Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Frederick the Great (1712-1786)

Frederick II (in German: Friedrich II), the Hohenzollern King of Prussia, went on to become known as Frederick the Great (Friedrich der Große). His governess and mother spoke French around him, and they reminded Frederick that French was the language of culture, while German was used by inferior people. They included his father in that category. So Frederick spoke French as his mother tongue and spoke German with difficulty all his life, in spite of the fact that he eventually ruled over a German-speaking realm.

Interested primarily in music and philosophy during his youth, Frederick unsuccessfully attempted to flee from his authoritarian father. He and his gay lover, Hans Hermann von Katte (portrait at right), were caught and imprisoned, and Frederick was then forced to watch his lover's decapitation. This was his father’s way of teaching him a lesson about his “unmanly, lascivious, female pursuits highly unsuitable for a man.” Frederick’s father whipped and caned him to humiliate him in front of servants and officers in an attempt to break his will. Frederick held out, refusing his father’s desire that he give up his right to succession in favor of his younger brother. As is turned out, the father was no match for his exceptionally intelligent and able son.

Later forced to enter into a marriage arranged by his father, Frederick mostly ignored his wife (they had no children), preferring the company of his sister on the rare occasions when female company was desired. Frederick had told his sister that he found his fiancé “repugnant; we have neither friendship nor compatibility, and she dances like a goose.” He gave his wife her own palace, refusing her entry to his other residences, and visited her only a few days a year at Christmas.

The conversation of the inner court circle around him was peppered with homoerotic banter. Voltaire, whom Frederick had invited to come live with him at Sans-Souci, a rococo summer palace he built in Potsdam, was accused of anonymously publishing “The Private Life of the King of Prussia”, exposing Frederick's homosexuality and parade of male lovers. After Voltaire had left Prussia, Frederick neither admitted nor denied the contents of the book. Regardless, Frederick was a gay man surrounded by an all-male society at Sans-Souci in which he judged people on their intelligence and skills, not royal or noble privilege. He wrote poetry, played a mean flute (see painting below), entertained by throwing lavish balls, and staged plays, avoiding the hunting, drinking, gambling and womanizing as practiced by his father. Frederick wrote and performed music and had his own personal orchestra. When his father died, Frederick was 28, and Prussia found itself with a gay king.

Frederick concentrated on becoming the best monarch possible. He soon managed to transform Prussia from a European backwater to an economically strong and politically reformed state. Although he loathed his father’s militarism, he went on to conquer neighboring lands to unify his scattered holdings, each time improving the economy, infrastructure, government, education, agriculture and industry of his acquisitions. He abolished torture and corporal punishment. The icing on the cake was his long-held policy of religious tolerance of both Catholics and Protestants, thus becoming one of the great reformers of Europe. He encouraged Jews along the border with Poland to perform trade, affording them all protections and support given to other Prussian citizens in an effort to integrate them into his realm. 

Frederick frequently led his military forces personally and had six horses shot from under him during battle. Frederick is often admired as one of the greatest military tactical geniuses of all time, especially for his usage of the oblique order of battle. Even more important were his operational successes, especially preventing the unification of numerically superior opposing armies and being at the right place at the right time to keep enemy armies out of Prussian core territory.

An example of the place that Frederick holds in history as a ruler was evidenced in Napoleon Bonaparte*, who regarded the Prussian king as a great military strategist. After Napoleon's victory of the Fourth Coalition in 1807, he visited Frederick's tomb in Potsdam and remarked to his officers, "Gentlemen, if this man were still alive, I would not be here." Frederick and Napoleon are perhaps the most admiringly quoted military leaders in history. Frederick is praised particularly for the quick and skillful movement of his troops.

*Napoleon Bonaparte also had a sexual taste for men, especially his own soldiers. See entry in sidebar.

Upon his death in 1786 (peacefully at age 74 in an armchair in his library at Sans-Souci) Frederick had wished to be buried next to his beloved 11 greyhounds on the vineyard terrace on the side of the palace’s court of honor. It took more than 200 years to grant his request, since his brother had him buried next to their father. Hitler had his coffin moved to an underground bunker, then to a salt mine to protect it from destruction. US Army soldiers subsequently discovered it and relocated it twice. After German reunification in 1989, Frederick’s casket, covered by a Prussian flag, lay in state at Sans-Souci on August 17, 1991, the 205th anniversary of his death. After nightfall, Frederick’s body was at last laid to rest according to his request in his 1757 will: “without pomp and at night” (“ohne Prunk, ohne Pomp und bei Nacht”).

Sources: Wikipedia, N.  Mitford's Frederick the Great, J. D. Steakley's Sodomy in Enlightened Prussia, Susan Henderson's Frederick the Great of Prussia


  1. good read, made me cry. this guy is all kinds of genius in one.

  2. He is not gay at all!

    1. Voltaire would disagreed. He had male lover and no sex with womens btw

  3. He is awesome! No wonder! :)