Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, Crown Prince of Prussia, German Emperor Friedrich III, German Emperor Wilhelm I, German Empire, House of Hohenzollern, Liberal, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Princess Royal, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, Victoria of the United Kingdom
Friedrich III (German: Friedrich Wilhelm Nikolaus Karl; October 18, 1831 – June 15, 1888) Friedrich III was German Emperor and King of Prussia for 99 days between March and June 1888, during the Year of the Three Emperors.
Known informally as “Fritz”, was a scion of the House of Hohenzollern, rulers of Prussia, then the most powerful of the German states he was the only son of Emperor Wilhelm I who was the second son of King Friedrich Wilhelm III and, having been raised in the military traditions of the Hohenzollerns, developed into a strict disciplinarian.
Fritz’s father, Emperor Wilhelm I, King of Prussia married Princess Augusta of Saxe-Weimar, herself the Augusta was the second daughter of Charles Friedrich, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, and Maria Pavlovna of Russia, a daughter of Paul I of Russia and Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg.
Princess Augusta had been raised in the more intellectual and artistic atmosphere of Weimar, which gave its citizens greater participation in politics and limited the powers of its rulers through a constitution; 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 seven years his junior and very close to him.
Friedrich III was raised in his family’s tradition of military service. Although celebrated as a young man for his leadership and successes during the Second Schleswig, Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian wars, he nevertheless professed a hatred of warfare and was praised by friends and enemies alike for his humane conduct.
Following the unification of Germany in 1871 his father, then King of Prussia, became the German Emperor. Upon Wilhelm’s death at the age of ninety on March 9, 1888, the thrones passed to Frederick, who had by then been German Crown Prince for seventeen years and Crown Prince of Prussia for twenty-seven years.
Friedrich married Victoria, Princess Royal, oldest child of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. The couple were well-matched; their shared liberal ideology led them to seek greater representation for commoners in the government.
Friedrich, in spite of his conservative militaristic family background, had developed liberal tendencies as a result of his ties with Britain and his studies at the University of Bonn.
As the Crown Prince, he often opposed the conservative German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, particularly in speaking out against Bismarck’s policy of uniting Germany through force, and in urging that the power of the Chancellorship be curbed. Liberals in both Germany and Britain hoped that as emperor, Frederick would move to liberalise the German Empire.
Frederick and Victoria were great admirers of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband. They planned to rule as co-monarchs, like Albert and Queen Victoria, and to reform what they saw as flaws in the executive branch that Bismarck had created for himself.
The office of Chancellor, responsible to the Emperor, would be replaced with a British-style cabinet, with ministers responsible to the Reichstag. Government policy would be based on the consensus of the cabinet. Frederick “described the Imperial Constitution as ingeniously contrived chaos.” According to Michael Balfour:
The Crown Prince and Princess shared the outlook of the Progressive Party, and Bismarck was haunted by the fear that should the old Emperor die—and he was now in his seventies—they would call on one of the Progressive leaders to become Chancellor. He sought to guard against such a turn by keeping the Crown Prince from a position of any influence and by using foul means as well as fair to make him unpopular.
However, Friedrich’s illness, suffering from cancer of the larynx, prevented him from effectively establishing policies and measures to achieve this, and such moves as he was able to make were later abandoned by his son and successor, Wilhelm II. The timing of Friedrich III’s death and the length of his reign are important topics among historians.
His premature demise is considered a potential turning point in German history; and whether or not he would have made the Empire more liberal if he had lived longer is still a popular discussion among historians.