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History of Frederick the Second online

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frontiers of Prussia. A French gentleman, Count Montholieu, who had
loaned the Crown Prince money, would probably have perished upon the
scaffold had he not escaped by flight. His effigy was nailed to the

There was a young lady in Potsdam by the name of Doris Ritter. She was
the daughter of highly respectable parents, and was of unblemished
character. As Fritz was extremely fond of music, and she played sweetly
on the harpsichord, he loaned her pieces of music, and occasionally,
under the eye of her parents, accompanied her with the flute. The life
of a colonel in garrison at Potsdam was so dull, that this innocent
amusement was often quite a help in beguiling the weary hours.

The young lady was not beautiful, and there was no evidence of the
slightest improprieties, or of any approach even to flirtation. But the
infuriate king, who, without the shadow of reason, could accuse his own
daughter of infamy, caused this young lady, under the pretext that she
had been the guilty intimate of his son, to be taken from her parents,
to be delivered to the executioners, and to be publicly conveyed in a
cart and whipped on the bare back through the principal streets of the
town. She was then imprisoned, and doomed to beat hemp as a culprit for
three years.

One’s faith in a superintending Providence is almost staggered by such
outrages. It would seem that there could scarcely be any compensation
even in the future world for so foul a wrong inflicted upon this
guileless and innocent girl. There can be no possible solution of the
mystery but in the decree, “After death cometh the judgment.”


“It is impossible,” writes Lord Dover, “not to perceive that the real
reason of his conduct was his enmity to his son, and that the crime of
the poor girl was the having assisted in making the son’s existence
more supportable. The intention of Frederick William apparently
being that the infliction of so infamous a punishment in so public a
manner should prevent the possibility of Frederick’s ever seeing her

A court-martial was convened to pronounce sentence upon the Crown
Prince and his confederates. The court was appointed by the king, and
consisted of three major generals, three colonels, three lieutenant
colonels, three majors, three captains, and three belonging to the
civil courts, called auditors. The court, thus composed of eighteen
members, met on the 20th of October, 1730, in the little town of
Copenick, a few miles from Berlin. Grumkow, well aware that these
proceedings would attract the attention of every court in Europe, had
persuaded the king to submit to the formality of a court-martial.

It was well understood that a verdict was to be returned in accordance
with the wishes of the king, and also that the king desired that no
mercy should be shown to his son.[15] After a session of six days the
verdict of the court was rendered. The crime of the Crown Prince, in
endeavoring to escape from the brutality of his father, was declared to
be _desertion_, and the penalty was death. Lieutenant Keith was also
declared to be a deserter, and doomed to die. But as he had escaped,
and could not be recaptured, he was sentenced to be hanged in effigy,
which effigy was then to be cut in four quarters and nailed to the
gallows at Wesel. Lieutenant Katte, who certainly had not deserted, and
whose only crime was that he had been a confidant of the Crown Prince
in his plan to escape, was condemned to imprisonment in a fortress for
two years, some say for life.

The king approved of the first two sentences of the court. The mildness
of the last roused his indignation. “Katte,” he exclaimed, “is guilty
of high treason. He shall die by the sword of the headsman. It is
better that he should die than that justice depart out of the world.”
His doom was thus fixed as irreversible as fate.

Fortunately for the young man’s mother, she was in her grave. His
father was at that time commandant of Königsberg, in high favor
with the king. His illustrious grandfather on his mother’s side,
Field-marshal Wartensleben, was still living. For half a century he
had worthily occupied the most eminent posts of honor. The tears, the
agonizing entreaties of these friends were not of the slightest avail.
The king’s heart was as impervious to appeals for mercy as are the
cliffs of Sinai.

There are several letters still remaining which Lieutenant Katte wrote
to his friends during those hours of anguish in which he was awaiting
his death. No one can read them without compassionate emotion, and
without execrating the memory of that implacable tyrant who so unjustly
demanded his execution. The young man wrote to the king a petition
containing the following pathetic plea:

“SIRE, - It is not to excuse myself that I address this letter
to your majesty; but, moved by sincere repentance and heartfelt
sorrow, I implore your clemency, and beseech you, sire, to have
some consideration for my youth, which renders me capable of
imprudence without any bad design.

“God does not always follow the impulse of his justice toward
sinners, but often, by his mercy, reclaims those who have gone
astray. And will not your majesty, sire, who are a resemblance
of the divinity, pardon a criminal who is guilty of disobedience
to his sovereign? The hope of pardon supports me, and I flatter
myself that your majesty will not cut me off in the flower of my
age, but will give me time to prove the effect your majesty’s
clemency will have on me.

“Sire, I own that I am guilty. Will not your majesty grant me
a pardon, which God never refuses to the greatest sinner who
sincerely confesses his sins? I shall be always ready to shed
even the last drop of my blood to show your majesty what grateful
sentiments your clemency can raise in me.”

It was all in vain. On Sunday evening, September 5th, as the condemned
young man was sitting alone in his prison cell, sadly awaiting his
doom, yet clinging to hopes of mercy, an officer entered with the
startling intelligence that the carriage was at the door to convey
him to the fortress of Cüstrin, at a few leagues distance, where he
was to be executed. For a moment he was greatly agitated. He soon,
however, regained his equanimity. It must indeed have been a fearful
communication to one in the vigor of health, in the prime of youth,
and surrounded by every thing which could render life desirable. Two
brother-officers and the chaplain accompanied him upon this dismal
midnight ride. Silence, pious conversation, prayers, and occasional
devotional hymns occupied the hours. The dawn of a cold winter’s
morning was just appearing as they reached the fortress.

His companions had no heart to witness the bloody execution of their
friend and brother-officer. The chaplain, Müller, who had accompanied
the condemned to Cüstrin, and also Besserer, the chaplain of the
garrison there, were either obliged by their official position, or
were constrained by Christian sympathy, to ride by his side in the
death-cart to the scaffold. Of the rest of his friends he took an
affectionate leave, saying, “Adieu, my brothers; may God be with you
evermore!” He was conveyed to the rampart of the castle dressed in
coarse brown garments precisely like those worn by the prince.

By order of the king, Fritz, who had also been condemned to die and
was awaiting his doom, was brought down into a lower room of the
fortress, before whose window the scaffold was erected, that he might
be compelled “to see Katte die.” At his entrance the curtains were
closed, shutting out the view of the court-yard. Upon the drawing of
the curtains, Fritz, to his horror, beheld the scaffold draped in black
on a level with the window, and directly before it.

The unhappy Crown Prince was in an agony of despair. Again and again
he frantically exclaimed, “In the name of God, I beg you to stop the
execution till I write to the king! I am ready to renounce all my
rights to the crown if he will pardon Katte!” As the condemned was
led by the window to ascend the scaffold, Fritz cried out to him, in
anguish as intense as a generous heart can endure, “Pardon me, my dear
Katte, pardon me! Oh that this should be what I have done for you!”

A smile flitted across Katte’s pallid features as he replied, “Death
is sweet for a prince I love so well.” With fortitude he ascended
the scaffold. The executioner attempted to bandage his eyes, but he
resisted, and, looking to heaven, said, “Father, into thy hands I
surrender my soul!” Four grenadiers held Fritz with his face toward the
window. Fainting, he fell senseless upon the floor. At the same moment,
by a single blow, Katte’s head rolled upon the scaffold. As the prince
recovered consciousness, he found himself still at the window, in full
view of the headless and gory corpse of his friend. Another swoon
consigned him to momentary unconsciousness.[16]


The body of Katte remained upon the scaffold during the short wintry
day, and at night was buried in one of the bastions of the fortress.
This cruel tragedy was enacted more than a century ago; but there are
few who even now can read the record without having their eyes flooded,
through the conflicting emotions of sympathy for the sufferers and
indignation against the tyrant who could perpetrate such crimes.

When Frederick returned to consciousness his misery plunged him into a
high fever. Delirium ensued, during which Chaplain Müller, who remained
with him, says that he frequently attempted to destroy himself. As
the fever abated and he became more tranquil, floods of tears gushed
from his eyes. He for some time refused to take any nourishment. It
seemed to him now that every hope in life was forever blighted. He had
no doubt that his own death was fully decided upon, and that he would
soon be led to his execution. In his moments of delirious anguish he
at times longed for death to come as speedily as possible. And again
it seemed awful to have his young life - for he was then but eighteen
years of age - cut off by the bloody sword.[17]

Chaplain Müller seems to have enjoyed the confidence of the king to
an unusual decree. He was ordered to remain at Cüstrin, and to have
daily interviews with the prince, to instruct him in religion. The king
professed to be eminently a religious man. While torturing the body and
the mind of the prince in every way, he expressed great anxiety for
the salvation of his soul. It is not strange that the example of such
a father had staggered the faith of the son. Illogically he renounced
that religion which condemned, in the severest terms, the conduct of
the father, and which caused the king often to tremble upon his throne,
appalled by the declaration, “Know thou that for all these things God
will bring thee into judgment.”

The young prince had also become dissolute in life. The sacred volume
denounced such a career as offensive to God, as sure to bring down
upon the guilty prince the divine displeasure in this life, and, if
unrepented of, in the life to come. No man who believes the Bible to be
true can, with any comfort whatever, indulge in sin. The prince wished
to indulge his passions without restraint. He therefore, thus living,
found it to be a necessity to renounce that religion which arrayed
against his sinful life all the terrors of the final judgment. A wicked
life and true Christian faith can not live in peace together. The one
or the other must be abandoned. Frederick chose to abandon Christian

It seems that the Crown Prince had an inquiring mind. He was interested
in metaphysical speculations. He had adopted, perhaps, as some excuse
for his conduct, the doctrine of predestination, that God hath
foreordained whatsoever cometh to pass. The idea that there is a power,
which Hume calls philosophical necessity, which Napoleon calls destiny,
which Calvin calls predestination, by which all events are controlled,
and that this necessity is not inconsistent with free agency, is a
doctrine which ever has commanded the assent, and probably ever will,
of many of the strongest thinkers in the world.

“The heresy about predestination,” writes Carlyle, “or the election
by free grace, as his majesty terms it, according to which a man is
preappointed, from all eternity, either to salvation or the opposite,
which is Fritz’s notion, and indeed Calvin’s, and that of many
benighted creatures, this editor among them, appears to his majesty an
altogether shocking one. What! may not deserter Fritz say to himself,
even now, or in whatever other deeps of sin he may fall into, ‘I was
foredoomed to it? How could I or how can I help it?’ The mind of his
majesty shudders as if looking over the edge of an abyss.”

Chaplain Müller was especially directed to argue with Frederick upon
this point, and, if possible, to convert him to Christianity. The
correspondence which ensued between the king and Müller is preserved.
The king wrote to the chaplain, under date of November 3d, 1730:

“I have been assured that you are an honest and pious clergyman, and a
faithful minister of the Word of God. Since, therefore, you are going
to Cüstrin, on account of the execution of Lieutenant Katte, I command
you, after the execution, to pay a visit to the Prince Royal; to reason
with him and to represent to him that whosoever abandons God is also
abandoned by God; and that, when God has abandoned a man, and has taken
away his grace from him, that man is incapable of doing what is good,
and can only do what is evil. You will exhort him to repent, and to
ask pardon for the many sins he has committed, and into which he has
seduced others, one of whom has been just punished with death.

“If you then find the prince contrite and humble, you will engage
him to fall on his knees with you, to ask pardon of God with tears
of penitence. But you must proceed with prudence and circumspection,
for the prince is cunning. You will represent to him also, in a
proper manner, the error he labors under in believing that some are
predestinated to one thing and some to another; and that thus he
who is predestinated to evil can do nothing but evil, and he who is
predestinated to good can do nothing but good, and that, consequently,
we can change nothing of what is to happen - a dreadful error,
especially in what regards our salvation.

“Now, as I hope that his present situation, and the execution which
has just taken place before his eyes, will touch and soften his heart,
and will lead him to better sentiments, I charge you, as you value
your conscience, to do all that is humanly possible to represent
forcibly to the prince these things; and particularly, in what relates
to predestination, to convince him by means of passages from the
Scriptures which satisfactorily prove what I wish you to advance.”

This letter was addressed to the “reverend, well-beloved, and faithful
Müller,” and was signed “your affectionate king.” Though the king had
not yet announced any intention of sparing the life of his son, and
probably was fully resolved upon his execution, he was manifestly
disturbed by the outcry against his proceedings raised in all the
courts of Europe. Three days before the king wrote the above letter,
the Emperor of Germany, Charles VI., had written to him, with his own
hand, earnestly interceding for the Crown Prince. In addition to the
letter, the emperor, through his minister Seckendorf, had presented a
very firm remonstrance. He announced to Frederick William that Prince
Frederick was a prince of the empire, and that he was entitled to the
protection of the laws of the Germanic body; that the heir-apparent of
the Prussian monarchy was under the safeguard of the Germanic empire,
and that the king was bound to surrender to this tribunal the accused,
and the documents relative to this trial.

The emperor was probably induced to this decisive course not merely by
motives of humanity, but also by the consideration that by thus saving
the life of Frederick he would forever attach him to the interests of
the house of Austria. The kings of Poland and Sweden also wrote to the
king, earnestly interceding for the life of the Crown Prince.

The king was at first much incensed by these attempts at interference.
It was not safe for him to bid defiance to the opinions of the
civilized world. Emotions of anger and mortification struggled in the
bosom of the king. Captain Guy Dickens, secretary of Dubourgay, writes:

“The King of Prussia can not sleep. The officers sit up with him
every night, and in his slumbers he raves and talks of spirits and

He drank deeply, wandering about by night as if possessed by fiends.
“He has not,” writes Captain Dickens, “gone to bed sober for a month
past.” Once he rose, about midnight, and, with a candle in his hand,
entered the apartment of the queen, apparently in a state of extreme
terror, saying that there was something haunting him. His agitation was
so great that a bed was made up for him there.

Two days after the death of Katte, the king wrote to Chaplain Müller,
under date of November 7th, 1730, a letter closing with the following

“As God often, by wondrous guidance, strange paths, and thorny
steps, will bring men into the kingdom of Christ, so may our
divine Redeemer help that this prodigal son be brought into his
communion; that his godless heart be beaten until it is softened
and changed, and so he be snatched from the claws of Satan. This
grant us, the Almighty God and Father, for our Lord Jesus Christ
and his passion and death’s sake. Amen.

“I am, for the rest, your well-affectioned king,

The prince supposed that the object of Muller’s visits was to
prepare him for his death. But upon receiving the full assurance
that his father contemplated pardoning him, should there be evidence
of repentance, he promised to take an oath of entire submission to
his father’s will. Seven commissioners were sent to the prison of
Cüstrin, on the 19th of November, to administer this oath with the
utmost solemnity. He was conducted to the church. A large crowd was
in attendance. A sermon appropriate to the occasion was preached. The
sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was administered to him. And then he
audibly repeated the oath and attached to it his signature.

From the church the prince was conducted, not back to his prison in the
fortress, but to a town mansion, which was assigned as his residence.
His sword was restored to him. But he was still not fully liberated.
Officials, appointed by his father, surrounded him, who watched and
reported all his movements. The first act of the young prince, upon
reaching his apartment after this partial liberation, was to write as
follows to his father. We give the letter as translated by Carlyle:

“Cüstrin, November 19, 1730.

majesty, my all-graciousest Father, I have, by my disobedience as
Their subject and soldier, not less than by my undutifulness as
Their son, given occasion to a just wrath and aversion against
me. With the all-obedientest respect I submit myself wholly
to the grace of my most All-gracious Father, and beg him most
All-graciously to pardon me, as it is not so much the withdrawal
of my liberty, in a sad arrest, as my own thoughts of the fault
I have committed that have brought me to reason, who, with
all-obedientest respect and submission, continue till my end
my All-graciousest king’s and Father’s faithfully-obedientest
servant and son,


Here, in the little town of Cüstrin, in a house very meagerly
furnished, the Crown Prince established his household upon the humblest
scale. The prince was allowed to wear his sword, but not his uniform.
He was debarred all amusements, and was forbidden to read, write,
or speak French. To give him employment, he was ordered to attend
regularly the sittings of the Chamber of Counselors of that district,
though he was to take his seat as the youngest member. Three persons
were appointed constantly to watch over him. Lord Dover writes:

“His diet was regulated at a sum which made it barely sufficient to
prevent actual starvation. His apartment was most miserable, and almost
entirely devoid of furniture. He was in great want of linen, and of
others of the first necessaries of life. At nine o’clock at night his
candle was taken from him, while pen, ink, paper, and books were alike
denied him.”

“His very flute,” Carlyle writes, “most innocent ‘Princess,’ as he used
to call his flute in old days, is denied him ever since he came to
Cüstrin. But by degrees he privately gets her back, and consorts much
with her; wails forth, in beautiful adagios, emotions for which there
is no other utterance at present. He has liberty of Cüstrin and the
neighborhood. Out of Cüstrin he is not to lodge any night without leave
had of the commandant.”

While these sad scenes were transpiring, the Princess Wilhelmina was
held in close captivity in her apartment at the palace in Berlin. The
king had convened a council of eight clergymen, and had put to them
the question whether a father had not a right to give his daughter in
wedlock to whom he pleased. Much to the honor of these clergymen, they
replied, with but one exception, in the negative.

The queen remained firm in her determination that Wilhelmina should
marry the Prince of Wales. The king was equally inflexible in his
resolve that she should not marry the Prince of Wales. The queen
occasionally had interviews with Wilhelmina, when they wept together
over their disappointments and trials. The spirited young princess had
no special predilections for the English prince, but she was firm in
her resolve not to have a repugnant husband forced upon her. On the
night of the 27th of January, 1731, as the queen was about to leave
Berlin for Potsdam, she said to her daughter,

“Be firm, my child. Trust in my management. Only swear to me, on your
eternal salvation, that never, on any compulsion, will you marry
another than the Prince of Wales. Give me that oath.”

But Wilhelmina evaded the oath upon the ground of religious scruples.
Anxiety, confinement, and bad diet had so preyed upon her health that
she was reduced almost to a skeleton. The following extract from her
journal gives a graphic account of her painful condition:

“I was shut up in my bedchamber, where I saw nobody, and continued
always to fast. I was really dying of hunger. I read as long as there
was daylight, and made remarks upon what I read. My health began
to give way. I became as thin as a skeleton from want of food and
exercise. One day Madam De Sonsfeld and myself were at table, looking
sadly at one another, having nothing to eat but soup made with salt
and water, and a ragout of old bones, full of hairs and other dirt,
when we heard a knocking at the window. Surprised, we rose hastily to
see what it was. We found a raven with a morsel of bread in its beak,
which it laid down on the sill of the window so soon as it saw us, and
flew away. Tears came into our eyes at this adventure. ‘Our lot is
very deplorable,’ said I to my governess, ‘since it even touches the
creatures devoid of reason. They have more compassion for us than men,
who treat us with so much cruelty.’”

The raven was a tame one, which had got lost and was seeking for its
home. The story, however, spread, and created great sympathy for the
imprisoned princess. There was a large number of French refugees in
Berlin. With characteristic kindness, at the risk of incurring the
royal displeasure, they sent daily a basket of food, which was placed
in a situation from which Wilhelmina’s maids could easily convey the
contents to her, while compassionate sentries kindly looked the other
way. The princess wrote to her father, imploring permission to receive
the sacrament, from which she had been debarred for nearly a year. The
reply from her-father was couched in the following terms:

“My blackguard daughter may receive the sacrament.”

Her sisters were now permitted occasionally to visit her, and her
situation became somewhat ameliorated. On the 10th of May Wilhelmina
received a letter from her mother which caused her to wring her hands
in anguish. It informed her that the next day a deputation was to call

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 9 of 52)