Frederick I

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Hierarchical Path: War of the Spanish Succession (Main Page) >> Personalities >> Frederick I

Prussia, Frederick I of

Elector of Brandenburg (1688-1713), Duke of Prussia (1688-1701), King in Prussia (1701-1713)

born 11 July 1657, Königsberg, Duchy of Prussia

died 25 February 1713, Berlin, Kingdom of Prussia


Frederick I King in Prussia – Source: Wikimedia Commons

Frederick was the third son of the great elector, Frederick William of the House of Hohenzollern, by his first marriage with Louise Henriette, daughter of Frederick Henry of Orange. He was born at Königsberg on 11 July 1657.

In 1662, Otto von Schwerin assumed charge of Frederick's education because his parents were often absent of Berlin. Frederick's teacher was Eberhard von Danckelman who greatly influenced him.

In1670, Frederick was appointed captain of a horse company. However, he never led this unit due to his physical disability (he was deformed through an injury to his spine).

On 7 December 1674, Frederick became heir to the throne of Brandenburg through the death of his elder brother, Charles Emil. Schwerin remained Frederick's tutor until 20 June 1676.

Frederick appears to have taken some part in public business before the death of his father; and the court at Berlin was soon disturbed by quarrels between the young prince and his stepmother, Dorothea of Holstein-Glücksburg.

In 1684, Frederick married Princess Sophie Charlotte von Braunschweig-Hannover in the City of Hanover.

In 1686, Dorothea persuaded her husband to bequeath outlying portions of his lands to her four sons; and Frederick, fearing he would be poisoned, left Brandenburg determined to prevent any diminution of his inheritance. By promising to restore Schwiebus to Silesia after his accession he won the support of the Emperor Leopold I; but eventually he gained his end in a peaceable fashion.

In May 1688, Frederick became elector of Brandenburg as Frederick III and came to terms with his half-brothers and their mother. In return for a sum of money these princes renounced their rights under their father's will, and the new elector thus secured the whole of Frederick William's territories.

In 1695, after much delay and grumbling, Frederick fulfilled his bargain with Leopold I and gave up Schwiebus.

At home and abroad Frederick continued the policy of the great elector. He helped William of Orange to make his descent on England; added various places, including the principality of Neuchatel (1707), to his lands; and exercised some influence on the course of European politics by placing his large and efficient army at the disposal of the emperor and his allies.

During the Nine Years' War (1688-1697), in 1689, Frederick was present in person at the siege of Bonn, but was not often in command of his troops.

The elector was very fond of pomp, and, striving to model his court upon that of Louis XIV, he directed his main energies towards obtaining for himself the title of king. In spite of the assistance he had given to the emperor his efforts met with no success for some years.

Towards 1700, Leopold I, faced with the prospect of a new struggle with France, was inclined to view the idea of giving the title of king to Frederick more favourably. Having insisted upon various conditions, prominent among them being military aid for the approaching war, he gave the imperial sanction to Frederick's request in November 1700.

On 18 January 1701, Frederick, who had hurried to Königsberg, crowned himself with great ceremony as King Frederick I of Prussia.

At the outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713), in 1701, according to his promise Frederick sent help to the emperor. During the war, the troops of Brandenburg-Prussia rendered great assistance to the Allies, fighting with distinction at Blenheim and elsewhere.

On 25 February 1713, Frederick died.

By his extravagance the king exhausted the treasure amassed by his father, burdened his country with heavy taxes, and reduced its finances to chaos. His constant obligations to the emperor drained Brandenburg of money which might have been employed more profitably at home, and prevented its sovereign from interfering in the politics of Northern Europe. Frederick, however, was not an unpopular ruler, and by making Prussia into a kingdom he undoubtedly advanced it several stages towards its future greatness. He founded the University of Halle, and the Academy of Sciences at Berlin; welcomed and protected Protestant refugees from France and elsewhere; and lavished money on the erection of public buildings.

The king was married three times. His second wife, Sophie Charlotte (1668-1705), sister of the English King George I, was the friend of Leibnitz and one of the most cultured princesses of the age; she bore him his only son, his successor, King Frederick William I.


This article is mostly a copy of an article in the following book which is now in the public domain:

  • Encyclopaedia Britannica, "Frederick I of Prussia", 1911

Other sources