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hardship and fatigue. Post-horses were provided all along the route.
The meteoric train rushed along, scarcely stopping for food or sleep,
but occasionally delayed by business of inspection, until it reached
Anspach, where the king’s beautiful daughter, then but sixteen years of
age, resided with her uncongenial husband. Here the Crown Prince had
some hope of escape. He endeavored to persuade his brother-in-law, the
young Marquis of Anspach, to lend him a pair of saddle-horses, and to
say nothing about it. But the characterless young man, suspecting his
brother, and dreading the wrath of his terrible father-in-law, refused,
with many protestations of good-will.

When near Augsburg, Fritz wrote a letter to Lieutenant Katte, stating
that he should embrace the first opportunity to escape to the Hague;
that there he should assume the name of the Count of Alberville. He
wished Katte to join him there, and to bring with him the overcoat and
the one thousand ducats which he had left in his hands. On Thursday,
August 3d, the royal party reached the little hamlet of Steinfurth, not
far from the Rhine. Here, as was not unfrequently the case, they slept
in barns, carefully swept and prepared for them. The usual hour of
starting was three o’clock in the morning.

Just after midnight, the prince, seeing his associates soundly asleep,
cautiously rose, dressed, and crept out into the open air. He had
secretly made arrangements with his valet, a brother of Lieutenant
Keith, to meet him with some horses on the village green. He reached
the green. His valet soon appeared with the horses. Just at that
moment, one of his guard, Rochow, who had been aroused by a servant
whom he had left secretly on the watch, came forward through the gloom
of the night, and, sternly addressing Keith, inquired, “Sirrah, what
are you doing with those horses?” With much self-possession Keith
replied, “I am getting the horses ready for the hour of starting.” “His
majesty,” Rochow replied, “does not start till five o’clock. Take the
horses directly back to the stable.”

[Illustration: THE FLIGHT ARRESTED.]

Keith, trembling in every limb, returned to the stable. Though Rochow
pretended not to suspect any attempt at escape, it was manifestly
pretense only. The prince had provided himself with a red overcoat as
a disguise to his uniform, the gray one having been left with Katte
at Potsdam. As Fritz was returning to the barn with Rochow, wearing
this suspicious garment, they met the minister Seckendorf, whom Fritz
and his mother thoroughly hated as one of the counselors of the king.
Very coolly and cuttingly Rochow inquired of Seckendorf, “How do you
like his royal highness in the red overcoat?” It was a desperate game
these men were playing; for, should the king suddenly die, Fritz would
surely inherit the crown, and they would be entirely at his mercy.
All hope of escape seemed now to vanish, and the prince was quite in

The king was doubtless informed of all that had occurred. They reached
Manheim the next night. Keith was so terrified, fearing that his life
would be the penalty, that he there threw himself upon his knees
before the king, confessing all, and imploring pardon. The king, in
tones of intense agitation, informed the vigilance trio that death
would be their inevitable doom if they allowed the prince to escape.
Thus far the prince had been nominally free. Those who occupied the
carriage with him - Rochow, Waldau, and Buddenbrock - had assumed to
be merely his traveling companions. Their office of guardship had been
scrupulously concealed. But henceforth he was regarded and treated as a
culprit in the custody of his jailers.

The king, smothering his wrath, did not immediately seek an
interview with his son. But the next day, encountering him, he said,
sarcastically, “Ah! you are still here, then; I thought that by this
time you would have been in Paris.” The prince, somewhat emboldened by
despair, ventured to reply, “I certainly could have been there had I
wished it.”

At Frankfort-on-the-Main the party were to take boats to descend the
river. The prince was informed that the king had given express orders
that he should not be permitted to enter the town, but that he should
be conducted immediately to one of the royal yachts. Here the king
received an intercepted letter from the Crown Prince to Lieutenant
Katte. Boiling with indignation, he stalked on board the yacht, and
assailed his captive son in the coarsest and most violent language of
abuse. In the frenzy of his passion he seized Fritz by the collar,
shook him, hustled him about, tore out handfuls of hair, and thrust his
cane into his face, causing the blood to gush from his nose. “Never
before,” exclaimed the unhappy prince, pathetically, “did a Brandenburg
face suffer the like of this.”

The king then, having ordered his guard to watch him with the utmost
vigilance, assuring them that their heads should answer for it if
they allowed him to escape, sent his son to another boat. He was
prevailed upon to do so, as no one could tell to what length the king’s
ungovernable passions might lead him.

The royal yachts glided down the Main to the Rhine, and thence down the
Rhine to Wesel. Probably a heavier heart than that of the prince never
floated upon that world-renowned stream. Lost in painful musings, he
had no eye to gaze upon the picturesque scenes of mountain, forest,
castle, and ruins through which they were gliding. At Bonn he had an
interview with Seckendorf, whose influence was great with his father,
and whom he hoped to interest in his favor. To him he said,

“I intended to have escaped at Steinfurth. I can not endure the
treatment which I receive from my father - his abuse and blows. I
should have escaped long ago had it not been for the condition in which
I should have thus left my mother and sister. I am so miserable that I
care but little for my own life. My great anxiety is for those officers
who have been my friends, and who are implicated in my attempts. If
the king will promise to pardon them, I will make a full confession
of every thing. If you can help me in these difficulties, I shall be
forever grateful to you.”

It is probable that even Seckendorf was somewhat moved by this pathetic
appeal. Fritz succeeded in sending a letter to the post-office,
addressed to Lieutenant Keith at Wesel, containing simply the words
“_Sauvez vous; tout est decouvert_” (Save yourself; all is found out).
Keith received the letter but an hour or so before a colonel of gens
d’armes arrived to arrest him. Seckendorf had an interview with the
king, and seems to have endeavored to mitigate his wrath. He assured
the infuriate monarch of his son’s repentance, and of his readiness to
make a full confession if his father would spare those who had been led
by their sympathies to befriend him. The unrelenting father received
this message very sullenly, saying that he had no faith that his son
would make an honest confession, but that he would see what he had to
say for himself.

At Geldern, when within a few miles of Wesel, the king’s wrath flamed
up anew as he learned that Lieutenant Keith had escaped. The imperiled
young officer, warned of his danger, had saddled his horse as if for an
evening ride in the country. He passed out at one of the gates of the
city, and, riding gently till darkness came, he put spurs to his horse
and escaped to the Hague. Here, through the friendly offices of Lord
Chesterfield, the British embassador, he embarked for England. The
authorities there received him kindly, and he entered the British army.
For ten years he was heard of no more. The king dispatched officers in
pursuit of the fugitive, and redoubled the vigilance with which Fritz
was guarded.

Upon the king’s arrival at Wesel he ordered his culprit son to be
brought on shore and to be arraigned before him. It was Saturday
evening, August 12, 1730. A terrible scene ensued. The despairing Crown
Prince, tortured by injustice, was not disposed to humble himself
before his father. Receiving no assurance that his friends would
be pardoned, he evaded all attempts to extort from him confessions
which would implicate them. General Mosel alone was present at this

“Why,” asked the king, furiously, “did you attempt to desert?”

“I wished to escape,” the prince boldly replied, “because you did not
treat me like a son, but like an abject slave.”

“You are a cowardly deserter,” the father exclaimed, “devoid of all
feelings of honor.”

“I have as much honor as you have,” the son replied; “and I have only
done that which I have heard you say a hundred times you would have
done yourself had you been treated as I have been.”

The wrath of the king was now ungovernable. He drew his sword,
threatening to thrust it through the heart of his son, and seemed upon
the point of doing so, when General Mosel threw himself before the
king, exclaiming, “Sire, you may kill me, but spare your son.”[12]

The prince was withdrawn, and placed in a room where two sentries
watched over him with fixed bayonets. The king malignantly assumed that
the prince, being a colonel in the army and attempting to escape, was a
_deserter_, whose merited doom was death. General Mosel urged the king
not to see his son again, as his presence was sure to inflame his anger
to so alarming a pitch. The father did not again see him for a year and
three days.

A stern military commission was, however, appointed to interrogate the
prince from questions drawn up by the king. The examination took place
the next day. The prince confessed that it was his intention to cross
the Rhine at the nearest point, and to repair to Strasbourg, in France.
There he intended to enlist incognito as a volunteer in the French
army. He refused to tell how he obtained his money, or to make any
revelations which would implicate his friends Katte and Keith.


As this report was made to the king, he exclaimed, angrily, “Let him
lie in ward, then, and await the doom which the laws adjudge to him. He
is my colonel. He has attempted to desert. He has endeavored to induce
others to desert with him. The law speaks plainly enough as to the
penalty for such crimes.”

In the mean time, the queen and Wilhelmina, at Berlin, unconscious of
the dreadful tidings they were soon to receive, were taking advantage
of the absence of the king in seeking a few hours of social enjoyment.
They gave a ball at the pretty little palace of Monbijou, on the banks
of the Spree, a short distance out from Berlin. In the midst of the
entertainment the queen received, by a courier, the following dispatch
from Frederick William:

“I have arrested the rascal Fritz. I shall treat him as his crime and
his cowardice merit. He has dishonored me and all my family. So great a
wretch is no longer worthy to live.”

Wilhelmina, in the following graphic narrative, describes the scene:
“Mamma had given a ball in honor of papa’s birthday. We recommenced the
ball after supper. For six years I had not danced before. It was new
fruit, and I took my fill of it, without heeding much what was passing.
Madam Bulow, who, with others, had worn long faces all night, pleading
illness when one noticed it, said to me several times,

“‘It is late. I wish you had done.’

“‘Oh dear me!’ I exclaimed; ‘do let me have enough of dancing this one
new time. It may be long before it comes again.’

“She returned to me an hour after, and said, with a vexed air, ‘Will
you end, then? You are so engaged you have eyes for nothing.’

“I replied, ‘You are in such a humor I know not what to make of it.’

“‘Look at the queen, then,’ she added, ‘and you will cease to reproach

“A glance which I gave that way filled me with terror. There sat the
queen, in a corner of the room, paler than death, in low conference
with Madam Sonsfeld and Countess Finckenstein. As my brother was most
in my anxieties, I asked if it concerned him. Madam Bulow shrugged her
shoulders, answering, ‘I do not know at all.’”

They repaired to the carriage, which was immediately ordered. Not a
word was spoken until they reached the palace. Wilhelmina did not
venture to ask any questions. Fearing that her brother was dead, she
was in terrible trepidation. Having arrived at the palace, Madam
Sonsfeld informed her of the contents of the dispatch.


The next morning they learned that Lieutenant Katte had been arrested.
All the private papers of Fritz were left, under Katte’s charge, in
a small writing-desk. These letters would implicate both the mother
and the daughter. They were terror-stricken. Count Finckenstein, who
was in high authority, was their friend. Through him, by the aid of
Madam Finckenstein, they obtained the desk. It was locked and sealed.
Despair stimulated their ingenuity. They succeeded in getting the
letters. To destroy them and leave nothing in their place would only
rouse to greater fury the suspicion and rage of the king. The letters
were taken out and burned. The queen and Wilhelmina immediately set
to work writing new ones, of a very different character, with which
to replace them. For three days they thus labored almost incessantly,
writing between six and seven hundred letters. They were so careful to
avoid any thing which might lead to detection that paper was employed
for each letter bearing the date of the year in which the letter was
supposed to be written. “Fancy the mood,” writes Carlyle, “of these
two royal women, and the black whirlwind they were in. Wilhelmina’s
dispatch was incredible. Pen went at the gallop night and day. New
letters of old date and of no meaning are got into the desk again, the
desk closed without mark of injury, and shoved aside while it is yet

Wesel was the fortress of a small province belonging to Prussia, on the
Rhine, many leagues from Berlin. The intervening territory belonged
to Hanover and Hesse Cassel. The king ordered his captive son to be
taken, under a strong guard, by circuitous roads, so as not to attract
attention, to the castle of Mittenwalde, near Berlin. The king then
started for home, probably as wretched as he was making every body
about him. After a very rapid journey, he reached Berlin late in the
afternoon of Sunday, the 27th of August, 1730. It was the evening after
the fabrication of the letters had been completed. We give, from the
graphic pen of Wilhelmina, the account of the king’s first interview
with his family:

“The queen was alone, in his majesty’s apartment, waiting for him as he
approached. As soon as he saw her at the end of the suite of rooms, and
long before he arrived in the one where she was, he cried out, ‘Your
unworthy son has at last ended himself. You have done with him.’

“‘What!’ cried the queen, ‘have you had the barbarity to kill him?’

“‘Yes, I tell you,’ the king replied; ‘but I must have his
writing-case.’ For he had already informed himself that it was in the
queen’s possession.

“The queen went to her own apartment to fetch it. I ran in to her there
for a moment. She was out of her senses, wringing her hands, crying
incessantly, and exclaiming, ‘O God, my son, my son!’ Breath failed me.
I fell fainting into the arms of Madam Sonsfeld. The queen took the
writing-desk to the king. He immediately broke it open and tore out
the letters, with which he went away. The queen came back to us. We
were comforted by the assurance, from some of the attendants, that my
brother at least was not dead.

“Pretty soon the king came back, and we, his children, ran to pay our
respects to him, by kissing his hands. But he no sooner noticed me than
rage and fury took possession of him. He became black in the face, his
eyes sparkling fire, his mouth foaming. ‘Infamous wretch!’ said he,
‘dare you show yourself before me? Go and keep your scoundrel brother

“So saying, he seized me with one hand, striking me several blows in
the face with the other fist. One of the blows struck me on the temple,
so that I fell back, and should have split my head against a corner of
the wainscot had not Madam Sonsfeld caught me by the head-dress and
broken the fall. I lay on the floor without consciousness. The king, in
his frenzy, proceeded to kick me out of a window which opened to the
floor. The queen, my sisters, and the rest, ran between, preventing
him. They all ranged themselves around me, which gave Mesdames De
Kamecke and Sonsfeld time to pick me up. They put me in a chair in an
embrasure of a window. Madam Sonsfeld supported my head, which was
wounded and swollen with the blows I had received. They threw water
upon my face to bring me to life, which care I lamentably reproached
them with, death being a thousand times better in the pass things had
come to. The queen was shrieking. Her firmness had entirely abandoned
her. She ran wildly about the room, wringing her hands in despair.
My brothers and sisters, of whom the youngest was not more than four
years old, were on their knees begging for me. The king’s face was so
disfigured with rage that it was frightful to look upon.

“The king now admitted that my brother was still alive, but vowed
horribly that he would put him to death, and lay me fast within four
walls for the rest of my life. He accused me of being the prince’s
accomplice, whose crime was high treason. ‘I hope now,’ he said,
‘to have evidence enough to convict the rascal Fritz and the wretch
Wilhelmina, and to cut their heads off. As for Fritz, he will always,
if he lives, be a worthless fellow. I have three other sons, who will
all turn out better than he has done.’

“‘Oh, spare my brother,’ I cried, ‘and I will marry the Duke of
Weissenfels.’ But in the great noise he did not hear me. And while I
strove to repeat it louder, Madam Sonsfeld clapped her handkerchief
on my mouth. Pushing aside to get rid of the handkerchief, I saw Katte
crossing the square. Four soldiers were conducting him to the king. My
brother’s trunks and his were following in the rear. Pale and downcast,
he took off his hat to salute me. He fell at the king’s feet imploring


The king kicked him, and struck him several heavy blows with his cane.
He was hit repeatedly in the face, and blood gushed from the wounds.
With his own hands the king tore from Katte’s breast the cross of the
Order of Saint John. After this disgraceful scene the interrogatory
commenced. Katte confessed all the circumstances of the prince’s
intended escape, but denied that there had been any design against the
king or the state. His own and the prince’s letters were examined,
but nothing was found in them to criminate either. Katte was then
remanded to prison. Wilhelmina, after receiving the grossest possible
insults from her father, who accused her, in coarsest terms, of being
the paramour of Lieutenant Katte, was ordered to her room. Two sentries
were placed at her door, and directions were given that she should be
fed only on prison fare.

“Tell your unworthy daughter,” said the king to the queen, “that her
room is to be her prison. I shall give orders to have the guard there
doubled. I shall have her examined in the most rigorous manner, and
will afterward have her removed to some fit place, where she may repent
of her crimes.”

The whole city of Berlin was agitated by the rumor of these events.
The violent scene in the palace had taken place in an apartment on the
ground floor. The loud and angry tones of the king, the shrieks of the
queen, the cries of the children, the general clamor, had so attracted
the attention of the passers-by that a large crowd had assembled before
the windows. It was necessary to call out the guard to disperse them.
Difficult as it was to exaggerate outrages so infamous, still they were
exaggerated. The report went to all foreign courts that the king, in
his ungovernable rage, had knocked down the Princess Wilhelmina and
trampled her to death beneath his feet.



Spirited Conduct of Fritz. - Fortress of Cüstrin. - Prison Fare. -
Wilhelmina’s Captivity. - Sad Fate of Doris Ritter. - Motives of
the King. - Doom of Lieutenant Katte. - Pathetic Supplications. -
The Execution. - Peril of Fritz. - Theology of the King. - Letter
from Fritz. - Sufferings of Wilhelmina. - Brutality of the King. -
Wilhelmina brought to Terms.

The captive Crown Prince was conveyed from Wesel to the castle of
Mittenwalde, where he was imprisoned in a room without furniture or
bed. An old chest which chanced to be there was his only seat. One
of the king’s favorite ministers, Grumkow, with other officials, was
sent to interrogate him. The prince, probably aware that nothing which
he could now do could make matters worse than they actually were,
displayed much spirit in the interview. Frankly avowing his intention
to escape, he refused to make any disclosures which should implicate
his friends. Grumkow insolently informed him that the use of the rack
was not yet abolished in his majesty’s dominions, and that, if he were
not more pliant, the energies of that instrument might be called into
requisition. Frederick admitted afterward that his blood ran cold at
that suggestion. Still he had the nerve to reply, according to the
testimony of Wilhelmina,

“A hangman such as you naturally takes pleasure in talking of his tools
and of his trade, but on me they will produce no effect. I have owned
every thing, and almost regret to have done so. I ought not to degrade
myself by answering the questions of a scoundrel such as you are.”

Grumkow gathered up his papers, and, with his associate officials,
departed, probably meditating upon his own prospects should the Crown
Prince ever become King of Prussia. The next day, September 5, the
captive was taken from the castle of Mittenwalde, and sent to the
fortress of Cüstrin, a small and quiet town about seventy miles from
Berlin. The strong, dungeon-like room in which he was incarcerated
consisted of bare walls, without any furniture, the light being
admitted by a single aperture so high that the prince could not look
out at it. He was divested of his uniform, of his sword, of every mark
of dignity.

Coarse brown clothes of plainest cut were furnished him. His flute was
taken from him, and he was deprived of all books but the Bible and a
few devotional treatises. He was allowed a daily sum, amounting to
twelve cents of our money, for his food - eight cents for his dinner
and four for his supper. His food was purchased at a cook-shop near by,
and cut for him. He was not permitted the use of a knife. The door was
opened three times a day for ventilation - morning, noon, and night - but
not for more than four minutes each time. A single tallow-candle
was allowed him; but that was to be extinguished at seven o’clock in
the evening.

Thus deprived of all the ordinary comforts of life, the prince, in
the nineteenth year of his age, was consigned to an imprisonment
of absolute solitude. For weeks and months he was left to his own
agitating thoughts, with the apparent blighting of every earthly hope,
awaiting whatever doom his merciless father might award to him. His
jailers, not unmindful of the embarrassing fact that their captive
might yet become King of Prussia, with their fate in his hands,
gradually treated him with all the secret kindness which they dared to

[Illustration: FREDERICK IN PRISON.]

Though Wilhelmina was also a close prisoner in her apartment in the
Berlin palace, and was fed upon the coarsest fare, she still had a
comfortable room, her musical instruments, and the companionship of
her governess, Madam Sonsfeld. It was rather a relief to the unhappy
princess to be shut out from the presence of her father and from the
sound of his voice. She occasionally obtained a smuggled letter from
her mother, and even got one, in pencil, from her brother, full of
expressions of tenderness.

All the friends of Fritz were treated by the infuriate father with
the most cruel severity. No mercy was shown to any one who had ever
given the slightest indication of sympathy with the Crown Prince. A
bookseller, who had furnished Fritz with French books, was cruelly
exiled to the remote shores of the Baltic, on the extreme northern

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 8 of 52)