The life of 18th century Prussian Baron Frederick von der Trenck reads kind of like what you would get if you tossed the complete works of Alexander Dumas into the back of a souped-up cement mixer along with a thick slurry of nitroglycerine and a couple construction-grade bricks of crack cocaine.
Born in Konigsberg in 1726, Frederick was just one in a long line of distinguished military hardasses. Tracing his family lineage back to the days of the Teutonic Knights decapitating heathens in the Livonian wilderness, Frederick was proud to note in his autobiography that his own father had been wounded eighteen times while fighting in the service of the Prussian crown. So, it shouldn't really come as a surprise to anyone that by the time Frederick was eighteen he'd already won four swordfighting duels, enlisted in the cavalry, battled on the front lines in a couple massive ball-crushing conflicts, and made his way up through the ranks from ordinary cadet to Lieutenant in the prestigious Prussian Life Guard - the personal bodyguards of King Frederick the Great.
The Prussian military. You can tell these guys are serious because of their hats.
In addition to carving his name into his enemies' chests with the point of his saber, this tall, handsome officer was also coming home every night to a lavish mansion packed from floor-to-ceiling with hot babes that wanted to hop on his junk. It was like a clown car of cleavage in there. This was cool and all, but Trenck's crowning achievement as a chick magnet in his early years came when he started getting it on with Frederick the Great's sister, the Princess Amalia of Prussia, who not only hooked it up with him but also gave him a bunch of money and stuff as well. I think we can all appreciate this.
Wel, Trenck's military prowess continued to impress everyone who was lucky enough to be fighting on the same side as this crazy princess-humping face-wrecker, and in an ensuing war between Prussia and Austria the German nobleman received the Order of Merit for his badass actions cleaving the foes of the crown into tiny giblets of suck. Well sure, this was great and all, but Trenck's incredible success ended up making him basically the Sir Lancelot of 18th century Prussia – he was unmatched on the battlefield, but his indiscretions in his affair with the Princess eventually led to his downfall. Trenck's jealous enemies conspired against him, and in 1745 he was arrested for sending illegal correspondence to his brother (an Austrian military officer) and for the nebulous charge of "conspiring against the crown" (whatever the fuck that means). Trenck was sentenced to hard time in the closest thing early-modern Europe had to Federal Pound-Me-in-the-Ass Prison – the fortress of Glatz, located in modern-day Poland.
(Cue ominous music)
Being that he was a war hero and a one-time favorite of the King, Baron von Trenck was actually given a lot of liberty when he first arrived at Glatz. He was roomed in the officers' quarters, given free run of the prison, and could do pretty much whatever he wanted as long as he promised not to try and escape or impale anyone with a sword or headbutt guards until their noses exploded into their brains. Well Trenck wasn't down with that horseshit – he wasn't going to just sit there with a big dopey grin on his face and rot in the clink for some trumped-up crime he didn't commit. He spent his first days in confinement doing what a real badass would have done – he wrote a long, nasty, venomous, hate-filled letter to King Frederick the Great calling him a fucking punk for letting his own bodyguard go to jail on some bullshit charges.
You can imagine how that went over. The King ordered Trenck stripped of his hall pass and tossed into a cell with the rest of the criminals. Trenck, for his part, was sort of relieved that he wasn't under some half-assed imprisonment anymore, and immediately started plotting his escape.
His first plan was to conspire with a couple of other inmates (most of the men being held at this facility were former Prussian military officers, so there was a lot of potential for them to be helpful in any attempted escapes), and then stage some kind of sweet-ass jailbreak that would have made Steve McQueen so jacked up that he would pop a fucking wheelie on his motorcycle and tear a hole in the space-time continuum. Unfortunately, right before this great escape was to take place, one of the conspirators ratted out the plot, and all of the would-be escapees were beaten up and placed under additional lock and key. (As a side note, the traitor earned his freedom in exchange for the information, but he would come to rue the day he crossed the Baron von Trenck – Trenck would later hunt this bastard down, publicly humiliate him in front of thousands of onlookers, and then kill his ass in a duel.)
Glatz fortress interior.
Obviously, this guy wasn't going to give up that easily. After the guards relocated him to an inescapable prison cell in the top of a large stone tower, Trenck snuck in a small metal instrument, filed down the bars of his cell window, lowered himself down with a rope he made by tying some leather straps together, and made a break for it. Unfortunately for the BvT, it was raining on this particular night, and he got stuck in waist-deep mud while trying to wade through the fortress' twenty foot-wide moat, and was recaptured.
For his next escape attempt, Trenck took a more direct approach. When a guard came to move him between cells, Trenck dry-gulched the dude in the face, grabbed the sword off of his sword belt, and proceeded to cut his way through the prison block with the pointy end of the weapon. The guards came rushing to stop him, but they were no match for this insane, desperate asskicker – surrounded by six men, he wounded all of them, made his way out of the cell block like Han Solo and Luke Skywalker escaping the Death Star, and leapt from the rampart down to a courtyard nearly twenty feet below. He crashed down, rolled, popped up, killed two more sentries who tried to thrust their musket bayonets into his face, and jumped down a second rampart, falling an equal distance and still emerging unharmed. Trenck continued fighting, but just as he was busting through the wooden rampart fence towards freedom, a badly wounded guard managed to grab hold of his foot. Trenck was unable to dispose of this guy quickly enough, or chew through his own leg like a wolverine, and before long a huge crowd of guards showed up and beat the shit out of him with their rifles.
Glatz, with the palisades and stuff. You can get an idea of how far this guy was falling with his jumps.
Baron von Trenck was in the infirmary for nearly a month after this, but apparently hospitalization was the only thing that could keep this crazy bastard from trying to escape from prison. No sooner had he returned to the cell block than he started formulating a new plan. This time, he bribed a disgruntled guard to let him out, and the two of them decided to make a break for it together. So, one winter night in 1746, the officer unlocked Trenck's cell, handed him a sword, and together they rushed for the gates.
Well, Baron von Trenck, while badass, was probably the most unlucky person this side of George Costanza. After fighting and defeating a couple guards on the cell block, Trenck and his companion rushed towards the main gate of the camp, when all of a sudden the fucking jackass Adjutant and a small group of guards came around the corner with their swords and muskets at the ready. Well fuck that – Trenck wasn't about to let that douche-face get in the way of his escape, so the two of them made a sharp left-hand turn and leapt down from the fortress walls down to the ground below. Falling nearly thirty or forty feet had no effect on Trenck and his unsmashable adamantium ankles, but his buddy wasn't so lucky – the dude dislocated his foot in the fall and was unable to stand. Trenck, being the noble guy he was, refused to abandon his fellow escapee – he grabbed the dude, chucked him on his shoulders, and carried the guy's crippled body towards freedom.
Hotly pursued through the waist-deep winter snow, Trenck and his comrade fled into the night. After rushing through the mountains and forests of Prussia, the two men eventually came across a small farming village. They pretended to be wounded Prussian officers looking for a place to stay, but no sooner had they wandered into town than one of the villagers recognized them as the escaped criminals. Trenck looked over his shoulder to make sure no one was watching, punched the dude unconscious with one swing of his fist, took some of his food, and then charmed the guy's daughter into giving him her two fastest horses so he could complete his escape across the border into Bohemia.
Trenck got away, but he hadn't heard the last of Frederick the Great. The pissed-off Prussian King continually sent assassins and agents to kill and/or capture the Baron, and he spent the next seven years fighting off a number of attempts on his life. One time, Trenck was jumped by four men at once, and in a savage back-alley swordfight he managed to wound three and send the last guy running off in terror. Another time he heard that Frederick's men were planning to ambush him in a small village, so Trenck turned the tables, set up his own ambush, captured the would-be killers, and had them publicly whipped and humiliated in the town square. You don't want to fuck around with this dude. When he wasn't punching assassins in the neck, he served as the daring commander of a balls-out mercenary cavalry unit, had sex with a Russian Countess (and possibly even the Tsarina herself), and inherited a huge estate and a title of Austrian nobility from his dead brother.
Life was good once again for Trenck, but as I said before, this guy had some really shitty luck. In 1753, seven years after his escape from Glatz, the Baron von Trenck was re-captured by Frederick's men (it's not really his fault – they ambushed him when he returned to Danzig to attend his mother's funeral, the bastards). Notorious for his brazen and impossible escape, Trenck was confined to a small, cramped, dark cell in Magdeburg that kind of resembled a stone outhouse:
No sooner was he locked up than Trenck tried to Shawshank Redemption his ass outta there by tunneling through the rock with his bare hands. As a member of the Austrian nobility, Trenck started sending communications to the Austrian embassy detailing his plans to escape, but unfortunately the dude he was corresponding with ended up being an undercover Prussian spy who had infiltrated the Austrian system (did I mention Trenck's luck yet?). Trenck was about ten feet into his hand-carved tunnel when the order came down that he was to be bound to the floor by heavy iron chains.
For nine long years Trenck languished in his prison, but miraculously, at the end of the Seven Years' War the Empress of Austria was able to secure his release from that hell-hole (maybe he was three-for-three when it came to macking on female world leaders?) as long as he swore never to set foot in Prussia again. He returned to his huge estate, fought in the Austrian army, was promoted to Major, wrote his best-selling autobiography, bought a French winery, married a noblewoman, and had fourteen kids with her. For the rest of his life he never stopped having adventures as a mercenary, military officer, and official Austrian spy, but the party eventually ended while he was chilling in France during a little thing called the Reign of Terror. The French figured out he was an Austrian spy, and he was executed by guillotine. This was probably pretty sucky, but hey, if you're gonna go down and die a violent death, guillotine is a pretty sweet way to go out.
Bernard, Frederick. Wonderful Escapes. Scribner, 1875.
Garland, Henry Burnard. The Oxford Companion to German Literature. Oxford Univ. Press, 1997.
Haythornthwaite, Philip J. The Austrian Army 1740-80. Osprey, 1995.
Parker, Douglas Norman. Hohenzollern Universal, 2005.
Trenck, Frederick. The Life of Baron Frederick Trenck. J.Munsell, 1853.