The Soldier’s Watch

One of the Prussian soldiers was inordinately proud of his watch chain.  However, he was too poor to afford a watch to attach to it, and so, improviser that he was, he attached a bullet instead.  Frederick the Great became aware of this, and decided to mock the soldier.  Passing by him one day, Fritz took out his diamond-studded pocket watch.

“My watch tells me that it is five o’clock.  What time does yours tell?” he asked.

“Mine does not tell me the hour,” the soldier boasted, “but tells me every minute that it is my duty to die for Your Majesty.”

Frederick was so greatly pleased by the soldier’s answer that he handed over his watch to him on the spot.  “Here, take this, so that you can also know the hour.”

The Guilty Man

Once, Frederick the Great toured one of the prisons in Berlin.  Seeing their king pass, every prisoner pled their case before him, begging him to pardon them, claiming that they were innocent of every crime.  He ignored them all, until he came to one prisoner, quiet in his cell.  Intrigued, Fritz asked him why he was there.

“Armed robbery,” replied the prisoner.

“And are you guilty?” asked the king.

“Yes, indeed, Your Majesty.  I deserve my punishment.”

Frederick called to the guards.  “Remove this man from this prison at once,” he declared.  “I won’t have this guilty scoundrel kept in this prison where he will corrupt all these innocent men who occupy it.”

The Miracle of the House of Hohenzollern

By the end of 1761, Prussia was losing the Seven Years’ War.  Its coffers and manpower were spent.  During the war, Prussia had lost 120 generals, 1500 officers, and over 100,000 men.  All seemed lost.

Frederick himself said,

The Austrians are masters of Schweidnitz and the mountains, the Russians are behind the length of the Warthe from Kolberg to Posen…my every bale of hay, sack of money or batch of recruits only arriving by courtesy of the enemy or from his negligence. Austrians controlling the hills in Saxony, the Imperials the same in Thuringia, all our fortresses vulnerable in Silesia, in Pomerania, Stettin, Kustrin, even Berlin, at the mercy of the Russians.

In January 1762, though, a miracle occurred.  Elizabeth, Tsarina of Russia, died.  She had been one of Frederick’s most implacable foes, second only to Maria Theresa.

Not only that, but she was succeeded by her nephew, Peter III, a man of whom it may be fairly said that he worshipped Frederick.  Peter detested the Russians and lionized Prussians, even going so far as to wear the uniform of a Prussian soldier, even as tsar.  Peter III immediately made peace with Prussia and concluded an alliance with Frederick.  With the abandonment of Russia, the other nations against Frederick no longer had the motivation nor the ability to conclusively finish the war, and by 1763, the Seven Years’ War was over, with Prussia having miraculously survived.

The Seven Years’ War

The Seven Years’ War pitted Prussia and Great Britain against Russia, Austria, France, Sweden, Saxony, and other minor powers.  Great Britain mostly fought in its colonies, in India and North America, where it was called the French and Indian War.  This left Prussia and its king, Frederick the Great, to prosecute the war in continental Europe, mostly at British expense.

Despite being out-manned and overwhelmed by any material measurement, Prussia managed to hold back its opponents and survive the war intact, a war which had begun with the goal of dismembering the thriving Prussian state and reducing it to what it had been over a century prior.

Frederick the Great’s undeniable military competence was the primary factor in Prussia’s survival, but he had two unparalleled advantages over every other enemy general.  The first was that he was fighting alone, and any gain was his alone, whereas his allies did not necessarily wish for each other to become stronger at Prussia’s expensive.  Secondly, he was king.  Other generals needed to worry about what their leaders would say, a fact which especially crippled the Russians, but Frederick had no such worries, and could take any risk instantly without need to get permission.

After seven years of struggle, the borders of Prussia ended where they began, but she had survived, and would continue to grow in prestige and power as a result of Frederick’s careful handling of the almost unwinnable war.

The Porcelain Apes of Moses Mendelssohn

In Europe, the Jews faced innumerable forms of discrimination, but perhaps the oddest was as follows. The first porcelain factories in Europe we rarely profitable, and so often needed state subsidies in order to collect the experience and quality necessary to become self-sustaining.  Frederick the Great, always eager to save the state a thaler, hit upon an unusual idea: every Jewish Prussian would, upon marriage, be required to buy a certain amount of porcelain products.  The exact objects would include whatever the porcelain factory had lying around unsold.  When Moses Mendelssohn wed, his porcelain surprise included over twenty life-size porcelain apes, surely one of the more unusual wedding presents imaginable.

The Honest Prisoner

Frederick II, King of Prussia, once visited a fortress prison.  Every prisoner, upon seeing the king, dropped to their knees and begged for mercy, pleading their innocence, in the hopes of being set free.  Then the king passed by one cell with a quiet prisoner, who neither took notice of Frederick nor spoke to him.

“You there!” spake the king.  “Aren’t you going to tell me you’re innocent and don’t deserve to be here?”

“No, sire.  I committed my crime and I deserve my fate.”

Impressed by the man’s honesty Frederick called to the wardens.  “Wardens!  Take this man out of here!  I won’t have this guilty man corrupting all these innocent people.”