Hans Hermann von Katte

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Hans Hermann von Katte
Born (1704-02-28)28 February 1704
Berlin, Prussia
Died 6 November 1730(1730-11-06) (aged 26)
Cause of death Execution by Frederick William I of Prussia
Parent(s) Hans Heinrich Graf von Katte
Dorothee Sophia von Wartensleben

Hans Hermann von Katte (28 February 1704 – 6 November 1730) was a Lieutenant of the Prussian Army and the friend of the future King Frederick II of Prussia, who was at the time the Crown Prince. He was executed by Frederick's father King Frederick William I of Prussia when Frederick II plotted to escape from the Kingdom of Prussia to the Kingdom of Great Britain. Some[who?] believe that Frederick intended to defect to the service of George II of Great Britain (Frederick William's maternal first cousin and Frederick's maternal uncle) and possibly return to Prussia to depose Frederick William.


Katte's decapitation

Born in the Prussian capital of Berlin, Katte was a nobleman by birth, coming from a long line of aristocratic military men. His ancestors were squires of Wust in the Altmark. His father, Hans Heinrich Graf von Katte, was one of Frederick William I's most regarded cuirassiers. Katte's mother, Dorothee Sophia von Wartensleben, was the daughter of a seasoned and revered field marshal, Graf Leopold Alexander von Wartensleben. Hans Hermann studied in Königsberg and Utrecht — his foci were French and law. After completing his studies he joined the Prussian Army.

It is not known when Frederick II and Katte met for the first time. However, when they both attended private mathematics and mechanics lessons in 1729, they became acquainted rapidly. Frederick, eight years younger than Katte, admired Katte for his cosmopolitan attitude. Both were interested in poetry and playing the flute.

In the spring of 1730 Frederick revealed to Katte that he had a plan to flee to Great Britain as a way to leave his harsh and despotic father. At first, Katte tried to hold Frederick back, yet at the end supported Frederick's plan to escape. On 5 August 1730, while the royal retinue was near Mannheim in the Electorate of the Palatinate, Frederick tried to escape from his quarters. At that point Katte stayed in Potsdam.[1] A compromising letter unmasked Katte as an accomplice and Frederick and Katte were subsequently arrested and imprisoned in Küstrin. However because they were army officers who had tried to flee Prussia for England, Frederick William I leveled an accusation of treason against the pair.

A court martial found Katte guilty of desertion and sentenced him to lifelong imprisonment; but King Frederick Wilhelm I ordered the sentence changed to beheading, declaring that "it would be better that Katte came to death than the justice out of the world." As Katte was an officer of the King's Guard, the King argued that if Katte were let off lightly (a life sentence would only last until Frederick William died), the King's Guard could never be trusted again. All petitions of mercy for Katte, including one from Frederick, were ignored.

Katte was beheaded at the fortress of Küstrin where the king forced Frederick to watch the execution. However when he was brought up to be executed, Frederick shouted in French to Katte, "Veuillez pardonner mon cher Katte, au nom de Dieu, pardonne-moi!" ("Please forgive, my dear Katte, in God's name, forgive me."). Katte called back in the same language, "There is nothing to forgive, I die for you with joy in my heart!" Frederick then fell to the floor in a dead faint. These were Katte's last words, yet not his last farewell. Soon it was discovered that Katte had written a farewell letter to his father before his execution which states:

Into tears, my father, that’s how I want to melt away, when thinking that this letter will cause the greatest grief to a faithful father's heart. That all the hopes for my future welfare and its comfort in old age has to disappear at once; that all applied effort and diligence for my upbringing to the maturity of the desired happiness even have been in vain; yes – that I will have to bow in the prime of my years without presenting to you in this world the fruits of my efforts and my achieved sciences. How didn't I think to ascend the world and make your conceived hope one satisfied; how didn't I think that I will not lack of happiness and well-being; how wasn't I occupied from the certainty of my reputation. But all in vain! How futile man's thoughts are: At once everything is falling apart; and how sadly is the scenery of my life coming to an end; and how is my current state distinguished from that with which my thoughts have gone; I must – instead of promenading the way of honor and reputation – walk the path of disgrace and a shameful death. [..] Get strong again my father, and believe me, God is with me in this game, without whose will nothing happens, not even a sparrow on the earth may fall! [...] Meanwhile, I thank you with filial respect for all the father loyalty shown to me, from my childhood to the present hour [...] Now nothing is left for me but to close with this consolation: Even though, my father, you haven't experienced anything high and distinguished from me in this world, oh! so please be assured that you will find even higher in heaven. Your faithful until death son. Hans Hermann

— Hans Hermann von Katte, in Theodor Fontane: Wanderungen durch die Mark Brandenburg, Volume 2 "Jenseits der Oder" – Küstrin: Die Katte-Tragödie.

Upon witnessing his death, Frederick was plunged into deep despair for three days. After that, he never spoke of Katte again nor visited his grave as Katte's remains rest in the crypt of the church in Wust.

Mausoleum of the Katte family in Wust, Brandenburg


  1. ^ MacDonogh, p. 63

Further reading[edit]

  • Hergemöller, Bernd-Ulrich(1998) "Katte, Hans Hermann von". In: Mann für Mann. Biographisches Lexikon zur Geschichte von Freundesliebe und mann-männlicher Sexualität im deutschen Sprachraum, pp. 411/412. Hamburg: MännerschwarmSkript ISBN 3-928983-65-2
  • Kloosterhuis, Jürgen (2006) "Katte. Ordre und Kriegsartikel: Aktenanalytische und militärhistorische Aspekte einer „facheusen“ Geschichte". From: Forschungen zur Brandenburgischen und Preußischen Geschichte. N. F., 15., Berlin ISBN 978-3-428-12193-9
  • Merten, Detlef Der Katte-Prozeß, Berlin: De Gruyter ISBN 3-11-008290-X (PDF at Juristischen Gesellschaft Berlin)

Further reading[edit]