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Frederick the Great and the Meanings of War, 1730-1755



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Storring, Adam Lindsay 


This dissertation fundamentally re-interprets King Frederick the Great of Prussia as military commander and military thinker, and uses Frederick to cast new perspectives on the warfare of ‘his time’: that is, of the late seventeenth to early eighteenth centuries. It uses the methodology of cultural history, which focuses on the meanings given to human activities, to examine Frederick and the warfare of his time on three levels: cultural, temporal, and intellectual. It shows that Frederick’s warfare (at least in his youth) was culturally French, and reflected the towering influence of King Louis XIV, with Frederick following the flamboyant masculinity of the French baroque court. Frederick was a backward-looking military thinker, who situated his war-making in two temporal envelopes: broadly in the long eighteenth century (1648-1789), which was dominated by the search for order after the chaos of religious and civil wars, but more specifically in the ‘Century of Louis XIV’: the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Frederick embraced French military methods, taking inspiration from generals like Turenne and Luxembourg, employing aggressive French battle tactics, and learning his concept of ‘total war for limited objectives’ from French writers like the Marquis de Feuquières. Frederick also sought to surpass the ‘personal rule’ of the Sun King by commanding his army personally.

This work shows the early eighteenth century as a liminal period, which saw the Louisquatorzean paradigm interact with the beginnings of the Enlightenment, developments in scientific methods, and the growth of the administrative capacity of states, all of which would exercise an increasing influence as the century progressed. The combination of older traditions and newer ideas placed enormous pressure on the monarchs of this period, and this was seen in Frederick’s strained relations with his generals.

Finally, this work examines how ideas are created. It shows military knowledge in the early eighteenth century as the product of power structures (and often an element within them). Military command was itself an element in the assertion of political power, and Frederick depended on ‘the power of (military) knowledge’ to maintain his authority with his generals. Power, however, is negotiated, and knowledge is typically produced collectively. In the early part of Frederick’s reign, the Prussian war effort was a collective effort by several actors within the Prussian military hierarchy, and ‘Frederick’s military ideas’ were not necessarily his own.





Clark, Christopher Munro


German History, Prussian History, Eighteenth-Century History, Military History, Frederick the Great


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Arts and Humanities Research Council Doctoral Training Studentship, 2014-2016 Stipendium der Bühler-Stiftung-Berlin zur Nutzung der Gerhard Knoll-Forschungsbibliothek der Stiftung Preußische Schlösser und Gärten, October–December 2015 Graduiertenstipendium, Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz, January 2017 Dokorandstipendium, Leibniz-Institut für Europäische Geschichte, Mainz, February-September 2017