Box bills of Frederick the Great

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Extract from the box

account for December 1755 (page 1): Specification of the invoices, which S. Königl. M. sent to me from Nov. 24th to Dec. 24th, 1755.
BPH, Rep. 47, No. 908, sheet 15 recto, November 1755
Total: 1755 RTl., 1 Gr., 3 Pf., 0 H.

Relates to payments to various artists (musicians, intermezzo actors, singers, dancers, stage designers) such as Carlo Paganini, Angela Paganini, Filippo Sidotti, Giuseppe Galli Bibiena , Marianne Cochois, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach , Franz nettle, as well as court staff (castle servants, officers, copyists, cooks), including the Pagengoverneur Ernst Friedrich von Billerbeck, of a larger sum for the purchase received from white page linen.
Frederick the Great at his desk, lithograph around 1850

The private expenses of the Prussian King Friedrich II were recorded in the box bills of Frederick the Great . They have been preserved for the period from 1742 to 1786. The journals kept in parallel are only partially available. The box bills give a detailed insight into everyday life and the ruler's preferences. In preparation for the celebrations for the 300th birthday of Friedrich II, they were digitized and commented on in 2011. They are now available to the public for inspection.

The box accounting system under Friedrich

Valuables and money were kept in caskets , and in ruling houses this was the name given to the ruler's coffers for private income and uses. At the Prussian court the royal box was kept next to the official court treasury; Friedrich II had taken over this cash register system from his father, Friedrich Wilhelm I. Using the cash box, the king could spend money without the consent or knowledge of the cabinet ; it served the direct use of the regent. It was only paid out on his instructions. The fund was financed through fixed grants from the state budget. The account books kept for Friedrich documented the expenses on a monthly basis (from around 1756 on from the 24th to the 23rd of the following month) and were referred to as "chatoulle expenditure" or as "chatoulle and disposition money". These monthly edition overviews were bound to the year books of the calendar year, partly also in the summary of Trinity to Trinity. The stated amounts of money were given in Reichstaler (“RTl.”), Groschen (“G.”), Pfennig (“ Pfennig ”) and Heller (“H.”).

In addition to the box accounting books, so-called journals were kept under Friedrich, which contained invoices and receipts corresponding to the expenses that were often only mentioned in key points in the box invoices. Income was also recorded here. According to the economic Encyclopedia of John George Krünitz were in a journal not certain categories associated with revenue and expenditure evidence, but purely detected chronologically. After that, only cash payments should be recorded in a journal. Most of these journals on Friedrich's box bills kept in the Royal Archives were destroyed in an air raid on November 22, 1943 during the Second World War . In the hitherto heaviest air raid of the RAF on Berlin, since 1848 in Spandauerstrasse 1 in was Berlin-Charlottenburg located Brandenburg-Prussian (formerly Royal ) Hausarchiv hit by a bomb.

In addition to the usual box, Friedrich also had a special cash box called the “Red Box”. The editions recorded here were of a particularly private nature, only a few confidants of the king were given insight. The journal for this box has been preserved; expenses were booked for particularly expensive preferences of the king. The name of the cash register followed the color of the box used to store money (Frederick II referred to it as a "raw box"), which was used to store the funds. Donations that were added to the usual box and not used there were booked in the red box. The historian and curator of the anniversary exhibition “Friederisiko”, Jürgen Luh , suspects that the “Red Casket” took on the function of a black cash register .

Cash management

Box accounts and journals were usually not kept by the king himself. Confidants were responsible for the administration and bookkeeping of the cash registers. The Treasurer of the Royal Treasury was responsible for Friedrich's private finances. These Hofstaatsrentmeister were sworn in when they took office; part of the oath was the duty of confidentiality. In some cases, Friedrich had invoices presented to him; he also participated in some settlements, as evidenced by comments written by him.

Johann August Buchholtz was one of the "private finance officers of Friedrich" in keeping the box bills. Buchholtz (1706-1793) was after the completion of the high school I. in the reign of Frederick William in Langen grenadiers occurred. Under Frederick II he took part in the First Silesian War and was promoted to Prime Lieutenant in the 1st Guard Battalion in the following years . In 1753 he had become rentmaster of the court treasury and council of war. In 1762 he also took over the safe deposit box (Royal Trésorier ) and in 1764 he was finally entrusted with the management of the royal money. He held this office until Friedrich's death in 1786. The entries in the journal were kept so secret by the king that not even the king's otherwise closest confidante, Michael Gabriel Fredersdorf , could see. The court counselor Schirrmeister, the court treasurer Wagenschütz and the chamber hussars Rüdiger and Zeising, who supported Buchholtz in the administration of the court treasury, were probably also involved in keeping the box accounts .

Scientifically annotated edition

In preparation for the celebrations for the 300th birthday of Frederick the Great (2012), the Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation Berlin-Brandenburg (SPSG) published together with the Secret State Archives in Berlin - Prussian Cultural Heritage (GStA PK) and in collaboration with the Max Weber Foundation - Foundation of German Humanities Institutes Abroad (DGIA) from June 2011 the annotated edition of the king's box bills. The publication was preceded by the transcription, research, digital recording and annotation of the account books kept in the Secret State Archive of Prussian Cultural Heritage , the journals that were still available and the documents on the Rote Schatulle. The scientific edition is supported by a database and is made available free of charge on the non-commercial publication platform of the direct federal Max Weber Foundation . It was edited by Ralf Zimmer (* 1967), a historian of the Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation . The publication was supported by the Stapp Foundation and the “Pro Sanssouci” Foundation .

The edited box invoices contain:

  • Box bills of the Prussian king: 41 volumes with a total of 910 sheets (between four and 63 sheets per year) of the monthly box bills from 1742 to 1786, which contain around 20,000 individual items.
  • Journal at the Royal Casket: Received journals or contents from 1756 to 1763 and in the first post-war years, associated invoices and receipts are partially available.
  • Red box: The box was kept from 1770 to 1772.

The 2011 publication was picked up by the media across Germany. As reported and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung . In the Friederisiko exhibition in 2012 in the New Palais , parts of the box bills were shown and accordingly addressed again in the media, such as on n-tv or on Deutschlandfunk .

The database will be expanded through the incorporation of receipts from journals that were previously believed to be lost. Around 1700 corresponding documents were found in the estate of the museologist Walter Stengels , which are to be included in the edition in cooperation with the Research Center Sanssouci .


The detailed recording of all expenses directly caused by the king in the box bills allows a deep insight into his life as a regent and private citizen. A meaningful evaluation of the approximately 20,000 items of expenditure could only be carried out after the recording, organization and connection of box bills with the information from the journals. As early as 1876, the art historian Robert Dohme complained in an investigation into the paintings by Antoine Watteau acquired by the king that the box bills were still disordered. It is therefore not possible to provide evidence of the purchase date and price of the paintings. The museologist Paul Seidel found in 1908 that the box bills illustrate the "personal hobbies of the king". In the 7th volume of the Hohenzollern yearbook (research and illustrations on the history of the Hohenzollern in Brandenburg-Prussia) he published individual items from the box bills. It is also thanks to him that some of the later burned journals were evaluated and are still available today to explain items in the box bills. The art historian CF Förster also used the box bills and, above all, the information from the journals as the basis for scientific work.

Even before the box invoices were digitized in 2011, scientists used individual parts for research. In 1942 , the director of the Hohenzollern Museum in Monbijou Castle , which no longer exists , Arnold Hildebrand, described the prices for the purchase of paintings in the box bills as instructive. Before and during the Second World War, Walter Stengels dealt intensively with accounting. The historian Gerd Heinrich pointed out in 2009 that the box bills reveal expenditure structures. An evaluation of the box bills was also carried out by Norbert Leithold .

Hartmut Dorgerloh , the art historian and General Director of the Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation in Berlin-Brandenburg, described the transcription, digital recording and annotation of the box bills as a “true gift” for everyone and a milestone in research on Frederick the Great. Hermann Parzinger , historian and president of the Berlin Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, pointed out that the edition of the accounts would sharpen or even change the picture of Friedrich: “The analysis of the ruler's box accounts shows that he did not live as spartanly as previously assumed , but it was also quite good. "

Other scholars and journalists found that the evaluation of the box bills showed that the king was not as humble as many of his biographers told posterity. The published details scratched the legend of the ascetic Friedrich never was. The documents show that Friedrich spent considerable sums on his courtly standard of living. The box bills recorded in the online edition should, however, serve less to deconstruct the myth of celibacy, but rather to depict the private preferences of the king. The sources allowed fascinating glimpses of the king's personality and interests. With their help, a complete portrait emerges from many finger points.

Sums and proportionality

The private expenses of Frederick II are documented in the box bills over 41 years; they fluctuated greatly and ranged between almost 200,000 Reichstalers in 1750 and just under 31,000 in 1786. In 1781, the state of Prussia had government revenues of around 19 million Reichstalers. Compared to other European courts of the time, the luxury operated by Friedrich was limited.

Documented preferences of the king (selection)

The evaluation of the box bills shows what private purchases Frederick II made, what amounts he spent on medical treatments such as bloodletting and the regular purchase of enema syringes, how he rewarded artists he valued and directly assisting court staff or how he paid nobles in need or their relatives supported. It can also be seen that Friedrich was busy acquiring art, porcelain and buying rare or valuable plants for his orangery even during his personal participation in campaigns .

Acquisitions for his collection of tobacco products were particularly expensive . The court jeweler Jordan delivered gold-plated and enameled tobacco boxes for tens of thousands of thalers. A total of 22 tobacconists were purchased. Another supplier was the jeweler Daniel Baudesson. Buchholtz made payments of around 200,000 Reichstalers for these treasures from the Rote Schatulle fund . Every year Friedrich had one or two simple, and occasionally an embroidered, uniform tailored. On many occasions he wore a precious gala or state skirt in the style of the 1st Battalion Life Guards , which was made of silk velvet and provided with finely executed embroidery loops. The ruler bought stockings from Krefeld silk manufacturers, mainly from the von der Leyen family of silk weavers . In addition to normal stockings, expensive silk fur stockings (with an inside lining) were also bought for the winter. The fur stockings cost 141 Reichstaler, which was the equivalent of around 1700 kg of bread. Friedrich also attached importance to cosmetic products, so he ordered rose water and orange powder, the latter presumably as powder for wigs .

Friedrich II was a culinary connoisseur. Good food, champagne, fine wines (especially sweet Hungarian wines) and Spanish tobacco determined his everyday life. He had cheese delivered mainly from Switzerland and France. In the year before his death, he got a “cold pie from Paris” for 60 Reichstaler. Even in winter he did not do without fruits, especially cherries ("Kürschen") and melons. Since cherries could not be imported in winter, they were grown very laboriously in greenhouses. Friedrich spent up to 3 talers on a single winter cherry. For the luxurious indulgence, which cost 400 thalers in April 1754 alone, he flirtatiously apologized to Fredersdorf: “I will make myself a dissolute reputation.” The king also valued confectionery and jams. The Potsdam confectioner Döber regularly supplied the Prussian court for large sums. Truffles were sourced from the Périgord .

The artistically talented ruler, who appeared as a flautist , composer and librettist , regularly acquired flutes and grand pianos . The box bills prove the acquisition of many works of art. So he often asked the art agent Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky or the Berlin art dealer and councilor Jacques Trible to get pictures . Paintings by Antoine Pesne were paid the highest by the king. The purchase of books is also documented.

Friedrich's affection for his greyhounds was also reflected in the box bills. Their purchase prices were up to 90 thalers. Their keeping was worth an average of 20 thalers per animal per year - the equivalent of his toilet attendant's annual salary. Clothes were also made for the dogs.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b c Klaus Büstrin, Black Kassen in Green and Red: Box Bills King Friedrich II. Evaluated and put online , June 10, 2011, Potsdamer Latest News
  2. a b Julia Emmrich, The legend of frugal Prussia Friedrich II. , June 19, 2011, Thuringian national newspaper
  3. a b c d e Ralf Zimmer, The box bills of Frederick the Great: An introduction ,
  4. a b c d e Ralf Zimmer, Friedrichs Gelder und Kassen: Die Rote Schatulle and the Journal bei der Königliche Schatulle , in: Friedrich300 - Sources and documentation on Prussian history in the time of Frederick the Great , Foundation Prussian Palaces and Gardens Berlin-Brandenburg
  5. a b c Ralf Zimmer, in: Texts of the RECS: The receipts for the monthly box bills of Frederick the Great in the copy of Stengels , September 2, 2016, Research Center Sanssouci
  6. a b Helmut Caspar, Schlösserstiftung makes files of the old Fritz accessible , October 14, 2013 Berliner Woche
  7. a b c d e Tabatièren for the King , October 7, 2013, Blickpunkt - online portal for the State of Brandenburg , Blickpunkt Verlag
  8. Jana Scholz, Model of Versailles - With the Research Center Sanssouci, the Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation and the University of Potsdam begin an internationally oriented collaboration , September 12, 2016, University of Potsdam
  9. ^ Carola Hein, His Majesty's Black Cash Register , April 2, 2013, Märkische Allgemeine
  10. a b c d e Dirk Becker, Dirty Uniform, wonderful Tabatieren , Interview with Ralf Zimmer, October 19, 2013, Potsdamer Latest News
  11. ^ John Francis Reynolds (ed.), CF Gellert's correspondence: 1740–1755 , Volume 1, Walter de Gruyter , 1983 ISBN 978-3-11-008409-2 , p. 326
  12. Signature: GStA PK, BPH, Rep. 47 King Friedrich II., No. 895–935
  13. Signature: GStA PK, I. HA Privy Council, Rep. 36 Hof- und Güterverwaltung, No. 570
  14. Signature: GStA PK, BPH, Rep. 47 King Friedrich II., No. 941
  15. a b c d e Was Frederick the Great a great spendthrift? , July 10, 2011,
  16. a b c d e Andreas Kilb, Friedrich the Great: He wasn't an ascetic, June 12, 2011, FAZ
  17. Katja Bauer, Jubiläumsschau Friedrich II was not thrifty in Prussian terms in his own interests , April 28, 2012, Stuttgarter Zeitung
  18. ^ A b Karl Gaulhofer, The Prussians make peace with Friedrich , January 23, 2012, Die Presse
  19. a b Completely different and yet large: Friedrich II. - the homestory , interview by Andrea Schorsch, with Jürgen Luh , April 28, 2012,
  20. Barbara Weber, A Myth Celebrates Birthday: Friedrich the Great and Prussia , January 5, 2012, 8:10 p.m. - 9:00 p.m., Deutschlandfunk
  21. Signature: GStA PK, VI. HA, NL Stengel, No. 1-41
  22. Jürgen Luh, Supplement and relaunch of the box invoices of Frederick the Great , February 20, 2017, Research Center Sanssouci
  23. ^ Robert Dohme , On literature about Antoine Watteau , in: Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst , Carl von Lützow (Ed.), Volume 11, EA Seemann , Leipzig 1876, p. 88
  24. ^ Paul Seidel , research and illustrations on the history of the Hohenzollern in Brandenburg-Prussia , Giesecke & Devrient , Berlin / Leipzig 1908, 298 ff.
  25. Ludwig Quidde , Gerhard Wolfgang Seeliger , Karl Lamprecht a . a. (Ed.), Historische Vierteljahrschrift , Volume 7, BG Teubner Verlag , 1904, p. 311 (Snippet)
  26. ^ A b Arnold Hildebrand, The Portrait of Frederick the Great: Contemporary Representations , Nibelungen-Verlag, Berlin / Leipzig 1942
  27. Gerd Heinrich, Friedrich II. Von Prussen: Achievement and Life of a Great King , ISBN 978-3-428-12978-2 , Duncker & Humblot , 2009, p. 338 (Snippet)
  28. ^ Norbert Leithold , Friedrich II of Prussia: A cultural-historical and illustrated panorama from A - Z , ISBN 978-3-8218-6240-8 , Eichborn Verlag , Frankfurt am Main 2011, according to Willi Höfig, review
  29. Sylwia Friedrich, Modest Luxury: Private editions of Frederick II evaluated and posted on the Internet , June 25, 2011, Preußische Allgemeine Zeitung , p. 11
  30. Martin Dunst, Der Mythos des Alten Fritz , January 21, 2012,
  31. a b Barbara Möller, Sanssouci: Friedrich the Great and his Park , May 4, 2012, Hamburger Abendblatt
  32. ^ Tilman Krause , Prussian King: Frederick the Great - "fashion monkey" and dog lover , April 28, 2012,
  33. a b From Tatort History to Tatort Berlin , press release from March 19, 2012 by the Braunschweigisches Landesmuseum
  34. Friedrich II's box bills , Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation: Secret State Archives Prussian Cultural Heritage
  35. Jochen Kuhl, Gout and dropsy: The diseases of the Hohenzollern , Deutsches Ärzteblatt 2012; Edition 109 (44)
  36. ^ Frank Göse , Friedrich der Große und die Mark Brandenburg: Herrschaftspraxis in der Provinz , Volume 7 of: Studies on Brandenburg and Comparative State History , Lukas Verlag , 2012, p. 121
  37. ^ Art historical research in Krefeld: Friedrich the Great and his stockings , January 10, 2013, RP Online
  38. a b 300th birthday of Frederick the Great: “Friederisiko. The exhibition “in the New Palais and Sanssouci Park in Potsdam , December 2011, information from and about Berlin ,
  39. ^ Herbert Heyde, Musikinstrumentenbau in Preussen , Hans Schneider , 1994, p. 38
  40. see also: Sabine Henze-Döhring , Friedrich der Grosse - Musician and Monarch , CH Beck, Munich 2013, acc. Frederick the Great and Music , August 27, 2013, Neue Zürcher Zeitung
  41. Nina Simone Schepkowski: Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky, art agent and painting collector in Frederician Berlin . Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2009, pp. 150, 249, 375, 427-429
  42. ^ Deutsche Rundschau , Volume 203, Gebrüder Paetel , 1925, p. 70
  43. Jürgen Heilig, Flute Playing Warlord , January 21, 2012,