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The Love Story of Frederick the Great and Hans Hermann Von Katteprussian The story of Hans Hermann Von Katte and Frederick II is perhaps one of the most tragic historical love stories of all time.
Hans was a nobleman from birth, coming from a long line of aristocratic military men, but even then he wasn’t high enough on the social ranks to be associating with the likes of the royal family. However, this hardly stopped the crown prince, Frederick, from getting to know and befriending him. It is unclear when the two first met, but it is said that when he and the prince attended the same private mathematics and mechanics class, the two became fast friends.
Wilhelmine, Frederick’s older sister, frequently admonished her brother for acquainting himself with those who were "below them." This did nothing to change Frederick’s mind about the young lieutenant that had caught his fancy. Together the two boys shared a love for poetry, the flute and the French language. Based on their letters to one another, it can be inferred that they both spoke in French between themselves.
As the years went on, Hans became the prince’s close confidant as well as his protector. In fact, the lieutenant was known to have stood guard while the prince practiced playing his instrument so that he wouldn’t get punished for it if someone were to find out and tell the King. The closeness of the pair didn’t escape the attention of the Prussian court and for a while it was wildly speculated that they were in fact, lovers. Some even said that they “behaved like a master and a mistress” when they were together.
In 1730, Frederick trusted Hans enough to tell him about his plan to run away to Britain to escape his father’s abuse. Hans, although he understood his beloved’s reasons, did not support the idea of the crown prince abandoning his country and did all that he could to convince Frederick that there was another way.
During this time, Hans was the only person Frederick trusted to deliver correspondence between him and his sister so Hans frequently visited the princess. Wilhelmine, who wasn’t at all fond of Hans, accused him of poisoning her brother’s mind with ideas of escaping, to which Hans replied: “As long as I am with that beloved prince, I shall prevent his executing his designs.” When the princess heard this, she told the lieutenant that he was putting his life on the line even if he opposed to her brother’s plans. Hans simply answered: “If I lose my head, it will be in a good cause. But the prince will not forsake me.”
In the end, Hans supported Frederick’s decision to leave. Together the two of them, along with their dear friend Keith, plotted to leave at separate times and meet up at the town of Leipzic so they could go over to England. The night the prince was scheduled to leave, he wrote to his beloved: “I am off, my dear Katte. My precautions are well taken, so I have nothing to fear. I shall go through Leipzic, where I shall pass myself for the marquis d'Ambreville. I have already sent word to Keith, who is to go straight to England. Lose no time, for I expect to meet you at Leipzic. Adeiu! Be of good cheer.”
Unfortunately, Hans was held up at a town and was caught before he could make his escape. Frederick had a good head start, but he too was captured and the both of them were thrown into prison, accused of treason. Both of them were interrogated roughly and subjected to prisoner-like living conditions for months. Although Hans confessed to being an accomplice of Frederick, he defended his beloved’s decision and never once mentioned that Wilhelmine was a part of their plans. Frederick was said to have given the guards nothing but haughty, harsh and insulting answers, refusing to subject himself to his father’s will. When he did say his side of the story, his alibi lined up perfectly with Katte’s.
Frederick William, the prince’s father, was so outraged that he wanted to put his son to death. However, the Holy Roman Emperor opposed to this idea since Frederick was the crown prince and the heir to the Prussian crown. He turned all of his anger towards the unfortunate Hans, who was only initially sentenced with life imprisonment. His executioner refused the command twice and even apologized to Hans when he was sent to escort him to the execution site. The young lieutenant smiled and replied: “I die for a prince whom I love, and I have the consolation to give him, by my death, the strongest proof of attachment that can be required. I do not regret the world."
Frederick in the meantime was brought to an apartment with a view of the execution stand. He thought that he was going to be executed, but the knowledge that Katte was safe gave him a little comfort. In the morning, the prince was awakened and was forced to look out the window where his love was standing at the scaffold. Frederick attempted to to throw himself out the window, but was held back by the guards. “Delay the execution!” the prince screamed, “I am ready to renounce my right to the crown if his majesty will pardon Katte!” then turning to Hans, Frederick switched to speaking French and said: “Please forgive me, my dear Katte, in God’s name, forgive me!” Hans had nothing but a smile when he called back, “If I had a thousand lives, I would sacrifice them all for you. There is nothing to forgive, I die for you with joy in my heart!”
Before the axe hit Hans’ neck, Frederick had already fainted away. After he awoke, the prince became so ill that his life was in danger for three consecutive days. He was ravaged by hallucinations and nightmares and even refused to take any medicine. Frederick calmed down, however, when he was told that his mother and sister would die if he did. Days later, when the prince was in a better state of health, guards came by to ask him to write a letter resigning himself to his father’s will. At first, the prince refused but, feeling like he had nothing to fight for, he eventually stopped fighting and gave in.
Wilhelmine mentioned in her memoir that for weeks, her brother insisted on wearing the brown coat that he was given as a prisoner until it was battered and torn, because it was similar to the one Katte wore when he was killed. Frederick remained in a state of depression for quite some time until he shook himself out of it and never spoke of Hans ever again.
(All quotes were taken from Wilhelmine’s memoirs)