Frederick the Great and Britain: A Portrait
When Ambassador von Moltke contacted me several months ago to ask me to give this talk he left it to me to choose a theme. I thought about how I might shed some new light on the reception received by Frederick the Great in Britain. At first I opted for the path I had trodden several times before: how Frederick’s image had been tarnished since his death by events outside his control; how first, the growth of Prussia, then the arrival of Germany on the world scene in 1871 had run away with the picture of the sometime warrior and philosopher-king and ended up presenting us with a grotesque caricature.
But then another idea occurred to me. It was borne of an email correspondence earlier this year with a gallery in New York which alerted me to the portrait of Frederick the Great by Antoine Pesne which is now in the British Royal Collections.1 The Berlin version is in the National Gallery here, but the Queen’s picture appears to be the original.2
The gallery had acquired a frame, designed by the Huguenot émigré craftsman Paul Petit and commissioned by Frederick Prince of Wales in 1748. The insignia around the frame included the Prussian coat of arms and a number of other symbols associated with the Prussian house. They supposed that it was destined for a painting of Frederick the Great and wanted to know if I could I shed any light on this.
The Van Loos were my prime suspects. I thought originally that it might have been made for Charles-Amadée Van Loo, who decorated the Stadt and Neues Palais in Potsdam. Jean-Baptiste Van Loo painted Frederick Prince of Wales and I had an engraving by Amadée’s uncle Carle Vanloo of a portrait of Frederick the Great in the French royal collection – Carle had been Frederick’s first choice for Potsdam. Had the Prince of Wales asked Charles-Amadéee to make a portrait of the king? After several months it became clear that the frame had been made for the Pesne portrait and that this picture had been presented to ‘Poor Fred’3 as early as 1736 – the year of the Prince of Wales’ marriage to Augusta of Saxe-Coburg4. If the portrait was a wedding present, why was it given a new frame? And why did the prince wait twelve years before he commissioned it?
The next move was to find out just what Fred thought of Fritz. That proved hard to gauge; chiefly because of the paucity of material: lives of the Prince of Wales are almost uniformly bad and the only one claiming to have consulted German sources, focuses on Fred the collector, but fails to mention the Pesne portrait.5
Two families could hardly have been more closely linked than the Hanoverian Welfs and the Prussian Hohenzollerns. Frederick I, founder of the Prussian monarchy, had wedded Leibniz’s friend, Sophia Charlotte of Hanover, sister of George I of Great Britain, and great-granddaughter of James I of England and VI of Scotland (Frederick was therefore King James’s great-great-great-grandson). I don’t need to remind you that this palace was named for her.
But if that wasn’t enough, Frederick I’s son Frederick William I of Prussia married his first cousin Sophia Dorothea of Hanover and Great Britain, sister of George II. It would therefore have been entirely natural to roll the dice a third time and look for a Hanoverian-British bride for the Prussian Crown Prince Frederick. Sophia Dorothea set about doing just that almost as soon as she knew she had two children who looked like surviving infancy. Her quest frequently took her back to her native turf at Herrenhausen and involved – one supposes – frequent discussion with Frederick Louis/Friedrich Ludwig, who was two years older than his cousin Wilhelmina and five more than Fritz.6 Another indication of the closeness of ties is the fact that Sophia Dorothea had also had a Friedrich Ludwig who died in infancy in 1709.
There is no time today to go into the protracted negotiations. It is enough to say that they failed. The plan was first enshrined in the Treaty of Charlottenburg of 1723. The project had been discussed with George I, who was in favour of his grandson and granddaughter marrying the eldest Prussian princess and prince.7
The project was aired again in 1725 and again in 1729-1730. As it matured, the scheme proposed that Frederick should marry one of George, Prince of Wales’s (from 1727, George II) daughters – possibly the Princess Royal Anne (who was a bluestocking like her cousin Wilhelmina) but more probably Amelia8 - and that Wilhelmina would wed Crown Prince Frederick (from 1727 Prince of Wales). The 1725 Treaty of Herrenhausen, which bound Prussia to Britain and France, might have seemed a perfect opportunity to seal the match, but Fritz was still only thirteen years old. Then the moment passed, as King Frederick William was increasingly rankled by the prospect of any form of non-German alliance, particularly after his cousin George II ascended to the throne of Great Britain in 1727.
Frederick William utterly loathed his brother-in-law and first cousin. They had fought as children9, and George had married Caroline of Ansbach, who had been brought up here at Charlottenburg and elsewhere at the Prussian court – where she was a protégée of Sophia Charlotte10 - and coveted by her son.11 George thought likewise. His hatred of his cousin was exacerbated by Frederick William’s clumsy attempts to recruit soldiers in Hanover.12 As one British observer noted: ‘our king’s contempt for his brother in law is as great as one man can have for another, and I dread the possible consequences of a rancour so violent and so reciprocal.’13 Even on his deathbed Frederick William objected to having to forgive this particular enemy.14
Frederick William also believed his bread to have been better buttered with the Emperor in Vienna than the King in London. Charles VI had made vague promises to the Prussian king that, if he played his cards right and recognised the Pragmatic Sanction that allowed his daughter Maria Theresa to inherit the Austrian crown lands at his death, he might inherit the duchies of Jülich and Berg which had once been part of Prussian Cleves at the decease of their present rulers. The Emperor strung him along but in his declining years, Frederick William designated Fritz, saying ‘Here stands someone who will avenge me.’15
Vienna had other – decidedly less ambitious - plans for the Prussian children. Its wily ambassador Seckendorff prevailed, and Prussia’s subservience to the Emperor was established by the Treaties of Wüsterhausen and Berlin. One of the British attempts to make Frederick William consent to Frederick’s marriage to Amelia involved a possible stadtholdership for the Prussian prince in Hanover, but that incensed the Prussian king even more. Frederick eventually married Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Bevern and Wilhelmina the Margrave of Bayreuth. There was to be no more Hanoverian blood in the Hohenzollern veins: Frederick William thought there was too much already.
Everyone in Europe knew the story of Fritz’s attempt to escape to Britain, of his subsequent court martial and of the execution of his friend Katte at Küstrin in 1730. One of the reasons behind Frederick’s attempt at flight was his father’s refusal to entertain Sophia Dorothea’s marriage plans for her children.
George II’s son Frederick, later Prince of Wales spent a neglected childhood in Hanover after his father left for Great Britain, only rejoining his mother and father in 1728 after they ascended the throne. Although the first two Georges were often resident in their electorate, George II left Caroline in charge in London. He would not countenance any power devolving on Fred16 whose younger brother William Duke of Cumberland was preferred in all things.
Fred was highly in favour of the Prussian marriage17 for his own part and his neglect, together with his father’s disdain for him were two of many ways in which his plight resembled that of Fritz. George II despised his eldest son every bit as much as Frederick William did his. Where his father famously hated ‘boets at bainters’ Fred loved painting, and amassed a collection of 140 works. He wrote poor French verse including the autobiographical satire Prince Titi, was musical, and took up the cello in 1732.18 His sister Amelie, by the way, played keyboard instruments like her namesake Amalia of Prussia.
At Leicester House ‘Fred’ kept a court that was anathema to the king and queen, much as Fritz did at Rheinsberg. Frederick of Prussia had links to Fred’s circle through Algarotti and Lord Baltimore. Fritz had his Bayard Order at Rheinsberg, where Fred had a Round Table at Leicester House.
Fred also sat for Antoine Pesne at Herrenhausen in 172419 and patronised the Van Loo family. One of the most famous portraits of Fred, making music with his sisters, was by Philippe Mercier, a pupil of Pesne’s who also worked at the royal palaces in Potsdam. Frederick of Prussia sat several times for Pesne as crown prince but with one exception – Johann Georg Ziesenis in 1763 – he never sat for a painter as king.
What eludes us is evidence of any personal contact between the cousins, although Frances Vivian – surely the best of Fred’s biographers - does aver that they were in correspondence during the marriage crisis of 173020 and Sir George Young goes so far as to call them ‘friends for life’ but fails to produce anything to support his assertion.21
Sir George Young sums up the similarities between the two princes is a stylish passage: ‘both princes were persecuted by their soldiering sires who disapproved of their dilettantism. Both had military ambitions that were not allowed to them during their fathers’ lives. Both had literary aspirations and composed inferior French verse in the style of the Regent. Both were musical and both amusing. The Hanoverian prince played the fiddle (sic), the Prussian the flute, and both could play the fool.’22
It would have been quite natural for a degree of empathy to exist between the crown princes.
Many British people believed the king’s nephew to be a good man. They had disliked his father, whom they blamed for the failure of the double marriage, the conflict with Fritz – and the execution of Katte - and for Frederick William’s insistence on turning Prussia into a military state. Dr Johnson pronounced Frederick William ‘rough and savage’ and there was much ribaldry at the expense of his ‘giants’ army’.23
No one took Frederick William’s side over his treatment of his eldest son. The Prussian king had mistakenly seen his son’s attempted flight as an English plot.24 Frederick had received gifts from all over Europe during his imprisonment at Küstrin. The court in London excelled itself, however, collecting the princely sum of £12,250.25
George II might have considered the idea of the Prussian Crown Prince marrying his daughter Amelie but he hated his nephew too. He distrusted his ambition which, he felt, was a threat to his electorate. A Prussian diplomat – nomen est omen – had gone as far as to say Hanover ‘would only be a breakfast’ in 1738, meaning that it was implicitly vulnerable. If the British couldn’t see what the fuss was about, George II loved his ‘country seat’. He wasn’t immune from acquisitiveness and dreamed of carving up Prussia between Hanover and Saxony.26
When the new King in Prussia, Frederick II, marched into Protestant Lower Silesia in December 1740, the good will of the British public was dissipated: suddenly people began to recognise a similarity between father and son.27 That new brutal guise became clear to Guy Dickens, who had been a confidant of Fritz’s at the time of the marriage crisis and brought him money to pay off his debts. King Frederick dismissed him with the words ‘Sir, if the king, your master, disapproves my views, and enters into any measures to prevent my taking whatever suits my convenience, I am ready to go to war with him; as well as with the ‘House of Austria.’28
Fritz was not only thinking of glory, but also revenge for Jülich and Berg. As he had predicted, the strike proved the signal for a general free-for-all with France and Bavaria grabbing what they could: they all forgot their pious pledges to the Pragmatic Sanction. Great Britain was anxious to preserve the status quo and Maria-Theresa was plied with money while Britain threw its weight behind the anti-Prussian coalition. British diplomacy in Vienna tried to buy the Prussian king off with promises of Gelderland and Limburg.29
Apart from Maria Theresa, the European ruler most angry at Frederick’s behaviour was his uncle: ‘George regarded his nephew as an upstart, at once callow, arrogant, and insensitive to the interests of Germany.’30 Britain needed Austria as a counterweight to France. Frederick was a ‘faithless prince’, he told Parliament and must have ‘his wings clipped’.31
According to the 1731 Treaty of Vienna, Britain was obliged to send troops and in February 1741, Britain told Austria to reject all compromise as help was on its way. George’s government met on 2 June (OS) to discuss the crisis. Walpole hoped that Fritz would abide by British interests. Broadly speaking, that meant preserving the status quo in Hanover and Prussia and defending the Protestant religion. George, on the other hand, was pursuing his own quarry and saw the possibility of acquiring territory in the form of Hildesheim. On 5 December Curt Christoph von Schwerin had to warn the Dutch minister Ginchel that Prussia was ready to fall on Hanover.32
Unlike his ministers, George was incapable of seeing the picture clearly, he was angry. ‘From the moment Frederick invaded Silesia his uncle never ceased hating him: disappointment, fear, offended dignity, jealousy, envy, family dislike, the generation gap, genuine abhorrence – they all came into it…’33 He wanted to humiliate this ‘Herr ohne Treu und Religion’ but his ministers wisely stayed his arms, pointing out that Fritz had twenty-eight battalions in Magdeburg under the command of the Alte Dessauer.34
Simultaneously, the Hanoverian minister Gerlach Adolph von Münchhausen bearded Fritz in Berlin, but the Prussian king refused to see him, dismissing George’s envoy as a ‘coujon’. He believed George was prepared to use the power of Great Britain to further Hanoverian interests but failed to understand that unlike him, Britain had a constitution that imposed restraints on the king.35
Worse, the German princes that were allied to George began, one by one, to back out. The British were far more anxious to see a chastening of France and were largely indifferent to the fate of Silesia. Support for Austria was only conceivable as a means of strengthening the bulwark against France. British envoys were instructed by Walpole to try to mediate between Austria and Prussia to bring about peace.
When Britain spurned Frederick he turned to France for help, urging the Bavarian elector Charles to do the same. Britain studied Frederick’s move with alarm and looked around for a means of patching up the quarrel between Prussia and Austria.
British policy had proved inadequate and the Whigs lost office in 1741. Fred came into his own and is credited with a major role in the Whigs’ defeat by the Country Party which drew support from the Tories. He was at the height of his popularity then, but to some he might have been a traitor. It should not be forgotten that the Jacobite champion – the Young Pretender – the grandson of James II - invaded England from Scotland four years later and Fred’s brother Cumberland put down the uprising with memorable bloodshed. The Whigs had been the Hanoverian party.
It was hardly surprising that there should be an attempt to calumny the Prince of Wales, inferring that he was receiving money from foreign powers. Nor is it a wonder that his father hated him. Sir George Young saw Fred as the champion of a new ‘British’ empire, where his father and grandfather could see no further than Hanover, its interests and its well-established place within the Holy Roman Empire.36 Hanover, after all, had served the Empire well. With its army of 20,000 men it had seen valiant service against the Turks and the French37 and – as every British schoolboy should know (but probably no longer does) George II was the last of our monarchs to fight a battle, and gallantly, at Dettingen.
But if the King of Great Britain was hell-bent on protecting Hanover, he could not bring his new people with him. According to Young, Hanover was ‘a word of hate to the English of the eighteenth century;’ ‘a red rag to John Bull.’38 Had he lived, says Young, Fred would have dissolved the ‘personal union’ between Great Britain and Hanover. As it was that dissolution only took place in 1837, when Queen Victoria, as a woman, fell foul of Salic Law, and the crown of Hanover passed to her uncle Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland.
Parson Etoffe, who wrote a short biography of the Prince of Wales after his death, repeated the accusation – generally dismissed as scurrilous – that the new Prussian king had bribed the prince with a loan. ‘It has been observed that his adherents cooperated with the Jacobites in the elections of 1741, and how fatally successful they were. That the King of Prussia assisted him with £20,000 has been asserted by persons of the best credit…’39
But if the accusation is false, Frederick’s motives ring true: ‘What this prince had endured from his father was not improbably one inducement to assist the son here in his state of opposition.’40 Fritz had particularly resented the way his Hanoverian cousins had behaved over the English marriage,41 and he was not a forgiving man.
And while the story of the £20,000 is dismissed, it is accepted that Fred’s wife Augusta borrowed 50,000 écus from the Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst, a Prussian field marshal and father of Catherine the Great of Russia.
Had Fred been swept up by the wave of enthusiasm for his Prussian cousin?
When the German-speaking Carteret rose to power after Walpole’s fall British policy was to woo the Prussians over to the Austrian side and protect Hanover against the French. Carteret, with his unmatched linguistic gifts, made continental affairs a priority. Although he conversed with George in German, he was not a ‘Hanoverian’ and saw his role as ‘keeping the El[ector] an Englishman.’42. France was Carteret’s enemy too and he hoped to bring Frederick (whom he admired) in on his side. Carteret couldn’t care less about the Pragmatic Sanction. Austria was to be supported only inasmuch as it was in Britain’s interest; the integrity of its territory was not to be safeguarded.
He wanted a rapprochement with Fritz, which meant issuing a guarantee for his gains in Silesia to woo the King of Prussia away from his French alliance. The policy was enshrined in the Treaty of Westminster of 19 November 1742 (OS). This alteration was not exactly good news for Maria-Theresa, as she wanted Silesia back, but for the time being she was forced to stomach the Anglo-Prussian defensive alliance.
George II still didn’t get the point. He wanted land and the deposition of his nephew. Fritz told the British minister Hyndford ‘I would have him remember that Hanover is a very little distance from me, and that I can enter there when I please.’43
Fritz rightly smelled treachery at Worms, where a treaty was signed on 13 September 1743. Although it ostensibly concerned Austria’s Italian territories, Prussia was discussed behind the scenes and George was vociferous in his demands. Saxony was to obtain a bridge to Poland through Prussian territory, East Friesland, coveted by Fritz, was to fall to Hanover or Holland, Silesia would be returned to Austria, Saxony would gain the Saalekreis, Sweden Pomerania, Holland Cleves, Poland East Prussia, Russia would be compensated and Hanover would receive some gift in the form of Halbestadt and parts of Westphalia. The originator of the scheme was possibly Graf Brühl (no wonder Frederick hated him so much). Fritz himself would be set aside and replaced by his brother Augustus William. George wanted his nephew banished.
The result was the Second Silesian War.44
Fritz was now looking for an alliance with Britain in order to secure his gains in Silesia and to shore up the ‘Pantomime’ Emperor, the Wittelsbach Charles VII, who had been dispossessed when the Austrians overran Bavaria. He offered to guarantee Hanover to this end. The result was the defensive alliance between Britain and Prussia signed at Westminster on 29 November 1743.
Relations soured in 1744, and in January 1745 Britain, Saxony, Austria and the Dutch Republic signed an alliance aimed at defeating Fritz and offering Saxony subsidies in money and land in the event of Prussia losing the war.
Despite George, the Quadruple Alliance between Britain, Holland, Austria and Saxony envisaged only small-scale punitive measures against Prussia. The bubble was deflated by the death Charles VII on 20 January 1745, which re-opened the path for Maria-Theresa’s husband Francis Stephan to claim the imperial throne. Fritz’s war effort floundered in Bohemia and he was not able to win a significant victory until Hohenfriedberg on 4 June. Russia refused to join the alliance and the Prussian victory coupled with the Jacobite invasion of the north of Britain distracted would-be Prussia-bashers.
At the Convention of Hanover on 26 August 1745, both Britain and Prussia guaranteed one another’s possessions. At the Peace of Dresden on Christmas Day 1745, Prussia sidled out of the war.
The Hanoverian Succession was the victory of Parliament over the Stuarts and the Whigs over the Tories. Royal families continued to plan dynastic marriages but when it came to British foreign policy parliamentary budgets won the day. Neither public opinion nor Parliament shared George’s views on foreign policy and very soon after Fritz launched his attack on Silesia there was an effusion of Prussophilia in British popular culture as borne out by the many prints made at the time and commemorative porcelain fired at Worcester and Stafford.45
People still compared Fritz to a highwayman – ‘That anointed highwayman, that filthy king of Prussia.’46 Others could see his uses: in 1743, William Pitt called him ‘one of the most powerful allies we could treat with.’47
Gradually, however, the public began to see the free-thinking Fritz as the hero of the Protestant cause: Protestant Prussia was liberating the oppressed Silesians from Catholic Austria. A pamphlet described him as ‘this great Protestant defender’48 and that image toppled the negative one of the ‘highwayman’. Maria Theresa was pleased to hear of the puny force or ‘Pragmatic Army’ put together to oppose the King of Prussia but in reality the only real friend she possessed was George II. Even Münchhausen was advising his king to step back. Hanover was far too vulnerable. When Prince Leopold and the French seemed to be proceeding towards Hanover from both sides ‘George took to his bed’,49 contemplating a treaty of neutrality with Prussia.
After the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, King Frederick of Prussia was very much ‘the Great’ and Poor Fred might have wanted to put his cousin in pride of place.
Frederick Prince of Wales commissioned a new frame for his cousin’s portrait in 1748.50 He died on 20 March 1751.
It was his father who led Britain to war in 1756. With Europe on the boil again it was important to keep the vulnerable Hanoverian Electorate neutral. The Seven Years war was a new beginning with the same cast. There was Fritz in Prussia, George in Britain (and Hanover), Maria Theresa in Austria and Louis in France. Nothing had been forgotten or forgiven. Indeed, George II still thought that he might be able to expand Hanoverian frontiers and played a double game while he negotiated with Vienna. His hand was stayed once more, however, by Fritz’s popularity in England.51
But Prussia began the Seven Years War as Britain’s friend. The Convention of Westminster was signed in January 1756, that is, before Fritz’s invasion of Saxony. The gist of the arrangement, which fell short of an alliance, was that Hanover would not be attacked.52 Britain recognised Prussia’s borders as in 1745, which meant that George had to give up coveting East Friesland. Ranged against Frederick and an occasional British ally were the mights of Austria, France, Russia, with Saxony and Sweden thrown in for good measure.
Fortunately British politics had turned up one of its all-time stars: William Pitt, first Earl of Chatham who became Secretary of State for the Southern Department on 4 December 1756. He had a marked disdain for Hanover and a hatred of Münchhausen. He also had a loyal servant in Andrew Mitchell, who accompanied Frederick the Great on his campaigns and whose reports added colour to the picture of the Prussian king and warlord in Britain. Many hearts were already full of Frederick. On 18 September 1756, the Secretary of State for the Northern Department, Lord Holdernesse wrote to Mitchell to say ‘Our constant toast here now is, success to the king of Prussia: he grows vastly popular among us…’ Frederick knew how to play to his English fans. On 17 November that year the king told Mitchell that the British should drop all personal interest in the war ‘in order to put themselves behind the common cause, which is that of Protestantism and European liberty.’53
Pitt preferred Frederick the Great’s friendship to Hanover’s sovereignty.54 He had the solution, although perhaps not immediately, to Prussia’s woes: a Prusso-Hanoverian alliance. Pitt ‘hated Rome and all her works’.55 The news of Prussian victories, particularly against the Catholic armies of Maria Theresa, were wildly celebrated. Schwerin, who died before Prague, swiftly became a hero in British prints and ballads. Mitchell described him as ‘one of the greatest officers this or perhaps any country has produced and one of the best of men.’ And Fritz even wrote to his uncle to call him ‘one of the greatest generals of the century.’
The British were over the moon when they heard the news from Prague. On 20 May Holdernesse wrote to Mitchell: ‘A fishing boat dispatched by Colonel Yorke brought us last night the news of the great and glorious victory obtained by the king of Prussia near Prague on the 6th inst., which fortunate event has filled the court and the whole nation with the highest joy, and raised the admiration we already had of His Prussian Majesty’s heroism to the highest pitch; women and children are singing his praises; and the most frantic makers of joy appear in the publick streets. He is in short, become the idol of the people…’ In this renewed time of ‘Prussomania’. Beggars demanded alms to drink a toast to the King of Prussia.56 The Edinburgh Magazine said of the Prussian king ‘in one breast the sage and hero meet.’57
The Prussian defeat at Kolin applied a temporary dampener. The French pasted the Hanoverians at Hastenbeck on 26 July and occupied Hanover. The Army of Observation that was meant to protect Frederick’s western flank was forced to withdraw to Stade. The French humiliated Hanover at the Convention of Kloster Zeven on 8 September requiring Hanover to adopt a neutral stance. Pitt began to disown the Convention.58
The bad weather was short lived. The victories of Rossbach and Leuthen were on every Englishman’s lips. Even the dour Lord Chesterfield was able to write to Sir Thomas Robinson on 17 November 1757, less that two weeks after Rossbach, to say ‘I take it for granted, that the King of Prussia’s victory engrosses the thoughts of all our politicians in town, and gives you what you call great spirits.’59
Rossbach on 5 November was ‘the Agincourt of the German nation’. Frederick of Prussia trounced England’s old enemy France and Hanover re-entered the war on Prussia’s side in 1758. The victory was no less significant for the Germans, who saw in it a compensation for all they had suffered at the hands of the French since the beginning of the Thirty Years War. Cumberland was sacked and replaced by the Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick.
A month later, Leuthen crowned a memorable year and the British parliament voted Frederick a fresh subsidy. The duke of Newcastle broke the news to Mitchell in Breslau, adding that his wife was ‘the strongest Prussian in England.’ Fritz reminded her of her grandfather, the duke of Marlborough: ‘according to our English custom, we drink the king of Prussia’s health; and further success, every day.’60
In the first half of the Seven Years War, Pitt was able to protect Frederick from his uncle George. When Pitt died on 11 May 1778 Frederick was in a mood of rare indulgence towards the ‘Roman’ as he called him: ‘il faut avouer que l’Angleterre a été longtemps en travail, et qu’elle a beaucoup soufferte pour produire M. Pitt; mais enfin elle est acouchée d’un homme.’61
By the close of 1759, however, Parliament had lost patience and refused to renew his subsidy of £670,000. Holdernesse could see no hope for the king as neither the Austrians or the Russians were prepared to make peace. He was abandoned to his fate.
George died in November 1760, the same month as Fritz’s victory at Torgau on the 3rd. When the news reached Britain guns were fired in honour of the Prussian king, who despite adversity had lost none of his popular allure; but Parliament proved adamantine, and the subsidies dried up altogether in 1761. Fritz was wary of perfidious Albion: ‘What have they done for me?’ He asked Mitchell. Fred’s eldest son, who became George III, viewed Hanover much as his father had done: ‘That horrid electorate which has always lived upon the very vitals of this poor country.’62 But Fred’s son brought no solace, and Fritz had to slog it out for two more years before the ‘Miracle of the House of Brandenburg’ rid him of his Russian foe and the Austrians threw in the towel.
And what of the portrait? It passed to Fred’s second son, the Duke of York and from him back into the Royal Collection. It was next in the news when King Edward VII had it copied by Malcolm Stewart for his hated nephew Kaiser William II and at that point the picture was divorced from Petit’s monumental frame. Possibly the occasion was the bicentenary of the Prussian monarchy in 1901, the celebration of which was interrupted by Queen Victoria’s death. William subsequently played an heroic role, cradling his grandmother as she died. Was it Edward’s way of saying thank you? That copy, by the way, is presumed lost.
The Pesne portrait now languishes in storage. It is tempting to believe it was banished for being an embarrassing reminder of Prussian militarism and the Germanic roots of the British monarchy.
Until 1914, British attitudes were different and England was littered with pubs called ‘The King of Prussia’. On my website I have included a photograph of one in the garrison town of Chatham.63 After 1914 it was re-branded the ‘King George’. Others became the ‘Kitchener Arms’. A century of bad relations between Britain and Germany has done many things to distort historical interpretation. Perhaps in this double jubilee year – the Queen’s and Frederick the Great’s - we could make amends, and bring the real portrait out of the attic64.
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