GHDI logo

Political Testament of Frederick II ("the Great") (1752)

In 1768, Frederick revised this document, meant only for his eventual successor’s eyes, to take into account changed circumstances, but otherwise it stands as an incisive political self-portrait. Notable is his stoical, rationalist, and absolutist conception of the royal office. So, too, are his views on Prussia’s “national spirit” and the Prussian nobility’s relation to it, his inclination to protect the peasantry, and his rejection of his father’s collegial organization of the bureaucracy. When, in Bismarck’s day, this testament emerged from the archival dust, its amoral Machiavellism concerning foreign policy, and especially territorial annexations advantageous to Prussia, persuaded the Iron Chancellor to have it edited before publication. The full text appeared in print only in 1920, after the Hohenzollerns’ fall.

print version     return to document list previous document      next document

page 1 of 12

On Certain Maxims of Policy Relating to the Nobility

An object of policy of the sovereign of this State is to preserve his noble class; for whatever change may come about, he might perhaps have one which was richer, but never one more valorous and more loyal. To enable them to maintain themselves in their possessions, it is necessary to prevent non-nobles from acquiring noble estates and to compel them to put their money into commerce, so that if some gentleman is forced to sell his lands, he may find only gentlemen to buy them.

It is also necessary to prevent noblemen from taking service abroad, to inspire them with an esprit de corps and a national spirit: this is what I have worked for, and why, in the course of the first war, I did everything possible to spread the name of “Prussian,” in order to teach the officers that, whatever province they came from, they were all counted as Prussians, and that for that reason all the provinces, however separated from one another, form a united body.

It is right that a nobleman should prefer to devote his services to his own country, rather than to any other Power whatever. For this reason, severe edicts have been published against nobles who take service elsewhere without having obtained permission. But since many gentlemen prefer an idle and degraded life to service under arms, it is necessary to draw distinctions and to give preference to those who serve, to the exclusion of those who do not serve, and from time to time to collect together the young gentlemen, in Pomerania, in Prussia, and in Upper Silesia, to put them into cadet schools, and after, to post them to units.

first page < previous   |   next > last page