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

History of Frederick the Second online

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and drill, as Europe had ever seen. Within a week’s time forty-four
thousand troops, horse, foot, and artillery, were rendezvoused at
Magdeburg. Fritz was there, looking quite soldierly on his proud
charger, at the head of his regiment of the giant guard. Vigorously
they were put upon the march. George II., who had already in his
boyhood felt the weight of Frederick William’s arm, and who well knew
his desperate energy when once roused, was terrified. He had no forces
in Hanover which could stand for an hour in opposition to the army
which the Prussian king was bringing against him.

War between Prussia and England might draw all the neighboring nations
into the conflict. There was excitement in every continental court. The
Pope, it is reported, was delighted. “He prays,” says Carlyle, “that
Heaven would be graciously pleased to foment and blow up to the proper
degree this quarrel between the two chief heretical powers, Heaven’s
chief enemies, whereby holy religion might reap a good benefit.”

In the general alarm, France, Holland, and other neighboring courts
interposed and called loudly for a settlement. Frederick William had
never wished for war. George II. was thoroughly frightened. As it was
certain that he would be severely chastised, he was eager to escape
from the difficulty through the mediation of others. An arbitration was
agreed upon, and the quarrel was settled without bloodshed.

On the 8th of September Fritz returned to Potsdam from this his first
military expedition, with his regiment of giants. He was then seventeen
years of age. His soldierly bearing had quite rejoiced the king, and
he began to think that, after all, possibly something might be made of

Just as these troubles were commencing, there was, in May, 1729, a
marriage in the Prussian royal family. Some two hundred miles south of
Brandenburg there was, at that time, a small marquisate called Anspach,
next in dignity to a dukedom. The marquis was a frail, commonplace
boy of seventeen, under the care of a young mother, who was widowed,
sick, and dying. Much to the dissatisfaction of Sophie Dorothee, the
queen-mother, Frederick William had arranged a marriage between this
young man, who was far from rich, and his second daughter, Frederica
Louisa, who was then fifteen years of age.[7]

Fritz went in the royal carriage, with suitable escort, to meet the
young marquis on the Prussian frontier, as he came to his bridals.
They returned together in the carriage to Potsdam with great military
display. The wedding took place on the 30th of May, 1729. It was very
magnificent. Fritz was conspicuous on the occasion in a grand review
of the giant grenadiers. Wilhelmina, in her journal, speaks quite
contemptuously of her new brother-in-law, the Marquis of Anspach,
describing him as a foolish young fellow. It was, indeed, a marriage
of children. The bridegroom was a sickly, peevish, undeveloped boy
of seventeen; and the bride was a self-willed and ungoverned little
beauty of fifteen. The marriage proved a very unhappy one. There was
no harmony between them. Frederick writes: “They hate one another like
the fire” (_comme le feu_). They, however, lived together in incessant
petty quarrelings for thirty years. Probably during all that time
neither one of them saw a happy day.

Fritz had now attained eighteen years of age, and Wilhelmina
twenty-one. Fritz was very fond of music, particularly of his
flute, upon which he played exquisitely, being, however, careful
never to sound its notes within hearing of his father. A celebrated
music-master from Dresden, by the name of Quantz, was his teacher. He
came occasionally from Dresden and spent a week or two at Potsdam,
secretly teaching the young prince. The mother of Fritz was in warm
sympathy with her son, and aided him in all ways in her power in this
gratification. Still it was a very hazardous measure. The fierce
old king was quite uncertain in his movements. He might at any hour
appear at Potsdam, and no one could tell to what lengths, in case of
a discovery, he might go in the intensity of his rage. Fritz had an
intimate friend in the army, a young man of about his own age, one
Lieutenant Katte, who, when Fritz was with his music-teacher, was
stationed on the look-out, that he might give instant warning in case
there were any indications of the king’s approach. His mother also was
prepared, when Quantz was at Potsdam, promptly to dispatch a messenger
to her son in case she suspected his father of being about to turn his
steps in that direction.

Fritz, having thus established his outposts, was accustomed to retire
to his room with his teacher, lay aside his tight-fitting Prussian
military coat, which he detested, and called his shroud, draw on a very
beautiful, flowing French dressing-gown of scarlet, embroidered with
gold, and decorated with sash and tags, and, with his hair dressed in
the most fashionable style of the French court, surrender himself to
the indulgence of his own luxurious tastes for sumptuous attire as well
as for melodious sounds. He was thus, one day, in the height of his
enjoyment, taking his clandestine music-lesson, when Lieutenant Katte
came rushing into the room in the utmost dismay, with the announcement
that the king was at the door. The wily and ever-suspicious monarch
had stolen the march upon them. He was about to make his son a very
unwelcome surprise visit.

A bomb bursting in the room could scarcely have created a greater
panic. Katte and Quantz seized the flutes and music-books, and rushed
into a wood-closet, where they stood quaking with terror. Fritz threw
off his dressing-gown, hurried on his military coat, and sat down at
the table, affecting to be deeply engaged with his books. The king,
frowning like a thunder-cloud - for he always frowned when he drew near
Fritz - burst into the room. The sight of the frizzled hair of his
son “kindled the paternal wrath into a tornado pitch.” The king had a
wonderful command of the vocabulary of abuse, and was heaping epithets
of vituperation upon the head of the prince, when he caught sight of
the dressing-gown behind a screen. He seized the glittering garment,
and, with increasing outbursts of rage, crammed it into the fire. Then
searching the room, he collected all the French books, of which Fritz
had quite a library, and, sending for a bookseller near by, ordered him
to take every volume away, and sell them for what they would bring.
For more than an hour the king was thus raging, like a maniac, in the
apartment of his son. Fortunately he did not look into the wood-closet.
Had he done so, both Quantz and Katte would have been terribly beaten,
even had they escaped being sent immediately to the scaffold.

[Illustration: THE DRESSING-GOWN.]

“The king,” writes Wilhelmina, “almost caused my brother and myself to
die of hunger. He always acted as carver, and served every body except
us. When, by chance, there remained any thing in the dish, he spit in
it, to prevent our eating of it. We lived entirely upon coffee, milk,
and dried cherries, which ruined our health. I was nourished with
insults and invectives, and was abused all day long, in every possible
manner, and before every body. The king’s anger went so far against my
brother and myself that he drove us from him, forbidding us to appear
in his presence except at meals.

“The queen had contrived in her bedroom a sort of labyrinth of screens,
so arranged that I could escape the king without being seen, in case
he suddenly entered. One day the king came and surprised us. I wished
to escape, but found myself embarrassed among these screens, of which
several fell, and prevented my getting out of the room. The king was at
my heels, and tried to catch hold of me in order to beat me. Not being
able any longer to escape, I placed myself behind my governess. The
king advanced so much that she was obliged to fall back, but, finding
herself at length near the chimney, she was stopped. I found myself in
the alternative of bearing the fire or the blows. The king overwhelmed
me with abuse, and tried to seize me by the hair. I fell upon the
floor. The scene would have had a tragical end had it continued, as my
clothes were actually beginning to take fire. The king, fatigued with
crying out and with his passion, at length put an end to it and went

These sufferings bound the brother and sister very intimately together.
“This dear brother,” Wilhelmina writes, “passed all his afternoons with
me. We read and wrote together, and occupied ourselves in cultivating
our minds. The king now never saw my brother without threatening
him with the cane. Fritz repeatedly told me that he would bear any
thing from the king except blows; but that, if he ever came to such
extremities with him, he would regain his freedom by flight.”

On the 10th of December, 1729, Dubourgay writes in his journal: “His
Prussian majesty can not bear the sight of either the prince or the
princess royal. The other day he asked the prince, ‘Kalkstein makes you
English, does not he?’ To which the prince answered, ‘I respect the
English, because I know the people there love me.’ Upon which the king
seized him by the collar, struck him fiercely with his cane, and it was
only by superior strength that the poor prince escaped worse. There is
a general apprehension of something tragical taking place before long.”

Wilhelmina gives the following account of this transaction, as
communicated to her by her brother: “As I entered the king’s room
this morning, he first seized me by the hair and then threw me on the
floor, along which, after having exercised the vigor of his arm upon
my unhappy person, he dragged me, in spite of all my resistance, to a
neighboring window. His intention apparently was to perform the office
of the mutes of the seraglio, for, seizing the cord belonging to the
curtain, he placed it around my neck. I seized both of his hands, and
began to cry out. A servant came to my assistance, and delivered me
from his hands.”

In reference to this event, the prince wrote to his mother from
Potsdam, “I am in the utmost despair. What I had always apprehended has
at last come on me. The king has entirely forgotten that I am his son.
This morning I came into his room as usual. At the first sight of me
he sprang forward, seized me by the collar, and struck me a shower of
blows with his rattan. I tried in vain to screen myself, he was in so
terrible a rage, almost out of himself. It was only weariness that made
him give up. I am driven to extremity. I have too much honor to endure
such treatment, and I am resolved to put an end to it in one way or

Wilhelmina well understood that her brother contemplated running away,
escaping, if possible, to England. We have mentioned that the young
prince, after his return from Dresden, had become quite dissipated.
The companions he chose were wild young army officers of high birth,
polished address, and, in godless lives, fashionable men of the world.
Lieutenant Katte was a genteel man of pleasure. Another of his bosom
companions, Lieutenant Keith, a young man of illustrious lineage, was
also a very undesirable associate for any young man whose principles
of virtue were not established.[8] Of Keith and Katte, the two most
intimate friends of Fritz, Wilhelmina writes, about this time:

[Illustration: A ROYAL EXECUTIONER.]

“Lieutenant Keith had been gone some time, stationed in Wesel with his
regiment. Keith’s departure had been a great joy to me, in the hope
my brother would now lead a more regular life. But it proved quite
otherwise. A second favorite, and a much more dangerous, succeeded
Keith. This was a young man of the name of Katte, captain lieutenant
in the regiment _Gens d’Armes_. He was highly connected in the army.
His mother was daughter of Field-marshal Wartensleben. General Katte,
his father, had sent him to the universities, and afterward to travel,
desiring that he should be a lawyer. But, as there was no favor to be
hoped for out of the army, the young man found himself at last placed
there, contrary to his expectation. He continued to apply himself to
studies. He had wit, book-culture, and acquaintance with the world.
The good company which he continued to frequent had given him polite
manners to a degree then rare in Berlin. His physiognomy was rather
disagreeable than otherwise. A pair of thick black eyebrows almost
covered his eyes. His look had in it something ominous, presage of
the fate he met with. A tawny skin, torn by small-pox, increased his
ugliness. He affected the freethinker, and carried libertinism to
excess. A great deal of ambition and headlong rashness accompanied this
vice. Such a favorite was not the man to bring back my brother from his

Early in January, 1730, the king, returning from a hunt at
Wusterhausen, during which he had held a drinking carouse and a
diplomatic interview with the King of Poland, announced his intention
of being no longer annoyed by matrimonial arrangements for Wilhelmina.
He resolved to abandon the English alliance altogether, unless an
immediate and unequivocal assent were given by George II. for the
marriage of Wilhelmina with the Prince of Wales, without any compact
for the marriage of Fritz with the Princess Amelia. Count Finckenstein,
Baron Grumkow, and General Borck were sent to communicate this, the
king’s unalterable resolve, to the queen. The first two were friends
of the queen. Grumkow was understood to be the instigator of the king.
Wilhelmina chanced to be with her mother when the gentlemen announced
themselves as the bearers of a very important message from the king to
her majesty. Wilhelmina trembled, and said in a low tone to her mother,
“This regards me. I have a dreading.” “No matter,” the worn and weary
mother replied; “one must have firmness, and that is not what I shall
want.” The queen retired with the ministers to the audience-chamber.

There they informed her that they had each received a letter the night
before from the king, the contents of which they were forbidden,
under penalty of death, from communicating to any one but to her. The
king wished them to say to her majesty that he would no longer endure
her disobedience in reference to the marriage of Wilhelmina; that, in
case this disobedience continued, there should be an entire separation
between him and his wife - a divorce - and that she and her daughter
should both be banished to the château of Oranienburg, about twenty
miles from Berlin, and there held in close imprisonment. The king was
willing that Sophie Dorothee should write once more, and only once
more, to her brother, George II., and demand of him a categorical
answer, yes or no, whether he would consent to the immediate marriage
of the Prince of Wales and Wilhelmina. The king would wait a fortnight
for an answer, or, if the winds were contrary, three weeks; but not a
day more. Should no answer in that time be returned, or a negative or
an evasive answer, then Wilhelmina was to make her immediate choice
of a husband between either the Duke of Weissenfels or the Marquis of
Schwedt, and to be married without delay.[9]

Weissenfels was a small duchy in Saxony. The duke, so called by
courtesy, had visited Berlin before in the train of his sovereign, King
Augustus, when his majesty returned the visit of Frederick William. He
was then quite captivated by the beauty and vivacity of Wilhelmina.
He was titular duke merely, his brother being the real duke; and he
was then living on his pay as officer in the army, and was addicted to
deep potations. Carlyle describes him as “a mere betitled, betasseled,
elderly military gentleman of no special qualities, evil or good.”
Sophie Dorothee, noticing his attentions to Wilhelmina, deemed it the
extreme of impudence for so humble a man to aspire to the hand of her
illustrious child. She reproved him so severely that he retired from
the court in deep chagrin. He never would have presumed to renew the
suit but for the encouragement given by Frederick William.

The Marquis of Schwedt was a very indifferent young man, living under
the tutelage of his dowager mother. She was a cousin of the King of
Prussia, and had named her son Frederick William. Having rendered
herself conspicuously ridiculous by the flaunting colors of her dress,
which tawdry display was in character with her mind, both she and her
son were decidedly disagreeable to Wilhelmina.

There was no alternative left the young princess. Unless there were
an immediate consummation of the marriage contract with the English
Frederick, she was, without delay, to choose between Weissenfels and
Schwedt. The queen, in response to this communication, said, “I will
immediately write to England; but, whatever may be the answer, it is
impossible that my daughter should marry either of the individuals whom
the king has designated.” Baron Grumkow, who was in entire accord with
the king, “began,” says Wilhelmina, “quoting Scripture on her majesty,
as the devil can on occasion. ‘Wives, be obedient to your husbands,’
said he. The queen very aptly replied, ‘Yes; but did not Bethuel, the
son of Milcah, when Abraham’s servant asked his daughter in marriage
for young Isaac, answer, “We will call the damsel, and inquire of her
mouth?” It is true, wives must obey their husbands, but husbands must
command things just and reasonable.’

“The king’s procedure,” added the unhappy mother, “is not in accordance
with that law. He is doing violence to my daughter’s inclinations, thus
rendering her wretched for the remainder of her days. He wishes to
give her for a husband a brutal debauchee, a younger brother, who is
nothing but an officer in the army of the King of Poland; a landless
man, without the means of living according to his rank. I will write to
England. But, whatever the answer, I had rather a thousand times see my
child in the grave than hopelessly miserable.”

The queen, looking reproachfully at Grumkow, remarked, “I know full
well to whom I owe all this.” She then excused herself, saying that
she was not well, and retired to her apartment. There she communicated
to the anxious Wilhelmina the cruel message of the king. Sophie
Dorothee then wrote a very earnest letter to Queen Caroline, the wife
of George II., imploring that all obstacles in the way of the marriage
of Wilhelmina with the Prince of Wales might be withdrawn. The idea
of marriage with either Weissenfels or Schwedt was dreadful. But,
on the other hand, the wrath of the king, the divorce of the queen,
and the imprisonment of both mother and daughter in the château of
Oranienburg, were also dreadful. Fritz was taken into the councils
of his mother and sister. It was decided that he should also write
to his aunt, urging his suit for the Princess Amelia. It is true
that George II. was ready to accede to this marriage, but Frederick
William threw obstacles in the way. It was probably the hope of Fritz
to secure Amelia, notwithstanding his father’s opposition. The ready
pen of Wilhelmina was employed to draft the letter, which her brother
submissively copied. As it was not probable, in the intricacies in
which the question was now involved, that both marriages could take
place together, Fritz wrote pleading for the marriage of Wilhelmina at
once, pledging his word that he would remain faithful to the Princess

“I have already,” he wrote, “given your majesty my word of honor never
to wed any one but the Princess Amelia, your daughter. I here reiterate
that promise, in case your majesty will consent to my sister’s

Sophie Dorothee dispatched a courier with these documents, to go with
the utmost speed to England. It was a long journey in those days, and
the winds were often contrary. A fortnight passed. Three weeks were
gone. Still there was no answer. On the 25th of January, 1730 - “a
day,” writes Wilhelmina, “which I shall never forget” - Finckenstein,
Borck, and Grumkow again called upon the queen, with the following
message from the king:

“Whatever answer may now be returned from England I will have nothing
to do with it. Whether negative, affirmative, or evasive, to me it
shall be as nothing. You, madam, must now choose between the Duke of
Weissenfels and the Marquis of Schwedt. If you do not choose, you and
Wilhelmina may prepare for Oranienburg, where you shall suffer the just
penalty of mutiny against the authority set over you by God and men.”

The queen summoned firmness to reply: “You can inform the king that he
will never make me consent to render my daughter miserable; and that,
so long as a breath of life remains in me, I will not permit her to
take either the one or the other of these persons.”

Then addressing Grumkow, she said, in tones deliberate and intense,
“For you, sir, who are the author of my misfortunes, may my curse fall
upon you and your house. You have this day killed me. But I doubt not
that Heaven will hear my prayer and avenge my wrongs.”

The queen was at this time in a delicate state of health, and anxiety
and sorrow threw her upon a sick-bed. The king, who felt as much
affection for “Phiekin” as such a coarse, brutal man could feel for any
body, was alarmed; but he remained obdurate. He stormed into her room,
where, in the fever of her troubles, she tossed upon her pillow, and
obstreperously declared that Wilhelmina should be married immediately,
and that she must take either Weissenfels or Schwedt. As both mother
and daughter remained firm in their refusal to choose, he resolved to
decide the question himself.

Accordingly, he made proposals to the Marquise of Schwedt that
Wilhelmina should marry her son. The lady replied, in terms very
creditable both to her head and her heart, “Such a union, your majesty,
would be in accordance with the supreme wish of my life. But how can I
accept such happiness against the will of the princess herself? This
I can positively never do.” Here she remained firm. The raging king
returned to the bedside of his wife, as rough and determined as ever.
He declared that the question was now settled that Wilhelmina was to
marry the old Duke of Weissenfels.

The unhappy princess, distracted by these griefs, had grown thin and
pale. It was soon rumored throughout the court that the king had
written to Weissenfels, and that the duke was on his way to seize
his reluctant bride. In this emergence, the queen’s friend, Baron
Borck, suggested to her that, in order to get rid of the obnoxious
Weissenfels, she should so far yield to the wishes of the king as to
give up the English alliance, and propose a third party, who might be
more acceptable to Wilhelmina. But who shall this substitute be?

About two hundred miles south of Berlin there was quite an important
marquisate called Baireuth. The marquis had a good-looking young
son, the heir-apparent, who had just returned from the grand tour
of Europe. Upon the death of his father he would enter upon quite
a rich inheritance. This young marquis, Frederick by name, Baron
Borck proposed as a substitute for the Duke of Weissenfels. It was
understood that Wilhelmina was such a prize that kings, even, would be
eager to obtain her hand. There could therefore be no doubt but that
the Marquis of Baireuth would feel signally honored by such nuptials.
The worn and weary mother eagerly accepted this proposal. She suggested
it to the king. Sullenly he gave it his assent, saying, “I will
passively submit to it, but will take no active part whatever in the
affair. Neither will I give Wilhelmina one single copper for dowry.”

The queen, delighted in having obtained even this measure of
acquiescence on the part of the king, now conferred with Wilhelmina.
But, to her surprise and bitter disappointment, the young princess did
not share in her mother’s joy. She was not disposed to be thus bartered
away, and presented sundry objections. The poor mother, harassed by
these interminable difficulties, now lost all patience. She broke out
upon her equally unhappy daughter with cruel reproaches.

“Take, then,” she exclaimed, “the Grand Turk or the Great Mogul for
your husband. Follow your own caprice. Had I known you better I would
not have brought so many sorrows upon myself. You may follow the king’s
bidding. It is henceforth your own affair. I will no longer trouble
myself about your concerns. And spare me, if you please, the sorrows of
your odious presence. I can not stand it.”

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 6 of 52)