1902 Encyclopedia > Frederick William III

Frederick William III
King of Prussia

FREDERICK WILLIAM III. (1770-1840), king of Prussia, was the eldest son of Frederick William II., and was born on the 3d August 1770. He was carefully trained under the supervision, in early youth, of his grand-uncle, Frederick the Great. As crown prince he accompanied his father in 1791 to the interview with the emperor at Pillnitz, and in the following year visited with him the army in the Rhine country which was making war with France. In 1793 he married the Princess Louise, daughter of the duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. She be-came a highly popular queen, and thoroughly deserved the affection and respect with which she was regarded. Simple and unostentatious in manner, she was of a refined and gentle disposition, yet endowed with a quick and keen in-telligence, and with an heroic spirit which the greatest disasters could not break. Her husband's character was not nearly so interesting. He was rather dull and slow; but he had a sincere desire for the welfare of his people: was capable in emergencies of undertaking a great enter-prise, and allowed himself to be freely influenced by the loftier impulses of his wife. When he succeeded to the throne he at once removed the principal grievances due to the weakness of his father, and called to his aid capable and honest ministers. By the treaty of Luneville, in 1801, he was obliged to concede to Napoleon his territory on the left bank of the Bhine; but he received some compensations. In 1805 he was brought for a short time into conflict with England for accepting Hanover from Napoleon in return for certain concessions. Up to this time he had remained at peace with France; but the formation of the Confedera-tion of the Bhine in 1806 filled him with alarm and in-dignation, and, giving way to a sudden impulse, he de-manded that all French troops should forthwith quit German soil. The result was the battles of Jena and Auerstadt, followed by those of Eylau and Friedland; and on July 9, 1807, he had to sign the treaty of Tilsit, which deprived him of half his kingdom. Early in the war he had been obliged to leave Berlin with the queen, and not till the end of 1809 were they able to return. In 1810 the queen died. Meanwhile, under the guidance of the great minister Stein, who was succeeded by Hardenberg, he had begun thoroughly to reorganize the state; while, through the ex-ertions of Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, the army, in which the traditions of a past age had survived too long, was raised to a state of high efficiency. The king was forced in 1812 to conclude an alliance with Napoleon, and to aid him with an auxiliary corps in his expedition to Bussia; but seeing the disastrous retreat of the French from Moscow, Frederick William appealed to the country to undertake a war of liberation. In due time the appeal was followed by the battle of Leipsic and the battle of Waterloo. After the conclusion of peace he laboured sincerely, with the aid of competent ministers, to undo many of the evils caused by the confusion of the previous years; but he forgot that in his time of need he had promised to set up a constitutional system of government. He only instituted (1817) provin-cial estates ; and after the July Revolution he proved him-self an uncompromising and bitter opponent of liberal ideas. He died on the 7th of June 1840.

See W. Hahn, Friedrich Wilhelm III. und Louise (2d ed., Berlin, 1876); Duncker, Aus der Zeit Friedrichs des Orossen und Friedrich Wilhelms III. (Leipsic, 1876).

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