Home news The one body of the king | TIME ONLINE

The one body of the king | TIME ONLINE

A monarch who despises the people, the fortune inherited from his father
      squandered, his wife and his successor publicly humiliated, his officials
      disavowed, arbitrarily intervening in the course of justice, lost battles others in the
      Shifts shoes, taunts the German language, surrounds itself with pleasure boys and not even
      shy away from revealing the facts about Jesus – how can it be that
      just such a decadent rococo prince became the German national hero? The answer,
      which the Oxford early modernist historian gives in his brilliant biography, is strong
      shortened: Frederick II lived at the right time and died at the right moment.

Of course, the dark picture is only half the truth. Tim Blanning also highlights the other, well-known side of the coin. Because Friedrich distrusted all his ministers, he personally inspected and controlled what was going on in his own country; He listened to the complaints of ordinary people, received innumerable petitions, worked tirelessly, shared the privations with his troops during campaigns, and was in no way careful. He was not only his own commander and prime minister, but also his own war correspondent and historiographer-something that had not happened before. That he cursed the public in the familiar circle as stupid and gullible, did not prevent him, with countless Essais, treatises, poems and satires to the applause of precisely this audience to advertise. The fact that he despised the papal church did not prevent him from conspicuously providing his Catholic subjects from Silesia with a plot right next to his new opera house for a cathedral in Berlin. The examples of this "kingdom of contradictions" (as the subtitle of Theodor Schieders biography 1983) could be multiplied at will.

The fact that the theoretical postulates of the philosopher Friedrich were difficult to reconcile with the deeds of King Frederick was already noticeable to many contemporaries. But the self-styled king of philosophers was just right when he spoke publicly for service to the state, treaty loyalty, religious tolerance and freedom of expression. Friedrich liked to put on various literary masks to prove his poetic and philosophical dexterity and to please his model Voltaire. No matter why he wrote what he wrote – such a prominent advocate of their ideals could only wish to enlighten German patriots. The rapidly growing educated readers saw in him his contemporary hero; simple people celebrated him as a folk friend and patron against aristocracy. The general need for worship was immense and was amply served by the royal publicity offensives.

Although Blanning does not have much left of the heroic cult of the Prussian-German national history, Frederick still remains for him "the great." The essential lines of his story are still the old ones. Like many biographers before him, he interprets Friedrich's life story as mastering the traumas inflicted by the tyrannical-brutal father on the young crown prince. This treatment of trauma had two very different dimensions for Blanning. The son not only put all his ambition in the goal, posthumously outdo the soldier king in its very own realm, the military. Immediately after his death, he immediately divested himself of his wife and began demonstratively to cultivate what the father had called "lascivious female occupations". As a rejection reaction to his father's education, Blanning also describes Friedrich's aversion to any kind of piety and his enthusiasm for forbidden French books. Not unlike the invasion of Silesia, religious and sexual libertinism were part of the demonstrative emancipation of a father whose brutality was at best exceeded by his bigotry. That's why the topic of sexuality plays a central role in Blanning's overall narrative, just as much as the war.


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