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

History of Frederick the Second online

. (page 23 of 52)
Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 23 of 52)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the wrists. Their coats, of antique cut, were covered with embroidery
of gold lace. Their waistcoats hung down in deep flaps, and large
buckles adorned their shoes.

Frederick was a trig, slender young man of twenty-nine years. He was
dressed in a closely-fitting blue coat, with buff breeches and high
cavalry boots. He wore a plumed hat, which he courteously raised as the
embassadors entered his tent. The scene which ensued was substantially
as follows, omitting those passages which were of no permanent
interest. After sundry preliminary remarks, Sir Thomas Robinson said,

“I am authorized to offer your majesty two million guilders
[$1,000,000] if your majesty will consent to relinquish this enterprise
and retire from Silesia.”


“Retire from Silesia!” exclaimed the king, vehemently. “And for money?
Do you take me for a beggar? Retire from Silesia, in the conquest of
which I have expended so much blood and treasure! No, sir, no. That is
not to be thought of. If you have no better proposals to suggest, it is
not worth while talking.”

Sir Thomas, somewhat discomposed, apologetically intimated that that
was not all he had to offer.

“Very well,” said the king, impatiently; “let us see, then, what there
is more.”

“I am permitted,” the embassador said, “to offer your majesty the
whole of Austrian Guelderland. It lies contiguous to your majesty’s
possessions in the Rhine country. It will be a very important addition
to those possessions. I am permitted to say the whole of Austrian

“What do you mean?” exclaimed the king, with an air of real or affected
surprise. Then, turning to his secretary, M. Podewils, he inquired,
“How much of Guelderland is theirs, and not ours already?”

“Almost none,” M. Podewils replied.

Here the king quite lost his temper. In a loud tone and with angry
gesticulation he exclaimed, “Do you offer me such rags and rubbish,
such paltry scrapings, for all my just claims in Silesia?” And so he
ran on for quite a length of time, with ever-increasing violence,
fanning himself into a flame of indignation.

“His contempt,” writes Sir Thomas in his narrative, “was so great, and
was expressed in such violent terms, that now, if ever, was the time to
make the last effort. A moment longer was not to be lost, to hinder the
king from dismissing us.”

“I am also permitted, sire,” said Sir Thomas, “to add the Duchy of
Limburg. It is a duchy of great wealth and resources, so valuable that
the Elector Palatine was willing to give in exchange for it the whole
Duchy of Berg.”

“It is inconceivable to me,” Frederick replied, “how Austria should
dare to think of such a proposal. Limburg! Are there not solemn
engagements upon Austria which render every inch of ground in the
Netherlands inalienable?”

“These engagements,” said Sir Thomas, “are good as against the French,
your majesty. But the Barrier treaty, confirmed at Utrecht, was for our
benefit and that of Holland.”

“That is your interpretation,” said Frederick. “But the French assert
that it was an arrangement made in their favor.”

“Your majesty,” Sir Thomas rejoined, “by a little engineering art,
could render Limburg impregnable to the French or any others.”

“I have not the least desire,” the king replied, “to aggrandize myself
in those parts, or to spend money in fortifying there. It would be
useless to me. Am I not fortifying Brieg and Glogau? These are enough
for one who wishes to live well with his neighbors. Neither the Dutch
nor the French have offended me, nor will I offend them by acquisitions
in the Netherlands. Besides, who would guarantee them?”

“The proposal,” Sir Thomas replied, “is to give guarantees at once.”

“Guarantees!” exclaimed the king, scornfully. “Who minds or keeps
guarantees in this age? Has not France guaranteed the Pragmatic
Sanction? Has not England? Why do you not all fly to the queen’s

Sir Thomas, who was not aware of the engagement into which the allies
had entered to keep Russia busy by a war with Sweden, intimated that
there were powers which might yet come to the rescue of the queen, and
mentioned Russia as one.

The king, with a very complaisant smile, said, “Russia, my good sir - It
is not proper for me to explain myself, but I have means to keep the
Russians employed.”

“Russia,” added Sir Thomas, with some stateliness of utterance, “is not
the only power which has engagements with Austria, and which must keep
them too; so that, however averse to a breach - ”

Here the king interrupted him, and with scornful gesture, “laying his
finger on his nose,” and in loud tones, exclaimed,

“No threats, sir, if you please, no threats.”

Lord Hyndford here came to the rescue of his colleague, and said,

“I am sure his excellency had no such meaning, sire. His excellency
will advance nothing so very contrary to his instructions.”

Sir Thomas Robinson added, “Sire, I am not talking of what this power
or that means to do, but of what will come of itself. To prophesy is
not to threaten, sire. It is my zeal for the public good which brought
me here, and - ”

Again the king interrupted him, saying, “The public will be much
obliged to you, sir! But hear me. With respect to Russia, you know how
matters stand. From the King of Poland I have nothing to fear. As for
the King of England, he is my relation. If he do not attack me, I shall
not him. If he do attack me, the Prince of Anhalt, with my army at
Götten, will take care of him.”

“It is the common rumor now,” Sir Thomas replied, “that your majesty,
after the 12th of August, will join the French. Sire, I venture to
hope not. Austria prefers your friendship; but if your majesty disdain
Austria’s advances, what is it to do? Austria must throw itself
entirely into the hands of France, and endeavor to outbid your majesty.”

This was a very serious suggestion. None of these sovereigns professed
to be influenced by any other considerations than their own interests.
And it was manifest that Austria could easily outbid Prussia, if
determined to purchase the French alliance. For a moment the king was
silent, apparently somewhat perplexed. He then said,

“I am at the head of an army which has already vanquished the enemy,
and which is ready to meet the enemy again. The country which alone I
desire is already conquered and securely held. This is all I want. I
now have it. I will and must keep it. Shall I be bought out of this
country? Never! I will sooner perish in it with all my troops. With
what face shall I meet my ancestors if I abandon my right which they
have transmitted to me? My first enterprise, and to be given up lightly?

“Have I need of peace? Let those who need it give me what I want,
or let them fight me again and be beaten again. Have they not given
whole kingdoms to Spain? And to me they can not spare a few trifling
principalities. If the queen do not now grant me all I require, I
shall, in four weeks, demand four principalities more. I now demand
the whole of Lower Silesia, Breslau included. With that answer you can
return to Vienna.”

“With that answer!” Sir Thomas replied, in tones of surprise. “Is your
majesty serious? Is that your majesty’s deliberate answer?”

“Yes, I say,” the king rejoined. “That is my answer, and I will never
give any other.”

Both of the English ministers, in much agitation, spoke together. The
king, impatiently interrupting them, said,

“Gentlemen, gentlemen, it is of no use to think about it.”

Taking off his hat, he slightly saluted them, and retired behind the
curtain into the interior tent.

A brief account of this interview has been given by Frederick,[59] and
also a very minute narrative by Sir Thomas Robinson, in his official
report to his government. There is no essential discrepancy between the
two statements. Frederick alludes rather contemptuously to the pompous
airs of Sir Thomas, saying that “he negotiated in a wordy, high,
droning way, as if he were speaking in Parliament.” Mr. Carlyle seems
to be entirely in sympathy with Frederick in his invasion of Silesia.
The reader will peruse with interest his graphic, characteristic
comments upon this interview:

“The unsuccessfulest negotiation well imaginable by a public man.
Strehlen, Monday, 7th August, 1741 - Frederick has vanished into the
interior of his tent, and the two diplomatic gentlemen, the wind struck
out of them in this manner, remain gazing at one another. Here, truly,
is a young, royal gentleman that knows his own mind, while so many do
not. Unspeakable imbroglio of negotiations, mostly insane, welters over
all the earth; the Belleisles, the Aulic Councils, the British Georges,
heaping coil upon coil; and here, notably in that now so extremely
sordid murk of wiggeries, inane diplomacies, and solemn deliriums, dark
now and obsolete to all creatures, steps forth one little human figure,
with something of sanity in it, like a star, like a gleam of steel,
sheering asunder your big balloons, and letting out their diplomatic
hydrogen. Salutes with his hat, ‘Gentlemen, gentlemen, it is of no
use!’ and vanishes into the interior of his tent.”

The next day the two British ministers dined with Frederick. The king
was in reality, or assumed to be, in exultant spirits. He joked and
bantered his guests even upon those great issues which were threatening
to deluge Europe in blood. As they took leave, intending to return to
Vienna through Neisse, which was held by the Austrian army, the king
said to Sir Thomas Robinson, derisively,

“As you pass through Neisse, please present my compliments to Marshal
Neipperg; and you can say, your excellency, that I hope to have the
pleasure of calling upon him one of these days.”

It seemed to be the policy of Frederick to assume a very trifling,
care-for-nothing air, as though he were engaged in very harmless
child’s play. He threw out jokes, and wrote ludicrous letters to M.
Jordan and M. Algarotti. But behind this exterior disguise it is
manifest that all the energies of his soul were aroused, and that, with
sleepless vigilance, he was watching every event, and providing for
every possible emergence.

It will be remembered that Breslau, whose inhabitants were mainly
Protestant, and which was one of the so-called free cities of
Germany, was surrendered to Frederick under peculiar conditions. It
was to remain, in its internal government, in all respects exactly
as it had been, with the simple exception that it was to recognize
the sovereignty of Prussia instead of that of Austria. Its strict
neutrality was to be respected. It was to be protected by its own
garrison. No Prussian soldier could enter with any weapons but
side-arms. The king himself, in entering the city, could be accompanied
only by thirty guards.

When under the sovereignty of Austria, though the Protestants were not
persecuted, very decided favor was shown to the Catholics. But the
influence of Protestant Prussia was to place both parties on a perfect
equality. This greatly annoyed the Catholics. Certain Catholic ladies
of rank, with a few leading citizens, entered into a secret society,
and kept the court of Vienna informed of every thing which transpired
in Breslau. They also entered into intimate communication with General
Neipperg, entreating him to come to their rescue. They assured him that
if he would suddenly appear before their gates with his army, or with a
strong detachment, the conspiring Catholics would open the gates, and
he could rush in and take possession of the city.

But the ever-vigilant Frederick had smuggled a “false sister” into the
society of the Catholic ladies, who kept him informed of every measure
that was proposed. At the very hour when Frederick was dining with the
two English ministers, and making himself so merry with jests and
banter, he was aware that General Neipperg, with the whole Austrian
army, was crossing the River Neisse, on the march, by a route thirty
miles west of his encampment, to take Breslau by surprise. But he had
already adopted effectual measures to thwart their plans.

On the 10th of August there was a magnificent review of the Prussian
army on the plain of Strehlin, to which all the foreign embassadors
were invited. During the night of the 9th, General Schwerin and Prince
Leopold, with eight thousand Prussian troops, horse and foot, arrived
in the southwestern suburbs of Breslau, and, at six o’clock in the
morning, demanded simply a passage through the city for their regiments
and baggage, on the march to attack a marauding band of the Austrians
on the other side of the Oder.

The rule, in such cases, was that a certain number of companies were
to be admitted at a time. The gate was then to be closed until they
had marched through the city and out at the opposite gate. After
this another detachment was to be admitted, and so on, until all had
passed through. But General Schwerin so contrived it, by stratagem,
as to crowd in a whole regiment at once. Instead of marching through
Breslau, to the surprise of the inhabitants, he directed his steps to
the market-place, where he encamped and took possession of the city,
admitting the remainder of his regiments. In an hour and a half the
whole thing was done, and the streets were strongly garrisoned by
Prussian troops. The majority of the inhabitants, being Protestant,
were well pleased, and received the achievement with laughter. Many
cheers resounded through the streets, with shouts of “Frederick and
Silesia forever.” All the foreign ministers in Breslau, and the
magistrates of the city, had been lured to Strehlin to witness the
grand review.

Frederick had caused signal cannon to be placed at suitable points
between Breslau and Strehlin, which, by transmitting reports, should
give him as early intelligence as possible of the success of the
enterprise. About noon, in the midst of the grand manœuvrings on
the parade-ground, one distant cannon-shot was heard, to the great
satisfaction of Frederick, who alone understood its significance.

General Neipperg had advanced as far as Baumgarten when he heard
of this entire circumvention of his plans. Exasperated by the
discomfiture, he pushed boldly forward to seize Schweidnitz, where
Frederick had a large magazine, which was supposed not to be very
strongly protected. But the vigilant Frederick here again thwarted
the Austrian general. Either anticipating the movement, or receiving
immediate information of it, he had thrown out some strong columns to
Reichenbach, where they so effectually intrenched themselves as to bar,
beyond all hope of passage, the road to Schweidnitz. General Neipperg
had advanced but half a day’s march from Baumgarten when he heard of
this. He ordered a halt, and retraced his steps as far as Frankenstein,
where he had a very strongly intrenched camp.

Frederick soon followed the Austrians with his whole army, hoping to
bring them to a decisive battle. But General Neipperg was conscious
that he was unable to cope with the Prussian army in the open field.
For a week there was manœuvring and counter-manœuvring with great skill
on both sides, General Neipperg baffling all the endeavors of Frederick
to bring him to a general action.

At length Frederick, weary of these unavailing efforts, dashed off in
rapid march toward the River Neisse, and with his vanguard, on the 11th
of September, crossed the river at the little town of Woitz, a few
miles above the city. The river was speedily spanned with his pontoon
bridges. As the whole army hurried forward to effect the passage,
Frederick, to his surprise, found the Austrian army directly before
him, occupying a position from which it could not be forced, and
where it could not be turned. For two days Frederick very earnestly
surveyed the region, and then, recrossing the river and gathering in
his pontoons, passed rapidly down the stream on the left or northern
bank, and, after a brief encampment of a few days, crossed the river
fifteen miles below the city. He then threw his army into the rear of
Neipperg’s, so as to cut off his communications and his daily convoys
of food. He thus got possession again of Oppeln, of the strong castle
of Friedland, and of the country generally between the Oder and the
Neisse rivers.

General Neipperg cautiously advanced toward him, and encamped in the
vicinity of Steinau - the same Steinau which but a few weeks before had
been laid in ashes as the Prussian troops passed through it. The two
armies were now separated from each other but by an interval of about
five miles. The country was flat, and it was not probable that the
contest which Frederick so eagerly sought could long be avoided.

Affairs were now assuming throughout Europe a very threatening aspect.
The two French armies, of forty thousand each, had already crossed the
Rhine to join their German allies in the war against Austria. One of
these armies, to be commanded by Belleisle, had crossed the river about
thirty miles below Strasbourg to unite with the Elector of Bavaria’s
troops and march upon Vienna. The other army, under Maillebois, had
crossed the Lower Rhine a few miles below Düsseldorf. Its mission was,
as we have mentioned, to encamp upon the frontiers of Hanover, prepared
to invade that province, in co-operation with the Prussian troops in
the camp at Göttin, should the King of England venture to raise a hand
in behalf of Austria. It was also in position to attack and overwhelm
Holland, England’s only ally, should that power manifest the slightest
opposition to the designs of Prussia and France. At the same time,
Sweden, on the 4th of August, had declared war against Russia, so that
no help could come to Austria from that quarter. Great diplomatic
ability had been displayed in guarding every point in these complicated
measures. The French minister, Belleisle, was probably the prominent
agent in these wide-spread combinations.[60]

The queen, Maria Theresa, still remained at Presburg, in her Hungarian
kingdom. The Aulic Council was with her. On the 15th of August Sir
Thomas Robinson had returned to Presburg with the intelligence of his
unsuccessful mission, and of the unrelenting determination of Frederick
to prosecute the war with the utmost vigor unless Silesia were
surrendered to him.

These tidings struck the Austrian council with consternation. The
French armies were declared to be the finest that had ever taken
the field. The Prussian army, in stolid bravery and perfection of
discipline, had never been surpassed. Germany was to be cut into four
equal parts, and France was to be the sovereign power on the Continent.

In this terrible emergence, the queen, resolute as she was, was almost
compelled, by the importunity of her counselors, to permit Sir Thomas
Robinson, who was acting for England far more than for Austria, to
go back to Frederick with the offer so humiliating to her, that she
would surrender to him one half of Silesia if he would withdraw his
armies and enter into an alliance with her against the French. The
high-spirited queen wrung her hands in anguish as she assented to this
decision, exclaiming passionately,

“If these terms are not accepted within a fortnight, I will not be
bound by them.”

Sir Thomas hastened back to Breslau, and anxiously entered into
communication with Lord Hyndford. The British minister entreated the
king to admit Sir Thomas to another interview, assuring him that he
came with new and more liberal propositions for a compromise. The king
replied, in substance, with his customary brusqueness,

“I will not see him. I wish to listen to no more of his offers. The
sooner he takes himself away the better.”

Sir Thomas, deeply chagrined, hastened back to Presburg. Acting in
behalf of the English cabinet, he trembled in view of the preponderance
of the French court and of the loss of Hanover. With the most
impassioned earnestness he entreated the queen to yield to the demands
of Frederick, and thus secure his alliance.

“High madam,” he said, fervently, “at this crisis, alliance with
Frederick is salvation to Austria. His continued hostility is utter
ruin. England can not help your majesty. The slightest endeavor would
cause the loss of Hanover.”

Thus pressed by England, and with equal earnestness by her own Aulic
Council, the queen again yielded, though almost frantic with grief,
and consented to surrender the whole of Lower Silesia to Frederick if
he would become her ally. As Frederick had offered these terms, it was
supposed, of course, that he would accept them. Sir Thomas was again
dispatched, at the top of his speed, to convey them to the camp of
Frederick. But the repulse of the king was peremptory and decisive. To
Lord Hyndford, soliciting an audience for the envoy, he replied,

“I will not see him. There was a time when I would have listened to a
compromise. That time has passed. I have now entered into arrangements
with France. Talk to me no more.”

Sir Thomas hastened back to Presburg in despair. Feeling the “game was
up,” and that there was no more hope, he asked permission to return
home. The British cabinet was in a state of consternation. France, the
dreaded rival of England, was attaining almost sovereign power over the
Continent of Europe. Frederick himself was uneasy. He had sufficient
penetration to be fully aware that he was aiding to create a resistless
power, which might, by-and-by, crush him. Sir Thomas, in a state of
great agitation, which was manifest in his disordered style, wrote from
Presburg to Lord Hyndford at Breslau as follows. The letter was dated
September 8, 1741.

“My lord, I could desire your lordship to summon up, if it were
necessary, the spirit of all your lordship’s instructions, and the
sense of the king, of the Parliament, and of the whole British nation.
It is upon this great moment that depends the fate, not of the house
of Austria, not of the empire, but of the house of Brunswick, of Great
Britain, of all Europe. I verily believe the King of Prussia himself
does not know the extent of the present danger. With whatever motive
he may act, there is not one, not that of the wildest resentment, that
can blind him to this degree - of himself perishing in the ruin he is
bringing upon others. With his concurrence, the French will, in less
than six weeks, be masters of the German empire. The weak Elector of
Bavaria is but their instrument. Prague and Vienna may, and probably
will, be taken in that short time. Will even the King of Prussia
himself be reserved to the last?”

These considerations probably weighed heavily upon the mind of
Frederick; for, after having so peremptorily repulsed the queen’s
messenger, he sent, on the 9th of September, Colonel Goltz with a
proposition to Lord Hyndford, which was substantially the same which
the queen in her anguish had consented to make. The strictest secrecy
was enjoined upon Colonel Goltz. The proposition was read from a paper
without signature, and was probably in the king’s handwriting, for
Lord Hyndford was not permitted to see the paper. He took a copy from
dictation, which was as follows:

“The whole of Lower Silesia; the River Neisse for the boundary; the
city of Neisse for us, as also Glutz; on the other side of the Oder,
the ancient boundary between the Duchies of Brieg and Oppeln. Namslau
for us. The affairs of religion in _statu quo_. No dependence upon
Bohemia. Cession eternal. In exchange we will go no farther. We will
besiege Neisse for form. The commandant shall surrender and depart. We
will quietly go into winter quarters; and they (the Austrians) can take
their army where they will. Let all be finished in twelve days.”

But Frederick did not seem to think himself at all bound by his
treaty obligations with France to refrain from entering into secret
arrangements with the foe which would promote his interests, however
antagonistic those arrangements might be to his assumed obligations.
He was the ally of France in the attempt to wrest territory from the
young Queen of Austria, and to weaken her power. His armies and those
of France were acting in co-operation. Frederick now proposed to the
common enemy that, if Silesia were surrendered to him, he would no
longer act in co-operation with his ally; but, that France might not
discover his perfidy, he would still pretend to make war. The Austrians

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 23 of 52)