On Sunday, the 24th day of January 1712, 101 canon shots boomed over the frozen city, announcing the birth of a male heir to the house of Hohenzollern. In the coldness of winter the capital celebrated joyfully. Frederick I was King and he ordered that his grandson be given his name. The German Kaiser Karl VI, who resided in Vienna and Tsar Peter I, who was busy building his new capital St. Petersburg, were asked to stand as godparents.
Almost a year later Frederick I died of tuberculosis, and his son Frederick William I was now King. His son, whom he called Fritz, became officially Prussia's crown prince. His wife, Queen Sophie Dorothea of Hannover was a highly cultured and educated lady. When one year later, in 1714, her father became King George I of England, she openly looked at Prussia and Berlin with contempt. She found consolation only in the fact, that for one year now the crown of Prussia laid upon her head. The Queen was completely opposite from her husband in nature. Frederick William dressed only in simple fashion; he was overweight, and he was obsessed with cleanliness. He became a fanatic in a society where hygiene was so primitive, that clouds of sweet smelling powder covered sweat and dirt. Nowhere, in huts or castles, was running water. The King practically declared war on the love for luxury and wastefulness of his subjects. Order and punctuality became law. His temper was such, that he did not hesitate to strike anyone with his cane, of high or low birth, if he thought such punishment was deserved.
Every day for hours he put the regiments of Potsdam through its marching exercises, while inside the crown Prince and his sister Wilhelmine tumbled through the long hallways of the Potsdam Palace , always ending up in the loving arms of their mother. Fritz and his sister spoke to their mother only in French; they were taught that this was the language of culture, with German spoken only by the lower classes. It is interesting to note, that Fritz included his father into this category.
As he grew up, he learned to play the flute. The King supervised the education of his son. He had to learn to ride a horse and wear a uniform, which he hated and called 'my shroud". But the King was determined to make a man out of this "sissy" as he referred to his son. He despised every thing French and all these fancy clothes, Fritz was so fond of.
The years passed and Fritz, a handsome young Prince, was growing up. Whenever he did something which displeased his father, which was often, the King would strike him. At one time he pulled Fritz by the hair in front of the assembled troops, tore his brocade jacket from his back and tossed it into the fireplace inside. Fritz became so despaired with the never-ending abuse by his father, that he made contact with his grandfather in England through a secret letter dispatched by his sister. He had made the decision to get away from it all. He told his friend Hans Hermann von Katte, a 26 year old officer, of his plans to flee to England and von Katte promised to help. Somehow a letter from Fritz to von Katte was intercepted, and his friend was arrested and charged with treason and lese majesty. The King had also given the order to arrest his son, and both, Fritz and his friend were taken to the fortress at Kuestrin.
On November 6, 1730, the 18 year old crown Prince had to watch through the window of his cell at the Kuestrin fortress, as his friend was led to his execution. Fritz shouted in French" Please forgive, my dear Katte, in God's name, forgive me." The condemned man called back: " there is nothing to forgive, I die for you with joy in my heart.." Fritz fell to the floor; suffering a complete mental breakdown. The Queen begged for the life of her son. Frederick William was so enraged by what he called " this shameful betrayal," and as Fritz was not his only son, he seriously considered the same punishment for him as had befallen Lieutenant von Katte. After much soul searching, he ordered that Fritz was to stay in Kuestrin, but to be instructed in agriculture, economy and administrative duties. He spent 6 weeks in the cell of the fortress, then he was allowed to take his lessons in the town of Kuestrin, but was forbidden to leave the area. Before he was released, he had to swear somberly to three things the father had laid down: First: Never to take revenge on anyone because of his imprisonment. Second: to always obey the wishes of his father. Third: never to marry without the knowledge or consent of the King. Fritz was told, should he at any time break these promises, he would immediately be removed from the right of succession. It would be nine months before Fritz was allowed to return to Potsdam.
A few months later, another surprise was in store for Fritz. On February 4, 1732, he received a letter from his father, in which the King told him short and to the point "You will marry Elisabeth Christine of Braunschweig-Bevern." He added "The Princess is not beautiful but pious, and that is enough." Fritz was beside himself with anger and despair. But, on February 19 he wrote to his father, saying that he would do as he wishes, and that he awaited further orders. The wedding took place over a year later, on June 12, 1733, with Fritz saying his vows with a somber face and a heavy heart.
The King sent Fritz on an inspection tour of East Prussia, and after his return he had to resume the daily routine of exercising the soldiers in the town of Neuruppin, not far from Berlin in the Mark Brandenburg.. Day after day, would this Prussian marching never end? Drill, drill, drill, it went, and "keep formation, muskets straight up like an arrow, change formation, swing around, kneel down and aim, "then again " march, march,, march to the beating of the drums! "
In 1736 the King gave Fritz and his wife the little Palace at Rheinsberg, and he also doubled his salary from 6000 to 12000 Talers per year. Here in Rheinsberg Fritz was happy for the first time in his adult life. He felt like living in the land of enchantment in this beautiful corner of the Mark. Here he saw his friends, and one of them, Freiherr von Bielfeld, introduced him to the secret order of Freemasonry, in which Fritz became an active member until his death. Fritz also engaged an orchestra with nineteen musicians, and every evening beautiful soft music could heard, with Fritz often playing a composition he had written for his flute. It was clear that here an anti-Potsdam was in the making. Through the windows of the Palace one could see gracious ladies and their cavaliers swaying in the shadows of a hundred candles to the tunes of a minuet.
On the surface the relationship between Fritz and his wife seemed almost blissful at Rheinsberg; she was the gracious hostess for which she was awarded with a grateful look from her husband. Elisabeth Christine obviously loved Frederick, but she would never be able to understand his complex nature.
For four years Frederick lived the happy, almost carefree life of a country gentleman at Rheinsberg. He was still at odds with his father over the amount of debt his life style incurred, but he shrugged it off. He would let nothing spoil this idyllic life he had made for himself in this little corner of the Mark Brandenburg. During this time he also studied many books, mostly military strategies of the great commanders. He also kept up his correspondence with Voltaire, which he had started earlier. Frederick was a great admirer of the philosopher and an avid student of the enlightenment, which was a fashionable subject in upper circles of higher society. It was Voltaire who inspired him to put his thoughts to paper. He wrote his well-known theory, his "Anti-Machiavelli" at that time and declared Machiavelli "the biggest scroundel of all times". Some historians today believe that Frederick's comprehension of Machiavelli had been a great misunderstanding, as the publicist of the 15th century in reality had felt nothing but total indifference towards the Royal Princes.
During the winter of 1739/40 the temperatures had dropped so low, they were almost arctic. In February Frederick's mother sent a messenger from Potsdam to Rheinsberg: To come immediately, the father was very ill. Fritz galloped to Ruppin and from there a wagon took him the rest of the way. A thousands thoughts were racing through his mind: Is it really time? Is the day of his freedom really that near? Can he put an end to this double life, always bowing to his father but with hate in his heart?
Frederick sat at the bedside of his dying father. In this moment he could not feel any hatred. The end came around 2 o'clock in the afternoon on the 31st day 1740. One of the officers present later wrote:" In the pale face of the new King I saw a fire burning in his eyes."