Portrait of Frederick William II (1744-1797), King of Prussia, Elector of Brandenburg and Prince of Neuchâtel (1786-1797)
Frederick William II (German: Friedrich Wilhelm II.; 25 September 1744 – 16 November 1797) was King of Prussia from 1786 until his death. He was in personal union the Prince-elector of Brandenburg and (via the Orange-Nassau inheritance of his grandfather) sovereign prince of the Canton of Neuchâtel. Pleasure-loving and indolent, he is seen as the antithesis to his predecessor, Frederick II. Under his reign, Prussia was weakened internally and externally, and he failed to deal adequately with the challenges to the existing order posed by the French Revolution. His religious policies were directed against the Enlightenment and aimed at restoring a traditional Protestantism. However, he was a patron of the arts and responsible for the construction of some notable buildings, among them the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Frederick William was born in Berlin, the son of Prince Augustus William of Prussia (the second son of King Frederick William I of Prussia) and Duchess Luise of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. His mother's elder sister, Elisabeth, was the wife of Augustus William's brother King Frederick II ("Frederick the Great"). Frederick William became heir-presumptive to the throne of Prussia on his father's death in 1758, since Frederick II had no children. The boy was of an easy-going and pleasure-loving disposition, averse to sustained effort of any kind, and sensual by nature. His marriage with Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, Crown Princess of Prussia, daughter of Charles I, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, contracted 14 July 1765 in Charlottenburg, was dissolved in 1769. He then married Frederika Louisa of Hesse-Darmstadt, daughter of Ludwig IX, Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt on 14 July 1769 also in Charlottenburg. Although he had seven children by his second wife, he had an ongoing relationship with his mistress, Wilhelmine Enke (created Countess Wilhelmine von Lichtenau in 1796), a woman of strong intellect and much ambition. Frederick William, before the corpulence of his middle age, was a man of singularly handsome presence, not without mental qualities of a high order; he was devoted to the arts. He also was a talented cellist. But an artistic temperament was hardly what was required of a king of Prussia on the eve of the French Revolution, and Frederick the Great, who had employed him in various services (notably in an abortive confidential mission to the court of Russia in 1780), openly expressed his misgivings as to the character of the prince and his surroundings. For his part, Frederick William, who had never been properly introduced to diplomacy and the business of rulership, resented his uncle for not taking him seriously. Frederick William′s accession to the throne (17 August 1786) was, indeed, followed by a series of measures for lightening the burdens of the people, reforming the oppressive French system of tax-collecting introduced by Frederick II, and encouraging trade by the diminution of customs dues and the making of roads and canals. This gave the new king much popularity with the masses; the educated classes were pleased by his removal of Frederick's ban on the German language, with the admission of German writers to the Prussian Academy, and by the active encouragement given to schools and universities. Frederick William also terminated his predecessor's state monopolies for coffee and tobacco and the sugar monopoly.
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