Frederick II (the Great) (1712-1786), king of Prussia (1740-1786)

Son of Frederick William I of Prussia, who gave him a strict, militaristic upbringing, going as far as threatening to kill him in 1730 for running away. He inherited a small, northern German kingdom, which he turned into a first rank european power, mostly through his incredable military acheivements. On coming to the throne, he began the War of the Austrian Succession with an attack on Austria, intended at gaining control of Silesia, which he secured by the Treaty of Dresden (1745). During that war Frederick and Prussia had been allied with France. In the Seven Years War, he was instead allied with Britain, against Russia, France and Austria, an apparently overwhelming alliance. British aid consisted of money rather than troops, and ended abruptly with the death of George II (1760). However, the armies Frederick faced were almost always badly led, and he successes show him to have been one of the greatest generals in history.

Battles of the Seven Years War: Central Europe
Battles of the
Seven Years War
Central Europe

The Seven Years War started with success for Frederick, who invaded and occupied Saxony (August-October 1756). In January 1757 the Holy Roman Empire, led by Maria Theresa of Austria, declared war on Prussia. Frederick responded by invading Bohemia, where he defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Prague (6 May 1757), although he was forced to withdraw from Bohemia after defeat at Kolin (18 June 1757)K. The French and Austrians then invaded Saxony and Silesia, only to be defeated by Frederick at Rossbach (5 November) and Leuthen (5 December 1757), respectively. In 1758 Frederick was victorious over the Russians at Zorndorf (25 August 1758), although was defeated by the Austrians at Hochkirck (October 1758). By 1759, it looked like Frederick's enemies were finally benefiting from their overwhelming numerical advantage, with victories over Frederick at Kunersdorf (August) and Maxen (November). 1760 even saw the Russian's occupy Berlin (October), although they were soon forced to withdraw, and although Frederick defeated the Austrians at Torgau (3 November 1760), losses were so heavy on both sides that the campaigning stopped until the next year, when Ferdinand of Brunswick defeated the French at Vellinghause (15 July 1761). However, between Torgau and Vellinghause the shape of the war had changed for Prussia because of the death of two monarchs. First, the death of George II in 1760 ended British support to Frederick. Even Frederick appears to have felt defeat was near. However, he was saved by the accession of Peter III as Tsar of Russia (January 1762). Peter was an admirer of Frederick, and very quickly moved to end the war between them. Peace was made by the treaty of St. Petersburg (5 May 1762). Frederick was now free to concentrate on Austria, winning victories at Burkersdorf (21 July 1762) and Reichenback (16 August 1762), after which he was able to regain all of his lost territory. Peace was finally made by the Treaty of Hubertusberg (15 February 1763), which confirmed Prussia's control of Silesia and left Prussia dominant in Germany.

Frederick continued to expand Prussian power during the rest of his reign, gaining one third of Poland as a result of the First Partition of Poland (5 August 1772) and stopping Austria gaining power in Germany in the War of the Bavarian Succession (1778-79). By the time he died, Prussia was the dominant power in Germany, and an international power of the first rank

Books on the Seven Years's War | Subject Index: Seven Years' War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J. (29 October 2000), Frederick II (the Great) (1712-1786), king of Prussia (1740-1786),

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