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History of Frederick the Second online

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impregnability, hoping to see the battle there. And he did see it much
too clearly at last! In such a tide of charging and chasing on that
Right Wing, and round all the field in the Prussian rear; in such wide
bickering and boiling of Horse-currents, which fling out round all
the Prussian rear-quarters such a spray of Austrian Hussars for one
element, Maupertuis, I have no doubt, wishes much he were at home doing
his sines and tangents. An Austrian Hussar party gets sight of him on
his tree or other stand-point (Voltaire says elsewhere he was mounted
on an ass, the malicious spirit!) - too certain the Austrian Hussars
got sight of him; his purse, gold watch, all he has of movable, is
given frankly; all will not do. There are frills about the man, fine
laces, cloth; a goodish yellow wig on him for one thing. Their Slavonic
dialect, too fatally intelligible by the pantomime accompanying it,
forces sage Maupertuis from his tree or stand-point; the big red face
flurried into scarlet, I can fancy, or scarlet and ashy-white mixed;
and - Let us draw a veil over it. He is next seen shirtless, the once
very haughty, blustery, and now much humiliated man; still conscious
of supreme acumen, insight, and pure science; and, though an Austrian
prisoner and a monster of rags, struggling to believe that he is a
genius, and the Trismegistus of mankind. What a pickle!”

While in this deplorable condition, Maupertuis was found by the Prince
of Lichtenstein, an Austrian officer who had met him in Paris. The
prince rescued him from his brutal captors and supplied him with
clothing. He was, however, taken to Vienna as a prisoner of war, where
he was placed on parole. Voltaire, whose unamiable nature was pervaded
by a very marked vein of malignity, made himself very merry over the
misfortunes of the philosopher. As Maupertuis glided about the streets
of Vienna for a time in obscurity, the newspapers began to speak of
his scientific celebrity. He was thus brought into notice. The queen
treated him with distinction. The Grand-duke Francis drew his own watch
from his pocket, and presented it to Maupertuis in recompense for the
one he had lost. Eventually he was released, and, loaded with many
presents, was sent to Brittany.

In the account which Frederick gave, some years after, of this
campaign, in his _Histoire de Mons Temps_, he wrote:

“The contest between General Neipperg and myself seemed to be which
should commit the most faults. Mollwitz was the school of the king and
his troops. That prince reflected profoundly upon all the faults and
errors he had fallen into, and tried to correct them for the future.”



The Encampment at Brieg. - Bombardment. - Diplomatic Intrigues. -
Luxury of the Spanish Minister. - Rising Greatness of Frederick. -
Frederick’s Interview with Lord Hyndford. - Plans of France. -
Desperate Prospects of Maria Theresa. - Anecdote of Frederick. -
Joint Action of England and Holland. - Heroic Character of Maria
Theresa. - Coronation of the Queen of Hungary.

After the battle of Mollwitz, General Neipperg withdrew the defeated
Austrian army to the vicinity of Neisse, where he strongly intrenched
himself. Frederick encamped his troops around Brieg, and made vigorous
preparations to carry the place by storm. With great energy he pushed
forward his works, and in less than three weeks was ready for the
assault. On the night of April 26 there was a tempest of extraordinary
violence, which was followed, the next night, by a dead calm, a
cloudless sky, and a brilliant moon. On both sides of the River Oder,
upon which Brieg was situated, there was an open champaign country.
Several bridges crossed the river. At a fixed moment two thousand
diggers were collected, at appointed stations, divided into twelve
equal parties. With the utmost exactness they were equipped with all
the necessary implements. These diggers, with spade and pickaxe, and
yet thoroughly armed, were preceded a few yards by covering battalions,
who, having stealthily and silently obtained the position assigned to
them, were to lie flat upon the ground. Not a gun was to be fired; not
a word was to be spoken save in a whisper; not even a pipe was to be
lighted. Some engineers were to mark out with a straw rope, just in
the rear of the covering party, the line of the first parallel. Every
imaginable contingency was provided for, and each man was to attend to
his individual duty with the precision of clock-work.

Precisely at midnight all were in silent, rapid motion. The march of
half an hour brought them to their appointed stations. The soft and
sandy soil was easily shoveled. Every man plied pick and spade with
intensest energy. As the town clock of Brieg struck one, they had so
far dug themselves in as to be quite sheltered from the fire of the
hostile batteries, should the guns open upon them. Before the dawn of
day they had two batteries, of twenty-five guns each, in position, and
several mortars ready for action.

Thus far the enemy had no suspicion of the movement. But now the
sun was rising, and, almost simultaneously on both sides, the roar
of battle commenced. The positions had been so adroitly taken as to
bring three Prussian guns to bear upon each gun of the Austrians. The
Prussian gunners, drilled to the utmost possible accuracy and precision
of fire, poured into the city a terrific tempest of shot and shells.
Every thing had been so carefully arranged that, for six days and
nights, with scarcely a moment’s intermission, the doomed city was
assailed with such a tornado of cannonading and bombardment as earth
had seldom, if ever, witnessed before.

The city took fire in many places; magazines were consumed; the ducal
palace was wrapped in flames. Nearly fifteen thousand cannon-balls,
and over two thousand bombs, were hurled crashing through the
thronged dwellings. Many of the Austrian guns were silenced. General
Piccolomini, who was intrusted with the defense of the place, could
stand it no longer. On the 4th of May he raised above the walls the
white flag of surrender. The gallant general was treated magnanimously.
He was invited to dine with Frederick, and, with the garrison, was
permitted to retire to Neisse, pledged not to serve against the
Prussians for two years. The town had been nearly demolished by the
war-tempest which had beat so fiercely upon it. Frederick immediately
commenced repairing the ruins and strengthening the fortifications.

All Europe was thrown into commotion by this bold and successful
invasion of Silesia. France was delighted, for Prussia was
weakening Austria. England was alarmed. The weakening of Austria
was strengthening France, England’s dreaded rival. And Hanover was
menaced by the Prussian army at Götten, under the Old Dessauer. The
British Parliament voted an additional subsidy of £300,000 to Maria
Theresa. Two hundred thousand had already been granted her. This,
in all, amounted to the sum of two million five hundred thousand
dollars. Envoys from all the nations of Europe were sent to Frederick’s
encampment at Strehlen, in the vicinity of Brieg. Some were sent
seeking his alliance, some with terms of compromise, and all to watch
his proceedings. The young king was not only acquiring the territory
which he sought, but seemed to be gaining that renown which he had so
eagerly coveted. He did not feel strong enough to make an immediate
attack upon the Austrian army, which General Neipperg held, in an
almost impregnable position, behind the ramparts of Neisse. For two
months he remained at Strehlen, making vigorous preparations for future
movements, and his mind much engrossed with diplomatic intrigues.
Strehlen is a pretty little town, nestled among the hills, about
twenty-five miles west of Brieg, and thirty northwest of Neisse.
The troops were mainly encamped in tents on the fields around. The
embassadors from the great monarchies of Europe were generally
sumptuously lodged in Strehlen, or in Breslau, which was a beautiful
city about thirty miles north of Strehlen. Baron Bielfeld in the
following terms describes the luxury in which the Spanish minister

“Each of these ministers makes a most brilliant figure, and never
have I seen one travel with more ease and convenience, more elegance
and grandeur, than does the Marquis of Montijo. Wherever he stops to
dine or sup, he finds a room hung with the richest tapestry, and the
floor covered with Turkey carpets, with velvet chairs, and every other
kind of convenience; a table sumptuously served, the choicest wines,
and a dessert of fruit and confectionery that Paris itself could not
excel. This kind of enchantment, this real miracle in Germany, is
performed by means of three baggage-wagons, of which two always go
before the embassador, and carry with them every thing necessary for
his reception. When they arrive in some poor village, the domestics
that accompany each wagon immediately clear and clean some chamber, fix
the tapestry by rings to the walls, cover the floor with carpets, and
furnish the kitchen and cellar with every kind of necessary.”[54]

Speaking of Frederick at this time, Bielfeld says: “Notwithstanding
all the fatigues of war, the king is in perfect health, and more gay
and pleasant than ever. All who approach his majesty meet with a most
gracious reception. In the midst of his camp, and at the head of sixty
thousand Prussians, our monarch appears to me with a new and superior
air of greatness.”

Circumstances had already rendered Frederick one of the most important
personages in Europe. He could ally himself with France, and humble
Austria; or he could ally himself with England and Austria, and crush
France. All the lesser lights in the Continental firmament circulated
around these central luminaries. Consequently Frederick was enabled to
take a conspicuous part in all the diplomatic intrigues which were then
agitating the courts of Europe.

On the 7th of May, three days after the capture of Brieg, Lord
Hyndford, the English embassador, arrived at the camp of Frederick,
and obtained an audience with his majesty. It was eleven o’clock in
the forenoon. He gave his government a very minute narrative of the
interview. The following particulars, gleaned from that narrative, will
interest the reader. It will be remembered that Frederick cherished a
strong antipathy against his uncle, George II. of England.

Lord Hyndford commenced his communication by assuring his majesty
of the friendly feelings and good wishes of the English government.
Frederick listened with much impatience, and soon interrupted him,
exclaiming passionately,

“How is it possible, my lord, to believe things so contradictory? It is
mighty fine, all this that you now tell me, on the part of the King of
England. But how does it correspond with his last speech in Parliament,
and with the doings of his ministers at Petersburg and at the Hague, to
stir up allies against me? I have reason to doubt the sincerity of the
King of England. Perhaps he means to amuse me. But” (with an oath[55])
“he is mistaken. I will risk every thing rather than abate the least of
my pretensions.”

Lord Hyndford, evidently embarrassed, for the facts were strongly
against him, endeavored, in some additional remarks, to assume
ignorance of any unfriendly action on the part of the British
government. The king again, in a loud and angry tone, replied,

“My lord, there seems to be a contradiction in all this. The King of
England, in his letter, tells me you are instructed as to every thing,
and yet you pretend ignorance. But I am perfectly informed of all. And
I should not be surprised if, after all these fine words, you should
receive some strong letter or resolution for me.” Then, turning to his
secretary, he added, sarcastically, “Write down that my lord would be
surprised to receive such instruction.”

Lord Hyndford, who says that by this rude assailment he was put
extremely upon his guard, rejoined:

“Europe is under the necessity of taking some speedy resolution, things
are in such a state of crisis. Like a fever in a human body, got to
such a height that quinquina becomes necessary. Shall we apply to
Vienna, your majesty?”

A transient smile flitted across the king’s countenance. Then, looking
cold again, he added, “Follow your own will in that.”

“Would your majesty,” Lord Hyndford replied, “engage to stand by his
excellency Gotter’s original offer at Vienna on your part? That is,
would you agree, in consideration of the surrender to you of Lower
Silesia and Breslau, to assist the Queen of Austria, with all your
troops, for the maintenance of the Pragmatic Sanction, and to vote for
the Grand-duke Francis as emperor?”

“Yes,” was the monosyllabic reply.

“What was the sum of money your majesty then offered the Queen of
Austria?” Lord Hyndford inquired.

The king hesitated, as though he had forgotten. But his secretary
answered, “Three million florins ($1,500,000).”

“I should not value the money,” the king added. “If money would content
her I would give more.”

After a long pause Lord Hyndford inquired, “Would your majesty consent
to an armistice?”

“Yes,” Frederick replied; “but for not less than six months” (counting
on his fingers from May to December) - “till December 1. The season
then would be so far gone that they could do nothing.”

As the secretary, Podewils, had been taking notes, Lord Hyndford
requested permission to look at them, that he might see that no mistake
had been made. The king assented, and then Lord Hyndford bowed himself
out. Thus ended the audience.

A few days after this interview, the Dutch embassador, General Ginckel,
arrived with the Resolution from the English and Dutch courts,
demanding that the king should evacuate Silesia. Lord Hyndford was
much embarrassed, apprehending that the presentation of the summons at
that time would work only mischief. He persuaded General Ginckel to
delay the presentation until he could send a courier to England for
instructions. In a fortnight the courier returned with the order that
the Resolution was immediately to be presented to his Prussian majesty.

In the mean time, Frederick, who kept himself thoroughly informed of
all these events, signed secretly, on the 5th of June, a treaty of
intimate alliance with France. Though he had not yet received the
Joint Resolution of the English and Dutch courts, he was well aware of
its existence, and the next day sent to his envoy, M. Räsfeld, at the
Hague, the following dispatch:

“You will beforehand inform the high mightinesses in regard to that
Advice of April 24th, which they determined on giving me, through his
excellency General Ginckel, along with his excellency Lord Hyndford,
that such advice can be considered by me only as a blind complaisance
to the court of Vienna’s improper urgencies. That for certain I will
not quit Silesia till my claims be satisfied. And the longer I am
forced to continue warring for them here, the higher they will rise.”

The plan of France, as conceived and pushed resolutely forward by
the Count of Belleisle, the renowned minister of Louis XV., was to
divide Germany into four small kingdoms of about equal power, Bavaria,
Saxony, Prussia, and Austria. The King of Bavaria, as one of the
protégés of France, was to be chosen Emperor of Germany. To accomplish
this, Austria was to be reduced to a second-rate power by despoiling
the young queen, Maria Theresa, of large portions of her territory,
and annexing the provinces wrested from her to the petty states of
Prussia, Bavaria, and Saxony, thus sinking Austria to an equality with
them. France, the grand nation, would then be indisputably the leading
power in Europe. By bribery, intimidation, and inciting one kingdom
against another, the court of Versailles could control the policy of
the whole Continent. Magnificent as was this plan, many circumstances
seemed then combining to render it feasible. The King of Prussia,
inspired simply by the desire of enlarging his kingdom by making war
against Austria, and striving to wrest Silesia from the realms of
Maria Theresa, was co-operating, in the most effectual way possible,
to further the designs of France. And it had now also become a matter
of great moment to Frederick that he should secure the alliance of the
court of Versailles.

All the courts of Europe were involved in these intrigues, which led to
minor complications which it would be in vain to attempt to unravel.
In the secret treaty into which Frederick entered with France on the
5th of June, 1741, the Count of Belleisle engaged, in behalf of his
master, Louis XV., to incite Sweden to declare war against Russia,
that the semi-barbaric power of the North, just beginning to emerge
into greatness, might be so occupied as not to be able to render any
assistance to Austria. France also agreed to guarantee Lower Silesia,
with Breslau, to Frederick, and to send two armies, of forty thousand
men each, one across the Upper and the other across the Lower Rhine,
to co-operate with his Prussian majesty. The forty thousand men on the
Upper Rhine were to take position in the vicinity of the Electorate
of Hanover, which belonged to George II. of England, prepared to act
immediately in concert with the Prussian army at Götten under the “Old
Dessauer,” in seizing Hanover resistlessly, should England make the
slightest move toward sending troops to the aid of Maria Theresa.

The prospects of Maria Theresa seemed now quite desperate. We know not
that history records a more inglorious act than that Europe should have
thus combined to take advantage of the youth and inexperience of this
young queen, weeping over the grave of her father, and trembling in
view of her own approaching hour of anguish, by wresting from her the
inheritance which had descended to her from her ancestors. France and
Germany, inspired by the most intense motives of selfish ambition, were
to fall upon her, while the most effectual precautions were adopted to
prevent Russia and England from coming to her aid.


In carrying forward these intrigues at the camp of Frederick, the Count
of Belleisle had an associate minister in the embassy, M. De Valori. A
slight incident occurred in connection with this minister which would
indicate, in the view of most persons, that Frederick did not cherish
a very high sense of honor. M. Valori was admitted to an audience with
his Prussian majesty. During the interview, as the French minister
drew his hand from his pocket, he accidentally dropped a note upon the
floor. Frederick, perceiving it, slyly placed his foot upon it. As soon
as the minister had bowed himself out, Frederick eagerly seized the
note and read it. It contained some secret instructions to M. Valori
from the French court, directing him not to give Glatz to his Prussian
majesty if it could possibly be avoided. Frederick did not perceive
any thing ignoble in this act of his, for he records it himself;[56]
neither does Mr. Carlyle condemn him.[57] Most readers will probably
regard it as highly dishonorable.

On the 8th of June the English and Dutch ministers, not yet aware of
the alliance into which Frederick had entered with France, presented
the joint resolution of their two courts, exhorting Frederick to
withdraw his army from Silesia. Lord Hyndford, who was somewhat annoyed
by the apparent impolicy of the measure just at that time, solicited
and obtained a private audience with the king, hoping by apologies
and explanations to make the summons a little less unpalatable to his
majesty. In the brief interview which ensued Lord Hyndford appealed to
the magnanimity of the king, declaring that it would be generous and
noble for him to accept moderate terms from Austria. The king angrily
interrupted him, saying,

“My lord, do not talk to me of magnanimity. A prince ought, in the
first place, to consult his interest. I am not opposed to peace. But I
expect to have four duchies given me.”

Maria Theresa was much encouraged by the subsidy she had received from
England. She was not yet informed of the formidable alliance into which
France, with a portion of Germany, had entered for her destruction.
About the 20th of June she left Vienna for Presburg, in Hungary, a
drive of about fifty miles. Here, on the 25th of June, 1741, she was
crowned Queen of Hungary. She was a very beautiful woman in person,
devout in spirit, and those who admire manly developments in the female
character must regard her as presenting the highest type of womanhood.
She merits the following beautiful tribute to her worth from the pen of

“As to the brave young Queen of Hungary, my admiration goes with that
of all the world. Not in the language of flattery, but of evident fact,
the royal qualities abound in that high young lady. Had they left the
world, and grown to mere costume elsewhere, you might find certain of
them again here. Most brave, high and pious minded; beautiful too, and
radiant with good-nature, though of temper that will easily catch fire;
there is, perhaps, no nobler woman then living. And she fronts the
roaring elements in a truly grand, feminine manner, as if Heaven itself
and the voice of Duty called her. ‘The inheritances which my fathers
left me, we will not part with these. Death if it so must be, but not

“This, for the present, is her method of looking at the matter; this
magnanimous, heroic, and occasionally somewhat female one. Her husband,
the grand-duke, an inert but good-tempered, well-conditioned duke,
after his sort, goes with her. Now, as always, he follows loyally
his wife’s lead, never she his. Wife being intrinsically as well as
extrinsically the better man, what other can he do?”

The ceremony of coronation was attended, near Presburg, on the 25th of
June, with much semi-barbaric splendor, as the Iron Crown[58] of St.
Stephen was placed upon the pale, beautiful brow of the young wife and
mother. All the renowned chivalry of Hungary were assembled upon that
field. They came in gorgeous costume, with embroidered banners, and
accompanied by imposing retinues. At the close of the ceremonies, the
queen, who was distinguished as a bold rider, mounted a swift charger,
and, followed by a long retinue of Magyar warriors, galloped to the
top of a small eminence artificially constructed for the occasion,
called the Königsburg, or King’s Hill, where she drew her sword,
and, flourishing it toward the four quarters of the heavens, bade
defiance to any adversary who should venture to question her claims.
The knightly warriors who crowded the plain flashed their swords in
the sunlight, as with one accord, with chivalric devotion, they vowed
fidelity to their queen.



An extraordinary Interview. - Carlyle’s Sympathy. - Trifling Demeanor
of Frederick. - Conspiracy in Breslau. - Guile of Frederick. - The
successful Stratagem. - Crossing the Neisse. - The Co-operation of
France. - Anguish of Maria Theresa. - Inflexible Will of Frederick. -
Duplicity of the King. - The Surrender of Neisse.

Gradually the secret treaty which allied France, Bavaria, and Prussia,
and it was not known how many other minor powers, against Austria,
came to light. Two French armies of fifty thousand men each were on
the march to act in co-operation with Frederick. England, trembling
from fear of the loss of Hanover, dared not move. The Aulic Council at
Vienna, in a panic, “fell back into their chairs like dead men.” The
ruin of Maria Theresa and the fatal dismemberment of Austria seemed

Under these circumstances, the young queen, urged by her council and
by the English court, very reluctantly consented to propose terms of
compromise to Frederick. Sir Thomas Robinson, subsequently Earl of
Grantham, was sent from Vienna to Breslau to confer with the British
minister there, Lord Hyndford, and with him to visit Frederick, at
his camp at Strehlen, in the attempt to adjust the difficulties. The
curious interview which ensued has been minutely described by Sir
Thomas Robinson. It took place under the royal canvas tent of his
Prussian majesty at 11 o’clock A.M. of the 7th of August, 1741.

The two English gentlemen, stout, burly, florid men, were dressed in
the gorgeous court costume of those days. Each wore a large, frizzled,
powdered wig. Their shirts were heavily ruffled in the bosoms and at

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 22 of 52)