1902 Encyclopedia > Frederick William II

Frederick William II
King of Prussia

FREDERICK WILLIAM II. (1744-1797), king of Prussia, was the nephew of Frederick the Great. His father, Augustus William, the second son of Frederick William I., having died in 1757, Frederick William was nominated by the king successor to the throne. He was of an easy-going nature, fond of pleasure, and without the capacity for hard work that characterized his foremost predecessors. His loose mode of life alienated from him the sympathies of his uncle, into whose presence he was not admitted for several years. In the war of the Bavarian succession in 1778, however, he received an expression of approval from Frederick in consequence of an act of personal courage. When he mounted the throne, Prussia held a high place on the Continent; her military fame was splendid; and the national finances were in a flourishing condition. The young king had some good impulses, and made himself popular for a time by lightening a few of the burdens of the people, abolishing the tyrannical method of collecting taxes which Frederick had instituted, and encouraging trade. He gave himself up, however, to the advice of unworthy favourites, and soon lost the goodwill both of his subjects and of Europe. For a time he continued the decided policy of his uncle towards Austria, vigorously supporting Turkey against her in 1790, But in the same year he concluded the Reichenbach convention, whereby a nominally good understanding was effected between the two countries, various difficulties being removed during a personal inter-view of Frederick William with the emperor Leopold II. at Pillnitz in 1791. In 1792, associating himself with the emperor in the war with France, Frederick William sent across the Rhine an army of 50,000 men under the duke of Brunswick. A separate peace was concluded by Prussia in 1795. The dilatoriness with which he prosecuted this war was due to jealousy respecting the policy of Austria and Bussia towards Poland. He had formally recognized in 1790 the integrity of Poland; but in 1793, after a vast amount of intrigue, he took part with Russia in the second partition, gaining thereby what is now called South Prussia, with Dantzic and Thorn. The following year brought the third partition, which extended Prussia from the Niemen to Warsaw. Some time before these partitions, in consequence of an understanding with the margrave, signed December 2, 1791, the king had gained possession of the principalities of Baireuth and Anspach. The size and population of Prussia were thus largely increased under Frederick William II.; but, except in the case of Baireuth and Anspach, he attained his aims by means which the more intelligent class of his subjects did not ap-prove, and by his vacillating policy he greatly lowered the state in the esteem of the world. He not only exhausted the resources accumulated by Frederick the Great, but im-posed on the country a burden of debt; and he excited much ill-feeling by introducing a severe censorship of the press, and by subjecting the clergy to laws conceived in a spirit of the narrowest orthodoxy. He died on the 16th November 1797. His first wife having been divorced in 1769, he married the Princess Louise of Hesse-Darmstadt, by whom he had five sons.

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