I see that this year, someone nominated (future) Friedrich II and Katte again for Yuletide (Category: 18th Century Prussia RPF). Having just read Michael Roes' novel "Zeithain" about Katte, I was reminded of joking with rheasilvia
about how fandom would react if someone (HBO, Netflix, BBC, whoever) ever does a tv series about Frederick the Great with lots of budget and good actors. To wit: everyone would love the first season, because the youth of Frederick the Great follows favored slash tropes to ridiculous perfection. There's the mean, abusive Dad to bury all mean, abusive Dads. No need to invent or exaggarate anything - Friedrich Wilhelm, "the soldier king" - der Soldatenkönig, did it all: verbal abuse (especially Fritz and his oldest sister Wilhelmine), physical abuse (think gruesome historic punishments used in education and military training, multiply), homophobia ("sodomite" as a favored taunt) complete with possible supressed desires as cause (Friedrich Wilhelm was at the very least very homosocial, thirteen kids or not, he adored his soldiers and wanted to be with them always while not thinking much of women) and then he capped it by forcing Fritz to watch his boyfriend's execution. Try to top that, fanon bad fathers!
Then there's the tragic love story both people fond of royal tales and more critically minded "off with their heads" folk can root for. Our abused prince finds true love with his best friend, dashingly Byronic Lieutenant Hans Herrmann von Katte. When the King's abuse becomes too much, he wants to run away, and despite knowing this could go dreadfully wrong even if they do make it abroad because of the desertion factor (they're both members of the army, after all), not to mention that princes in exile don't exactly have a guaranteed income, Katte agrees, because he can't bear to see the prince suffer anymore. Things promptly go wrong, both of them get imprisoned, but the prince because he's a prince doesn't get condemned to death. The military tribunal condemns Katte to a life long prison sentence. Friedrich Wilhelm, the King, promptly revokes that sentence, says desertion is desertion and changes it into an execution order, complete with order his son is to watch the whole thing. (Possibly because he knew that "life long" would mean release as soon as Friedrich ascended to the throne, or, if you want to think better of him, because he wanted the law to be followed and didn't want the tribunal to give Katte a lenient sentence on Friedrich's account.) Katte was brave and dignified at his execution, with a heartrendering last encounter with Friedrich. (In French, because like much of the German nobility of the day, Fritz loathed the German language and spoke & wrote French whenever he could. (What documents exist of him written in German are terribly spelled.) "Veuillez pardonner mon cher Katte, au nom de Dieu, pardonne-moi!" ("Please forgive, my dear Katte, in God's name, forgive me."). With Katte replying: "Il n'y a rien à pardonner, mon prince, je meurs pour vous la joie dans le cœur!". ("There is nothing to forgive, I die for you with joy in my heart!")
As I said: all the tropes are covered. (Except for the last minute reprieve and happy ending, alas.) For those who want an interesting, layered female character whom canon will never put in a position to come between the OTP, she's there as well, in the form of Friedrich's sister Wilhelmine. (Undoubtedly the hypothetical tv show would also spawn some incest tales because that's how fandom rolls, but since canon would not go there, slashers whose 'ship is canon would not mind... I think?) Female characters turned into Yenta Sues, eat your heart out: Wilhelmine is her brother's confidante, has gone through the same abusive childhood and adolescence, and gets put under house arrest as well. (Though Katte exonorates her at his interrogations.) As the first season would undoubtedly end with Katte's dramatic death, the season hiatus would be spent by AUs, denial fic (endless last minute rescues - "faked his death", otoh, is not an option, what with the beheading in front of poor Fritz), and hurt/comfort starring Wilhelmine in the comforter role.
Season 2, otoh, would be hated by nearly all the fandom. Wilhelmine gets reduced from regular to guest star by marriage to a nonetity and
gets estranged from her brother. Friedrich reconciles with the wrong people (read: his father, though how sincere that reconciliation was is debatable). He even gets married. Quelle horreur! Though since that marriage was Dad's idea and he's never more than coldly polite to his wife, parting ways with her as soon as his father is dead, fandom would go from detesting Elisabeth Christine sight unseen to feeling vaguely sorry for her and then forgetting she exists (as Fritz does).
Katte's actual successor in Friedrich's affections, Fredersdorff, would be very controversial and start fandom's first shipping war. "Too much of a power differential", "boring!" and "not enough chemistry" complaints would be countered by "you're all too addicted to angst, what's wrong with a secure relationship!"
Friedrich Wilhelm gets killed off mid season 2, and after Fritz ascends the throne, it would start to dawn to the Breaking Bad
familiar of fandom that they're in for a main character arc that can be roughly described as "Jesse Pinkman becomes Walter White". In non-BB terms: fandom's woobie (Froobie, in this case?) turns into a magnificent bastard at best and a large scale manipulative life destroyer and creator of other woobies at worst. Friedrich reconciling with Wilhelmine would only vaguely pacify fandom. "Bring back Katte!" would still be the overwhelming cry.
Seasons 3 and 4 would regain some popularity for the show, with our (Anti?)hero now in full gear magnificent bastard mode, set on turning Prussia into the new European superpower, and the more woobie-longing part of fandom being given his younger brother Heinrich as a new favourite. (Heinrich is also openly gay, a gifted soldier, can provide some sibling jealousy angst and since he'll never rule anything won't be in danger of letting his admirers down by increasing ruthlessness and life ruining.) There are now three female characters as Friedrich's three major antagonists: Maria Theresia of Austria, Madame de Pompadour in France, and the Czarina Elisabeth in Russia. This again provides interesting women in major roles without breaking up any m/m couples, though with three female opponents, discussions about how much a misogynist Fritz is start. (Especially if the scripts include some of his more infamous statements about women, including about the way they smelled.) His defenders point out that he's also the most reform-minded ruler in Europe (true), with the episode in which a miller successfully sues the King in court (only possible in Frederician Prussia) being their favourite, while a part of fandom would embrace the "hate the main character, love the rest of the ensemble" way of fannishness and would point out to the Seven-Years-War bodycount as Friedrich's fault. Shipping wise, the introduction of Voltaire would provide fandom with its first love/hate 'ship in this 'verse. Snarky Voltaire would be the type of ambiguous trickster character with uncertain loyalties who is guaranteed to become a fandom favourite, and Fritz/Voltaire snark-and-sex stories would outstrip Fritz/Fredersdorff h/c and curtain fic in number , though neither would ever gain the popularity of Fritz/Katte.
Season 5 would bring things full circle with old Fritz managing one last major war victory courtesy of the Czarina dying at just the right time, and would even include a surprise new 'ship for the fandom (Casanova visits the court, briefly, and Friedrich canonically notices he's good looking). Mostly, though, this season becomes a beloved farewell season because it brings back Katte in the form of a ghost with whom old Fritz increasingly holds conversations as he prepares to meet his maker. The "King goes anonymous among the people" tropes are also served (especially since those tales were tradition about Old Fritz), with Friedrich realising the world is very different now (the French Revolution is just around the corner), whether for better or worse, he can't say, but it's time for him to go. As the season finale ends with his death and young Fritz having a ghostly reunion with Katte, even affirmed Friedrich haters sob in their hankerchiefs, though whether in grief or satisfaction, no one could tell.
One more thing: Zeithain
, the novel I just read which brought the resurrection of this frivolous speculation, tries to avoid the Froobie-to-Prussian-Machiavel dilemma by being about Katte, with Fritz making his entrance only around page 500 or thereabouts. Before, it's a Bildungsroman
about Katte, which gives him a bad Prussian dad as well (honestly, I have no idea whether or not Katte's father was particularly strict as far as non-Friedrich-Wilhem Prussian aristocrats went, the one thing I knew of him was that he tried in vain to get his son pardoned, which was natural, but doesn't say anything about how he raised him) and generally tells about how awful it was to grow up gay in 18th century Prussia. Our hero crushes on a schoolmate but doesn't dare to do anything about it, and doesn't have any sex until his (female) cousin casually deflowers him, which makes him realise what he does and doesn't want (he then goes off and has sex with a sailor). When young Fritz does show up, Katte is aware that actually caring about the a future king can't lead to anything good (even as just friends, because of the future power differential), but they fall for each other anyway, and history proceeds. The one point where I'd say our novelist is cheating a bit is that he has Katte, while waiting for his death sentence, speculating that while Fritz is going to survive he'll be emotionally crippled for the rest of his life, which is more hindsight of history and less what the character is likely to know/guess in these circumstances. But still, the story is movingly told.
However: the first person Katte narration is just one part of this book. It's interspersed by the increasingly tedious postmodern novel device, a contemporary character telling his story as well. Said contemporary is a fictional descendant from the Earl of Chesterfield, called Philip Stanhope like the Chesterfield's illegitimate son of famous letter fame, and thus distantly related to Katte as well, with the device connecting the two plots being that Stanhope has inherited some letters of Katte's to his British relations and is now tracing Katte's biographical steps. And the Stanhope part of the novel is just increasingly annoying. Because Katte and Friedrich between them don't provide enough daddy issues, Stanhope has a mean, distant dad as well. (Seriously, the only good father in the entire novel is Johann Sebastian Bach, because of course he is. Haven't come across a fictional take on Frederick the Great in which Bach doesn't get contrasted as the Good Father versus Friedrich Wilhelm as the Bad Father. The connection being that Friedrich had one of Bach's sons at his court as composer and met the great man himself once, too. In Zeithain
, it's Katte who meets Bach decades earlier, watches him interact with his kids and for the first time realises that the harsh parenting he's experienced isn't without alternatives.) Stanhope's mean distant dad had a homoerotic interlude as a young man, as it turns out, in case we're missing the theme that homophobic dads are mainly homophobic because they themselves are repressed homosexuals. In conclusion, I really wish novelists would stop interjecting perfectly readable historical novels with present day interludes when these contribute nothing of interest to the tale.