Posts Tagged ‘Prussia’

Beat Your Children Well

Posted in On This Day on August 14th, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Today would be his 320th birthday, but Frederick William I would not want you to waste on a cake and candles. Just goosestep 320 times and that might suffice the Prussian king.

If you were a Prussian taxpayer, you might appreciate having a cheap king: no lavish court, no extravagant palaces, no wasteful bureaucracy. Frederick William was so equitably parsimonious that he even taxed himself. Of course, a king still has to maintain some appearances; but for a Prussian king, those appearances can be limited to the army. Even there, Frederick William could be stinting: no unnecessary wars! Prussia did not need any more territory, and glory was a frivolous expenditure.

Yes, Frederick William was an excellent king. You also would want to avoid him: the man was a horrible brute. He had no compunctions about caning the servants in the face. But he was equitable here, too–doing the same to his family. His favorite target–or greatest disappointment–was his eldest son Frederick. The prince was intellectual and “artistic.” Of course, Frederick William knew how to cure his son’s sensitivity.

The Prince would be punished for any signs of weakness. If the child fell off his horse or wore gloves in cold weather, he would receive an invigorating, manly beating. The prince knew how to survive and learned the family business–soldiering–but he dreamed of escape. His uncle George in Britain had a good job and a decent nature; perhaps he would give his battered nephew sanctuary. The 18 year-old attempted to escape–along with a “special friend”–but the two were captured. Frederick William charged them with treason–although Prussia was allied to Britain (and George II was both his first cousin and brother-in-law). The King ordered his son to be court-martialed; however the very methodical, compunctional and cost-effective Prussian bureaucracy explained that it lacked the jurisdiction to try crown princes. No doubt some hapless bureaucrat got caned in the face, but Frederick William did defer to his own laws.

The special friend did not have any royal immunity. He was beheaded, and Prince Frederick was forced to watch. The Prince spent several months in solitary confinement, but eventually was allowed out on a work-release program. Frederick was assigned duties in the auditing office of the department of agriculture. After a year’s rehabilitation, Frederick was permitted again at court. The apparently dutiful Prince was willing to oblige one of Dad’s demands for manliness; Frederick agreed to get married. The luckless bride, just another German duchess, never expected to marry for love; but she would not even get the physical facsimile of it. Even Frederick William never tried to coerce the marriage’s consummation. (Oh well, he had other sons who weren’t artistic.)

The Prince just bided his time, and that time came in 1740. King Frederick intended to be the opposite of his father. He provoked wars–which he at least had the talent to win. He created an intellectual court where he insisted that French be spoken. (Frederick hated the sound of German.)

And guess which of the two–Frederick William or Frederick–does history bestow the accolade of “The Great”.

However, Frederick the Great was personally very cheap. Some things can be taught.