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Frederick William III

Frederick William III

Frederick William III (1770-1840) was king of Prussia from 1797 to 1840. A weak monarch, he presided first over the near-liquidation of the Prussian state in the Napoleonic Wars and then over its reconstruction.

Born in Potsdam on Aug. 3, 1770, Frederick William III succeeded his father, Frederick William II, as king of Prussia in 1797. He began his reign by sending his father's mistresses and favorites packing, and he let it be known that he intended to lift all existing restrictions on religion, to abolish censorship, and to improve the condition of the peasants. Soon, however, he retreated before the opposition of the conservative Prussian nobility.

During the War of the Second Coalition against France, Frederick William clung to a perilous and increasingly isolated neutrality. When at last Prussia joined the Third Coalition, it reaped only the catastrophic defeat of Jena (1806). In the subsequent Peace of Tilsit (1807) all of Prussia's Polish and western territories—roughly half its landmass—had to be surrendered. This disaster revealed the vulnerable position of a Prussia surrounded by more populous and powerful neighbors and thus gave impetus to the centralizing reforms carried out by Frederick William's ministers. These reforms enabled Prussia to reenter the war against Napoleon in 1813. In German history this renewal of the war is known as the War of Liberation, because of explicit representation on the part of the Prussian government that it was fighting to clear German soil of the foreign invader. In 1815 the Congress of Vienna awarded certain new lands to Prussia and restored most of its lost territories.

In spite of his numerous appeals to German patriotism and even nationalism during the war, upon its conclusion Frederick William joined the reactionary party that emerged during the Congress of Vienna. He refused to honor his promise to give Prussia a constitution and ordered the arrest of numerous liberals who had allowed themselves to be trapped into a careless revelation of their political philosophy. The later years of his reign were marked by undiminished reaction. The only positive achievements were the union of the Prussian Lutheran and Calvinist churches (1817), a reflection of the King's growing concern with religious questions, and the establishment of a northern German customs union (1834), a step that was to facilitate the extension of Prussian political dominion over this area some 3 decades later. Frederick William III died in Berlin on June 7, 1840.

Further Reading

Frederick William III's place in German history is examined in various works, including K. S. Pinson, Modern Germany (1954; 2d ed. 1966); W. M. Simon, The Failure of the Prussian Reform Movement (1955); Hajo Holborn, A History of Modern Germany, vol. 2 (1959); and K. Epstein, The Genesis of German Conservatism (1966). □

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Frederick William III

Frederick William III, 1770–1840, king of Prussia (1797–1840), son and successor of Frederick William II. Well-intentioned but weak and vacillating, he endeavored to maintain neutrality in the Napoleonic Wars. In 1806, French troops were massed on Prussia's frontier and Frederick William was forced to take up arms against France. His crushing defeat by the French at Jena and the humiliating Treaty of Tilsit (1807), which virtually made Prussia a French vassal, served to waken the king to the need of reconstruction in Prussia. Unable to carry through the reforms himself, he was far-sighted enough to appoint capable ministers. The reforms of Karl vom und zum Stein, Karl August von Hardenberg, and Scharnhorst laid the basis of the modern Prussian state and prepared for the eventual war against Napoleon. Forced to send an auxiliary force to aid Napoleon's Russian campaign, the king was finally persuaded to support the Convention of Tauroggen (see Taurage), concluded with the Russians by the commander of the Prussian auxiliary force, General Yorck von Wartenburg. A few weeks later a military alliance with Russia was signed, and in Mar., 1813, the king declared war on France. After Napoleon's defeat and the Congress of Vienna, which he attended, Frederick William grew more reactionary. Influenced by Czar Alexander I and by Metternich, he joined the Holy Alliance and refused to grant the constitution he had promised. His consort, Queen Louise, far more popular than the king, died in 1810. His elder son, Frederick William IV, succeeded him. His second son was to become Emperor William I.

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"Frederick William III." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Frederick William III." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved October 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/frederick-william-iii

Frederick William III

Frederick William III (1770–1840) King of Prussia (1797–1840), son and successor of Frederick William II. He declared war on France (1806), suffered a disastrous defeat at Jena and was forced to sign the Treaty of Tilsit (1807). In Prussia, some progressive reforms were made, but a constitution, although promised, was never produced, and the king became increasingly reactionary. The reorganized Prussian army re-entered the Napoleonic Wars in 1813 and played a major part in Napoleon I's eventual defeat.

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"Frederick William III." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Frederick William III." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved October 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/frederick-william-iii