GHDI logo

The Political Testament of Frederick William I ("the Soldier King") (February 17, 1722)

This hard-boiled statement of the earthy, shrewd, and domineering Frederick William’s views on his realm and how he aimed to govern it flowed from his pen when his son, the future Frederick the Great, was but ten years old. It was meant to be read upon its author’s death, which did not occur until eighteen years later. The Prussian king’s deep religiosity pervades the text, but so does his religious bigotry toward Catholics and Jews. Likewise, the text conveys his prejudices against the ruling elites, both in aristocratic East Prussia and in his westerly, more bourgeois provinces. His disinclination toward war and diplomatic adventures in favor of sustaining the productive interplay, as he saw it, of army and society reveal the sense in which he deserved his reputation as soldier-king. It is notable that this text offers no reflections on the state of the common people, whether village agriculturalists or town-dwelling artisans. The only subjects the king concerns himself with are his “vassals.”

print version     return to document list previous document      next document

page 1 of 11

Instructions how my successor to the throne of Prussia is to shape his conduct, and the necessary information on the whole state of the army and Provinces. I have written this in Potsdam on January 22, 1722.

Since I clearly perceive that my health is growing worse year by year, and I know that by human expectation my life cannot last much longer, I have set down the following instructions that my dear successor may model his conduct on them.

I begin with a few words on my own life. I stand well with Almighty in God. From my twentieth year I have put all my trust steadfastly in God, Whose gracious hearing I have ever invoked, and He has also constantly heard my prayer, and I am assured of salvation through the grace of Jesus Christ and His bitter passion and death. I heartily repent all grievous and inner sins which I have committed and pray to God to forgive them for Jesus Christ’s sake. I have always labored to make myself better and to live a godly life so far as I was humanly able to do so, and with God’s help I will so persevere until my end. So help me the Holy Spirit,

through Jesus Christ, Amen.

Let my dear successor be well assured that all successful rulers who keep God before their eyes and have no mistresses or, rather, whores, and lead a godly life – on such rulers God will shower down all worldly and spiritual blessings. I therefore beseech my dear successor to lead a godly life and to show a good example to his lands and army, not to tipple and gorge, which lead to a dissolute life. Neither must my dear successor allow any comedies, operas, ballets, masks, or redoutes to be held in his Lands and Provinces, he must abhor them because these are godless and devilish things, whereby Satan, his temple, and kingdom are increased.

first page < previous   |   next > last page