Today’s installment concludes The Great Elector Grows Prussia,
our selection from History of Friedrich II of Prussia by Thomas Carlyle published in 1858. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed a selection from the great works of five thousand words. Congratulations!
Previously in The Great Elector Grows Prussia.
Time: 1688 (his death)
His married and domestic life is very fine and human, especially with that Oranien-Nassau Princess, who was his first Wife (1646-1667) Princess Louisa of Nassau-Orange, Aunt to our own Dutch William, King William III, in time coming: an excellent, wise Princess, from whom came the Orange Heritages, which afterward proved difficult to settle. Orange was at last exchanged for the small Principality of Neufchatel in Switzerland, which is Prussia’s ever since. “Oranienburg (Orange-Burg)” a Royal Country-house, still standing, some Twenty miles northward from Berlin, was this Louisa’s place: she had trimmed it up into a little jewel of the Dutch type — pot-herb gardens, training-schools for girls, and the like — a favorite abode of hers when she was at liberty for recreation. But her life was busy and earnest; she was helpmate, not in name only, to an ever-busy man. They were married young, a marriage of love withal. Young Friedrich Wilhelm’s courtship, wedding in Holland; the honest trustful walk and conversation of the two Sovereign Spouses, their journeyings together, their mutual hopes, fears, and manifold vicissitudes, till Death, with stern beauty, shut it in: all is human, true, and wholesome in it; interesting to look upon, and rare among sovereign persons.
Not but that he had his troubles with his womankind. Even with this his first Wife, whom he loved truly, and who truly loved him, there were scenes — the Lady having a judgment of her own about everything that passed, and the man being choleric withal. Sometimes, I have heard, “he would dash his hat at her feet,” saying symbolically, “Govern you, then, Madam! Not the Kurfuerst Hat; a Coif is my wear, it seems!” Yet her judgment was good, and he liked to have it on the weightiest things, though her powers of silence might halt now and then. He has been known, on occasions, to run from his Privy Council to her apartment, while a complex matter was debating, to ask her opinion, hers, too, before it was decided. Excellent Louisa, Princess full of beautiful piety, good sense, and affection — a touch of the Nassau-Heroic in her. At the moment of her death, it is said, when speech had fled, he felt from her hand which lay in his, three slight, slight pressures: “Farewell!” thrice mutely spoken in that manner, not easy to forget in this world.
His second Wife, Dorothea, who planted the Lindens in Berlin, and did other husbandries, fell far short of Louisa in many things, but not in tendency to advise, to remonstrate, and plaintively reflect on the finished and unalterable. Dreadfully thrifty lady, moreover; did much in dairy produce, farming of town-rates, provision-taxes, not to speak again of that Tavern she was thought to have in Berlin, and to draw custom to it in an oblique manner! “Ah! I have not my Louisa now; to whom now shall I run for advice or help?” would the poor Kurfuerst at times exclaim.
He had some trouble, considerable trouble, now and then, with mutinous spirits in Preussen; men standing on antique Prussian franchises and parchments, refusing to see that the same were now antiquated incompatible, nor to say impossible, as the new Sovereign alleged, and carrying themselves very stiffly at times. But the Hohenzollerns had been used to such things; a Hohenzollern like this one would evidently take his measures, soft but strong, and even stronger to the needful pitch, with mutinous spirits. One Buergermeister of Koenigsberg, after much stroking on the back, was at length seized in open Hall by Electoral writ, soldiers having first gently barricaded the principal streets, and brought cannon to bear upon them. This Buergermeister, seized in such brief way, lay prisoner for life, refusing to ask his liberty, though it was thought he might have had it on asking.
Another gentleman, a Baron von Kalkstein, of old Teutsch-Ritter kin, of very high ways, in the Provincial Estates (Staende) and elsewhere, got into lofty, almost solitary, opposition, and at length, into mutiny proper, against the new “Non-Polish” Sovereign, and flatly refused to do homage at his accession — refused, Kalkstein did, for his share; fled to Warsaw; and very fiercely, in a loud manner, carried out his mutinies in the Diets and Court Conclaves there, his plea being, or plea for the time, “Poland is our liege lord” (which it was not always), “and we cannot be transferred to you except by our consent asked and given,” which, too, had been a little neglected on the former occasion of transfer; so that the Great Elector knew not what to do with Kalkstein, and at length (as the case was pressing) had him kidnapped by his Ambassador at Warsaw; had him “rolled in a carpet” there, and carried swiftly in the Ambassador’s coach, in the form of luggage, over the frontier, into his native Province, there to be judged, and, in the end (since nothing else would serve him), to have the sentence executed, and his head cut off; for the case was pressing. These things, especially this of Kalkstein, with a boisterous Polish Diet and parliamentary eloquence in the rear of him, gave rise to criticisms, and required management on the part of the Great Elector.
Of all his ancestors, our little Fritz, when he grew big, admired this one — a man made like himself in many points. He seems really to have loved and honored this one. In the year 1750 there had been a new Cathedral got finished at Berlin; the ancestral bones had to be shifted over from the vaults of the old one — the burying-place ever since Joachim II, that Joachim who drew his sword on Alba. King Friedrich, with some attendants, witnessed the operation, January, 1750. When the Great Kurfuerst’s coffin came, he bade them open it; gazed in silence on the features for some time, which were perfectly recognizable; laid his hand on the hand long dead, and said, “Messieurs, celui ci a fait de grandes choses!” (“This one did a grand work”).
This ends our series of passages on The Great Elector Grows Prussia by Thomas Carlyle from his book History of Friedrich II of Prussia published in 1858. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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