King Friedrich Wilhelm I in Prussia, popularly dubbed the Soldier King, had created a large and powerful army led by his famous “Potsdam Giants”, carefully managed his treasury, and developed a strong centralized government. He was prey to a violent temper (in part due to porphyritic illness) and ruled Brandenburg-Prussia with absolute authority.
King Friedrich Wilhelm I in Prussia
As his eldest son and heir Crown Prince Friedrich (future King Friedrich II The Great of Prussia) grew, his preference for music, literature and French culture clashed with his father’s militarism, resulting in Friedrich Wilhelm frequently beating and humiliating him. In contrast, Friedrich’s mother Sophia of Hanover was polite, charismatic and learned. Her father, Elector George Louis of Brunswick-Lüneburg, succeeded to the British throne as King George I in 1714.
Crown Prince Friedrich became close friends with Hans Hermann von Katte, a Prussian officer several years older than him and served as one of his tutors. When he was 18, Friedrich plotted to flee to England with Katte and other junior army officers. While the royal retinue was near Mannheim in the Electorate of the Palatinate, Robert Keith, Peter Keith’s brother, had an attack of conscience when the conspirators were preparing to escape and begged King Friedrich Wilhelm for forgiveness on August 5, 1730.
Friedrich as Crown Prince (1739)
Crown Prince Friedrich and Katte were subsequently arrested and imprisoned in Küstrin. Because they were army officers who had tried to flee Prussia for Great Britain, Friedrich Wilhelm leveled an accusation of treason against the pair. The king briefly threatened the crown prince with execution, then considered forcing Friedrich to renounce the succession in favour of his brother, August Wilhelm, although either option would have been difficult to justify to the Imperial Diet of the Holy Roman Empire.
The king forced Friedrich to watch the beheading of his confidant Katte at Küstrin on November 6, leading the crown prince to faint just before the fatal blow. Friedrich was granted a royal pardon and released from his cell on November 18, although he remained stripped of his military rank. Instead of returning to Berlin, however, he was forced to remain in Küstrin and began rigorous schooling in statecraft and administration for the War and Estates Departments on November 20.
Tensions eased slightly when Friedrich Wilhelm visited Küstrin a year later, and Friedrich was allowed to visit Berlin on the occasion of his sister Wilhelmine’s marriage to Margrave Friedrich of Bayreuth on November 20, 1731. The crown prince returned to Berlin after finally being released from his tutelage at Küstrin on February 26, 1732.