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

History of Frederick the Second online

. (page 5 of 52)
Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 5 of 52)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

embroidered with gold. Wilhelmina had no suspicion of the object of
his visit, and was somewhat surprised by the intensity of his gaze and
his glowing compliments. Diplomatic obstacles arose which silenced
the question of the marriage before Wilhelmina knew that it had been

Fritz had been for some time confined to his chamber and to his bed. He
was now getting out again. By his mother’s persuasion he wrote to his
aunt, Queen Caroline of England, expressing, in the strongest terms,
his love for her daughter the Princess Amelia, and his unalterable
determination never to marry unless he could lead her to the altar.
Though Frederick William knew nothing of these intrigues, he hated
his son with daily increasing venom. Sometimes, in a surly fit, he
would not speak to him or recognize him. Again he would treat him with
studied contempt, at the table refusing to give him any food, leaving
him to fast while the others were eating. Not unfrequently, according
to Wilhelmina’s account, he even boxed his ears, and smote him with
his cane. Wilhelmina gives us one of the letters of her brother to
his father about this time, and the characteristic paternal answer.
Frederick writes, under date of September 11, 1728, from Wusterhausen:

“MY DEAR PAPA, - I have not, for a long while, presumed to come
near my dear papa, partly because he forbade me, but chiefly
because I had reason to expect a still worse reception than
usual; and for fear of angering my dear papa by my present
request, I have preferred making it in writing to him.

“I therefore beg my dear papa to be gracious to me; and can here
say that, after long reflection, my conscience has not accused
me of any the least thing with which I could reproach myself.
But if I have, against my will and knowledge, done any thing
which has angered my dear papa, I herewith most submissively beg
forgiveness, and hope my dear papa will lay aside that cruel
hatred which I can not but notice in all his treatment of me.
I could not otherwise suit myself to it, as I always thought I
had a gracious papa, and now have to see the contrary. I take
confidence, then, and hope that my dear papa will consider all
this, and again be gracious to me. And in the mean while I assure
him that I will never, all my days, fail with my will; and,
notwithstanding his disfavor to me, remain my dear papa’s most
faithful and obedient servant and son,


The returning messenger took back the following reply. It was, as
usual, ungrammatical, miserably spelled, and confused. Contemptuously
the king spoke of his son in the third person, writing _he_ and _his_
instead of _you_ and _yours_. Abruptly he commences:

“His obstinate perverse disposition which does not love his
father; for when one does every thing, and really loves one’s
father, one does what the father requires, not while he is there
to see it, but when his back is turned too. For the rest he
knows very well that I can endure no effeminate fellow who has
no human inclination in him; who puts himself to shame, can not
ride or shoot; and, withal, is dirty in his person, frizzles his
hair like a fool, and does not cut it off. And all this I have a
thousand times reprimanded, but all in vain, and no improvement
in nothing. For the rest, haughty; proud as a churl; speaks to
nobody but some few, and is not popular and affable; and cuts
grimaces with his face as if he were a fool; and does my will in
nothing but following his own whims; no use to him in any thing
else. This is the answer.


Still the question of the marriages remained the subject of innumerable
intrigues. There were several claimants for the hand of Wilhelmina, and
many nuptial alliances suggested for Fritz. Frederick William proposed
the marriage of Wilhelmina to Fred, the Prince of Wales, and to let
the marriage of Fritz and Amelia for the present remain undecided. But
England promptly replied “No; both marriages or none.” It is intimated
by the ministers of the Prussian king that he was influenced in his
vacillating course respecting the marriages not only by his doubts
whether the English or a German alliance would be most desirable, but
also by avarice, as he knew not what dowry he could secure with the
English princess, and by jealousy, as he was very unwilling to add to
the importance and the power of his hated son Fritz. He also disliked
extremely his brother-in-law, George II.[6]

About the middle of January, 1729, the king went upon a hunt with his
companions, taking with him Fritz, who he knew detested the rough
barbaric sport. This hunting expedition to the wilds of Brandenburg and
Pommern was one of great renown. Three thousand six hundred and two
wild swine these redoubtable Nimrods boasted as the fruits of their
prowess. Frederick William was an economical prince. He did not allow
one pound of this vast mass of wild pork to be wasted. Every man,
according to his family, was bound to take a certain portion at a fixed
price. From this fierce raid through swamps and jungles in pursuit of
wild boars the king returned to Potsdam. Soon after he was taken sick.
Having ever been a hard drinker, it is not strange that his disease
proved to be the gout. He was any thing but an amiable patient. The
pangs of the disease extorted from him savage growls, and he vented
his spleen upon all who came within the reach of his crutch or the
hearing of his tongue. Still, even when suffering most severely, he
never omitted any administrative duties. His secretaries every morning
came in with their papers, and he issued his orders with his customary
rigorous devotion to business. It was remarked that this strange man
would never allow a profane expression or an indelicate allusion in his
presence. This sickness lasted five weeks, and Wilhelmina writes, “The
pains of Purgatory could not equal those which we endured.”

During this sickness a very curious scene occurred, characteristic of
the domestic life of this royal family. The second daughter, Frederica
Louisa, “beautiful as an angel, and a spoiled child of fifteen,” was
engaged to the Marquis of Anspach. We will allow Wilhelmina to describe
the event which took place at the table. It was early in March, 1729,
while the king was still suffering from the gout:

“At table his majesty told the queen that he had letters from Anspach;
the young marquis to be at Berlin in May for his wedding; that M.
Bremer, his tutor, was just coming with the ring of betrothal for
Louisa. He asked my sister if that gave her pleasure, and how she would
regulate her housekeeping when married. My sister had got into the way
of telling him whatever she thought, and home truths sometimes, without
his taking it ill. She answered, with her customary frankness, that she
would have a good table, which should be delicately served, and, added
she, ‘which shall be better than yours. And if I have children I will
not maltreat them like you, nor force them to eat what they have an
aversion to.’

“‘What do you mean by that?’ replied the king; ‘what is there wanting
at my table?’

“‘There is this wanting,’ she said, ‘that one can not have enough; and
the little there is consists of coarse pot-herbs that nobody can eat.’

“The king, as was not unnatural, had begun to get angry at her first
answer. This last put him quite in a fury. But all his anger fell on my
brother and me. He first threw a plate at my brother’s head, who ducked
out of the way. He then let fly another at me, which I avoided in like
manner. A hail-storm of abuse followed these first hostilities. He rose
into a passion against the queen, reproaching her with the bad training
which she gave her children, and, addressing my brother, said,

“‘You have reason to curse your mother, for it is she who causes your
being an ill-governed fellow. I had a preceptor,’ continued he, ‘who
was an honest man. I remember always a story which he told me in his
youth. There was a man at Carthage who had been condemned to die for
many crimes he had committed. While they were leading him to execution
he desired he might speak to his mother. They brought his mother. He
came near, as if to whisper something to her, and bit away a piece of
her ear. “I treat you thus,” said he, “to make you an example to all
parents who take no heed to bring up their children in the practice
of virtue.” Make the application,’ continued he, always addressing my
brother; and, getting no answer from him, he again set to abusing us
till he could speak no longer.

[Illustration: ROYALTY AT DINNER.]

“We rose from table. As we had to pass near him in going out, he
aimed a great blow at me with his crutch, which, if I had not jerked
away from it, would have ended me. He chased me for a while in his
wheel-chair, but the people drawing it gave me time to escape to the
queen’s chamber.”

That evening Wilhelmina was taken sick with burning fever and severe
pain. Still she was compelled to rise from her bed and attend a court
party. The next morning she was worse. The king, upon being told of
it, exclaimed gruffly, “Ill? I will cure you!” and compelled her to
swallow a large draught of wine. Soon her sickness showed itself to be
small-pox. Great was the consternation of her mother, from the fear
that, even should she survive, her beauty would be so marred that the
English prince would no longer desire her as his bride. Fortunately she
escaped without a scar.



The King an Artist. - Cruel Exactions of the King. - Conflicts of
Etiquette. - Quarrel with George II. - Nuptial Intrigues. - Energetic
Action of Frederick William. - Marriage of Frederica Louisa. - Fritz
and his Flute. - Wrath of the King. - Beats Wilhelmina and Fritz. -
Attempts to strangle Fritz. - The Hunt at Wusterhausen. - Intrigues
in reference to the Double Marriage. - Anguish of Wilhelmina. -
Cruelty of her Mother. - Resolve of Fritz to escape to England.

While Frederick William was confined to his room, tormented by the
gout, he endeavored to beguile the hours in painting in oil. Some of
these paintings still exist, with the epigraph, “Painted by Frederick
William in his torments.” Wilhelmina writes:

“For the most part, one of his own grenadiers was the model from
which he copied. And when the portrait had more color in it than the
original, he was in the habit of coloring the cheeks of the soldier to
correspond with the picture. Enchanted with the fruits of his genius,
he showed them to his courtiers, and asked their opinion concerning
them. As he would have been very angry with any one who had criticised
them, he was quite sure of being gratified with admiration.

“‘Well,’ said he one day to an attendant, who was extolling the
beauties of one of his pictures, ‘how much do you think that picture
would bring at a sale?’

“‘Sire, it would be cheap at a hundred ducats.’

“‘You shall have it for fifty,’ said the king, ‘because you are a good
judge, and I am therefore anxious to do you a favor.’

“The poor courtier,” Wilhelmina adds, “obliged to become possessor of
this miserable performance, and to pay so dear for it, determined for
the future to be more circumspect in his admiration.”

While the king was thus suffering the pangs of the gout, his
irascibility vented itself upon his wife and children. “We were
obliged,” says Wilhelmina, “to appear at nine o’clock in the morning
in his room. We dined there, and did not dare to leave it even for
a moment. Every day was passed by the king in invectives against my
brother and myself. He no longer called me any thing but ‘the English
blackguard.’ My brother was named the ‘rascal Fritz.’ He obliged us to
eat and drink the things for which we had an aversion. Every day was
marked by some sinister event. It was impossible to raise one’s eyes
without seeing some unhappy people tormented in one way or other. The
king’s restlessness did not allow him to remain in bed. He had himself
placed in a chair on rollers, and was thus dragged all over the palace.
His two arms rested upon crutches, which supported them. We always
followed this triumphal car, like unhappy captives who are about to
undergo their sentence.”

We have now reached the summer of 1729. George II. was a weak-minded,
though a proud, conceited man, who, as King of England, assumed airs
of superiority which greatly annoyed his irascible and petulant
brother-in-law, Frederick William. Flushed with his new dignity, he
visited his hereditary domain of Hanover. The journey led him through
a portion of the Prussian territory. Courtesy required that George
II. should announce that intention to the Prussian king. Courtesy
also required that, as the British monarch passed over Prussian soil,
Frederick William should furnish him with free post-horses. “I will
furnish the post-horses,” said Frederick William, “if the king apprise
me of his intention. If he do not, I shall do nothing about it.”
George did not write. In affected unconsciousness that there was any
such person in the world as the Prussian king, he crossed the Prussian
territory, paid for his own post-horses, and did not even condescend to
give Frederick William any notice of his arrival in Hanover. The King
of Prussia, who could not but be conscious of the vast inferiority of
Prussia to England, stung to the quick by this contemptuous treatment,
growled ferociously in the Tobacco Parliament.

The English minister at Berlin, Dubourgay, wrote to Hanover, urging
that some notification of the king’s arrival should be sent to the
Prussian court to appease the angry sovereign. George replied through
Lord Townshend that, “under the circumstances, it is not necessary.”
Thus the two kings were no longer on speaking terms. It is amusing,
while at the same time it is humiliating, to observe these traits of
frail childhood thus developed in full-grown men wearing crowns. When
private men or kings are in such a state of latent hostility, an open
rupture is quite certain soon to follow. George accused Frederick
William of recruiting soldiers in Hanover. In retaliation, he seized
some Prussian soldiers caught in Hanoverian territory. There was an
acre or so of land, called the “Meadow of Clamei,” which both Hanover
and Brandenburg claimed. The grass, about eight cart-loads, had been
cut by Brandenburg, and was well dried.

On the 28th of June, 1729, the population of Bühlitz, a Hanoverian
border village, sallied forth with carts, escorted by a troop of
horse, and, with demonstrations both defiant and exultant, raked up
and carried off all the hay. The King of Prussia happened to be at
that time about one hundred miles distant from Bühlitz, at Magdeburg,
reviewing his troops. He was thrown into a towering passion. Sophie
Dorothee, Wilhelmina, Fritz, all felt the effects of his rage.
Dubourgay writes, under date of July 30, 1729:

“Her majesty, all in tears, complained of her situation. The king is
nigh losing his senses on account of the differences with Hanover; goes
from bed to bed in the night-time, and from chamber to chamber, like
one whose brains are turned. Took a fit at two in the morning lately to
be off to Wusterhausen. Since his return he gives himself up entirely
to drink. The king will not suffer the prince royal to sit next his
majesty at table, but obliges him to go to the lower end, where things
are so ordered that the poor prince often rises without getting one
bit, insomuch that the queen was obliged two days ago to send, by one
of the servants who could be trusted, a box of cold fowls and other
eatables for his royal highness’s subsistence.”

Frederick William, in his extreme exasperation, seriously contemplated
challenging George II. to a duel. In his own mind he arranged all the
details - the place of meeting, the weapons, the seconds. With a stern
sense of justice, characteristic of the man, he admitted that it would
not be right to cause the blood of his subjects to flow in a quarrel
which was merely personal. But the “eight cart-loads of hay” had been
taken under circumstances so insulting and contemptuous as to expose
the Prussian king to ridicule; and he was firm in his determination to
settle the difficulty by a duel. The question was much discussed in the
Tobacco Parliament. The Prussian ministers opposed in vain. “The true
method, I tell you,” said the king, “is the duel, let the world cackle
as it may.”

But at length one of the counselors, Baron Borck, urged the following
consideration: “Swords will be the weapons used. Your majesty has
been very sick, is now weak, and also crippled with gout. The King of
England is in health and vigor. There is great danger that your majesty
may be worsted in the combat. That would render matters tenfold worse.”

The king was staggered. War seemed the only alternative. But war would
empty his money-casks, disfigure his splendid troops, and peril the
lives even of his costly giants. One of these men, James Kirkman,
picked up in the streets of London, cost the king six thousand dollars
“before he could be inveigled, shipped, and brought to hand.” Nearly
all had cost large sums of money. Such men were too valuable to be
exposed to danger. Frederick William was in a state of extreme nervous
excitement. There was no rest for him night or day. His deep potations
did not calm his turbulent spirit. War seemed imminent. Military
preparations were in vigorous progress. Ovens were constructed to bake
ammunition bread. Artillery was dragged out from the arsenals. It was
rumored that the Prussian troops were to march immediately upon the
duchy of Mecklenburg, which was then held by George II. as an appendage
to Hanover.

All thoughts of the double marriage were for the moment relinquished.
The Czar of Russia had a son and a daughter. It was proposed to marry
Wilhelmina to the son and Fritz to the daughter, and thus to secure a
Russian instead of an English alliance. Harassed by these difficulties,
Frederick William grew increasingly morose, venting his spite upon
his wife and children. Fritz seriously contemplated escaping from his
father’s abuse by flight, and to take refuge with his uncle George in
England, and thus to secure his marriage with Amelia. The portraits
of the princess which he had seen proved her to be very beautiful.
All reports pronounced her to be as lovely in character as in person.
He was becoming passionately attached to her. Wilhelmina was his only
confidante. Regard for her alone restrained him from attempting to
escape. “He would have done so long ago,” writes Dubourgay, under date
of August 11, 1729, “were it not for his sister, upon whom the whole
weight of his father’s resentment would then fall. Happen what will,
therefore, he is resolved to share with her all the hardships which the
king, his father, may be pleased to put upon her.”

[Illustration: WILHELMINA.]

One night, about the middle of August, as the king was tossing
restlessly upon his pillow, he sprang from his bed, exclaiming
“Eureka! I now see what will bring a settlement.” Immediately a special
messenger was dispatched, with terms of compromise, to Kannegiesser,
the king’s embassador at Hanover. We do not know what the propositions
were. But the king was exceedingly anxious to avoid war. He had, in
many respects, a very stern sense of justice, and would not do that
which he considered to be wrong. When he abused his family or others he
did not admit that he was acting unjustly. He assumed, and with a sort
of fanatical conscientiousness, detestable as it was, that he was doing
right; that they deserved the treatment. And now he earnestly desired
peace, and was disposed to present the most honorable terms to avert a

Kannegiesser, at Hanover, received the king’s propositions for
reconciliation at ten o’clock in the morning of the 15th of August,
1729. George II. was then absent on a hunting excursion. The Prussian
embassador called immediately at the council-chamber of the Hanoverian
court, and informed M. Hartoff, the privy secretary, that he wished
an audience with the ministry, then in session, to make a proposition
to them from the Prussian court. Hartoff, who had met Kannegiesser
in a room adjoining the council-chamber, reported the request to
the council, and returned with the disrespectful answer that “M.
Kannegiesser must defer what he has to say to some other time.”

The Prussian minister condescended then so importunately to urge an
audience, in view of the menacing state of affairs, that M. Hartoff
returned to the council-chamber, and in seven minutes came back with an
evasive answer, still refusing to grant an audience. The next day M.
Kannegiesser called again at the council-chamber. “I let them know in
the mildest terms,” he writes in his dispatch home, “that I desired to
be admitted to speak with them, which was refused me a second time.” He
then informed M. Hartoff that the Prussian court expected a definite
answer to some propositions which had previously been sent to the
council at Hanover; that he would remain two days to receive it; that,
in case he did not receive it, he would call again, to remind them that
an answer was desired.

The next day M. Hartoff called at the residence of M. Kannegiesser, and
informed him “that the ministers, understanding that he designed to ask
an audience to-morrow to remind them of the answer which he demanded,
wished to say that such applications were not customary among sovereign
princes; that they dared not treat farther in that affair with him;
that, as soon as they received instructions from his Britannic majesty,
they would communicate to him the result.”

The Prussian minister replied that he could not conceive why he
should be refused an audience; that he should not fail to be at the
council-chamber at eleven o’clock the next day to receive an answer
to the proposals already made, and also to the proposals which he was
prepared to make. He endeavored to inform Hartoff of the terms of
compromise which the Prussian king was ready to present. But Hartoff
refused to hear him, declaring that he had positive orders not to
listen to any thing he had to say upon the subject. We will give the
conclusion in the words of the Prussian minister, as found in his
dispatch of the 18th of August, 1729:

“At eleven this day I went to the council-chamber for the third time,
and desired Secretary Hartoff to prevail with the ministry to allow
me to speak with them, and communicate what the King of Prussia had
ordered me to propose. Herr von Hartoff gave them an account of my
request, and brought me, for answer, that I must wait a little, because
the ministers were not yet all assembled; which I did. But after having
made me stay almost an hour, and after the president of the council was
come, Herr von Hartoff came out to me and repeated what he had said
yesterday, in very positive and absolute terms, that the ministers were
resolved not to see me, and had expressly forbid him taking any paper
at my hands.

“To which I replied, that this was very hard usage, and the world would
see how the King of Prussia would relish it. But having strict orders
from his majesty, my most gracious master, to make a declaration to the
ministers of Hanover in his name, and finding that Herr von Hartoff
would neither receive it nor take a copy of it, I had only to tell
him that I was under the necessity of leaving it in writing, and had
brought the paper with me; and that now, as the council were pleased
to refuse to take it, I was obliged to leave the said declaration on
a table in an adjoining room, in the presence of Herr von Hartoff and
other secretaries of the council, whom I desired to lay it before the

“After this I went home, but had scarcely entered my apartment when
a messenger returned me, by order of the ministers, the declaration,
still sealed as I left it; and perceiving that I was not inclined to
receive it, he laid it on my table, and immediately left the house.”

Having met with this repulse, Kannegiesser returned to Berlin with the
report. Frederick William was exasperated in the highest degree by such
treatment from a brother-in-law whom he both hated and despised. He
had at his command an army in as perfect condition, both in equipment

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 5 of 52)