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Frederick, The Great Elector

      Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg surnamed the Great Elector, was the son of the Elector George William. In the distracted state of Germany, during the Thirty Years' War, and the necessary absence of his father with the army, the young prince saw but little of the splendor and indulgences of a court, passing the first years of his life in retirement with his tutors, who were men of learning and experience, and with his mother, first at the castle of Litzlingen, in the forests of the Altmark, and afterward at Custrin. The adventures and the singular fortunes of the family of his mother (who was sister of Frederick, King of Bohemia, husband of the Princess Elizabeth, daughter of James I. of England), the cruel and barbarous manner in which the war was carried on, and the dangers to which he and his family were exposed, necessarily made a deep impression on his mind. At the age of fifteen he was sent to the University at Leyden, where he especially devoted himself to the classics and to history. Of modern languages he was a proficient in French, Dutch, and Polish. He was afterward in the camp of Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange, during the siege of Breda, and was much noticed by the prince for his amiable manners and exemplary conduct, as well as for his sound understanding. About this time a widely known society of young persons of both sexes (called Media Nocte) endeavored to draw the prince into its circle at The Hague; but his friend and tutor, the Baron Schulenberg, making him aware of the immoral nature of the society, the prince abruptly left one of their convivial meetings, and resolved immediately to quit The Hague. The Prince of Orange was much surprised at this self-command, and when the prince arrived in the camp before Breda, said to him, "Cousin, your flight is a greater proof of heroism than if I took Breda; he who so early knows how to command himself will always succeed in great deeds." These words, as he himself owned, made a deep impression on him.

      His father dying in 1640, the young prince found his dominions reduced to a most deplorable condition by war and bad government. The exactions of Wallenstein in Altmark alone were estimated at twenty millions of gold florins; and in a memorial of the magistrate of Prenzlau, it is stated that the inhabitants are reduced to such dreadful extremities that they not only eat dogs, cats, and even carrion, but that, both in the town and country, they attack and kill each other for food. He commenced his government with a degree of prudence and wisdom rarely found in so young a sovereign. His first care was to correct many crying abuses and to restore order in the finances. His attention was then directed to foreign affairs. In 1642 he received the investiture of Prussia from the King of Poland; in 1643 he concluded a peace with the Swedes, on condition of their evacuating the greater part of his dominions. At the peace of Munster he was not able to enforce his claims to Pomerania and Silesia, but obtained Magdeburg, Wallenstadt, Minden, and part of Pomerania.

      It is highly to his credit that it was chiefly owing to him, that the principle of equal rights and privileges for the two great divisions of the Protestant Church was admitted in that famous treaty. Charles Gustavus, King of Sweden, appearing emulous of rivalling Gustavus Adolphus, the elector concluded an alliance with Holland, and sought the friendship of Cromwell and Louis XIV. He was, however, obliged to make in 1655 a treaty with the Swedes, in consequence of which he joined in the invasion of Poland, and greatly contributed to the victory at Warsaw. Austria, Holland, and Poland vehemently protested against this alliance with Sweden. Cromwell, however, who believed the Protestant cause to be in danger from the King of Poland, sent William Jepson as his ambassador to the elector, whom in letters he compliments in the highest terms for his service to the Protestant religion. But Russia and Austria declaring in favor of Poland, he, by the mediation of Austria, concluded a convention with Poland at Wehlau, by one of the stipulations of which he obtained the entire sovereignty of Prussia, and in 1678 completed the conquest of all Pomerania by the taking of Griefswald and Stralsund. The death of Charles Gustavus freed him from an adversary who would probably have endeavored to prevent the execution of this treaty, which was confirmed by the treaty of Oliva. Frederick, now at peace with his neighbors, directed all his attention to promote the welfare of his subjects by favoring all internal improvements; the ruined towns and villages were rebuilt, new roads made, waste lands cultivated, commerce encouraged, and many useful establishments founded.

The Great Elector withdraws from the association of the Dutch nobility.

      In 1672, however, Holland being threatened by Louis XIV., he concluded a treaty with the republic, engaging to furnish 20,000 men for its defence. He also contributed to induce the emperor: Denmark, Hesse Cassel, and several German princes to join him against France. But though his advance into Westphalia induced the French to quit Holland, the campaign was rendered unsuccessful by the slowness of the Austrian general, and he was forced to abandon Westphalia to the enemy. The Austrians leaving him, and the Dutch neglecting to send him subsidies, he was obliged to make a convention with France in 1673. The French were to evacuate Westphalia and pay him 800,000 livres, he promising to withdraw from his alliance with Holland, and not to support the enemies of France; yet he reserved to himself the right of assisting the German emperor in case of attack. This happened in 1674, when he invaded Alsace with 16,000 men, and joined the Imperial army; but the Austrian general, Bournonville, avoided a battle, contrary to the advice of Frederick, and Turenne receiving reinforcements obliged the Germans to quit Alsace. In order to free themselves from Frederick, the French instigated the Swedes to invade Pomerania and Altmark, which they attacked in December, 1674, with 16,000 men. Frederick hastened to his dominions, and proceeding with great rapidity and secrecy at the head of only 5,000 men, he totally defeated 11,000 Swedes at Fehrbellin in 1675, and freed his dominions from the enemy. Following up his successes, he took Stettin. In January, 1679, he crossed the Frische Haff and the Gulf of Courland with his army on sledges over the ice, and surprising the Swedes in their winter quarters, compelled them to quit Prussia. He did not reap any real advantage from his success, for Louis XIV. insisted that he should make peace with Sweden and give up all his conquests; and on his refusal, sent an army of 30,000 men to lay waste the duchy of Cleves, and city of Minden, so that he was forced to conclude the treaty of St. Germain, by which he restored all his conquests to Sweden; the French withdrew from his Westphalian dominions, and paid him 300,000 crowns.

      After this, we do not find Frederick again in the field. He was indeed engaged in various negotiations; was involved in disputes with France on account of its seizure of Strasbourg and Luxembourg; and in consequence of his reception of 20,000 French Protestants, who left their country on the repeal of the edict of Nantes. Frederick, who had previously obtained from his ambassador, von Spanheim, notice of the intended measure, had made preparations to receive the fugitives, and sent funds to his agents at Frankfort, Amsterdam, and Hamburg, for their assistance. In like manner he protected the proscribed Waldenses. Having in vain interceded for them in a very affecting letter to the Duke of Savoy, he offered to receive 2,000 of them into his dominions. He sent 8,000 men, in 1686, to assist the emperor against the Turks; having in the year preceding renewed his alliance with Holland, when Prince William of Orange was preparing for his expedition to England, Frederick assisted him with several regiments and Marshal von Schomberg, who became so great a favorite with William, and was eventually killed at the battle of the Boyne. As another proof of Frederick's enterprising spirit, it deserves to be noticed that Spain neglecting to pay him the arrears of a subsidy promised him for his co-operation against France, he resolved to commence a war by sea against that power; he fitted out eight frigates which had been employed against Sweden, and sent them in 1680 to capture Spanish ships, and they actually took some rich merchantmen.

      We have not space, nor is it necessary, to detail the proceedings of this great prince in consolidating the prosperity of his dominions and the welfare of his subjects. He died in April, 1688, leaving to his son a much enlarged and highly cultivated territory, a well-filled treasury, and an army of 30,000 excellent troops. He was twice married: first, in 1647, to Louisa Henrietta, Princess of Orange, an amiable and accomplished person, author of the celebrated German hymn "Jesus meine Zuversicht." She died in 1667. In the following year Frederick married Dorothea, Duchess Dowager of Brunswick Lueneberg; but though an excellent and virtuous princess, she was not liked by the people, chiefly because she was on ill terms with her step-children, especially the crown-prince. The character of Frederick, both in public and private life, has always been highly esteemed. He was kind, generous, fond of society, and, though rather quick in his temper, extremely placable. He was the real founder of the Prussian monarchy; and as a sovereign he appears to have justly merited the surname of the Great Elector.

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