Frederick William III of Prussia

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Frederick William III
Friedrich Wilhelm III., Konig von Preussen (unbekannter Maler).jpg
King of Prussia
Reign16 November 1797 – 7 June 1840
Predecessor Frederick William II
Successor Frederick William IV
Elector of Brandenburg
Reign16 November 1797 – 6 August 1806
Predecessor Frederick William II
Born3 August 1770
Potsdam, Prussia
Died7 June 1840(1840-06-07) (aged 69)
Berlin, Prussia
Mausoleum at Charlottenburg Palace
Spouses Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
Auguste von Harrach ( morganatic )
see details...
Frederick William IV, King of Prussia
William I, German Emperor
Charlotte, Empress of Russia
Princess Frederica
Prince Charles
Princess Alexandrine
Prince Ferdinand
Princess Louise
Prince Albert
House Hohenzollern
Father Frederick William II of Prussia
Mother Frederica Louisa of Hesse-Darmstadt
Religion Calvinist (until 1817)
Prussian United (after 1817)
Signature Friedrich Wilhelm III signature.png
Prussian Royalty
House of Hohenzollern
Coat of Arms of the Kingdom of Prussia 1873-1918.svg
Frederick William III
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. Steering a careful course between France and her enemies, after a major military defeat in 1806, he was humiliated by Napoleon, and Prussia was stripped of recent gains and forced to pay huge financial penalties. The king reluctantly joined the coalition against Napoleon in the Befreiungskriege . Following Napoleon's defeat, he took part in the Congress of Vienna, which assembled to settle the political questions arising from the new, post-Napoleonic order in Europe. His major interests were internal, the reform of Prussia's Protestant churches. He was determined to unify the Protestant churches, to homogenize their liturgy, their organization, and even their architecture. The long-term goal was to have fully centralized royal control of all the Protestant churches in the Prussian Union of Churches. The king was said to be extremely shy and indecisive. [1] His wife Queen Louise (1776–1810) was his most important political advisor. [2] She led a very powerful group that included Baron vom Stein, Prince von Hardenberg, von Scharnhorst, and Count Gneisenau. They set about reforming Prussia's administration, churches, finance and military.


Early life

Friedrich Wilhelm and his mother (1775) Friederike Luise von Hessen-Darmstadt (Therbusch) crop.jpg
Friedrich Wilhelm and his mother (1775)

Frederick William was born in Potsdam in 1770 as the son of Frederick William II of Prussia and Frederica 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. [3] He was neglected by his father during his childhood and suffered from an inferiority complex his entire life. [4]

As a child, Frederick William's father (under the influence of his mistress, [5] 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 lieutenant colonel in 1786, a colonel in 1790, and took part in the campaigns against France of 1792–1794. [5] On 24 December 1793, Frederick William married Louise 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 Louise was particularly loved by the Prussian people, which boosted the popularity of the whole House of Hohenzollern, including the King himself. [6]


Lenient and slow to recognize the growing French threat, Frederick's restrained entry into the war in 1806 ended in defeat and humiliation for Prussia. Frederick William III of Prussia.jpg
Lenient and slow to recognize the growing French threat, Frederick's restrained entry into the war in 1806 ended in defeat and humiliation for Prussia.

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. [5] He had the Hohenzollern determination to retain personal power but not the Hohenzollern genius for using it. [5] Too distrustful to delegate responsibility to his ministers, [5] he greatly reduced the effectiveness of his reign since he was forced to assume the roles he did not delegate. This is a main factor of his inconsistent rule. [7]

Disgusted with the moral debauchery of his father's court (in both political intrigues and sexual affairs), Frederick William's first, and most successful early endeavor was to restore the moral legitimacy to his dynasty. The eagerness to restore dignity to his family went so far that it nearly caused sculptor Johann Gottfried Schadow to cancel the expensive and lavish 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 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 effectively decimated the effectiveness and functionality of the Prussian army led by Frederick William, and the Prussian army collapsed entirely soon after. Napoleon occupied Berlin in late October. The royal family fled to Memel, East Prussia, where they fell on the mercy of Emperor Alexander I of Russia.

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 which was believed would soften the blow of defeat. Instead, Napoleon took much less mercy on the Prussians than what was expected. 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.[ citation needed ] Following the war, Frederick William turned towards political reaction, abandoning the promises he had made in 1813 to provide Prussia with a constitution. [8]

Prussian Union of churches

Equestrian portrait of Frederick William III by Franz Kruger (1831) Frid-Wil III Kruger.jpg
Equestrian portrait of Frederick William III by Franz Krüger (1831)

Frederick William was determined to unify the Protestant churches, to homogenize their liturgy, their organization and even their architecture. The long-term goal was to have fully centralized royal control of all the Protestant churches in the Prussian Union of churches. The merging of the Lutheran and Calvinist (Reformed) confessions to form the United Church of Prussia was highly controversial. Angry responses included a large and well-organized opposition. Especially the "Old Lutherans" in Silesia refused to abandon their liturgical traditions. The crown responded by attempting to silence protest. The stubborn Lutheran minority was coerced by military force, the confiscation of their churches and the imprisonment or exile of their pastors. By 1834 outward union was secured on the basis of common worship but separate symbols. The opponents of the measure being forbidden to form communities of their own. Many left Prussia. The King's unsuccessful counterattack worsened tensions at the highest levels of government. The crown's aggressive efforts to restructure religion were unprecedented in Prussian history. In a series of proclamations over several years the Church of the Prussian Union was formed, bringing together the majority group of Lutherans, and the minority group of Reformed Protestants. The main effect was that the government of Prussia had full control over church affairs, with the king himself recognized as the leading bishop. [9]

In 1824 Frederick William III remarried (morganatically) Countess Auguste von Harrach, Princess of Liegnitz. They had no children. [6]

In 1838 the king distributed large parts of his farmland at Erdmannsdorf Estate to 422 Protestant refugees from the Austrian Zillertal, who built Tyrolean style farmhouses in the Silesian village.[ citation needed ]


Frederick William III died on 7 June 1840 in Berlin, from a fever, [10] 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. [6]


(daughter, no name)1 October 17941 October 1794stillborn
Frederick William IV of Prussia 15 October 17952 January 1861married Elisabeth Ludovika of Bavaria (1801–1873), no issue.
William I, German Emperor 22 March 17979 March 1888married Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (1811–1890), had issue.
Princess Charlotte of Prussia 13 July 17981 November 1860married Nicholas I of Russia (1796–1855), had issue including the future Alexander II of Russia
Princess Frederica of Prussia14 October 179930 March 1800died in childhood
Prince Charles of Prussia 29 June 180121 January 1883married Princess Marie of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (1808–1877), had issue.
Princess Alexandrine of Prussia 23 February 180321 April 1892married Paul Friedrich, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1800–1842), had issue.
Prince Ferdinand of Prussia13 December 18041 April 1806died in childhood
Princess Louise of Prussia 1 February 18086 December 1870married Prince Frederik of the Netherlands (1797–1881), had issue.
Prince Albert (Albrecht) of Prussia 4 October 180914 October 1872married Princess Marianne of the Netherlands (1810–1883), had issue; married second to Rosalie von Rauch (1820–1879), Countess of Hohenau, had issue.






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Further reading

Frederick William III of Prussia
Born: 3 August 1770 Died: 7 June 1840
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Frederick William II
Prince of Neuchâtel
Succeeded by
Louis Alexandre Berthier
Elector of Brandenburg
Annexed by Prussia
King of Prussia
Succeeded by
Frederick William IV
New creation Grand Duke of Posen
Preceded by
Louis Alexandre Berthier
Prince of Neuchâtel