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Prince Friedrich-Wilhelm of Prussia was born in the New Palace at Potsdam in Prussia on October 18, 1831. He was a scion of the House of Hohenzollern, rulers of Prussia, then the most powerful of the German states. Friedrich’s father, Prince Wilhelm (future German Emperor and King of Prussia), was a younger brother of King Friedrich-Wilhelm IV and, having been raised in the military traditions of the Hohenzollerns, developed into a strict disciplinarian.

Young Prince Friedrich of Prussia

Wilhelm fell in love with his cousin Elisa Radziwill, a princess of the Polish nobility, but his parents, King Friedrich-Wilhelm III and Queen Louise (born a Duchess of Mecklenburg-Streitz) 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 was Princess Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach.

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, Friedrich 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. Friedrich also had a very good relationship with his uncle, King Friedrich-Wilhelm IV, who has been called “the romantic on the throne”.

Friedrich grew up during a tumultuous political period as the concept of liberalism in Germany, which evolved during the 1840s, was gaining widespread and enthusiastic support. The liberals sought a unified Germany were constitutional monarchists desired a constitution to limit the power of the Crown, ensure equal protection under the law, the protection of property, and the safeguarding of basic civil rights. When Friedrich was 17 in 1848 these emergent liberal sentiments sparked a series of political uprisings across the German states and elsewhere in Europe. Although the uprisings ultimately brought about no lasting changes in German lands, liberal sentiments remained an influential force in German politics throughout Friedrich’s life.

Despite the value placed by the Hohenzollern family on a traditional military education, Augusta insisted that her son also receive a classical Liberal Arts education. Accordingly, Friedrich was thoroughly tutored in both military traditions and the liberal arts. His private tutor was Ernst Curtius, a famous archaeologist. Friedrich was a talented student, particularly good at foreign languages, becoming fluent in English and French, and studying Latin. He also studied history, geography, physics, music and religion, and excelled at gymnastics; as required of a Prussian prince, he became a very good rider.

Hohenzollern princes were made familiar with the military traditions of their dynasty at an early age; Friedrich was ten when he was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the First Infantry Regiment of Guards. As he grew older, he was expected to maintain an active involvement in military affairs. However, at the age of 18, he broke with family tradition and entered the University of Bonn where he studied history, law and governance, and public policy. During his time at Bonn (1850–1852), his teachers included Ernst Moritz Arndt and Friedrich Christoph Dahlmann. His time spent at the university, coupled with the influence of less conservative family members, were instrumental in his embrace of liberal beliefs.

Victoria, Princess Royal of the United Kingdom

Royal marriages of the 19th century were arranged to secure alliances and to maintain blood ties among the European nations. As early as 1851, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and her German-born husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, were making plans to marry their eldest daughter, Victoria, Princess Royal, to Friedrich. The royal dynasty in Britain was predominantly German; there was little British blood in Queen Victoria, and none in her husband. The monarchs desired to maintain their family’s blood ties to Germany, and Prince Albert further hoped that the marriage would lead to the liberalization and modernization of Prussia, and the ultimate unification of Germany under Prussian leadership and Liberal political beliefs. Friedrich’s father, Prince Wilhelm, had no interest in the arrangement, hoping instead for a Russian Grand Duchess as his daughter-in-law.

Victoria, Princess Royal of the United Kingdom

However, Princess Augusta was greatly in favour of a match for her son that would bring closer connections with Britain. In 1851, his mother sent Friedrich 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. Prince Albert took Friedrich under his wing during his stay but it was Albert’s daughter, Victoria, Princess Royal, only eleven at the time, who guided the German prince around the Exhibition.

Friedrich only knew a few words of English, while Victoria could converse fluently in German. He was impressed by her mix of innocence, intellectual curiosity and simplicity, and their meeting proved to be a success. A regular exchange of letters between Victoria and Friedrich followed.

Wedding of Prince Friedrich of Prussia and Victoria, Princess Royal of the United Kingdom.

Friedich proposed to Victoria in 1855, when she was 14 years old and he was 23. 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 January 25, 1858 in the Chapel Royal of St. James’s Palace, London. 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, Heinrich 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.

When his father succeeded to the Prussian throne as King Wilhelm I of Prussia on January 2, 1861, Friedrich became the Crown Prince of Prussia. Already twenty-nine years old, he would be Crown Prince for a further twenty-seven years. The new king was initially considered politically neutral; Friedrich 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 Wilhelm soon showed that he preferred the conservative ways. On the other hand, Friedrich declared himself in complete agreement with the “essential liberal policy for internal and foreign affairs”.

Crown Prince Friedrich of Prussia.

Because Wilhelm was a dogmatic soldier and staunch conservative and unlikely to change his ideas at the age of sixty-four, he regularly clashed with the Liberal Diet over policies. In September 1862, one such disagreement almost led to his abdication and Friedrich being crowned and replacing his father as king; Wilhelm threatened to abdicate when the Diet refused to fund his plans for the army’s reorganization. Friedrich was appalled by this action, and said that an abdication would “constitute a threat to the dynasty, country and Crown”.

Wilhelm reconsidered, and instead on the advice of Minister of War Albrecht von Roon he appointed Otto von Bismarck as as Minister-President of Prussia who had offered to push through the military reform even against the majority of the Diet. The appointment of Bismarck, an authoritarian who would often ignore or overrule the Diet, set Friedrich on a collision course with his father. Once in power, Bismarck set his sights on the Unification of Germany under Prussian leadership but guided by Conservative principles and not Liberal philosophies.

Crown Prince Friedrich of Prussia.

I will post part II on Monday.