Fact of the day: 25th September

On this day in 1744 Frederick William II of Prussia (d. 1797) was born.

Frederick William before the corpulence of his middle age was a man of singularly handsome presence, not without mental qualities of a high order; he was devoted to the arts—Beethoven and Mozart enjoyed his patronage, and his private orchestra had a Europe-wide reputation.

He also was a talented cellist. But an artistic temperament was hardly what was required of a king of Prussia on the eve of the French Revolution; and Frederick the Great, who had employed him in various services—notably in an abortive confidential mission to the court of Russia in 1780—openly expressed his misgivings as to the character of the prince and his surroundings. download (9)

For his part, Frederick William, who had never been properly introduced to diplomacy and the business of rulership, resented his uncle for not taking him seriously.

The misgivings of Frederick II appear justified in retrospective. Frederick William′s accession to the throne (17 August 1786) was, indeed, followed by a series of measures for lightening the burdens of the people, reforming the oppressive French system of tax-collecting introduced by Frederick, and encouraging trade by the diminution of customs dues and the making of roads and canals.

This gave the new king much popularity with the masses; the educated classes were pleased by his removal of Frederick′s ban on the German language, with the admission of German writers to the Prussian Academy, and by the active encouragement given to schools and universities.

Frederick William also terminated his predecessor’s state monopolies for coffee and tobacco and the sugar monopoly. However, under his reign the codification known as Allgemeines Preußisches Landrecht, initiated by Frederick II, continued and was completed in 1794.

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