the ramparts. Count Wallis remained in Glogau.
General Browne took command of the troops and garrisons abroad. But
there was a division of sentiment within the walls. Quite a large
portion of the population was Protestant, and would be glad to come
under the protection of Protestant Prussia. The Catholics were zealous
for the continued reign of Austria.

The Prussian troops, meeting with no opposition, spread over the
country, and a strong division reached Weichau on Saturday, the 17th.
There they spent Sunday in rest. Frederick was anxious to win to
his cause the Protestant population. He consequently favored their
religious institutions, and ordered that Protestant worship should
be held in the villages which he occupied, and where there was no
Protestant church edifice, one part of the day in the Catholic
churches. This plan he continued through the campaign, much to the
gratification of the chaplains of his regiments and the Protestant
community in Silesia. Though the Austrian government had not
been particularly oppressive to the Protestants, still it leaned
decidedly against what it deemed heresy. The Jesuits, favored by the
governmental officials, were unwearied in their endeavors to promote
the interests of their Church. Frederick, by allowing the impression to
be spread abroad that he was the champion of Protestantism, was enabled
to secure the sympathies of quite a strong party in Silesia in his
favor. It is said that two thirds of the inhabitants of Silesia were
Protestants, and therefore favorable to Frederick.


In the suburbs of Glogau there was a Protestant church which Count
Wallis deemed it a military necessity to order to be burned down, lest
it should protect the Prussians in their attack. “The Prussians,”
said Wallis, “will make a block-house of it.” The Protestants pleaded
earnestly for a brief respite, and sent a delegation to Frederick to
intercede for the safety of their church. The king very courteously,
and with shrewd policy, replied,

“You are the first who have asked any favor of me on Silesian ground.
Your request shall be granted.”

Immediately he sent a polite note to Count Wallis, assuring him that
the attack, if attack were necessary, should be made on the other
side of the city, so that no military advantage could be taken of
the church. This popular act resounded widely not only through the
Protestant community of Silesia, but throughout Europe.

Monday morning, December 19th, the army was again on the move, now
spread out into a length of nearly fifteen miles, and even more than
that in breadth. Concentration was unnecessary, as there was no foe to
be encountered. The occupation of this wide area enabled Frederick to
take advantage of good roads, and also to obtain abundance of supplies.
Their advance led them in a southerly direction, up the western banks
of the Oder, which stream here runs nearly north.

It seems to be ever the doom of an army to encounter mud and rain.
It was cold, gloomy, December weather. The troops were drenched and
chilled by the floods continually falling from the clouds. The advance
of the army was over a flat country where the water stood in pools.
All day long, Monday and Tuesday, the rain continued to fall without
intermission. But the Prussian army, under its impetuous leader, paid
no regard to the antagonistic elements.

“Waters all out, bridges down,” writes Carlyle; “the country one wide
lake of eddying mud; up to the knee for many miles together; up to the
middle for long spaces; sometimes even to the chin or deeper, where
your bridge was washed away. The Prussians marched through it as if
they had been slate or iron. Rank and file - nobody quitted his rank,
nobody looked sour in the face - they took the pouring of the skies and
the red seas of terrestrial liquid as matters that must be; cheered one
another with jocosities, with choral snatches, and swashed unweariedly
forward. Ten hours some of them were out, their march being twenty or
twenty-five miles.”

They reached Milkau Tuesday night, the 20th. Here they were allowed
one day of rest, and Frederick gave each soldier a gratuity of about
fifteen cents. On Thursday the march was resumed, and the advance-guard
of the army was rapidly gathered around Glogau, behind whose walls
Count Wallis had posted his intrepid little garrison of a thousand men.
Here Frederick encountered his first opposition. The works were found
too strong to be carried by immediate assault, and Frederick had not
yet brought forward his siege cannon. The following extracts from the
correspondence which Frederick carried on at this time develop the
state of public sentiment, and the views and character of the king. His
friend Jordan, who had been left in Berlin, wrote to him as follows,
under date of December 14, 1740, the day after the king left to place
himself at the head of his army:

“Every body here is on tiptoe for the event, of which both origin and
end are a riddle to most. Those who, in the style of theologians,
consider themselves entitled to be certain, maintain that your majesty
is expected with religious impatience by the Protestants; and that the
Catholics hope to see themselves delivered from a multitude of imposts,
which cruelly tear up the beautiful bosom of their Church. You can not
but succeed in your valiant and stoical enterprise, since both religion
and worldly interest rank themselves under your flag. Wallis, they say,
has punished a Silesian heretic, of enthusiastic turn, as blasphemer,
for announcing that a new Messiah is just coming. I have a taste for
that kind of martyrdom. Critical persons consider the present step as

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 18 of 52)