Memoirs of the House of Brandenburg


Frederick the Great

A New Translation by Levi Bookin


Foreword by the Translator (Below)

Memoirs of the House of Brandenburg and the First Counts of Hohenzollern

The Elector Frederick 1st

The Elector Frederick 2nd (Known as Iron-Tooth)

The Elector Albert (Known as Achilles)

The Elector John (Known as Cicero)

The Elector Joachim 1st (Known as Nestor)

The Elector Joachim 2nd

The Elector John-George

The Elector Joachim-Frederick

The Elector John-Sigismund

The Elector George-William

Frederick-William (The Great Elector)

Frederick 3rd (First King of Prussia)

Frederick-William (The Soldier-King, Second King of Prussia)



King Frederick 2nd of Prussia was known in his lifetime as "Frederick the Great," a title bestowed upon him by virtue of his military prowess. To limit his greatness to military matters is, however, to underestimate the man. A militarist undoubtedly, but one who mainly conducted defensive wars; nevertheless, we should also judge him as a philosopher, a man of taste, responsible for the palace of Sans Souci, a musician and composer, and what concerns us here, a historian.

Frederick has left us an account of Brandenburg, Prussia, and the Hohenzollerns, and European history generally, from early days until the death of his father. His descriptions of the Reformation and the Thirty Years War are of interest. The advantages to us of Frederick's work are that he was closer to the time of the events in question, and that he applied to some of the personalities a shrewd and witty pen. The British, for example, regard William of Orange as some sort of savior. Frederick holds him in low regard, and as the usurper of James II (William's father-in-law), "whose only crime was that he was a Catholic." Frederick's views on religion are refreshing for his time. He had no religious beliefs, although anti-catholic sentiment does creep in.

Frederick decided to write his history in French. Wanting to know, for my own purposes, what Frederick's views were on the history of Brandenburg and Prussia, I consulted a previous translation into English, a specimen of which is in the hands of the University of Toronto. Unfortunately, this document repeatedly contains the letter 'f' instead of 's', and other antiquities, which are distracting. I have attempted to render the translation in modern English. It also seemed to me that where the translator found difficulty with a sentence, he omitted it. More important, his translation was not of the definitive version of the original, lacking as it did, a final chapter on Frederick's father.

I therefore decided to make my own translation, and eventually to offer it to the public. I am greatly obliged to Rebn. Glazerson for her assistance with some of the more difficult sentences and to my esteemed colleague, Walter Loepp, for his assistance in setting up this site. I am also indebted to fellow-members of the CEL copy editors list for solutions of problems relating to style, etc.

For the benefit of the reader, I have omitted Frederick's dedication of the work to his brother and heir apparent. It turned out to be nugatory, as his brother predeceased him. I have also omitted Frederick's Preliminary Discourse as less interesting than the actual history it precedes.

Levi Bookin

October 2009



In the Shadow of Frederick the Great