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Friedrich II of Hesse-Cassel (August 14, 1720 – October 31, 1785) was Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel from 1760 to 1785. He ruled as an enlightened despot, and raised money by renting soldiers (called “Hessians”) to Great Britain to help fight the American Revolutionary War. He combined Enlightenment ideas with Christian values, cameralist plans for central control of the economy, and a militaristic approach toward international diplomacy.

Early life

Friedrich was born at Cassel in Hesse, the son of Wilhelm VIII, Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel and his wife Dorothea Wilhelmine of Saxe-Zeitz. His paternal grandfather was Charles I, Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, and his paternal uncle was King Frederick I of Sweden (Friedrich I, Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel). His education was initially entrusted to Colonel August Moritz von Donop and then from 1726 to 1733 to the Swiss theologian and philosopher, Jean-Pierre de Crousaz.

Marriages and Children

On May 8, 1740, by proxy in London, and on June 28, 1740 in person in Cassel, Friedrich married Princess Mary, fourth daughter of King George II of Great Britain, Elector of Hanover and Caroline of Brandenburg-Ansbach, daughter of Johann Friedrich, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach, and his second wife, Princess Eleonore Erdmuthe of Saxe-Eisenach.

They had four sons:

1. Wilhelm (December 25, 1741 – July 1, 1742)
2. William I, Elector of Hesse (June 3, 1743 – February 27, 1821)
3. Charles (December 19, 1744 – August 1836), father of Princess Louise Caroline of Hesse-Cassel and grandfather of King Christian IX of Denmark.
4. Friedrich (September 11, 1747 – May 20, 1837), father of Prince Wilhelm of Hesse-Cassel and grandfather of Louise of Hesse-Cassel, Queen of Denmark as the wife of King Christian IX of Denmark.

In December 1745, Friedrich landed in Scotland with 6000 Hessian troops to support his father-in-law, George II of Great Britain, in dealing with the Jacobite rising. Although he supported the “Protestant succession” in Great Britain on this occasion, Friedrich later converted from Calvinism to Catholicism.

In February 1749, Friedrich and his father visited the Archbishop-Elector of Cologne, Prince Clemens August of Bavaria, who received Friedrich into the Catholic Church.

Despite his exertions in support of her father, Friedrich’s marriage with the British princess was not a happy one. The couple were living apart from each other by 1747, and were formally separated in 1755. Mary moved to Denmark the following year to care for the children of her late sister Louise of Great Britain, who had died in 1751.

All three of the couple’s surviving sons moved with Mary to Denmark. Two of them, including Friedrich’s heir Wilhelm, later married Danish princesses, their first cousins. The younger sons lived permanently in Denmark, rising to high office in the court of their cousin; only Wilhelm returned to the Holy Roman Empire upon inheriting the principality of Hanau. He also later succeeded Friedrich II as Landgrave Wilhelm VIII of Hesse-Cassel.

Mary died in 1772, and Friedrich lost little time in marrying again. On January 10, 1773, at Berlin, he married Margravine Philippine Brandenburg-Schwedt daughter of Friedrich Wilhelm, Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt and Sophia Dorothea of Prussia. No children were born of this marriage.


After being formally separated from his wife in 1755, Friedrich entered active service in the Prussian military. In 1760, he succeeded his father as Landgrave Friedrich II of Hesse-Cassel. Despite Friedrich’s Catholicism, the principality remained Calvinist, and Friedrich’s children were raised as Protestants in Denmark.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, it was a fairly widespread practice for smaller principalities to rent out troops to other princes. However, the practise was carried to excess in Hesse-Cassel, which maintained 7% of its entire population under arms throughout the eighteenth century.

Landgrave Friedrich II hired out so many troops to his nephew, King George III of Great Britain, for use in the American War of Independence, that “Hessian” has become an American term for all German soldiers deployed by the British in the War. Friedrich used the revenue to finance his patronage of the arts and his opulent lifestyle. The architect Simon Louis du Ry transformed for Friedrich II the town of Cassel into a modern capital.

Landgrave Friedrich II died in 1785 at Castle Weißenstein, Cassel. He was succeeded by his eldest surviving son, Wilhelm who became Wilhelm IX, Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel. He was said to have inherited one of the largest fortunes in Europe at the time.

In 1803, Landgrave Wilhelm IX was created The Prince-Elector of Hesse. After the Napoleonic Wars Several other prince-electors of the Holy Roman Empire had been recognized as kings at the Congress of Vienna (1815), such as Bavaria, Württemberg and Saxony, Wilhelm attempted to join them by declaring himself King of the Chatti.

However, the European powers refused to recognize this title at the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle (1818) and instead granted him the title Grand Duke of Hesse and the style of “Royal Highness.” Deeming the title of Prince-Elector to be superior in dignity to that of Grand Duke, Wilhelm chose to remain an Elector, even though there was no longer a Holy Roman Emperor to elect. Hesse-Cassel would remain an Electorate until it was annexed by Prussia in 1866.