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History of Frederick the Second online

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Wilhelmina endeavored to reply. But the angry mother sternly exclaimed,
“Silence!” and the tortured girl left the apartment, weeping bitterly.
Even Fritz took his mother’s part, and reproached Wilhelmina for not
acceding to her plan. New troubles were thickening around him. He was
in debt. The king had found it out. To his father’s stern questioning,
Fritz, in his terror, had uttered deliberate falsehood. He confessed
a debt of about eight hundred dollars, which his father had detected,
and solemnly declared that this was all. In fact, he owed an additional
sum of seven thousand dollars. Should the king discover this debt, and
thus detect Fritz in a lie, his rage would be tremendous. The king paid
the eight hundred dollar debt of his son, and then issued a decree
declaring that to lend money to any princes of the blood, even to the
prince royal, was a high crime, to be punished, not only by forfeiture
of the money, but by imprisonment. The king had begun to suspect that
Fritz intended to escape. He could not escape without money. The king
therefore took special precautions that his purse should be ever empty,
and watched him with renewed vigilance.

While matters were in this extremity, the British minister,
Dubourgay, and Baron Knyphausen, a distinguished Prussian official,
dispatched Rev. Dr. Villa, a scholarly man, who had been Wilhelmina’s
teacher of English, on a secret mission to the court of England, to
communicate the true state of affairs, and to endeavor to secure some
disentanglement of the perplexities. Dr. Villa was a warm friend of
Wilhelmina, and, in sympathy with her sorrows, wept as he bade her
adieu. The king was in such ill humor that his daughter dared not
appear in his presence. If Fritz came within reach of his father’s arm
he was pretty sure to receive a blow from his rattan.

On the 18th of February, 1730, some affairs of state led the king to
take a trip to Dresden to see the King of Poland. He decided to take
Fritz with him, as he was afraid to leave him behind. Fritz resolved
to avail himself of the opportunity which the journey might offer to
attempt his escape. He was unwilling to do this without bidding adieu
to his sister, who had been the partner of so many of his griefs. It
was not easy to obtain a private interview. On the evening of the 17th
of February, as Wilhelmina, aided by her governess, was undressing for
bed, the door of the anteroom of her chamber was cautiously opened, and
a young gentleman, very splendidly dressed in French costume, entered.
Wilhelmina, terrified, uttered a shriek, and endeavored to hide herself
behind a screen. Her governess, Madam Sonsfeld, ran into the anteroom
to ascertain what such an intrusion meant. The remainder of the story
we will give in the words of Wilhelmina:

“But she returned the next moment accompanying the cavalier, who was
laughing heartily, and whom I recognized for my brother. His dress so
altered him he seemed a different person. He was in the best humor
possible. ‘I am come to bid you farewell once more, my dear sister,’
said he; ‘and as I know the friendship you have for me, I will not
keep you ignorant of my designs. I go, and do not come back. I can
not endure the usage I suffer. My patience is driven to an end. It is
a favorable opportunity for flinging off that odious yoke. I will
glide out of Dresden and get across to England, where, I do not doubt,
I shall work out your deliverance too, when I am got thither. So I
beg you calm yourself. We shall soon meet again in places where joy
shall succeed our tears, and where we shall have the happiness to see
ourselves in peace, and free from these persecutions.’”

[Illustration: FREDERICK AND HIS SISTER.]

Wilhelmina was appalled in view of the difficulty and danger of the
enterprise. It was a long distance from Dresden to the coast. Head
winds might detain the vessel. The suspicious king would not long
remain ignorant that he was missing. He would be pursued with energy
almost demoniac. Being captured, no one could tell how fearful would
be his doom. The sagacious sister was right. Fritz could not but
perceive the strength of her arguments, and gave her his word of honor
that he would not attempt, on the present occasion, to effect his
flight. Fritz accordingly went to Dresden with his father, and returned.




CHAPTER IV.

THE ATTEMPT TO ESCAPE.

Objections to the British Alliance. - Obstinacy of the King. -
Wilhelmina’s Journal. - Policy of Frederick William and of George
II. - Letter from Fritz. - The Camp of Mühlberg. - The Plan of
Escape. - The Flight arrested. - Ungovernable Rage of the King. -
Endeavors to kill his Son. - Arrest and Imprisonment of Fritz. -
Terror of his Mother and Sister. - Wilhelmina imprisoned.


In the mean time Dr. Villa reached England. In conference with the
British cabinet, the members deemed it very desirable, at all events,
to effect the marriage of the Prince of Wales with the Prussian
princess. The main consideration was that it would tend to detach
Prussia from Germany, and secure its alliance with England. It was
also a good Protestant match, and would promote the interests of
Protestantism. The king desired this marriage. But he was inflexible
in his resolve that both marriages should take place or neither.
The Prussian king was equally inflexible in his determination that,
while he would consent to one marriage, he would not consent to both.
Colonel Hotham, a man of good family and of some personal distinction,
was accordingly sent, as envoy extraordinary, to Berlin, to make new
efforts in favor of the double marriage.

The Queen of Prussia had recently given birth to another prince. She
was on a bed of languor. The king was somewhat mollified, and was
anxious to be relieved from these protracted difficulties. Colonel
Hotham reached the palace of Charlottenburg on the 2d of April, 1730,
and was graciously received by the king. The next day quite a splendid
dinner was given in honor of the British envoy. All the notables who
surrounded the table, the English and the Prussian, in accordance with
the degrading custom of those times, drank deeply. Hotham, in his
dispatch, without any apparent sense of shame, writes, “We all got
immoderately drunk.”

The object of Colonel Hotham’s mission was well known. The cordial
reception he had met from the king indicated that his message was not
an unwelcome one to his Prussian majesty. In the indecent hilarity of
the hour, it was assumed that the marriage contract between Wilhelmina
and the Prince of Wales was settled. Brains addled with wine gave birth
to stupid jokes upon the subject. “A German ducat was to be exchanged
for an English half guinea.” At last, in the semi-delirium of their
intoxication, one proposed as a toast, “To the health of Wilhelmina,
Princess of Wales.” The sentiment was received with uproarious jollity.
Though all the company were in the same state of silly inebriation,
neither the king nor the British ministers, Hotham and Dubourgay, for
a moment lost sight of their settled policy. The king remained firm
in his silent resolve to consent only to the marriage of Wilhelmina
and the Prince of Wales. Hotham and Dubourgay could not swerve from
the positive instructions which they had received, to insist upon
both marriages or neither. Thus, notwithstanding this bacchanal
jollification, neither party was disposed to swerve a hair’s breadth
from its fixed resolve, and the question was no nearer a settlement
than before.

Still, most of the courtly carousers did not comprehend this. And when
the toast to Wilhelmina as Princess of Wales was received with such
acclaim, they supposed that all doubt was at an end. The news flew
upon the wings of the wind to Berlin. It was late in the afternoon of
Monday, April 30. Wilhelmina writes:

“I was sitting quiet in my apartment, busy with work, and some one
reading to me, when the queen’s ladies rushed in, with a torrent of
domestics in their rear, who all bawled out, putting one knee to the
ground, that they were come to salute the Princess of Wales. I fairly
believed these poor people had lost their wits. They would not cease
overwhelming me with noise and tumult; their joy was so great they knew
not what they did. When the farce had lasted some time, they told me
what had occurred at the dinner.

“I was so little moved by it that I answered, going on with my work,
‘Is that all?’ which greatly surprised them. A while after, my sisters
and several ladies came to congratulate me. I was much loved, and I
felt more delighted at the proofs each gave me of that than at what had
occasioned their congratulations. In the evening I went to the queen’s.
You may readily conceive her joy. On my first entrance she called
me her dear Princess of Wales, and addressed Madam De Sonsfeld as
‘Miladi.’ This latter took the liberty of hinting to her that it would
be better to keep quiet; that the king, having yet given no notice of
this business, might be provoked at such demonstration, and that the
least trifle could still ruin all her hopes.”

The king, upon his return from Charlottenburg to Berlin, made no
allusion whatever in his family to the matter. In the court, however,
it was generally considered that the question, so far as Wilhelmina was
concerned, was settled. Hotham held daily interviews with the king, and
received frequent communications from the Prince of Wales, who appears
to have been very eager for the consummation of the marriage. Many of
these letters were shown to Wilhelmina. She was much gratified with the
fervor they manifested on the part of a lover who had never yet seen
her. In one of these letters the prince says: “I conjure you, my dear
Hotham, get these negotiations finished. I am madly in love (_amoureux
comme un fou_), and my impatience is unequaled.”

The question arises, Why was Frederick William so averse to the
marriage of Fritz with the Princess Amelia? Probably the real reason
was his rooted antipathy to his son, and his consequent unwillingness
to do any thing which would promote his interests or increase his
influence. His advisers strengthened him in this sentiment. The English
were very unpopular at Berlin. Their assumption of superiority over all
other peoples was a constant annoyance. The Prussian king said to his
confidential friends,

“If the English Princess Amelia come here as the bride of my son, she
will bring with her immense wealth. Accustomed to grandeur, she will
look contemptuously upon our simplicity. With her money she can dazzle
and bribe. I hate my son. He hates me. Aided by the gold of England,
my son can get up a party antagonistic to me. No! I will never, never
consent to his marrying the Princess Amelia. If he is never married it
is no matter. Fortunately I have other sons, and the succession will
not be disturbed.”[10]

The king had made many efforts to force his son to surrender his rights
of primogeniture, and to sign an act renouncing his claim to the
succession of the Prussian throne in favor of his next brother. His
only answer was, “Declare my birth illegitimate, and I will give up the
throne.” But the king could never consent to fix such a stain upon the
honor of his wife.

And why was George II. so averse to the single marriage of the Prince
of Wales to Wilhelmina? It is supposed that the opposition arose
simply from his own mulish obstinacy. He hated his brother-in-law, the
Prussian king. He was a weak, ill-tempered man; and having once said
“_Both marriages or none_,” nothing could induce him to swerve from
that position. In such a difficulty, with such men, there could be no
possible compromise.

George II. was far from popular in England. There was but little in the
man to win either affection or esteem. The Prince of Wales was also
daily becoming more disliked. He was assuming haughty airs. He was very
profligate, and his associates were mainly actresses and opera girls.
The Prussian minister at London, who was opposed to any matrimonial
connection whatever between the Prussian and the English court, watched
the Prince of Wales very narrowly, and wrote home quite unfavorable
reports respecting his character and conduct. He had searched out the
fact that Fritz had written to his aunt, Queen Caroline, pledging to
her his word “never to marry any body in the world except the Princess
Amelia of England, happen what will.” This fact was reported to the
king, greatly exciting his wrath.

To obviate the difficulty of the Crown Prince becoming the head of
a party in Berlin antagonistic to the king, the plan was suggested
of having him appointed, with his English princess, vice-regent of
Hanover. But this plan failed. Hotham now became quite discouraged. He
wrote home, on the 22d of April, that he had that day dined with the
king; that the Crown Prince was present, but dreadfully dejected, and
that great sympathy was excited in his behalf, as he was so engaging
and so universally popular. He evidently perceived some indications
of superiority in the Crown Prince, for he added, “If I am not much
mistaken, this young prince will one day make a very considerable
figure.”

After much diplomatic toil, the ultimatum obtained from Frederick
William was the ever inflexible answer: “1. The marriage of the Prince
of Wales to Wilhelmina I consent to. 2. The marriage of the Crown
Prince Frederick with the Princess Amelia must be postponed. I hope it
may eventually take place.”

Hotham, quite indignant, sent this dispatch, dated May 13, to London,
including with it a very earnest letter from the Crown Prince to his
uncle, in which Fritz wrote:

“The Crown Prince begs his Britannic majesty not to reject the king’s
proposals, whatever they may be, for his sister Wilhelmina’s sake. For,
though the Crown Prince is determined to lose his life sooner than
marry any body but the Princess Amelia, yet, if this negotiation were
broken off, his father would go to extremities to force him and his
sister into other engagements.”

The return mail brought back, under date of May 22, the stereotype
British answer: “Both marriages or none.” Just before the reception of
this reply, as Colonel Hotham was upon the eve of leaving Berlin, the
Crown Prince addressed to him, from Potsdam, the following interesting
letter:

“MONSIEUR, - I believe that it is of the last importance that
I should write to you, and I am very sad to have things to say
which I ought to conceal from all the earth. But one must take
that bad leap, and, reckoning you among my friends, I the more
easily resolve to open myself to you.

“The case is this: I am treated in an unheard of manner by the
king; and I know that there are terrible things in preparation
against me touching certain letters which I wrote last winter,
of which I believe you are informed. In a word, to speak frankly
to you, the real, secret reason why the king will not consent to
this marriage is, that he wishes to keep me on a low footing
constantly, and to have the power of driving me mad whenever the
whim takes him, throughout his life. Thus he will never give his
consent.

“For my own part, therefore, I believe it would be better to
conclude my sister’s marriage in the first place, and not even
to ask from the king any assurance in regard to mine, the rather
as his word has nothing to do with it. It is enough that I here
reiterate the promises which I have already made to the king, my
uncle, never to take another wife than his second daughter, the
Princess Amelia. I am a person of my word, and shall be able to
bring about what I set forth, provided that there is trust put in
me. I promise it to you. And now you may give your court notice
of it, and I shall manage to keep my promise. I remain yours
always.”

In June, 1730, Augustus, King of Poland, had one of the most
magnificent military reviews of which history gives any record. The
camp of Mühlberg, as it was called, was established upon an undulating
field, twelve miles square, on the right bank of the Elbe, a few
leagues below Dresden. It is hardly too much to say that all the beauty
and chivalry of Europe were gathered upon that field. Fabulous amounts
of money and of labor were expended to invest the scene with the utmost
sublimity of splendor. A military review had great charms for Frederick
William. He attended as one of the most distinguished of the invited
guests. The Crown Prince accompanied the king, as his father dared not
leave him behind. But Fritz was exposed to every mortification and
every species of ignominy which the ingenuity of this monster parent
could heap upon him.

In the presence of monarchs, of lords and ladies, of the highest
dignitaries of Europe, the young heir apparent to the throne of
Prussia, beautiful in person, high-spirited, and of superior genius,
was treated by his father with studied contumely and insult. Every
thing was done to expose him to contempt. He even openly flogged the
prince with his rattan. It would seem that the father availed himself
of this opportunity so to torture the sensibilities of his son as to
drive him to suicide. Professor Ranke writes:

“In that pleasure-camp of Mühlberg, where the eyes of many strangers
were directed to him, the Crown Prince was treated like a disobedient
boy, and at one time even with blows, to make him feel that he was
such. The enraged king, who never weighed the consequences of his
words, added mockery to his manual outrage. ‘Had I been so treated,’ he
said, ‘by my father, I would have blown my brains out. But this fellow
has no honor. He takes all that comes.’”

It would seem that if ever there were an excuse for suicide it was to
be found here. But what folly it would have been! Dark as these days
were, they led the prince to a crown, and to achievements of whose
recital the world will never grow weary. Fritz, goaded to madness,
again adopted the desperate resolve to attempt an escape. A young
Englishman, Captain Guy Dickens, secretary of the British embassador,
Dubourgay, had become quite the intimate friend of the Crown Prince.
They conferred together upon plans of escape. But the precautions
adopted by the father were such that no plan which they could devise
seemed feasible at that time. Fritz confided his thoughts to his
friend, Lieutenant Keith, at Berlin.

It is probable that the suspicions of the king were excited, for
suddenly he sent Lieutenant Keith to a garrison at Wesel, at a great
distance from Berlin, in a small Prussian province far down the
Rhine. The three had, however, concocted the following plan, to be
subsequently executed. Immediately after the return from Mühlberg the
king was to undertake a long journey to the Rhine. The Crown Prince,
as usual, was to be dragged along with him. In this journey they would
pass through Stuttgart, within a few miles of Strasbourg, which was on
the French side of the river. From Stuttgart the prince was to escape
in disguise, on fleetest horses, to Strasbourg, and thence proceed
to London. Colonel Hotham, who had accompanied the Prussian king to
the camp of Mühlberg, was apprised of all this by his secretary. He
immediately dispatched the secretary, on the 16th of June, to convey
the confidential intelligence to London.

At the close of these festivities at Mühlberg Frederick William and
his suite took boat down the River Elbe to his hunting palace at
Lichtenberg. Here they killed, in a grand hunting bout, a thousand
animals, boars and deer. The Crown Prince, dishonored by insults
which he could not revenge, and stung to the quick by innumerable
humiliations, followed, dejected, like a guarded captive, in the train
of his father. The unhappy prince had but just returned to his garrison
at Potsdam, where spies ever kept their eyes vigilantly upon him, when
his friend, Captain Guy Dickens, brought him the answer, returned from
London, to the confidential communication of the Crown Prince to his
uncle, the British king. The substance of the document was as follows:

“Mr. Guy Dickens may give to the prince the assurance of the deep
compassion which the king feels in view of the sad condition in which
the prince finds himself, and of the sincere desire of his majesty to
aid, by all the means in his power, to extricate him. While waiting
the result of some negotiations now on foot, his majesty is of the
opinion that it would be best for the prince to defer for a time his
present design; that the present critical state of affairs in Europe
do not present a favorable opportunity for the execution of the
contemplated plan; that the idea of retiring to France demands very
careful deliberation; and that there is not time now to ascertain how
such a step would be regarded by the French court, which his majesty
would think to be essential before he advise a prince so dear to him to
withdraw to that country.”

Soon after this, Colonel Hotham, having received a gross insult from
the king, demanded his passports. The English embassador had presented
the king with a document from his court. Frederick William angrily
threw the paper upon the floor, exclaiming, “I have had enough of those
things!” and, turning upon his heel, left the room. Colonel Hotham, a
high-bred English gentleman, could not brook such an indignity, not
only to himself, but to his sovereign. The passionate king had scarcely
left the apartment before he perceived the impolicy of his conduct. He
tried to make amends. But Colonel Hotham, justly regarding it as an
insult to his court, persisted in demanding his passports, and returned
to London. The Crown Prince in vain begged Colonel Hotham to remain.
Very properly he replied that the incivility was addressed to his king,
and that it was for him only to judge what satisfaction was due for the
indignity offered.

All negotiation in reference to the marriages was now apparently at an
end. Lieutenant Katte remained at Potsdam. In the absence of Lieutenant
Keith he became more than ever the friend and confidant of the Crown
Prince. Wilhelmina, aware of the dissipated character of Katte, mourned
over this intimacy. The king was very much annoyed by the blunder of
which he himself had been guilty in insulting the court of England in
the person of its embassador. He declared, in his vexation, that he
would never again treat in person with a foreign minister; that his hot
temper rendered it unsafe for him to do so.

He informed Wilhelmina that the question of her marriage with the
Prince of Wales was now settled forever, and that, as she declined
taking the Duke of Weissenfels for a husband, she might prepare to
retire to the abbey of Hereford, a kind of Protestant nunnery for
ladies of quality, who, for any reason, wished to be buried from
the world. He mercilessly resolved to make her the abbess of this
institution. This living burial was almost the last situation to suit
the taste of Wilhelmina. The king was in the worst possible humor. “He
bullies and outrages his poor Crown Prince almost worse than ever.
There have been rattan showers hideous to think of, descending this
very week (July, 1730) on the fine head and far into the high heart of
a royal young man, who can not in the name of manhood endure, and must
not in the name of sonhood resist, and vainly calls to all the gods to
teach him what he shall do in this intolerable, inextricable state of
affairs.”[11]

As soon as Hotham had left Berlin the Crown Prince held a secret
midnight interview with Captain Dickens and Lieutenant Katte, to devise
some new plan of escape during the journey to the Rhine, which was to
commence in a few days. He made arrangements to leave all his private
papers with Katte, provided himself with a large gray overcoat as a
partial disguise, and, with much difficulty, obtained about a thousand
ducats to defray his expenses. Lieutenant Keith was at Wesel. He was
written to with the utmost secrecy, as he might be able to render
efficient aid, could the Crown Prince reach him.

On Saturday, the 15th of July, 1730, the king, with a small train,
which really guarded Fritz, set out at an early hour from Potsdam on
this memorable journey. Three reliable officers of the king occupied
the same carriage with Fritz, with orders to keep a strict watch over
him, and never to leave him alone. Thus, throughout the journey,
one of his guards sat by his side, and the other two on the seat
facing him. The king was not a luxurious traveler. He seemed to covet



Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 7 of 52)