Frederick William III, King of Prussia

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1832 LS of Prussia’s king, foe of Napoleon, 1806 territorial losses to him mostly regained at 1814-15 Congress of Vienna

Description

Type: Letter
Description:  (1770-1840) King of Prussia 1797-1840 during the Napoleonic Wars, Royal Elector, Margrave of Brfandenburg. Steering a careful course between France and her enemies, after a major 1806 military defeat at Jena-Auerstadt, he was humiliated by Napoleon, Prussia stripped of recent gains and forced to pay huge financial penalties. The king reluctantly joined a coalition against Napoleon in the “German Campaign”, or “Wars of Liberation”.  Members of the Sixth Coalition, including the German states of Austria and Prussia, Russia and Sweden, fought battles in Germany against Napoleon and the armies of the Confederation of the Rhine, an alliance of most other German states, which ended the domination of the 1st French Empire. Following Napoleon’s defeat, he took part in the 1814-15 Congress of Vienna which settled political questions arising from the new, post-Napoleonic European order. His major interests were internal, reform of Prussia’s Protestant churches, determined to unify Protestant churches, homogenize their liturgy, their organization, and even their architecture. The long-term goal was to have fully centralized royal control of all Protestant churches in the Prussian Union of Churches. The king was said to be extremely shy and indecisive, Queen Louise (1776–1810) his most important political advisor. She led a powerful group that reformed Prussia’s administration, churches, finance and military. They married in 1793 and she bore him 10 children.

Frederick William succeeded to the throne in 1797 and also became sovereign prince of Neuchatel (1797-1806, 1813-1840). The new king cut royal establishment expenses, dismissed his father’s ministers, and reformed the most oppressive abuses of the late reign. He had the Hohenzollern determination to retain personal power but not the Hohenzollern genius for using it. Too distrustful to delegate responsibility to his ministers, he greatly reduced his effectiveness as he had to assume roles he did not delegate, a main factor of his inconsistent rule. 

His first and most successful early endeavor was to restore moral legitimacy to his dynasty and the family dignity. He stated: “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.”

The king and his advisors attempted to pursue a neutral policy in the Napoleonic Wars and succeeded in keeping out of the Third Coalition in 1805, eventually swayed by the queen, who led Prussia’s pro-war party, and entered into war in October 1806. At Jena-Auerstadt, the French decimated the Prussian army led by Frederick William. Napoleon occupied Berlin and the royal family fled to East Prussia where they fell on the mercy of Russia’s Emperor Alexander I of Russia who also suffered defeat by the French; at Tilsit, France made peace with Russia and Prussia. Napoleon dealt with Prussia very harshly, losing many of its Polish territories, all territory west of the Elbe, and had to finance a large indemnity and pay for French troops to occupy key strong points within the Kingdom. In 1813, after Napoleon’s defeat in Russia, Frederick William turned against France and allied with Russia. Prussian troops played a key part in Allied victories in 1813 and 1814, the King himself travelling with the main army.

At the 1814-15 Congress of Vienna, Prussia secured important territorial increases, but failed to obtain annexation of all of Saxony. After the war, Frederick William turned reactionary, abandoning promises he made in 1813 to provide Prussia with a constitution.

He was determined to unify Protestant churches, homogenize their liturgy, organization and even their architecture. The merging of the Lutheran and Calvinist (Reformed) confessions to form the United Church of Prussia was highly controversial and brought a large and well-organized opposition. The crown responded by attempting to silence protest. The Lutheran minority was coerced by military force, confiscation of their churches and exile or imprisonment of pastors. By 1834 outward union was secured with common worship but separate symbols. 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 government of Prussia had full control over church affairs, the king recognized as the leading bishop.

5 x 8 ½ LS in German while King, Berlin, December 5 1832, to unknown person, in full: “With gratitude, I hereby acknowledge receipt of a copy of your published document “Maternal Obligations”, received on the 11th of the past month. [signed] Friedrich Wilhelm”.

Condition: Very good, some spots to left edge, few fold separations carefully repaired on verso

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