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On 16 November 1797, Frederick William II died in Potsdam.
More DetailsHide DetailsHe was succeeded by his son, Frederick William III, who had resented his father's lifestyle and acted swiftly to deal with what he considered the immoral state of the court. Frederick William II is buried in the Berliner Dom.
Frederick William II had the following children:
In 1794–1797 he had a castle built for her on the Pfaueninsel.
The insurrection in Poland that followed the partition of 1793, and the threat of unilateral intervention by Russia, drove Frederick William into the separate Treaty of Basel with the French Republic (5 April 1795), which was regarded by the other great monarchies as a betrayal, and left Prussia morally isolated in the struggle between the monarchical principle and the new republican creed of the Revolution.
More DetailsHide DetailsAlthough the land area of the Prussian state reached a new peak under his rule after the third partition of Poland in 1795, the new territories included parts of Poland such as Warsaw that had virtually no German population, severely straining administrative resources.
Frederick William's first marriage, to Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick (his first cousin) had ended after four years during which both spouses had been unfaithful. Their uncle, Frederick II, granted a divorce reluctantly, as he was more fond of Elisabeth than of Frederick William. His second marriage lasted until his death, but he continued his relationship with Wilhelmine Enke.
A formal alliance was indeed signed on 7 February 1792, and Frederick William took part personally in the campaigns of 1792 and 1793, but the king was hampered by want of funds, and his counsels were distracted by the affairs of a deteriorating Poland, which promised a richer booty than was likely to be gained by the anti-revolutionary crusade into France.
More DetailsHide DetailsA subsidy treaty with the sea powers (Great Britain and the Netherlands, signed at The Hague, 19 April 1794) filled Prussia's coffers, but at the cost of a promise to supply 64,000 land troops to the coalition.
Meanwhile, the French Revolution alarmed the ruling monarchs of Europe, and in August 1791 Frederick William, at the meeting at Pillnitz Castle, agreed with Emperor Leopold II to join in supporting the cause of King Louis XVI of France.
More DetailsHide DetailsHowever the king's character and the confusion of the Prussian finances could not sustain effective action in this regard.
The opposition to Wöllner was, indeed, at the outset strong enough to prevent his being entrusted with the department of religion; but this too in time was overcome, and on 3 July 1788 he was appointed active privy councillor of state and of justice and head of the spiritual department for Lutheran and Catholic affairs.
More DetailsHide DetailsFrom this position Wöllner pursued long lasting reforms concerning religion in the Prussian state.
The king proved eager to aid Wöllner's crusade. On 9 July 1788 the famous religious edict was issued, which forbade Evangelical ministers from teaching anything not contained in the letter of their official books, proclaimed the necessity of protecting the Christian religion against the "enlighteners" (Aufklärer), and placed educational establishments under the supervision of the orthodox clergy. On 18 December 1788 a new censorship law was issued, to secure the orthodoxy of all published books. This forced major Berlin journals like Christoph Friedrich Nicolai's Allgemeine Deutsche Bibliothek and Johann Erich Biester's Berliner Monatsschrift to publish only outside the Prussian borders. Moreover, people like Immanuel Kant were forbidden to speak in public on the topic of religion.
Finally, in 1791, a Protestant commission was established at Berlin (Immediate-Examinationscommission) to watch over all ecclesiastical and scholastic appointments. Although Wöllner's religious edict had many critics, it was an important measure which, in fact, proved an important stabilizing factor for the Prussian state. Aimed at protecting the multi-confessional rights enshrined in the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, the provisions of Wöllner's edict were intended to safeguard against religious strife by imposing a system of state sponsored limits. The edict was also a notable step forward regarding the rights of Jews, Mennonites, and Herrnhut brethren, who now received full state protection. Given the confessional divides within Prussian society, primarily between Calvinists and Lutherans but increasingly Catholics as well, such a policy was important for maintaining a stable civil society.
Moreover, he was involved in two more (bigamist) morganatic marriages: with Elisabeth Amalie, Gräfin von Voß, Gräfin von Ingenheim in 1787 and (after her death in 1789) with Sophie Juliane Gräfin von Dönhoff.
More DetailsHide DetailsHe had another seven children with those two women, which explains why his people also called him der Vielgeliebte ("the much loved") and der dicke Lüderjahn ("the fat scallywag"). His favourite son—with Wilhelmine Enke—was Graf Alexander von der Mark.
Other buildings constructed under his reign were the Marmorpalais in Potsdam and the world-famous Brandenburger Tor in Berlin.
In 1781 Frederick William, then prince of Prussia, inclined to mysticism, had joined the Rosicrucians, and had fallen under the influence of Johann Christoph von Wöllner and Johann Rudolf von Bischoffwerder.
More DetailsHide DetailsOn 26 August 1786 Wöllner was appointed privy councillor for finance (Geheimer Oberfinanzrath), and on 2 October 1786 was ennobled. Though not in name, he in fact became prime minister; in all internal affairs it was he who decided; and the fiscal and economic reforms of the new reign were the application of his theories. Bischoffswerder, too, still a simple major, was called into the king′s counsels; by 1789 he was already an adjutant-general.
He then married Frederika Louisa of Hesse-Darmstadt, daughter of Ludwig IX, Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt on 14 July 1769 also in Charlottenburg.
More DetailsHide DetailsAlthough he had seven children by his second wife, he had an ongoing relationship with his mistress, Wilhelmine Enke (created Countess Wilhelmine von Lichtenau in 1796), a woman of strong intellect and much ambition, and had five children by her—the first when she was still in her teens.
Frederick William, before the corpulence of his middle age, was a man of singularly handsome presence, not without mental qualities of a high order; he was devoted to the arts — Beethoven and Mozart enjoyed his patronage, and his private orchestra had a Europe-wide reputation. He also was a talented cellist. But an artistic temperament was hardly what was required of a king of Prussia on the eve of the French Revolution, and Frederick the Great, who had employed him in various services (notably in an abortive confidential mission to the court of Russia in 1780), openly expressed his misgivings as to the character of the prince and his surroundings. For his part, Frederick William, who had never been properly introduced to diplomacy and the business of rulership, resented his uncle for not taking him seriously.
His marriage with Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Lüneburg, daughter of Charles I, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, contracted 14 July 1765 in Charlottenburg, was dissolved in 1769.
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