Frederick II (1712 – 1786) was a Prussian king and military leader, who ruled the Kingdom of Prussia from 1740 until 1786, the longest reign of any Hohenzollern king at 46 years. His most significant accomplishments during his reign included his reorganization of Prussian armies, his military victories, his success in the Silesian wars and the Partitions of Poland, and his patronage of the arts and the Enlightenment. Frederick was the last Hohenzollern monarch titled King in Prussia and declared himself King of Prussia after achieving sovereignty over historically Prussian lands of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1772. Prussia greatly increased its territories and became a leading military power in Europe under his rule. He became known as Frederick the Great (German: Friedrich der Große) and was nicknamed Der Alte Fritz ("The Old Fritz") by the Prussian people and eventually the rest of Germany. In his youth, Frederick was more interested in music and philosophy than the art of war. Nonetheless, upon ascending to the Prussian throne he attacked Austria and claimed Silesia during the Silesian Wars, winning military acclaim for himself and Prussia. Toward the end of his reign, Frederick physically connected most of his realm by acquiring Polish territories in the First Partition of Poland. He was an influential military theorist whose analysis emerged from his extensive personal battlefield experience and covered issues of strategy, tactics, mobility and logistics. Considering himself "the first servant of the state", Frederick was a proponent of enlightened absolutism. He modernized the Prussian bureaucracy and civil service and pursued religious policies throughout his realm that ranged from tolerance to segregation. He reformed the judicial system and made it possible for men not of noble status to become judges and senior bureaucrats. Frederick also encouraged immigrants of various nationalities and faiths to come to Prussia, although he enacted oppressive measures against Polish Catholic subjects in West Prussia. Frederick supported arts and philosophers he favored as well as allowing complete freedom of the press and literature. Most modern biographers agree that Frederick was primarily homosexual. Frederick is buried at his favorite residence, Sanssouci in Potsdam. Because he died childless, Frederick was succeeded by his nephew Frederick William II.
A Mighty Fortress: A New History of the German People,
Gordon A. Craig,
Frederick the Great: King of Prussia,
Random House, March 2016,
“Writing Frederick’s biography . . . requires a diverse set of skills: expertise in eighteenth-century diplomatic and military history, including the intricacies of the Holy Roman Empire; a familiarity with the music, architecture and intellectual traditions of Northern Europe; and, not least, a profound sense of human psychology, the better to grasp the makeup of this complex and tormented man. Fortunately, Tim Blanning . . . has all of these skills in abundance. . . . Frederick the Great offers a portrait in chiaroscuro, full of intricate shadings and startling contrasts.”—The Wall Street Journal
“As Tim Blanning makes clear in a new biography that is at once scholarly and highly readable, Frederick the Great fully deserves history’s judgment of him as a transformative figure of the second millennium. . . . [Blanning] has given us a superb portrait of an enlightened despot, equally at home on the battlefield and in the opera house, both utterly ruthless and culturally refined.”—Commentary
“[A] masterly biography . . . Blanning brilliantly brings to life one of the most complex characters of modern European history, building up a rich picture of his very active mental life and the strange social setting that he constructed around himself.”—The Telegraph (five stars)
“Superlative . . . an almost sculptural, three-dimensional rendering of Frederick, one that enables its vast and protean subject to be viewed from a multiplicity of angles . . . a supremely nuanced account, abounding in novel assessments and insights . . . This biography finds [Blanning] at the height of his powers and offers major reassessments of almost every aspect of Frederick’s career.”—Literary Review
“In Tim Blanning, Frederick has found the ideal biographer. . . . Blanning evokes Old Fritz in all his cold-blooded brilliance, ranging from the king’s operatic tastes to his gastronomic and erotic predilections.”—The Sunday Times
“[Frederick the Great] is sure to be the standard English-language account for many years. It instructs; it entertains; and it surprises. Blanning shows that this hereditary monarch, born in Berlin in 1712, could be more radical than most leaders today.”—The Spectator
About the Author
Until his retirement in 2009, Tim Blanning was a professor of modern European history at the University of Cambridge, and he remains a fellow of Sidney Sussex College and of the British Academy. He is the general editor of The Oxford History of Modern Europe and The Short Oxford History of Europe. He is also the author of The Culture of Power and the Power of Culture, which won a prestigious German prize and was short-listed for the British Academy Book Prize, the New York Times bestseller The Pursuit of Glory, The Triumph of Music, and The Romantic Revolution. In 2000 he was awarded a Pilkington Prize for teaching by the University of Cambridge.