1902 Encyclopedia > Frederick William IV

Frederick William IV
King of Prussia
(1795-1861)




FREDERICK WILLIAM IV. (1795-1861), king of Prussia, the son of Frederick William III., was bom on the 15th October 1795. He took an active part in the War of Liberation, and in 1814 spent some time in Paris, in whose museums and picture galleries he acquired a warm love of art. On returning to Berlin he cultivated his artistic tastes under the guidance of Bauch and Schinkel, receiving at the same time instruction in jurisprudence and finance from Savigny and other distinguished teachers. He married Princess Elizabeth of Bavaria in 1823, but had no children. As he was known to be cultivated, intelligent, and generous, high hopes were formed respecting his reign; and these hopes were fostered by his first acts as king, for he conceded greater freedom of the press than had been allowed under his father, granted an amnesty to political prisoners, and invited to his capital some of the leading writers and artists of the day. He soon, however, disappointed popular expectations. He was a lover rather of large phrases than of great actions, being very willing to benefit his subjects, but on condition that they should accept what he offered them as the gift of an absolute ruler. In 1847 he assembled at Berlin a united diet, made up of representatives of the provincial diets established by his father, and created intense discontent by proclaiming that he would not allow a constitution to stand between him and his people. The revolutionary movement of 1848 took him wholly by surprise, and he was so alarmed that he not only promised to institute parliamentary government, but placed himself at the head of the agitation for the unity of Germany. When, however, in 1849 the national assembly at Frank-fort offered him the title of emperor, he declined it. He formed an alliance with Hanover and Saxony for the pur-pose of creating a new German constitution, and summoned a national parliament at Erfurt. Austria insisted on the old Frankfort diet being re-established, and for a time war appeared to be imminent. Ultimately, by the treaty of Olmiitz (1850) Austria prevailed. In 1850 the Prussian constitution was proclaimed, but it was interpreted in a narrow sense, and under the reactionary ministry of Manteuffel some of its most essential provisions were soon changed. In 1848 Neufchatel had been incorporated with Switzerland. Certain royalists having attempted in 1856 to secure it again for the king of Prussia, they were seized by the Swiss authorities and accused of high treason. After some angry negotiations they were given up, and Frederick William then formally resigned all claims to the country. On his way back from Vienna in the summer of 1857 he had a stroke of paralysis in Dresden; in October of the same year he had a second stroke in Berlin. From this time, with the exception of brief intervals, his mind was clouded, and the duties of government were undertaken by his brother William, who on October 7, 1858, was formally recognized as regent. The king spent the winter of 1858-59 in Rome, where his health occasionally improved, but when he returned to Berlin in November 1860, his end was seen to be near, and he died at Sanssouci on the night of January 2, 1861.

See Varnliagen von Ense's Blatter aus der Preussischen Geschichte (5 vols., Leipsie, 1868-69); and Bricfioechsel Friedrich Wilhelms IV. mil Bunsen (Leipsic, 1873).







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