FREDERICK III (1831–1888), prince of Prussia (1831–1888), German crown prince (1871–1888), and German emperor (1888).
When asked to comment on the death of Emperor Frederick III in 1888, Liberal British Prime Minister William Gladstone called him a powerful defender of German liberalism. Although this claim was somewhat exaggerated, Frederick was the only German emperor who genuinely supported liberal reform. Tragically, he came to the throne when he was mortally ill with cancer and never had the chance to implement reforms during his ninety-nine-day reign.
Liberalism was not always a part of Frederick's life. As a young man, he rejected the views of his reform-minded mother, Princess Augusta of Prussia, and favored the policies of the conservative court in Berlin. This changed after Augusta arranged for her son to marry Princess Victoria (1840–1901), the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria of England and her consort, Prince Albert. Though she was only seventeen years old at the time of her marriage, Princess Victoria was intelligent, well educated, and determined to convert her husband to British-style liberalism.
By most accounts, the marriage was a success. The couple had six children, the eldest of whom later reigned as Emperor William II. In the realm of politics, Frederick appeared to follow his wife's lead: he fostered ties with prominent liberals and rejected the domestic and foreign policies of his father's chief adviser, the conservative Otto von Bismarck. In 1863 Frederick made a speech in Danzig opposing Bismarck's edict against the liberal press. Frederick's father, King William I of Prussia, was incensed by the incident and considered throwing his insubordinate son into jail until calmer counsels prevailed. The incident and the ensuing estrangement between father and son led to speculation that Frederick accepted his wife's views and was firmly in the liberal camp.
Though Frederick rejected Bismarck's domestic policies, he, like many Prussian liberals, was attracted to Bismarck's vision of a united Germany under Prussian leadership. He and his wife hoped that unification could be achieved via peaceful means. To their chagrin, Bismarck's policy of unification by force prevailed. But although Frederick found Bismarck's methods distasteful, Frederick distinguished himself in the wars of unification against Austria and France. In the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, he led the Second Army to victory at the decisive battle of Königgrätz (now Hradec Králové, Czech Republic; also called the battle of Sadowa). In the Franco-Prussian War four years later, he led the Third Army to victories at Wörth and Weissenburg, France.
At the time of the victory over France and the subsequent unification of Germany in 1871, Frederick's father, the newly proclaimed Emperor William I, was seventy-three years old. It was expected that Frederick's reign was imminent, and that he would pursue a liberal program under the guidance of his wife, Victoria. These assumptions were incorrect. William reigned as emperor for seventeen years, despite advanced age and two attempts on his life. The expectation that Victoria would design policy for her husband when he came to the throne was also misguided. The unpublished correspondence of the royal couple shows that politically, Frederick and Victoria were often very much at odds with each other. Frederick firmly resisted Victoria's attempts to persuade him to support British-style reforms, such as increasing the powers of parliament at the expense of the monarchy. Frederick was first and foremost a constitutional liberal. What this meant was that while he was willing to fight for the preservation of the constitution, he did not want it to be replaced by a more liberal charter. In the end, he favored adoption of liberal reforms only within the framework of the constitutional status quo. Nor did the royal couple see eye-to-eye where Bismarck was concerned; the correspondence shows that on several occasions, Frederick and Bismarck were in agreement on several issues, much to Victoria's dismay.
Frederick's hopes for a liberal Germany were dashed by Bismarck's shift from cooperation with liberals to an alliance with antiliberal forces in 1879. Frederick became subject to fits of depression and feelings of hopelessness. Nonetheless, he warned Bismarck that he would not work with a chancellor who subverted the constitution during his coming reign.
In 1887 Frederick was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx. German physicians insisted that without surgery to remove the larynx, the prognosis was fatal. But because surgery itself had a high mortality rate, Bismarck recommended that other physicians be consulted. A British physician, Morrell Mackenzie, insisted that the growth was not cancerous and that Frederick could be cured. The royal couple embraced the diagnosis, but in the months that followed, it became clear that the initial diagnosis was correct. In March 1888 Emperor William I died. By that time, his son could barely speak. During his brief reign, he dismissed the conservative minister of the interior and bestowed decorations on prominent liberals, but was incapable of doing more. He died in Potsdam on 15 June 1888.
Victoria's grief over the loss of her beloved husband was compounded by her anger at the way in which her eldest son, now Emperor William II, utterly rejected the liberalism of his parents. In her letters and correspondence after her husband's death, Victoria sharply criticized her son's rule and insisted that her husband would have ruled Germany according to her liberal views. In so doing, she made the late emperor the progressive liberal he never was in life. Her agitation on behalf of her husband's alleged liberal views fostered the legend of Frederick III. The legend, in the end, ultimately obscured Frederick's contributions as a constitutional liberal.
Dorpalen, Andreas. "Emperor Frederick III and the German Liberal Movement." American Historical Review 54, no. 1 (1948): 1–31.
Frederick III. The War Diary of the Emperor Frederick III, 1870–1871. Translated and edited by A. R. Allinson. London, 1927.
Kollander, Patricia. Frederick III: Germany's Liberal Emperor. Westport, Conn., 1995.
Nichols, J. Alden. The Year of the Three Kaisers: Bismarck and the German Succession, 1887–1888. Urbana, Ill., 1987.
Röhl, John C. G. Young Wilhelm: The Kaiser's Early Life, 1859–1888. Translated by Jeremy Gaines and Rebecca Wallach. Cambridge, U.K., 1998.
Frederick III (1415-1493), Holy Roman emperor and German king from 1440 to 1493, was one of the longer-reigning and weaker of the Hapsburgs. His misfortunes spurred his family to strengthen their position. He was the last German emperor crowned by the pope in Rome.
Frederick III was born on Sept. 21, 1415, in Innsbruck. His father was Ernest, Duke of Austria, a title to which Frederick succeeded (as Frederick V) in 1424. The young prince developed interests in jewels, which he collected, and astrology, and study which did little to further his fortunes. Frederick was raised to the imperial office in June 1440, when he was crowned king of the Romans (that is, the Germans; the German king was not officially emperor until crowned by the pope) in Aachen to succeed his cousin, Albert II. Frederick was noted for his lack of leadership in the internal affairs of Germany. Rejecting the appeals of princes and cities for imperial reform, he rarely attended a meeting of the Imperial Diet. In his absence princes and cities organized or strengthened existing confederations, slowly undermining what was left of German unity and enhancing a princely power that no future emperor would ever overcome. And when princes fought and cities rebelled, Frederick again refused to intervene.
Despite this indolence, Frederick continued to collect precious stones and dignities. In 1452 he married Leonora of Portugal, and on March 16 he was crowned in Rome by Pope Nicholas V. The Pope had good reason to favor this Hapsburg. In 1448 Frederick and Nicholas had concluded the Vienna Concordat, which strengthened the power of Rome in the German Church, while it was beginning to wane elsewhere. Unwittingly, Frederick thus eased the way for that future collaborator with princely particularism, the German Reformation.
The Emperor did perform one positive act for his family. In order to head off aggressive moves by Duke Charles the Bold of Burgundy (1474), he arranged that his son, Maximilian, should marry Charles's daughter Mary. Charles died 3 years later; the French moved to absorb his heritage, but the richest Burgundian provinces in the Low Countries were preserved for Maximilian by his timely conclusion of the wedding arrangements. And it was this expansion to the West that created the nucleus of the future empire of Charles V.
Frederick was not so fortunate in the East. There, the Bohemians shook off his rule, while the Hungarian leader Mathias Corvinus actually occupied the Hapsburg capital of Vienna in 1485. Frederick had reached the end of his rope, and so had the Germans. They forced him to allow Maximilian to be elected king of the Romans. Frederick maintained the imperial office, but the empire was now in somewhat more capable hands. Frederick died at Linz on Aug. 19, 1493.
For the history of the empire during Frederick's reign see Geoffrey Barraclough, The Origins of Modern Germany (1947), and Denys Hay, Europe in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries (1966). □