Friedrich II, King of Prussia (1712-1786)
Friedrich II der Große (Frederick the Great), King in Prussia (König in Preußen), 1740-1772, and King of Prussia (König von Preußen), 1772-1786, was born 24 January 1712, the son of Friedrich Wilhelm I and Sophie Dorothea of Hanover (1687-1757), (daughter of King George I of Great Britain). He also reigned as Friedrich IV, Elector of Brandenburg. Friedrich continued the modernization of Prussia initiated by his father, and patronized the arts and philosophers such as Voltaire and Kant. Friedrich also united most of his various land holdings through the First Partition of Poland.
This enlightened and farsighted monarch established the principle that participation in civil rights and privileges should not depend on religious creed. He thereby laid the foundation for a toleration of the small Mennonite groups in his realm which was very different from that based on the arbitrary whims of an individual ruler; from this time on they were no longer to be dependent on the mercy of the king, but were expressly permitted to live in Prussia.
On 31 May 1740, he ascended the throne, and on 14 August he rescinded a harsh order which his father and predecessor, Friedrich Wilhelm I, had passed against the Mennonites on 22 February 1732, and declared that all Mennonites who wished to settle in Prussia should again be received and be tolerated in the cities and in the country like any other self-supporting citizens if they paid the usual fees and conducted themselves properly. Through his ambassadors he had this declaration read in Polish Prussia (West Prussia) and even in the Netherlands and invited Mennonites from both places to settle in any part of his domain. To the Mennonites living in Königsberg he granted citizenship in 1744; and in 1745, when East Friesland became a part of his realm he confirmed all their former privileges and rights to the Mennonites in that area.
When the large West Prussian congregations with their strong peasant population came under his rule in 1772 after the first partition of Poland, he also took a friendly attitude toward them. In the Elbing district, which had been leased by Prussia since 1698, General von Gesler, who had been appointed by Friedrich Wilhelm I, tried in 1746 to compel young Mennonites to take military service. The Mennonites presented a complaint to the king, who then commanded the general to desist (Mannhardt, Gem.-Kal. 1902).
On 13 September 1772, Friedrich took possession of West Prussia and thus became the ruler of the Mennonites, who until this time had been subjects of the King of Poland. On 27 September on the occasion of the homage at Marienburg, representatives of the 13,000 Mennonites in West Prussia presented a petition to the king requesting the continuance of their privileges. In reply Friedrich issued a resolution to the Ministry of War and Crown Lands in Marienwerder, 6 October 1772, that the Mennonites under his protection were not to be discriminated against. For release from military service they were to pay a fee of 5,000 talers, which was to be raised annually by the Mennonites of East and West Prussia for the support of the military school at Culm. The order states explicitly that this sum was not to be considered a payment for religious freedom, but a sum for recruiting, in return for release from military duty.
To be sure, in the following years the king felt it necessary to restrict the acquisition of land by the Mennonites, "lest the cantons suffer too severely therefrom"; but he decided on each case individually, and was so lenient that the Mennonites acquired 296 new parcels of land 1781-83.
To assure the Mennonites a firm basis for their future rights and privileges he issued on 27 March 1780, the Gnadenprivilegium, guaranteeing them permanent freedom from military service, as well as the unmolested enjoyment of religious freedom and protection in the practice of their trades in accord with the laws of the country.
Friedrich II died 17 August 1786. Because he and his wife Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Bevern (1715-1797) had no children, he was succeeded by his nephew Friedrich Wilhelm II.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 1 ff.
Mannhardt, H. G. "Die Mennoniten unter den preussischen Königen." Mennonitischer Gemeinde-Kalender (1902).
Mannhardt, W. Die Wehrfreiheit der Altpreussischen Mennoniten. Marienburg, 1863.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 383-384. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Mannhardt, H. G. and Richard D. Thiessen. "Friedrich II, King of Prussia (1712-1786)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. April 2007. Web. 22 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/F75424.html.
APA style: Mannhardt, H. G. and Richard D. Thiessen. (April 2007). Friedrich II, King of Prussia (1712-1786). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/F75424.html.