Frederick the Great
Frederick II, King of Prussia, surnamed the Great, was born on January 14, 1712, and died on August 17, 1786, at the age of seventy-four years and a few months. He was initiated as a Freemason, at Brunswick, on the night of August 14, 1738, not quite two years before he ascended the throne.
In English, we have two accounts of this initiation, one by Campbell, in his work on Frederick the Great and his Times, and the other by Carlyle in his History of Frederick the Second. Both are substantially the same, because both are merely translations of the original account given by Bielfeld in his Freundschaftliche Briefe, or Familiar Letters. The Baron von Bielfeld was, at the time, an intimate companion of the Prince, and was present at the initiation.
Bielfeld tells us that in a conversation which took place on August 6 at Loo though Carlyle corrects him as to time and place, and says it probably occurred at Minden, on July 17 the Institution of Freemasonry had been enthusiastically lauded by the Count of Lippe Buckeburg. The Crown Prince soon after privately expressed to the Count his wish to join the society. Of course, this wish was to be gratified.
The necessary furniture and assistance for conferring the Degrees were obtained from the Lodge at Hamburg. Bielfeld gives an amusing account of the embarrassments which were encountered in passing the chest containing the Masonic implements through the Custom- House without detection. Campbell, quoting from Bielfeld, says: The whole of August 14 was spent in preparations for the Lodge, and at twelve at night the Prince Royal arrived, accompanied by Count Wartensleben, a captain in the king's regiment at Potsdam. The Prince introduced him to us as a candidate whom he very warmly recommended, and begged that he might be admitted immediately after himself. At the same time, he desired that he might be treated like any private individual, and that none of the usual ceremonies might be altered on his account. Accordingly, he was admitted in the customary form, and I could not sufficiently admire his fearlessness, his composure, and his address. After the double reception, a Lodge was held. All was over by four in the morning, and the Prince returned to the dual palace apparently as well pleased with us as we were charmed with him.
Of the truth of this account there never has been any doubt. Frederick the Great was certainly a Freemason. But Carlyle, in his usual sarcastic vein, adds:
The Crown Prince prosecuted his Masonry at Reinsberg or elsewhere, occasionally, for a year or two, but was never ardent in it, ant very soon after his accession left off altogether.... A Royal Lodge was established at Berlin, of which the new king consented to be patron; but he never once entered the palace, and only his portrait, a welcomely good one still to be found there, presided over the mysteries of that establishment.
Now how much of truth with the sarcasm, and how much of sarcasm without the truth, there is in this remark of Carlyle, is just what the Masonic world is bound to discover. Until further light is thrown upon the subject by documentary evidence from the Prussian Lodges, the question can not be definitely answered. But what is the now known further Masonic history of Frederick? Bielfeld tells us that the zeal of the Prince for the Fraternity induced him to invite the Baron Von Oberg and himself to Reinsberg, where, in 1739, they founded a Lodge, into which Keyserling, Jordan, Moolendorf, Queis, and Fredersdorf, Frederick's valet, were admitted.
Bielded is again our authority for stating that on June 20, 1740, King Frederick for he had then ascended the throne--held a Lodge at Charlottenburg, and, as Master in the chair, initiated Prince William of Prussia, his brother, the Margrave Charles of Brandenburg, and Frederick William, Duke of Holstein. The Dulce of Holstein was seven years afterward elected Adjutant Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of the Three Globes at Berlin.
We hear no more of Frederick's Freemasonry in the printed records until the 16th of July, 1774, when he granted his protection to the National Grand Lodge of Germany, and officially approved of the treaty with the Grand Lodge of England, by which the National Grand Lodge was established. In the year 1777, the Mother Lodge, Royal York of Friendship, at Berlin, celebrated, by a festival, the king's birthday, on which occasion Frederick wrote the following letter, which, as it is the only printed declaration of his opinion of Freemasonry that is now extant, is well worth copying:
I cannot but be sensible of the new homage of the Lodge Royal York of Friendship on the occasion of the anniversary of my birth bearing, as it does the evidence of its zeal and attachment for my person. Its orator has well expressed the sentiments which animate all its labors; and a society which employs itself only in sowing the seed and bringing forth the fruit of every kind of virtue in my dominions may always be assured of my protection. It is the glorious task of every good sovereign and 1 will never cease to fulfill it. And so I pray God to take you and your Lodge under his holy and deserved protection. Potsdam, this 14th of February, 1777. Frederick. Brother ad. E. Cauthorne submits here that, Frederick did not ill his latter days take the active interest in Freemasonry that had distinguished his early life before coming to the throne. It cannot be established that he ever attended a meeting after he became king, though manic such efforts have been attempted. Some overzealous persons have claimed that he established the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of the Thirty-third Degree but the Grand Lodge of the Three Globes at Berlin as well as many European historians, have often shown this a> have been impossible. But we must not forget that the adoption of the Constitutions makes them legally binding upon the Freemasons who subscribe to this document, no matter whether it was or was not the creation of Frederick. Further, in reference to the above comments by Brother Cauthorne, the subject of Frederick's Masonic activity and the Constitutions has been given critical study by Brothers General Albert Pike, Enoch T. Carson and Dr. Wilhelm Begemann (see their various conclusions in Mackey's revised History of Freemasonry, pages 1828-39).
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