Episode 5: Frederick II of Prussia, The Philosopher King

Frederick II of Prussia, like the Era of the Enlightenment in which he lived, was torn about warfare: was it to be humanised, or was it to be perfected? As king he favoured the latter, earning the respect of contemporaries as the greatest strategist of his age.

Frederick in his youth thought Machiavelli’s instructions for princes morally reprehensible, and as a king surrounded himself with great moral philosophers, including, famously, Voltaire. But Frederick saw it as his duty, as that of any monarch, to increase the territorial possessions of his dynasty, even by war, irrespective of just causes. One of the last monarchs who was his own commander-in-chief on his military campaigns, he was also a crafty political strategist, wresting Silesia away from Empress Maria Theresia yet persuading her to colluding with him (and Catherine II of Russia) in the partition of Poland.

Dr Adam Storring helps us understand this complicated man, who like Xerxes and Alexander III before him, was obsessed with outdoing and outshining his father. A Cambridge man, Dr Storring was awarded the André Corvisier Prize for the worldwide Best Dissertation on Military History in 2019. His publications include works on Frederick the Great, including in the forthcoming Cambridge History of Strategy. He teaches at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London.

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