- I am a mirror; reflect personas of those around me.A creature who lies, who doesn't dare to be what nature designed.But with this new position, a seat upon the Prussian throne.I'll lead my men through fields where Austria's fate is sown.-The Philosopher King by Judicator.
Friedrich (or ''Frédéric'', as he preferred to be known) II, or, as he has come to be known in English, Frederick the Great (Friedrich der Große in German, 24 January 1712 17 August 1786), was the king of Prussia in the mid-eighteenth century. Something of a dark horse in the realm of dynastic politics, in his youth he was fond of French culture, to a degree that his boorish and possibly insane father, Frederick William I, thought him effeminate. His father attempted to beat it out of him by giving him Training from Hell which included forcing him to watch while his best friend was beheaded, after they tried to escape from Prussia together, an incident that scarred him for the rest of his life. If that wasn't enough, his father also physically beat him, humiliated him in front of their subjects, tried to force him to give up his artistic hobbies and made it clear to him he was a disappointment. However, he would grow into a notable figure in German martial history, and as such, became an iconic figure of success in the Prussian-dominated German Reich. His reputation is perhaps unfairly stained by imperialists such as Treitschke or (far worse) Adolf Hitler, who invoked him to justify their ruthless agenda of conquest and antisemitism. To consider Frederick a proto-Hitler, however, is reductive. At best, Frederick would have regarded Hitler & Co. as typically barbaric Germans overdue for an appointment with the knoutmaster. At worst, he would have agreed that their ideas of Eastern Expansion as similar to his policies of state-building (which involved destroying the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth whose people he considered to be savages fit for being servants of the advanced Germans) but disagreed with the methods used to support or enforce it. He might also have been persuaded to attack the Low Countries,note but would have had no truck with trying to conquer France,note Britain, note the Nordic countries,note or Russia.note
Frederick began ruling a small kingdom, short on resources with indefensible borders. Therefore he deemed it "necessary" to invade the rich Austrian province of Silesia and conquer it. This obtained the enmity of the Empress, nominally Frederick's suzerain, who was unconvinced by Frederick's assurances that it was Nothing Personal. The king also later annexed various other areas, including parts of Poland-Lithuanianote . He became well known for his unscrupulous but undeniably skillful foreign policy, for breaking treaties and expanding land, for being a cunning military strategist and for having very good luck.
In domestic policy Frederick was a great reformer. He was able to rebuild his kingdom due to the fact that he had - or was at least prepared to exert — more authority than most of his contemporaries (even though special interests were stronger and Obstructive Bureaucrats even more obstructive then). He instituted economic reforms and imposed religious toleration. Naturally enough, he also improved the Prussian army and helped give Prussia a recognized place as a great power. He also instituted one of the world's first systems of social welfare, setting up care houses for his injured soldiers; this was progressive in a time when most European leaders considered being horribly injured for one's social betters to be a privilege in itself.
Frederick's reforms had a lasting effect in one peculiar area: the German diet, specifically the German fondness for potatoes. On hearing about the crop's amazing yield per acre, filling nature, and decent keeping qualities, he began a program to "encourage" (read: force, using the Army if necessary) Prussian farmers to grow potatoes, which were directed to the military stores. This led directly to the popularity of potatoes in Germany and broader Central Europe, and indirectly to its prevalence in France (as a certain French POW fed potatoes in Prussian custody went home to evangelize for the crop once released).
In personality Der Alte Fritz ("Old Fritz"), as he came to be known, was famous for being dour and curmudgeonly. He has been accused of being inhumane, although he did provide some Pet the Dog moments to his men. Certainly he cared for his people's welfare, perhaps rather more than he cared for his people, and successfully weeded out many archaic and unjust practices that oppressed them. His style of strong personal rule was useful as long as he lived, though it left Prussia temporarily helpless during The Napoleonic Wars after his death. Though it cannot be denied that his effective use of aggression and conspiracy gave them an unhealthy aura of success, it also cannot be denied that he left Prussia with a strong and competent central government. Frederick the Great was not necessarily the most pleasant monarch, but he is not unworthy of admiration.
He was very interested in the arts, sciences, and philosophy, and he met many leading intellectuals during his years on the throne. Voltaire was his on-again-off-again friend. He was an accomplished flautist, himself wrote several classical pieces, personally invited Johann Sebastian Bach to play at his palace at Potsdam (and commissioned what would become A Musical Offering), and hired Bach's son Carl Philipp Emanuel. On the other hand, he famously said that the great German mediæval epic, the Nibelungenlied, wasnt "worth a shot of powder" and said he wouldn't have such trash in his personal library. This may be explained for his passionate dislike of old German culture.
Worth noting is that he is one of history's few homosexual leaders - though historians are still divided over his legacy, few will deny his martial prowess or his orientation.
Probably not a good idea to confuse him with the Cloud Cuckoo Lander portrayal of him in his titular webcomic. Though doing so with his other, more fatherly portrayal in Hetalia: Axis Powers is more understandable.
Tropes as portrayed in fiction:
- Hero-Worshipper: Adolf Hitler gazes on a portrait of him in Downfall as he desperately waits for his situation to turn around in the manner of the First and Second Miracles of Brandenburg, where Frederick having overplayed his hand was brought Back from the Brink by a stroke of good fortune. Hitler, expects a similar turn-around in that film (and also in life) but unlike Frederick, his luck ran out.
- Music to Invade Poland To: Apocryphally, he is supposed to be the author of the "Hohenfriedberger Marsch", a quintessential example of this trope. It's so damn good that the German Army still uses it. After years of bombastic re-imaginings and crummy lyrics put in during the 19th and early 20th centuries, its recent performances have been far closer to Frederick's composition.
- Nice Hat: He is often depicted wearing a tricorn.
Frederick the Great in fiction:
- There was a big trend of historical "Prussian Films" in Germany between the early 1920s and 1945. A number of them had actor Otto Gebühr starring as Frederick (it helped that he looked a lot like the king). Those made in Nazi Germany served as propaganda pieces for the Führerprinzip (full obedience to Adolf Hitler) and such.
- Werner Hinz (who later portrayed Erwin Rommel in The Longest Day) replaced Gebühr as Kronprinz Frederick for The Old and the Young King (1935), because Gebühr was too old to convincingly portray the royal figure as a younger man. Emil Jannings (The Blue Angel) portrayed Frederick's father, King Frederick William I.