Frederick The Great

Today, the word great gets attached frequently to people for their various accomplishments in their chosen fields. Athletes, politicians, artists and other types of professionals are labelled as great for one reason or another, even if they are undeserving of being called great. However, there is a significant difference between when a person is called great, and when they are referred to as “The Great.” It is very rare for a person to receive the honour of being called “The Great.” Alexander the Great, has deservingly received the title, after he nearly succeeded in his attempt to conquer the entire world. In the 18th century, Prussian King Frederick II received the honour of being referred to as Frederick the Great. Frederick the Great received the title because of his forty-six year reign as King, in which he transformed Prussia internally and on the large scale of central Europe. Frederick successfully made Prussia a more powerful state within central Europe due to his various reforms and military conquests. In addition to his military conquests, Frederick II also invested state money into Prussian academies for the arts, philosophy and the sciences. When Frederick II died in 1786, he had deservingly earned himself the title of Frederick the Great.

Frederick the Great was born in Berlin on January 24th 1712,[1][2] to Prussian Prince Frederick William I. Frederick William I would take the throne as King in 1713. During his father’s reign as King from 1713 to 1740,[3] Frederick William raised Frederick II in a harsh, but very well organized and structured fashion. Frederick William wanted to ensure his son Frederick would be worthy of being King when the time eventually came for him to take the throne. Frederick was taught as a child to speak both French and German. Frederick William ordered the teachers he provided to Frederick II infuse him with a strong appreciation for world history and a love and an excitement for the military.[4] Frederick was also raised to have a greater appreciation of enlightening thinking, government, culture, and the sciences.[5] The knowledge gained by Frederick II as a child would follow him throughout his reign as King. Frederick would apply his knowledge to improve life for the people within Prussia. Frederick II was raised with the personal belief, that it was his duty as the King to make the Prussian people he ruled as happy as possible.[6]

Frederick II ascended to the throne and became King in 1740, after his father Frederick William died. Immediately upon becoming King, Frederick launched many initiatives to improve life within Prussia. Frederick began his reign as King with legal and bureaucratic reforms to improve industry and the economy within Prussia.[7] In 1740, Frederick launched a military campaign without warning against Austrian territory Silesia.[8] Frederick’s campaign in Silesia would be the first of three Silesian wars (1740-42, 1744-45 and 1756-63) he fought as King.[9] In the first Silesian War of 1740, Frederick the Great successfully lead his 28,000 man army into battle against the Austrians.[10] Frederick would show his superior military generalship by using what would go on to be known as the blitzkrieg technique.[11]

Following the Prussian victory in Silesia, Frederick II annexed the territory and incorporated it into the Prussia Kingdom. By adding Silesia, Frederick doubled the size of his territory.[12][13] The victory in Silesia provided Prussia with economic growth and stability due to the revenue generated by Silesia.[14] By adding Silesia, Frederick extended the borders of Prussia by 13,800 square miles. The province of Silesia added more than 1.5 million citizens to the total population of Prussia. Industries within Silesia added new revenue of $3.5 million to the Prussian economy.[15] The infusion of money into the Prussian economy allowed for Frederick II to reinvest Prussia’s newfound wealth into other aspects of the Prussian Kingdom. The investments within Prussia created many improvements in the daily lives of Prussian citizens. The victory also accomplished Frederick the Great’s initial goal of making an initial splash as King and expanding the borders of Prussia.[16]

In addition to being a strong military leader, Frederick II made many advances in the arts within Prussia early in his reign. Frederick the Great led the cultural uprising in Prussia by contributing his own musical compositions. Frederick’s own love of music lead to the growth of music within his kingdom. As a young child, Frederick II was trained to play the flute by famed German musician Johann Joachim Quantz.[17] By the time of his death, Frederick had composed more than 200 flute concertos,[18] 121 flute sonatas, and his flute compositions have formed the basis for all flute recordings.[19]

To further the growth of music in Prussia, Frederick invested his money into multiple areas to ensure growth. Frederick spent state money to bring some of the top German musicians and composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach to Prussia to perform and teach. In 1740, Frederick made a large financial investment by building one of Europe’s largest opera houses in Berlin. The opera house was a status symbol across Europe. The opera house showed the importance Frederick placed upon music and allowed Prussia to attract the top European musicians. With the new opera house built, Frederick was able to return the Prussian orchestra to Berlin. By 1745, Frederick had expanded both the size of the orchestra and the reach of music within the Prussian Kingdom.[20]

Under his father Frederick William I, the Berlin Academy of Science had been neglected and had declined to the point where it no longer functioned as intended when it first opened in 1700.[21] Frederick II invested heavily financially into the academy to revitalize the study and teaching of philosophy, mathematics and the sciences within Prussia.[22] Under Frederick II, the Berlin Academy became an effective institution that taught young Prussian men.[23] The academy served as part of Frederick II ambitious plan to construct a modern Prussia. Frederick the Great envisioned educating Prussian men with the latest scientific knowledge and the best philosophy available.[24] Frederick the Great viewed science as a servant of the state that had the ability to advance Prussia’s position within Europe through technological advancements.[25] In addition to educating his citizens, Frederick viewed education as a method to strengthen his army and increase his land and wealth.[26] The investment proved wise, as Frederick successfully raised the level of education and enlightenment within the Prussian Kingdom. To Frederick, his reinvented version of the Berlin Academy represented his era of Prussia during his reign as King.[27]

Frederick II also invested Prussian money into French philosopher Voltaire. Frederick was large supporter of French philosophy. However, the investment in Voltaire, left Frederick somewhat neglecting an investment in German writers and philosophers. Despite a lack of financial investment in German literature, the cultural strides made in other art forms during the Frederick II era, helped German literature evolve.[28] For German writers, Frederick II represented the political and social identity of German people. A talented writer himself, Frederick II[29] provided inspiration for German writers to write about German national identity.[30]

Investing in philosophers was an immediate change that Frederick II introduced as soon as he became King in 1740. In addition to investing in French philosophers such as Voltaire, Frederick II welcomed back Christian Wolff. Under Frederick William, Wolff had been exiled from the Prussian Kingdom.[31] Although, Frederick’s attempts to have Wolff run the Berlin Academy were met with a large amount of resistance.[32] The reintroduction of philosophers and enlightened thinking into Prussia was a calculated move by Frederick to signal to the rest of Europe that the era of Frederick William’s anti-intellectualism and provincialism was over.[33]

As culture and enlightenment developed through the Berlin Academy, the Prussian government improved under Frederick II. Frederick the Great believed in philosophical analysis of the government. Through self-assessment of the government, Frederick led the government on an economic reform platform for Prussia. The government worked to stabilize and grow the economy as well as acquire new territories and strengthen defenses.[34] Frederick the Great put together a mechanically organized government that proved to be a strong ruling body.[35]

The academy served more than just one purpose. In addition to educating young Prussian men, the academy existed to provide Frederick II with credibility for his various forms of self-promotion and reform platforms.[36] The academy was vital to various reforms proposed by Frederick. The academy offered expertise and technical knowledge to Frederick that he did not possess. The academy was directly related to the political philosophy of Frederick and showed that state and academy could operate on an ideology, practical and philosophical levels.[37]

Following the three Silesian Wars (1740-42, 1744-45 and 1756-63), Frederick II showed his military genius. Fighting against overwhelming odds, Frederick II used his knowledge gained through his childhood education and applied it as a general to fight off multiple Austrian attempts to regain Silesian. Following the second Silesian War, Frederick II wrote “Principles Generaux de la Guerre,” about his experiences and techniques used during the first two Silesian wars and distributed them to his generals.[38] During the Seven Year War (1756-1763), Frederick II used his military techniques to occupy Saxony and contemplated annexing the territory into Prussia.[39] By 1768, Frederick II had finished fighting his wars and returned his focus to writing. Frederick II wrote “Testament Militaire” about military campaigns and strategy. The piece was paired with his 1752 piece, “Testament Politique” as informative pieces to pass down his knowledge to his successors. In 1771, Frederick II penned the piece “Elements de Castrametrie et de tactiques” which was given to his generals to ensure Prussian military strength would continue, as Frederick believed in sharing his knowledge with others.[40]

Frederick II is deserving of being called Frederick the Great because his forty-six year reign as the Prussian King. Frederick greatly improved the life of the Prussian citizens and the state’s standing within Europe. When Frederick the Great ascended to the throne in 1740, he set out with one goal and duty to fulfill. Frederick believed the role of the King was to ensure the happiness of their citizens. When Frederick the Great’s reign as King ended in 1786, he had succeeded in best serving the people of his Kingdom. Frederick raised Prussia from a middle power within central Europe, to being one of central Europe’s elite powers by the end of his reign in 1786. Through several successful military campaigns, most notably Silesia, Frederick has able to take what he gained territorially and financially and reinvested the money into Prussia so that the people could benefit directly or indirectly. By investing in culture and education, the Berlin Academy helped promote knowledge and education across the state. By bringing in educated people to teach the people of Prussia, the education level raised allowing for greater benefits to the people, as well as help Frederick be the best possible leader for the people. The addition education and the academies, allowed for greater reforms to occur inside the Prussian Kingdom. The legacy of Frederick the Great continued in the years after his death as he left writings to share with his successor. In addition Frederick left valuable capital assets such as the Academy and Army that would continue to exist long after his death.





Hans Aarsleff, “The Berlin Academy Under Frederick the Great,” History of the Human

Sciences, 2, 2. 193-206.


John Breuilly, Austria, Prussia and the Making of Germany 1806-1871. Second Edition. United

Kingdom: Pearson Education Limited, 2011.


Ronald S. Calinger M.A, “Frederick the Great and the Berlin Academy

of Sciences (1740–1766)” Annals of Science, 24, 3. (1968), 239-249.


Katrin Kohl, “Hero or Villain? The Response of German Authors to Frederick the Great,”

Publications of the English Goethe Society, Vol. LXXXI, 1. (2012), 51-72.


Harmonia Mundi, “Court of Frederick the Great,” American Record Guide, 261.


Mary Oleskiewicz, “The Flutist of Sanssouci: King Frederick ‘the Great’ as performer and

composer,” The Flutist Quarterly Fall, (2012). 18-26.


R.R. Palmer, “Chapter 3. Frederick the Great, Guibert, Bulow: From Dynastic to National War,”

Origins of Modern War, 49-74.


Mary Terrall, “The Culture of Science in Frederick the Great’s Berlin,” History of Science,

December 1990; 28, 4, 333-364.


Thomas J. Watson Library, “Frederick the Great,” The Illustrated Magazine of Art, 3, 18.

(1854), 377-379.

[1] Harmonia Mundi, “Court of Frederick the Great,” American Record Guide, 261.

[2] Thomas J. Watson Library, “Frederick the Great,” The Illustrated Magazine of Art, 3, 18. (1854), 378.

[3] Mary Terrall, “The Culture of Science in Frederick the Great’s Berlin,” History of Science, December 1990; 28, 4, 335.

[4] Thomas J. Watson Library, 378.

[5] Katrin Kohl, “Hero or Villain? The Response of German Authors to Frederick the Great,”

Publications of the English Goethe Society, Vol. LXXXI, 1. (2012), 52.

[6] Thomas J. Watson Library, 377.

[7] Terrall, 335.

[8] R.R. Palmer, “Chapter 3. Frederick the Great, Guibert, Bulow: From Dynastic to National War,” Origins of Modern War, 53.

[9] Kohl, 52.

[10] Thomas J. Watson Library, 378.

[11] Palmer, 53.

[12] Palmer, 53.

[13] John Breuilly, Austria, Prussia and the Making of Germany 1806-1871. Second Edition. United Kingdom: Pearson Education Limited, 2011, 79.

[14] Thomas J. Watson Library, 377.

[15] Thomas J. Watson Library, 378.

[16] Terrall, 335.

[17] Mary Oleskiewicz, “The Flutist of Sanssouci: King Frederick ‘the Great’ as performer and composer,” The Flutist Quarterly Fall, (2012). 19.

[18] Harmonia Mundi, “Court of Frederick the Great,” American Record Guide, 261.

[19] Oleskiewicz, 19.

[20] Oleskiewicz, 21.

[21] Hans Aarsleff, “The Berlin Academy Under Frederick the Great,” History of the Human

Sciences, 2, 2. 193.

[22] Terrall, 335.

[23] Ronald S. Calinger M.A, “Frederick the Great and the Berlin Academy

of Sciences (1740–1766)” Annals of Science, 24, 3. (1968), 242.

[24] Terrall, 334-335.

[25] Calinger, 239.

[26] Calinger, 239.

[27] Terrall, 337.

[28] Kohl, 52-55.

[29] Palmer, 53.

[30] Kohl, 52-55.

[31] Terrall, 337-338.

[32] Terrall, 337-338.

[33] Terrall, 337-338.

[34] Terrall, 335.

[35] Palmer, 53.

[36] Terrall, 336.

[37] Terrall, 336.

[38] Palmer, 53.

[39] Breuilly, 79.

[40] Palmer, 53.

Peter H. Wilson Article Summary: German History 1648 – 1871

Today, people can easily answer the questions of who is German and where is Germany. However, during the period between the 15th and 19th centuries answering both questions with a compelling argument was a very difficult task because modern day Germany was part of the Holy Roman Empire. Since modern Germany was part of the Holy Roman Empire, no borders could be used to identify the country and its people. Historians have attempted to make the argument of what German was during this period. Peter H. Wilson attempts to analyze the works of other historians to provide clarity to answer the questions of Germany. Wilson analyzes if Germany as part of the Holy Roman Empire was a failed nation state, a federation, an empire-state or a central Europe of the Regions.[1]

Wilson’s article “Still a Monstrosity? Some Reflections on Early German Statehood,” attempts to answer both by reviewing previous theological answers to the questions. Wilson’s article references the term “monstrosity” which had been used by German Samuel von Pufendorf to describe the Holy Roman Empire because the empire does not fit into any of the four recognized definitions (failed nation state, a federation, empire-state or central Europe of the regions) of a state from that period.[2] Wilson argues von Pufendorf’s use of monstrosity is misinterpreted as a criticism, but in reality is a reference to the irregular shape of the Holy Roman Empire political system.[3] The four definitions each operate as arguments to define both Germany and the Holy Roman Empire. Wilson reviews each of the definitions based on its own merit and uses it as a way to craft his only argument on the development of Germany during this time period as a central Europe of the regions state. Wilson’s argument is based on the political organization and development of the Holy Roman Empire and the territories within the empire. Wilson looks at the political framework and development within the Empire and its effects on the relationships internally and externally as an attempt to provide clarity to the questions of who is German and what is Germany.

Wilson divides his article into four sections following his introduction. The first section focuses on the Bodinian concept of indivisible sovereignty within the Holy Roman Empire. The concept operates on the basis that the Emperor acts as the secular leader for the entire empire.[4] However, Wilson goes on to describe the lack of political organization that German speakers within the empire. The poor political organization is because the empire does not have formal institutions of government. The empire suffered because there was no consensus between the Emperor, Princes, imperial cities and other subjects.[5]

The fractured relationship stemmed from the various forms of rule throughout the empire over people, land and kingdom government.[6] This divided within the Empire leads to external conflicts with the French and Ottomon Empires. The poor relationship between the Emperor and Princes forced the Emperor to make concessions granting Princes more power. Since the Emperor shared powers and responsibilities, people had no consensus within the empire over the acceptation of authority and institutions. The relationship between the Emperor and Princes created a power struggle between the two groups. The struggle resulted in the Princes gaining more power the Empire shifted toward a federal structure. With the empire shifting towards a federal structure and the empire operating using various forms of rule the Bodinian concept that the Emperor operated as a secular, indivisible sovereign does not fit the definition of the Holy Roman Empire.

Wilson articulates in his second section how the Habsburg dynasty failed to develop as a centralized Imperial State within Austria.[7] The Habsburgs had the opportunity to create a centralized government but failed to do so, when they continually made concessions to the Princes. This allowed the Princes and their territories to emerge as powers within the empire. At the same time, further weakening the Habsburg dynasty’s own attempts to control the entire Empire.

The Prince controlled territories emerged as progressive forces that built institutions and military power. Wilson continues by looking at the works of Otto von Gierke and Hermann Wellenreuher that the empire’s shifted into a “loose confederation.”[8] The confederation allowed each territory to make their own alliances and allowed flexibility between the unions of integrated states within the Empire.[9] That allowed for the territories to operate with a national constitution and allowed for regional individualism. With the territories operating freely, it allowed territories to keep distinct qualities and allowed for cultural and political diversity throughout the Empire.[10]

In his third section, Wilson seemingly jumps backwards to look at the Empire’s sovereign reign. Wilson describes the role of the Emperor within the empire as the final and highest level of authority. Despite the Princes gaining power, they still operated as lesser powers to the Emperor. The territories within the empire were in constant states of evolution and change.[11] Wilson again articulates the lack of consensus and open interpretation of laws within territories.[12] The lack of consensus within the empire allowed for variations and an uneven political structure that left the empire again with no definition.[13]

In his final section, Wilson concedes that there is no framework and single definition that the Holy Roman Empire can fit into. Wilson attempts to create a framework that best fits the empire for a given time.[14] Wilson focuses his attention to the political development of the Empire and divides it into three separate spheres.[15] The first is monarchy, which focuses on the Habsburg dynasty and the Emperor. The second sphere is dedicated to federalism. Wilson looks at the relationship between Princes, knights and Imperial cities and the effect of alliances and confederation within the Empire. The third and final sphere Wilson describes for the political development is hierarchy. Wilson describes hierarchy as the implied equality among territories and the privileged elite that have unmediated ties to the emperor and benefit from the power shift from the Emperor.[16] Wilson concludes that the three are not mutually exclusive and require each to operate. Wilson does concede that the Empire is not a timeless entity and was constantly changing and his theory or framework will not always perfectly fit that of the Empire.

The article is not very effective because if an average person with minimal to no knowledge of German history was to pick up the article and attempt to understand what happened during the time period they would be incredibly confused. The confusion that the reader would encounter would suggest that monstrosity would be an accurate term to describe the reality that was Germany and the Holy Roman Empire because of its unclear nature and constantly shifting political structure. This is in large part because Wilson does not articulate the differences between a (failed) nation state, federation, Empire-state and a central Europe of the Region. Wilson expects the reader to have an understanding of the four distinctions prior to reading the article. The lack of clarity from Wilson instantly downgrades any argument he makes, as any argument should allow a reader with no knowledge of the topic to begin reading, understanding and agree with the points the author is making.

Wilson’s thesis is acceptable but not necessarily strong. Wilson argues that Germany was a Central Europe of the Regions. The strength of Wilson’s article is significantly weakened due to the confusion Wilson creates during the first three sections of his article. Wilson fails to articulate a clear definition of each of the four state concepts as he bounces from one idea to the other within each section causing confusion about the concepts he is writing about. The confusion created by Wilson leads the reader to believe that von Pfufendorf’s statement that the Holy Roman Empire is a monstrosity is the single most accurate term that can be used to describe the empire. If not for the concessions made by Wilson in his fourth section, where he argues his thesis the article would simply be a monstrosity. However, since Wilson concedes that the Empire needed all three of his suggested spheres to operate, and that his concept cannot always be applied to any timeframe and perspective his argument on German statehood is the strongest of the four.




Peter H. Wilson, “Still a Monstrosity? Some Reflections on Early Modern German Statehood,” The Historical Journal, 49, 2. (2006), 565-576.

[1] Peter H. Wilson, “Still a Monstrosity? Some Reflections on Early Modern German Statehood,” The Historical Journal, 49, 2. (2006), 565.

[2] Peter H. Wilson, “Still a Monstrosity? Some Reflections on Early Modern German Statehood,” The Historical Journal, 49, 2. (2006), 565.

[3] Wilson, 567.

[4] Wilson, 566.

[5] Wilson, 566-567.

[6] Wilson, 566.

[7] Wilson, 568.

[8] Wilson, 569.

[9] Wilson, 569.

[10] Wilson, 571.

[11] Wilson, 573-574.

[12] Wilson, 574.

[13] Wilson, 574.

[14] Wilson, 574.

[15] Wilson, 575.

[16] Wilson, 575-576.