Friedrich III

From Kaiserreich


Friedrich III von Hohenzollern (born Friedrich Wilhelm Nikolaus Karl; October 18, 1831 – June 15, 1888), was the second German Kaiser and King of Prussia, ruling for 99 days until his death in 1888. He was succeeded by his son, the current Kaiser, Wilhelm II.



Family background

Friedrich Wilhelm was born in the New Palace at Potsdam, a scion of the House of Hohenzollern. His father, Prince Wilhelm of Prussia was a younger brother of King Frederick William IV of Prussia. His mother, Princess Augusta of Saxe-Weimar, had been brought up in a very different atmosphere, as Weimar was a rather liberal state.

Marriage and Family

Victoria, Princess Royal, eldest daughter of Queen Victoria, whom Friedrich married in 1858As early as 1851, there were plans to marry Frederick to Victoria, Princess Royal of Great Britain and Ireland, the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. At the christening of the future King Edward VII, Friedrich's uncle, King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia, was godfather and had also dandled the Princess Royal on his knee. The Royal dynasty in Britain was predominantly German; there was little British blood in Queen Victoria and none in her husband. Prince Albert hoped that the marriage would lead to the liberalization and modernization of Prussia. The betrothal of the young couple was announced in April 1856. The wedding was on January 25, 1858, in the Chapel of St. James's Palace, London. To mark the occasion, Friedrich was promoted to Major-General in the Prussian army. The marriage was a great love match. The rigorously educated Princess Royal shared her husband's liberal views. The couple had eight children during their marriage: William in 1859, Charlotte in 1860, Heinrich in 1862, Sigismund in 1864, Victoria in 1866, Waldemar in 1868, Sophie in 1870 and Margaret in 1872. Sadly, both Princes Sigismund and Waldemar died in childhood.


On January 2, 1861, Friedrich Wilhelm's father became King Wilhelm I of Prussia, and Friedrich Wilhelm himself became Kronprinz at the age of twenty-nine. William's accession did not usher in the new era for which Friedrich and the liberal elements in Prussia had hoped. He was blamed many times by his father for his liberal views. The Kronprinz formed a partnership with General Leonhard Graf von Blumenthal, his Chief of Staff, through whom he was able to command victorious armies in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. The timely arrival of his troops was crucial to the Prussian victory at Sadowa. After the battle, Wilhelm presented Friedrich with the Order Pour le Mérite, as a mark of personal gallantry on the field. As commander, Frederick also had great victories in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, where he commanded the III Army at Wissembourg, Wœrth, Sedan and during the Siege of Paris.

The German states united as the German Empire in 1871, with Wilhelm as Emperor and Friedrich as heir to the new German monarchy. Bismarck, now German Reichskanzler, disliked Friedrich, and distrusted his and his wife's liberalism. Friedrich was often at odds with his father and Bismarck's policies and actions and sided with liberals often. Friedrich was kept out of any real position of power throughout his father's reign. It was very improbable that William, then 73, would reign until 1888. Kaiser Wilhelm, seeking to raise the capital of Berlin to a great cultural center, appointed Friedrich as Protector of Public Museums. It was largely due to his work that considerable artistic collections were acquired. Frederick continued his military and representational duties when required, such as attending Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887.

Brief reign

By the time his father died aged 90 on March 9, 1888, Friedrich was viewed with hope by liberals as someone who would finally be able to implement the liberal ideas that he espoused. However, by that time Frederick had developed a debilitating cancer of the larynx, which was finally diagnosed on November 12, 1887 by the British doctor Sir Morell Mackenzie. Due to a rivalry between the local German doctors and the British doctors favored by Friedrich and his wife, difficulties occurred over the proposed treatment of the patient. In spite of his illness, the Emperor continued to fulfill his obligations as Emperor. Before he ascended to the position he had already penned a proclamation that stated that the chancellor and monarch would be limited under the constitution. Immediately after the announcement of his accession, he took the ribbon and star of his own Order of the Black Eagle from his jacket and pinned it on the dress of his wife. He was determined, though gravely ill, to honor the position of his wife as Empress. Because Friedrich III ruled for only 99 days, he was unable to cause many lasting changes to Germany. Finally on June 15, Frederick III died and was succeeded by his 29-year-old son Wilhelm II.


As Friedrich III's reign had been too brief for him to affect any changes, his posthumous reputation rested mainly on "might have been" speculations - i.e. on what he might have achieved had he lived longer (or had his father died sooner, bringing him to power while still in health).

Clearly, Friedrich III was far more of a Liberal than either his father or his son, and had he had a chance he would have likely implemented Liberal reforms and strengthened the role of the German parliament. Naturally, German Liberals and Democrats (and those in other countries as well) mourned his brief reign as a lost golden opportunity. So did pacifists and peace-seekers of all kinds who speculated that has he lived, Friedrich III would have avoided the warlike policies which his son took, and spared Germany and the world the horrors of the Weltkrieg.

Conversely, Conservatives and supporters of Germany's imperial expansion felt that Friedrich III's death was a blessing for Germany, clearing the way for a Kaiser much more to their taste.

Ironically, Syndicalist revolutionaries in France, Britain and Italy - looking back in history - also felt no reason to mourn Friedrich III's premature death. They reasoned that had he lived, he might have bolstered throughout Europe the system of capitalist-dominated democracy which Syndicalists abhorred, and averted the revolutionary situations which allowed them to take power in several countries.

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