Franz, Freiherr von der Trenck - Encyclopedia

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FRANZ TRENCK, FREIHERR VON DER (1711-1749), Austrian soldier, was born on the 1st of January 1711, of a military family. Educated by the Jesuits at Oedenburg, he entered the Imperial army in 1728 but resigned in disgrace three years later. He then married and lived on his estates for some years. Upon the death of his wife in 1737 he offered to raise an irregular corps of "Pandours" for service against the Turks, but this offer was refused and he then entered the Russian army. But after serving against the Turks for a short time as captain and major of cavalry he was accused of bad conduct, brutality and disobedience and condemned to death, the sentence being commuted by Field Marschal Miinnich to degradation and imprisonment. After a time he returned to Austria, where his father was governor of a small fortress, but there too he came into conflict with every one and, actually "took sanctuary" in a convent in Vienna. But Prince Charles of Lorraine, interesting himself in this strange man, obtained for him an amnesty and a commission in a corps of irregulars. In this command, besides his usual truculence and robber manners, he displayed conspicuous personal bravery, and in spite of the general dislike into which his vices brought him his services were so valuable that he was promoted lieutenant-colonel (1743) and colonel (1744). But at the battle of Soor he and his irregulars plundered when they should have been fighting and Trenck was accused (probably falsely) of having allowed the king of Prussia himself to escape. After a time he was brought before a court-martial in Vienna, which convicted him of having sold and withdrawn commissions to his officers without the queen's leave, punished his men without heed to the military code, and drawn pay and allowance for fictitious men. Much was allowed to an irregular officer in all these respects, but Trenck had far outrun the admitted limits, and above all his brutalities and robberies had made him detested throughout Austria and Silesia. A death sentence followed, but the composition of the court-martial and its proceedings were thought to have been such as from the first forbade a fair trial, and the sentence was commuted by the queen into one of cashiering and imprisonment. The rest of his life was spent in mild captivity in the fortress of Spielberg, where he died on the 4th of October 1749.

His cousin, Friedrich, Freiherr Von Der Trenck (1726-1794), the writer of the celebrated autobiography, was born on the 16th of February 1726 at Konigsberg, his father being a Prussian general. After distinguishing himself for his quickness and imagination at the university of Konigsberg, he entered the Prussian army in 1742, and soon became an orderly officer on Frederick's own staff. But within a year he fell into disgrace because of a love affair - whether real or imaginary - with the king's sister Princess Amalie, and when in 1743 his Austrian cousin presented him with a horse and opened a correspondence, Frederick had him arrested, a few days of ter the battle of Soor, and confined in the fortress of Glatz, whence in 1746 he escaped. Making his way home and thence to Vienna, in the vain hope of finding employment under his now disgraced cousin, he finally met a Russian general, who took him into the Russian service But, receiving news that owing to his cousin's death he had become the owner of the family estates, he returned to Germany almost immediately He was made a captain of Austrian cavalry, but never served, as his time was fully taken up with litigation 'connected with the inherited estates. In 1 754 he visited Prussia, but was there arrested and confined in Magdeburg for ten years, making frequent attempts, of incredible audacity, to escape from the harshness of his gaolers. But after the close of the Seven Years' War, Maria Theresa requested that he should, as being a captain in her service, be at once released. Trenck then spent some years in Aix-la-Chapelle, managing an agency for Hungarian wines and publishing a newspaper, and on the failure of these enterprises he returned to his Hungarian estates. Here he composed his celebrated autobiography and many other writings. He visited England and France in 1774-1777, and was afterwards employed by the government in diplomatic or secret service missions. After the death of Frederick the Great he was allowed to enter Prussia, and stayed in Berlin for two years. In 1788 he visited Paris, where he was the hero of society for a moment; next year he returned to Hungary in order to collect his writings in a uniform edition, but in 1791 he returned to Paris to be a spectator of the Revolution, and after living in safety throughout the Terror he was at last denounced as an Austrian spy and guillotined on the 25th of July 1794.

His autobiography, which has been translated into several languages, first appeared in German at Berlin and Vienna (13 vols.) in 1787. Shortly afterwards a French version, by his own hand, was published at Strassburg. His other published works are in eight volumes and appeared shortly after the autobiography at Leipzig. A reprint of the autobiography appeared in 1910 in "Reclam's Universal Series." See Wahrmann, Leben and Thaten des Franz, Freiherr von der Trenck and Friedrich Freiherrn von der Trencks Leben, Kerker and Tod (both published at Leipzig in 1837).

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