This Week in History: Frederick the Great’s Finest Moment

This week, just over 250 years ago, the battle of Rossbach ended with Frederick the Great’s Prussia crushing the armies of France, the Holy Roman Empire and Austria.

A year into the Seven Years’ War, the 18th century’s answer to a World War, and things weren’t looking too good for Prussia. United as a kingdom for barely more than 50 years, it was attempting to take on Russia, Austria, France, Sweden, Spain and other Germanic states, all powerful enemies to make. To make matters worse, Prussia found itself almost entirely surrounded right from the beginning.

It had two advantages however: British support, and the greatest military leader of the time, Frederick the Great.

Even in portraits he looks ready for war. Credit: Wilhelm Camphausen

The French and Austrian forces smelt blood after they’d managed to invade parts of Prussia, and were now itching to move in for the kill. When they spotted Frederick’s troops seeming to retreat from their camp between the two villages of Rossbach and Bedra, they couldn’t believe their luck and started to move in.

But this was Frederick’s plan all along. With speed scarcely seen before on a battlefield, he had the majority of his army secretly race round the French-Austrians. Once in position, they smashed into the Allied forces, catching them almost completely by surprise. Any attempt to fight back was doomed and the battle was over in 90 minutes.

It was a stunning, lightning-fast victory for Prussia, and led to France losing interest in the Seven Years’ War. As for Frederick, he was soon given even more support from the British and his status in Europe rose higher than ever.


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