1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Frederick William I. of Prussia
FREDERICK WILLIAM I. (1688–1740), king of Prussia, son of Frederick I. by his second marriage was born on the 15th of August 1688. He spent a considerable time in early youth at the court of his grandfather, the elector Ernest Augustus of Hanover. On his return to Berlin he was placed under General von Dohna and Count Finkenstein, who trained him to the energetic and regular habits which ever afterwards characterized him. He was soon imbued with a passion for military life, and this was deepened by acquaintance with the duke of Marlborough (1709), Prince Eugene, whom he visited during the siege of Tournai, and Prince Leopold of Anhalt (the “Old Dessauer”). In nearly every respect he was the opposite of his father, having frugal, simple tastes, a passionate temper and a determined will. Throughout his life he was always the protector of the church and of religion. But he detested religious quarrels and was very tolerant towards his Catholic subjects, except the Jesuits. His life was simple and puritanical, being founded on the teaching of the Bible. He was, however, fond of hunting and somewhat given to drinking. He intensely disliked the French, and highly disapproved of the imitation of their manners by his father and his court. When he came to the throne (February 25, 1713) his first act was to dismiss from the palace every unnecessary official and to regulate the royal household on principles of the strictest parsimony. The greater part of the beautiful furniture was sold. His importance for Prussia is twofold: in internal politics he laid down principles which continued to be followed long after his death. This was a province peculiarly suited to his genius; he was one of the greatest administrators who have ever worn the Prussian crown. His foreign policy was less successful, though under his rule the kingdom acquired some extension of territory.
Thus at the peace of Utrecht (April 11, 1713), after the War of the Spanish Succession, he acquired the greater part of the duchy of Gelderland. By the treaty of Schwedt, concluded with Russia on the 6th of October, he was assured of an important influence in the solution of the Baltic question, which during the long absence of Charles XII. had become burning; and Swedish Pomerania, as far as the Peene, was occupied by Prussia. But Charles XII. on his return turned against the king, though without success, for the Pomeranian campaign of 1715 ended in favour of Prussia (fall of Stralsund, December 22). This enabled Frederick William I. to maintain a more independent attitude towards the tsar; he refused, for example, to provide him with troops for a campaign (in Schonen) against the Swedes. When on the 28th of May 1718, in view of the disturbances in Mecklenburg, he signed at Havelberg the alliance with Russia, he confined himself to taking up a defensive attitude, and, on the other hand, on the 14th of August 1719 he also entered into relations with his former enemies, England and Hanover. And so, by the treaty of Stockholm (February 1, 1720), Frederick William succeeded in obtaining the consent of Sweden to the cession of that part of Pomerania which he had occupied (Usedom, Wollin, Stettin, Hither Pomerania, east of the Peene) in return for a payment of 2,000,000 thalers.
While Frederick William I. succeeded in carrying his wishes into effect in this direction, he was unable to realize another project which he had much at heart, namely, the Prussian succession to the Lower Rhine duchies of Jülich and Berg. The treaty concluded in 1725 at Vienna between the emperor and Spain brought the whole of this question up again, for both sides had pledged themselves to support the Palatinate-Sulzbach succession (in the event of the Palatinate-Neuberg line becoming extinct). Frederick William turned for help to the western powers, England and France, and secured it by the treaty of alliance signed at Herrenhausen on the 3rd of September 1725 (League of Hanover). But since the western powers soon sought to use the military strength of Prussia for their own ends, Frederick again turned towards the east, strengthened above all his relations with Russia, which had continued to be good, and finally, by the treaty of Wüsterhausen (October 12, 1726; ratified at Berlin, December 23, 1728), even allied himself with his former adversary, the court of Vienna; though this treaty only imperfectly safeguarded Prussian interests, inasmuch as Frederick William consented to renounce his claims to Jülich. But as in the following years the European situation became more and more favourable to the house of Habsburg, the latter began to try to withdraw part of the concessions which it had made to Frederick William. As early as 1728 Düsseldorf, the capital, was excluded from the guarantee of Berg. Nevertheless, in the War of the Polish Succession against France (1734–1735), Frederick William remained faithful to the emperor’s cause, and sent an auxiliary force of 10,000 men. The peace of Vienna, which terminated the war, led to a reconciliation between France and Austria, and so to a further estrangement between Frederick William and the emperor. Moreover, in 1738 the western powers, together with the emperor, insisted in identical notes on the recognition of the emperor’s right to decide the question of the succession in the Lower Rhine duchies. A breach with the emperor was now inevitable, and this explains why in a last treaty (April 5, 1739) Frederick William obtained from France a guarantee of a part, at least, of Berg (excluding Düsseldorf).
But Frederick William’s failures in foreign policy were more than compensated for by his splendid services in the internal administration of Prussia. He saw the necessity of rigid economy not only in his private life but in the whole administration of the state. During his reign Prussia obtained for the first time a centralized and uniform financial administration. It was the king himself who composed and wrote in the year 1722 the famous instruction for the general directory (Generaldirektorium) of war, finance and domains. When he died the income of the state was about seven million thalers (£1,050,000). The consequence was that he paid off the debts incurred by his father, and left to his successor a well filled treasury. In the administration of the domains he made three innovations: (1) the private estates of the king were turned into domains of the crown (August 13, 1713); (2) the freeing of the serfs on the royal domains (March 22, 1719); (3) the conversion of the hereditary lease into a short-term lease on the basis of productiveness. His industrial policy was inspired by the mercantile spirit. On this account he forbade the importation of foreign manufactures and the export of raw materials from home, a policy which had a very good effect on the growth of Prussian industries.
The work of internal colonization he carried on with especial zeal. Most notable of all was his rétablissement of East Prussia, to which he devoted six million thalers (c. £900,000). His policy in respect of the towns was motived largely by fiscal considerations, but at the same time he tried also to improve their municipal administration; for example, in the matter of buildings, of the letting of domain lands and of the collection of the excise in towns. Frederick William had many opponents among the nobles because he pressed on the abolition of the old feudal rights, introduced in East Prussia and Lithuania a general land tax (the Generalhufenschoss), and finally in 1739 attacked in a special edict the Legen, i.e. the expropriation of the peasant proprietors. He did nothing for the higher learning, and even banished the philosopher Christian Wolff at forty-eight hours’ notice “on pain of the halter,” for teaching, as he believed, fatalist doctrines. Afterwards he modified his judgment in favour of Wolff, and even, in 1739, recommended the study of his works. He established many village schools, which he often visited in person; and after the year 1717 (October 23) all Prussian parents were obliged to send their children to school (Schulzwang). He was the especial friend of the Franckische Stiftungen at Halle on the Saale. Under him the people flourished; and although it stood in awe of his vehement spirit it respected him for his firmness, his honesty of purpose and his love of justice. He was devoted also to his army, the number of which he raised from 38,000 to 83,500, so that under him Prussia became the third military power in the world, coming next after Russia and France. There was not a more thoroughly drilled or better appointed force. The Potsdam guard, made up of giants collected from all parts of Europe, sometimes kidnapped, was a sort of toy with which he amused himself. The reviewing of his troops was his chief pleasure. But he was also fond of meeting his friends in the evening in what he called his Tobacco-College, where amid clouds of tobacco smoke he not only discussed affairs of state but heard the newest “guard-room jokes.” He died on the 31st of May 1740, leaving behind him his widow, Sophia Dorothea of Hanover, whom he had married on the 26th of November 1706. His son was Frederick the Great, who was the opposite of Frederick William. This opposition became so strong in 1730 that the crown prince fled from the court, and was later arrested and brought before a court-martial. A reconciliation was brought about, at first gradually. In later years the relations between father and son came to be of the best (see Frederick II., king of Prussia).
Bibliography.—D. Fassmann, Leben und Thaten Friedrich Wilhelms (2 vols., Hamburg and Breslau, 1735, 1741); F. Förster, Friedrich Wilhelm I. (3 vols., Potsdam, 1834 and 1835); C. v. Noorden, Historische Vorträge (Leipzig, 1884); O. Krauske, “Vom Hofe Friedrich Wilhelms I.,” Hohenzollernjahrbuch, v. (1902); R. Koser, Friedrich der Grosse als Kronprinz (2nd ed., Stuttgart, 1901); W. Oncken, “Sir Charles Hotham und Friedrich Wilhelm I. im Jahre 1730,” Forschungen zur brandenburgischen Geschichte, vol. vii. et seq.; J. G. Droysen in the Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, vii. (1878), and in Geschichte der preussischen Politik, section iv., vols. ii.-iv. (2nd ed., 1868 et seq.); L. v. Ranke, Zwölf Bücher preussischer Geschichte (1874 et seq.); Stenzel, Geschichte des preussischen Staates, iii. (1841); F. Holke, “Strafrechtspflege unter Friedrich Wilhelm I.,” Beiträge zur brandenburgischen Rechtsgeschichte, iii. (1894); V. Loewe, “Allodifikation der Leben unter Friedrich Wilhelm I.,” Forschungen zur brandenburgischen Geschichte, xi.; G. Schmoller, “Epochen der preuss. Finanzpolitik,” Umrisse und Untersuchungen (Leipzig, 1898), “Innere Verwaltung unter Friedrich Wilhelm I.,” Preuss. Jahrbücher, xxvi., “Städtewesen unter Friedrich Wilhelm I.,” Zeitschrift für preussische Geschichte, x. et seq.; B. Reuter, “König Friedrich Wilhelm I. und das General-Direktorium,” ibid. xii.; V. Loewe, “Zur Grundungsgeschichte des General-Direktoriums,” Forschungen, &c., xiii.; R. Stadelmann, Preussens Könige in ihrer Tätigkeit für die Landeskultur, vol. i. “Friedrich Wilhelm I.” (1878); M. Beheim-Schwarzbach, Hohenzollern’sche Kolonizationen (Leipzig, 1874); W. Naude, “Die merkantilistische Wirtschaftspolitik Friedrich Wilhelms I.,” Historische Zeitschrift, xc.; M. Lehmann, “Werbung, &c., im Heere Friedrich Wilhelms I.,” ibid. lxvii.; Isaacson, “Erbpachtsystem in der preussischen Domänenverwaltung,” Zeitschrift für preuss. Gesch. xi. Cf. also Hohenzollernjahrbuch, viii. (1905), for particulars of his education and death; letters to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Dessau in the Acta Borussica (1905). English readers will find a picturesque account of him in Thomas Carlyle’s Frederick the Great. (J. Hn.)