Frederick Emperor
German Emperor
Frederick Emperor
Frederick III was German Emperor and King of Prussia for 99 days in 1888, the Year of the Three Emperors. Friedrich Wilhelm Nikolaus Karl, known informally as Fritz, was the only son of Emperor William I and was raised in his family's tradition of military service. Although celebrated as a young man for his leadership and successes during the Second Schleswig, Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian wars, he nevertheless professed a hatred of warfare and was praised by friends and enemies alike for his humane conduct. Following the unification of Germany in 1871 his father, then King of Prussia, became the German Emperor. On William's death at the age of 90 on 9 March 1888, the throne passed to Frederick, who had by then been Crown Prince for 27 years. Frederick was suffering from cancer of the larynx when he died on 15 June 1888, aged 56, following unsuccessful medical treatments for his condition. Frederick married Princess Victoria, eldest daughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. The couple were well matched; their shared liberal ideology led them to seek greater representation for commoners in the government. Frederick, in spite of his conservative militaristic family background, had developed liberal tendencies as a result of his ties with Britain and his studies at the University of Bonn. As the Crown Prince, he often opposed the conservative Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, particularly in speaking out against Bismarck's policy to unite Germany through force and in urging for the power of the position of Chancellor to be curbed. Liberals in both Germany and Britain hoped that as emperor, Frederick III would move to liberalize the German Empire. Frederick and Victoria were great admirers of the Prince Consort of the United Kingdom, Victoria's father. They planned to rule as consorts, like Albert and Queen Victoria, and to reform the fatal flaws in the executive branch that Bismarck had created for himself. The office of Chancellor, responsible to the Emperor, would be replaced with a British-style cabinet, with ministers responsible to the Reichstag. Government policy would be based on the consensus of the cabinet. Frederick "described the Imperial Constitution as ingeniously contrived chaos. " "The Crown Prince and Princess shared the outlook of the Progressive Party, and Bismarck was haunted by the fear that should the old Emperor die--and he was now in his seventies--they would call on one of the Progressive leaders to become Chancellor. He sought to guard against such a turn by keeping the Crown Prince from a position of any influence and by using foul means as well as fair to make him unpopular. " However, his illness prevented him from effectively establishing policies and measures to achieve this, and such moves as he was able to make were later abandoned by his son and successor, William II. The timing of Frederick's death and the length of his reign are important topics among historians. The premature demise of Frederick III is considered a potential turning point in German history; and whether or not he would have made the Empire more liberal if he had lived longer is still discussed.
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    FIFTIES
  • 1888
    Age 56
    Frederick III died in Potsdam on 15 June 1888, and was succeeded by his 29-year-old son Wilhelm II.
    More Details Hide Details Frederick is buried in a mausoleum attached to the Friedenskirche in Potsdam. After his death, William Ewart Gladstone described him as the "Barbarossa of German liberalism". Empress Victoria went on to continue spreading Frederick's thoughts and ideals throughout Germany, but no longer had power within the government. Frederick believed a state should not act against the popular opinion of its inhabitants. He had a long history of liberalism, and had discussed his ideas and intentions with Victoria and others before his reign. Admiring Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and the British parliamentary system, Frederick and his wife planned to rule as consorts and liberalize Germany through the appointment of more liberal ministers. They intended to severely limit the office of Chancellor, and reorganize Germany to include many elements of British liberalism. Many historians, including William Harbutt Dawson and Erich Eyck, consider that Frederick's early death put an end to the development of liberalism within the German empire. They believe that, given a longer reign and better health, Frederick might indeed have transformed Germany into a more liberal democratic country, and prevented its militaristic path toward war. Dr. J. McCullough claims that Frederick would have averted World War I - and by extension the resulting Weimar Republic - while other historians such as Michael Balfour go even further by postulating that, as the end of World War I directly affected the state of the world's development, the liberal German Emperor might also have prevented the outbreak of World War II.
    Frederick had the fervour but not the time to accomplish his desires, lamenting in May 1888, "I cannot die...
    More Details Hide Details What would happen to Germany?"
    Frederick was suffering from cancer of the larynx when he died on 15 June 1888, aged fifty-six, following unsuccessful medical treatments for his condition.
    More Details Hide Details Frederick married Princess Victoria, eldest daughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. The couple were well-matched; their shared liberal ideology led them to seek greater representation for commoners in the government. Frederick, in spite of his conservative militaristic family background, had developed liberal tendencies as a result of his ties with Britain and his studies at the University of Bonn. As the Crown Prince, he often opposed the conservative Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, particularly in speaking out against Bismarck's policy of uniting Germany through force, and in urging that the power of the Chancellorship be curbed. Liberals in both Germany and Britain hoped that as emperor, Frederick III would move to liberalize the German Empire. Frederick and Victoria were great admirers of Prince Albert, Victoria's father. They planned to rule as consorts, like Albert and Queen Victoria, and to reform what they saw as flaws in the executive branch that Bismarck had created for himself. The office of Chancellor, responsible to the Emperor, would be replaced with a British-style cabinet, with ministers responsible to the Reichstag. Government policy would be based on the consensus of the cabinet. Frederick "described the Imperial Constitution as ingeniously contrived chaos."
  • 1887
    Age 55
    Retaining his military portfolio, he continued to represent Germany and its Emperor at ceremonies, weddings, and celebrations, such as Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887.
    More Details Hide Details Frederick was severely reproached by his father for his liberal ideas, so he spent a large portion of time in Britain where Queen Victoria frequently allowed him to represent her at ceremonies and social functions.
  • FORTIES
  • 1881
    Age 49
    In 1881, Frederick and Victoria again attended a synagogue service, this time in Wiesbaden "to demonstrate as clearly as we can what our convictions are".
    More Details Hide Details Frederick followed this up by giving a speech in which he spoke out for "poor, ill-treated Jews" of Europe. Frederick's mother-in-law, Queen Victoria, wrote to thank him for his speech, saying she was proud that her daughter had married someone like him, but within Junker circles, Frederick was widely criticised for his actions in support of the Jews. Prominent among the Crown Prince's critics was his eldest son, Prince Wilhelm, who called his father a weak, cowardly man controlled by his British mother and the Jews. Beyond Wilhelm, many of the "reactionary and 'chauvinistic' circles in Germany" had, in the words of the British historian John C. G. Röhl come to the " conviction that the Crown Prince and his liberal English wife were an alien, un-German force that must not be allowed to accede to the throne". Germany's progressive elements hoped that William's death, and thus Frederick's succession, would usher the country into a new era governed along liberal lines. The conservative William, however, lived a long life, dying at the age of 90 on 9 March 1888. Logically, Frederick should have taken as his regnal name either Frederick I (if the Bismarckian empire was considered a new entity) or Frederick IV (if it was considered a continuation of the old Holy Roman Empire, which had had three emperors named Frederick); he himself preferred the latter. However, on the advice of Bismarck that this would create legal problems, he opted to simply keep the same regnal name he had as king of Prussia.
  • 1880
    Age 48
    Clad in the uniform of a Prussian field marshal Frederick, together with Victoria, attended a synagogue service in Berlin in 1880 to show support for tolerance in contrast to what Victoria called Treitscke's "disgraceful attacks".
    More Details Hide Details Shortly afterward, Frederick gave a speech denouncing the anti-Semitic movement in Germany as "a shameful blot on our time", adding that "We are ashamed of the Judenhetze which has broken all bounds of decency in Berlin, but which seems to flourish under the protection of the Court clerics."
  • 1878
    Age 46
    In 1878, when his father was incapacitated by injury from an assassination attempt, Frederick briefly took over his tasks but was soon relegated to the sidelines once again.
    More Details Hide Details His lack of influence affected him deeply, even causing him to think about suicide. During an effort led, between 1879 and 1881, by the völkisch historian Heinrich von Treitschke and the court chaplain, Adolf Stoecker to dis-emancipate German Jews, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess were in opposition, Victoria writing that she saw "Treitschke and his supporters as lunatics of the most dangerous sort", and opining that Pastor Stoecker properly belonged in an insane asylum. She went on to write that she felt ashamed of her adopted country because people like Treitschke and Stoecker "behave so hatefully towards people of a different faith and another race who become an integral part (and by no means the worst) of our nation!".
  • THIRTIES
  • 1871
    Age 39
    In 1871, following Prussia's victories, the German states were united into the German Empire, with William as the Emperor and Frederick as heir-apparent to the new German monarchy.
    More Details Hide Details Although William thought the day when he became Emperor the saddest of his life, Frederick was excited to be witness to a great day in German history. Bismarck, now Chancellor, disliked Frederick and distrusted the liberal attitudes of the Crown Prince and Princess. Often at odds with his father's and Bismarck's policies and actions, Frederick sided with the country's liberals in their opposition to the expansion of the empire's army. The Crown Prince also became involved in many public works projects, such as the establishment of schools and churches in the area of Bornstedt near Potsdam. To assist his father's effort to turn Berlin, the capital city, into a great cultural centre, he was appointed Protector of Public Museums; it was largely due to Frederick that considerable artistic collections were acquired, housed in Berlin's new Kaiser Friedrich Museum (later known as the Bode Museum) after his death.
    For his behaviour and accomplishments, The Times wrote a tribute to Frederick in July 1871, stating that "the Prince has won as much honour for his gentleness as for his prowess in the war".
    More Details Hide Details
  • 1870
    Age 38
    Four years later Frederick was in action again, this time during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, in which he was once more paired with Blumenthal and commanded the III Army, consisting of troops from the southern German states.
    More Details Hide Details He was praised for his leadership after defeating the French at the battles of Wissembourg and Wörth, and met with further successes at the Battle of Sedan and during the Siege of Paris. Frederick's humane treatment of his country's foes earned him their respect and the plaudits of neutral observers. After the Battle of Wörth, a London journalist witnessed the Crown Prince's many visits to wounded Prussian soldiers and lauded his deeds, extolling the love and respect the soldiers held for Frederick. Following his victory, Frederick had remarked to two Paris journalists, "I do not like war gentlemen. If I should reign I would never make it." One French journalist remarked that "the Crown Prince has left countless traits of kindness and humanity in the land that he fought against."
  • 1866
    Age 34
    The timely arrival of his II Army was crucial to the Prussian victory in 1866 at the decisive Battle of Königgrätz, which won the war for Prussia.
    More Details Hide Details After the battle, William presented Frederick with the Order Pour le Mérite for his personal gallantry on the field and leadership of the II Army. Nevertheless, the bloodshed caused him great dismay. A few days before Königgrätz, Frederick had written to his wife, expressing his hope that this would be the last war he would have to fight. On the third day of the battle he wrote to her again: "Who knows whether we may not have to wage a third war in order to keep what we have now won?"
  • 1863
    Age 31
    His protests against William's rule peaked at Danzig on 4 June 1863, where at an official reception in the city he loudly denounced Bismarck's restrictions on freedom of the press.
    More Details Hide Details He thereby made Bismarck his enemy and his father extremely angry. Consequently, Frederick was excluded from positions of political power throughout his father's reign.
  • 1862
    Age 30
    Because William was a dogmatic soldier and unlikely to change his ideas at the age of sixty-four, he regularly clashed with the Diet over policies. In September 1862, one such disagreement almost led to Frederick being crowned and replacing his father as king; William threatened to abdicate when the Diet refused to fund his plans for the army's reorganization.
    More Details Hide Details Frederick was appalled by this action, and said that an abdication would "constitute a threat to the dynasty, country and Crown". William reconsidered, and instead on the advice of Minister of War Albrecht von Roon appointed Otto von Bismarck, who had offered to push through the military reform even against the majority of the Diet, as Minister-President. The appointment of Bismarck, an authoritarian who would often ignore or overrule the Diet, set Frederick on a collision course with his father and led to his exclusion from affairs of state for the rest of William's reign. Frederick insisted on bloodless "moral conquests", unifying Germany by liberal and peaceful means, but it was Bismarck's policy of blood and iron that prevailed.
  • TWENTIES
  • 1861
    Age 29
    When his father succeeded to the Prussian throne as King William I on 2 January 1861, Frederick became the Crown Prince.
    More Details Hide Details Already twenty-nine years old, he would be Crown Prince for a further twenty-seven years. The new king was initially considered politically neutral; Frederick and Prussia's liberal elements hoped that he would usher in a new era of liberal policies. The liberals managed to greatly increase their majority in the Prussian Diet (Landtag), but William soon showed that he preferred the conservative ways. On the other hand, Frederick declared himself in complete agreement with the "essential liberal policy for internal and foreign affairs".
  • 1855
    Age 23
    Frederick proposed to Victoria in 1855, when she was 14 years old. The betrothal of the young couple was announced on May 19, 1857 at Buckingham Palace and the Prussian Court, and their marriage took place on 25 January 1858 in the Chapel Royal of St. James's Palace, London.
    More Details Hide Details To mark the occasion, Frederick was promoted to Major-General in the Prussian army. Although it was an arranged marriage, the newlyweds were compatible from the start and their marriage was a loving one; Victoria too had received a liberal education and shared her husband's views. Of the two, Victoria was the dominant one in the relationship. The couple often resided at the Crown Prince's Palace and had eight children: Wilhelm in 1859, Charlotte in 1860, Henry in 1862, Sigismund in 1864, Victoria in 1866, Waldemar in 1868, Sophia in 1870 and Margaret in 1872. Sigismund died at the age of 2 and Waldemar at age 11, and their eldest son, Wilhelm, suffered from a withered arm - probably due to his difficult and dangerous breech birth, although it could have also resulted from a mild case of cerebral palsy. Wilhelm, who became emperor after Frederick's death, shared none of his parent's liberal ideas; his mother viewed him as a "complete Prussian". This difference in ideology created a rift between Wilhelm and his parents, and relations between them were strained throughout their lives.
  • TEENAGE
  • 1851
    Age 19
    In 1851, his mother sent Frederick to England, ostensibly to visit the Great Exhibition but in truth she hoped that the cradle of liberalism and home of the industrial revolution would have a positive influence on her son.
    More Details Hide Details Prince Albert took Frederick under his wing during his stay but it was Albert's daughter, only eleven at the time, who guided the German prince around the Exhibition. A regular exchange of letters between Victoria and Frederick followed.
  • CHILDHOOD
  • 1831
    Born
    Frederick William was born in the New Palace at Potsdam in Prussia on 18 October 1831.
    More Details Hide Details He was a scion of the House of Hohenzollern, rulers of Prussia, then the most powerful of the German states. Frederick's father, Prince William, was a younger brother of King Frederick William IV and, having been raised in the military traditions of the Hohenzollerns, developed into a strict disciplinarian. William fell in love with his cousin Elisa Radziwill, a Princess of the Polish nobility, but his parents felt Elisa's rank was not suitable for the bride of a Prussian Prince and forced a more suitable match. The woman selected to be his wife, Princess Augusta of Saxe-Weimar, had been raised in the more intellectual and artistic atmosphere of Weimar, which gave its citizens greater participation in politics and limited the powers of its rulers through a constitution; Augusta was well-known across Europe for her liberal views. Because of their differences, the couple did not have a happy marriage and, as a result, Frederick grew up in a troubled household, which left him with memories of a lonely childhood. He had one sister, Louise (later Grand Duchess of Baden), who was eight years his junior and very close to him. Frederick also had a very good relationship with his uncle, King Frederick William IV, who has been called "the romantic on the throne".
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