Frederick William III of Prussia

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Frederick William III
King of Prussia
Elector of Brandenburg
Frid-Wil III Kruger.jpg
Royal Monogram of King Frederick William III of Prussia.svg
Reign 16 November 1797 – 7 June 1840
Predecessor Frederick William II
Successor Frederick William IV
Spouse Luise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
Auguste Gräfin von Harrach (morganatic)
Issue Frederick William IV of Prussia
William I of Germany and Prussia
Alexandra, Empress of Russia
Princess Frederica
Prince Charles
Princess Alexandrine
Prince Ferdinand
Princess Louise
Prince Albert
House House of Hohenzollern
Father Frederick William II
Mother Frederika Louisa of Hesse-Darmstadt
Born 3 August 1770
Potsdam, Prussia
Died 7 June 1840 (age 69)
Berlin
Religion Calvinism
Evangelical Christian Church (since 1817)
Prussian Royalty
House of Hohenzollern
Wappen Deutsches Reich - Königreich Preussen (Grosses).png
Frederick William III
Children
   Frederick William IV
   William I
   Alexandra Feodorovna, Empress of Russia
   Princess Frederica
   Prince Charles of Prussia
   Alexandrine, Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg
   Prince Ferdinand
   Princess Louise
   Prince Albert of Prussia

Frederick William III (German: Friedrich Wilhelm III) (3 August 1770 – 7 June 1840) was king of Prussia from 1797 to 1840. He ruled Prussia during the difficult times of the Napoleonic wars and the end of the old German Empire. Steering a careful course between France and her enemies, after a major military defeat in 1806, he eventually and reluctantly joined the coalition against Napoleon in the Befreiungskriege. Following Napoleon's defeat he was King of Prussia during the Congress of Vienna which assembled to settle the political questions arising from the new, post-Napoleonic order in Europe.

Early life[edit]

Friedrich Wilhelm and his mother, 1775

Frederick William was born in Potsdam in 1770 as the son of Frederick William II of Prussia and Frederika Louisa of Hesse-Darmstadt. He was considered to be a shy and reserved boy, which became noticeable in his particularly reticent conversations distinguished by the lack of personal pronouns. This manner of speech subsequently came to be considered entirely appropriate for military officers.[1]

As a child, Frederick William's father (under the influence of his mistress, Wilhelmine Enke, Countess of Lichtenau) had him handed over to tutors, as was quite normal for the period. He spent part of the time living at Paretz, the estate of the old soldier Count Hans von Blumenthal who was the governor of his brother Prince Heinrich. They thus grew up partly with the Count's son, who accompanied them on their Grand Tour in the 1780s. Frederick William was happy at Paretz, and for this reason in 1795 he bought it from his boyhood friend and turned it into an important royal country retreat. He was a melancholy boy, but he grew up pious and honest. His tutors included the dramatist Johann Engel.

As a soldier he received the usual training of a Prussian prince, obtained his lieutenancy in 1784, became a colonel in 1790, and took part in the campaigns against France of 1792–1794. On 24 December 1793, Frederick William married Luise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who bore him ten children. In the Kronprinzenpalais (Crown Prince's Palace) in Berlin, Frederick William lived a civil life with a problem-free marriage, which did not change even when he became King of Prussia in 1797. His wife Luise was particularly loved by the Prussian people, which boosted the popularity of the whole House of Hohenzollern, including the King himself.[2]

Reign[edit]

Frederick William succeeded to the throne on 16 November 1797. He also became, in personal union, the sovereign prince of the Principality of Neuchâtel (1797–1806 and again 1813–1840). At once, the new King showed that he was earnest of his good intentions by cutting down the expenses of the royal establishment, dismissing his father's ministers, and reforming the most oppressive abuses of the late reign. He had the Hohenzollern determination to retain personal power but not the Hohenzollern genius for using it.[citation needed] Too distrustful to delegate responsibility to his ministers, he lacked the will to strike out and follow a consistent course for himself.

Disgusted with the moral debauchery of his father's court (in both political intrigues and sexual affairs), Frederick William's first endeavor was to restore morality to his dynasty. The eagerness to restore dignity to his family went so far that it nearly caused sculptor Johann Gottfried Schadow to cancel his Prinzessinnengruppe project, which was commissioned by the previous monarch Frederick William II. He was quoted as saying the following, which demonstrated his sense of duty and peculiar manner of speech:

Every civil servant has a dual obligation: to the sovereign and to the country. It can occur that the two are not compatible; then, the duty to the country is higher.

At first Frederick William and his advisors attempted to pursue a policy of neutrality in the Napoleonic Wars. Although they succeeded in keeping out of the Third Coalition in 1805, eventually Frederick William was swayed by the belligerent attitude of the queen, who led Prussia's pro-war party, and entered into war in October 1806. On 14 October 1806, at the Battle of Jena-Auerstädt, the French defeated the Prussian army led by Frederick William, and the Prussian army collapsed. The royal family fled to Memel, East Prussia, where they fell on the mercy of Emperor Alexander I of Russia.

Docile and slow to recognize the growing French threat, Frederick's decision for war in 1806 ended in national humiliation.

Alexander, too, suffered defeat at the hands of the French, and at Tilsit on the Niemen France made peace with Russia and Prussia. Napoleon dealt with Prussia very harshly, despite the pregnant Queen's personal interview with the French emperor. Prussia lost many of its Polish territories, as well as all territory west of the Elbe, and had to finance a large indemnity and to pay for French troops to occupy key strong points within the Kingdom.

Although the ineffectual King himself seemed resigned to Prussia's fate, various reforming ministers, such as Baron vom Stein, Prince von Hardenberg, Scharnhorst, and Count Gneisenau, set about reforming Prussia's administration and military, with the encouragement of Queen Luise (who died, greatly mourned, in 1810).

In 1813, following Napoleon's defeat in Russia, Frederick William turned against France and signed an alliance with Russia at Kalisz, although he had to flee Berlin, still under French occupation. Prussian troops played a key part in the victories of the allies in 1813 and 1814, and the King himself travelled with the main army of Prince Schwarzenberg, along with Alexander of Russia and Francis of Austria.

At the Congress of Vienna, Frederick William's ministers succeeded in securing important territorial increases for Prussia, although they failed to obtain the annexation of all of Saxony, as they had wished. Following the war, Frederick William turned towards political reaction, abandoning the promises he had made in 1813 to provide Prussia with a constitution.

Frederick William III

In 1824 Frederick William III remarried (morganatically) Countess Auguste von Harrach, Princess of Liegnitz. They had no children.[2]

He died on 7 June 1840 in Berlin, survived by his second wife. His eldest son, Frederick William IV, succeeded him. Frederick William III is buried at the Mausoleum in Schlosspark Charlottenburg, Berlin.[2]

Issue[edit]

Name Birth Death Notes
Stillborn Daughter 1 October 1794 1 October 1794 stillborn
Frederick William IV of Prussia 15 October 1795 2 January 1861 married Elisabeth Ludovika of Bavaria (1801–1873), no issue.
William I, German Emperor 22 March 1797 9 March 1888 married Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (1811–1890), had issue.
Princess Charlotte of Prussia 13 July 1798 1 November 1860 married Nicholas I of Russia (1796–1855), had issue.
Princess Frederica of Prussia 14 October 1799 30 March 1800 died in childhood
Prince Charles of Prussia 29 July 1801 21 January 1883 married Princess Marie of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (1808–1877), had issue.
Princess Alexandrine of Prussia 23 February 1803 21 April 1892 married Paul Friedrich, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1800–1842), had issue.
Prince Ferdinand of Prussia 13 December 1804 1 April 1806 died in childhood
Princess Louise of Prussia 1 February 1808 6 December 1870 married Prince Frederik of the Netherlands (1797–1881), had issue.
Prince Albert (Albrecht) of Prussia 4 October 1809 14 October 1872 married Princess Marianne of the Netherlands (1810–1883), had issue; married second to Rosalie von Rauch (1820–1879), Countess of Hohenau, had issue.

Ancestry[edit]

Further reading[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ vgl. Franz Blei: Königin Luise von Preußen. In: Gefährtinnen. Berlin 1931, S. 68 f.
  2. ^ a b c Feldhahn, Ulrich (2011). Die preußischen Könige und Kaiser (German). Kunstverlag Josef Fink, Lindenberg. pp. 17–20. ISBN 978-3-89870-615-5. 
Frederick William III of Prussia
Born: 3 August 1770 Died: 7 June 1840
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Frederick William II
King of Prussia
1797–1840
Succeeded by
Frederick William IV
Prince of Neuchâtel
1797–1806 and again 1813–1840
interrupted by the rule by Louis Alexandre Berthier
Elector of Brandenburg
1797–1806
Territory incorporated
into the Prussian crown
New title
Grand Duke of the Lower Rhine
1815–1840