Frederick the Great
Friedrich Wilhelm was born on 14 August 1688 as the only son of Frederick the First and the witty, philosophically gifted Charlotte of Hanover, only a few months after the death of his grandfather, the Great Elector. Even as a child he had a robust physique, an extremely unruly nature and showed no desire to learn. The cheerful, almost irrepressible boy was the god of his mother and grandmother. The Elector Sophie had the beloved grandson come to Hanover in his fifth year, but it was not possible to keep him there for long, because he did not get along at all with his playmate, Prince George, who later became King of England. The dislike between the two remained a permanent one; they hated each other until the hour of death, and Frederick called George no different than: my brother, the dance master, while George, for his part, said: my brother, the sergeant.
The people who got to deal with the prince had a bad status with him. Two Governesses had to supervise him, and often he brought the two women to despair with his great pranks. Early on, he showed a reluctance against all pomp and luxury, and he once threw a sleeping skirt of gold fabric, which they wanted to put on him, into the fireplace. On the other hand, he smeared his face with fat and had himself fried in the sun to get a rather brown soldier color.
As confirmed by the great Leibniz, Friedrich Wilhelm as a boy was considered very funny. At a fair in Charlottenburg, the twelve-year-old prince played the sleight of hand to general delight. The Duchess of Orleans wrote: “I am always anxious when I see children so funny before the right age, because it is a sign to me that they do not live long. That’s why I’m also banging for the little elector of Brandenburg.« Friedrich Wilhelm, however, remained with life despite his wit, and with a fairly healthy life. Only with learning it did not want to move forward; just as he showed his pompous father a resolute aversion to pomp, so defiantly he behaved against all the attempts of his mother, who wanted to make a learned man, une belle âme, out of him. In his seventh year, he had been given the Count Alexander Dohna as an educator, an honorable, gracious, proud man. His instruction stated that he had to make every effort to teach the prince Latin, “since this requires not only the golden bull, but also the necessary negotiations with the neighboring puissances.” But despite All Ofhna’s persuasion, The Royal Highness learned very little, even though she had been created with a very extraordinary memory. It was even worse with the arts, he did not want to play the piano or the flute, the music was downright unpleasant to him.
In sharp contrast to his parents’ preference for French, his pronounced Germanism soon emerged. His first teacher, the Ephorus Friedrich Cramer, encouraged him in this. Cramer was a knowledgeable and educated man who once read the writing of Abbé Bouhours: Can a German have spirit? had replied with a grim counter-writing. Cramer’s influence remained firmly in the soul of Frederick William, who, however quickly she decided on sympathies and antipathies, held on to it forever and tenaciously. Cramer’s successor was a Frenchman named Rebeur, an emigrant whom Count Dohna had come from Switzerland. But this rebeur was a sad pedant; he constantly plagued the prince by having him make Latin, French and German essays on the Old Testament, and the result was that Frederick William henceforth had an indomitable hatred of the Old Testament; all his life it could not be honored again with him, as good a Christian as he was.
His mother fordrew him completely, and actually he never forsend her later. It was precisely from his relationship with his mother that he developed the demand for unconditional blind obedience, “but reasoning”, his unphilosophical rigid orthodoxy according to his own recipe and his own prescription, and the harsh treatment he gave to his son Frederick.
He quietly nurtured only two passions: soldier hobbies and economics in finance. Already as a boy he built a company of noble cadets with his pocket money. A second company was commanded by his cousin, the Duke of Courland, with whom he also got along very badly, the mother once came to drag him around angrily by the hair. His frugality was evident early on; he was eight years old when he kept an expense book with the title: Invoice for my ducats. His mother was frightened that the stinginess would harden him, and no less distressed her by his increasingly evident rudeness towards women, which was of course based on an invincible bias and shyness and also in the fact that the first tender inclination of his heart, that of Princess Karoline von Ansbach, was not reciprocated. Karoline later married the English George.
In his sixteenth year, the prince received permission to travel to the Netherlands and England. The Duke of Marlborough had already designated a ship for his passage when he was recalled to Berlin; his mother had died. From now on he lived with preference in Wusterhausen, where he moved the body company of his regiment, which he diligently had exercised and which was his highest joy. He took part in the campaign on the Rhine under Marlborough and Prince Eugene, and in 1706 he married Princess Sophie Dorothea of Hanover, who became the mother of the great Frederick. She was a tall slender woman with blue eyes and brown hair, educated and lively, ambitious and proud.