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Frederick William IV
King of Prussia
Reign 4 June 1840 – 2 January 1861
Predecessor Frederick William III
Successor William I
Spouse Elisabeth Ludovika of Bavaria
Father Frederick William III
Mother Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
Born 15 October 1795
Berlin, Prussia
Died 2 January 1861 (age 65)
Burial Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin
Prussian Royalty
House of Hohenzollern
File:Image:Wappen Deutsches Reich - Königreich Preussen (Grosses).png

Frederick I (1701-1713)
   Princess Louise Dorothea
   Prince Frederick William
Frederick William I (1713-1740)
   Princess Wilhelmine
   Prince Frederick
   Princess Friederike Luise
   Princess Philippine Charlotte
   Princess Sophia Dorothea
   Princess Louisa Ulrika
   Prince Augustus William
   Princess Anna Amalia
   Prince Henry
   Prince Ferdinand
Frederick II (The Great, 1740-1786)
Frederick William II (1786-1797)
   Prince Frederick William
   Prince Louis
   Princess Wilhelmine
   Princess Augusta
   Prince Charles
   Prince Wilhelm
Frederick William III (1797-1840)
   Prince Frederick William
   Prince Wilhelm
   Princess Charlotte
   Princess Alexandrine
   Prince Charles
   Princess Louise
   Prince Albert
Frederick William IV (1840-1861)

King Frederick William IV of Prussia (German: Friedrich Wilhelm IV von Preußen) (15 October 1795 – 2 January 1861), the eldest son and successor of Frederick William III of Prussia, reigned as King of Prussia from 1840 to 1861. He was in personal union the sovereign prince of the Principality of Neuchâtel (1840 – 1857).



Frederick William was educated by private tutors, many of whom were experienced civil servants, such as Friedrich Ancillon. He also gained military experience by serving in the army during the War of Liberation against Napoleon I of France in 1814, though he was an indifferent soldier. He was a draftsman interested in both architecture and landscape gardening and was a patron of several great German artists, including architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel. He married Elisabeth Ludovika of Bavaria in 1823, but the couple had no children.

Frederick William was a staunch Romanticist, and his devotion to this movement, which in the German States featured a nostalgia for the Middle Ages, was largely responsible for him developing into a conservative at an early age. In 1815, when he was only 20, the crown prince exerted his influence to structure the proposed constitution of 1815, which was never actually enacted, in such a way that the landed aristocracy would hold the majority of the power. He was firmly against both liberalisation and unification of Germany, preferring to allow Austria to remain the principal power in the German states.

Silver Coin of Frederick William IV, struck 1860
Obverse (German): FRIEDR[ICH] WILHELM IV KOENIG V PREUSSEN, or in English, "Frederick William IV, King of Prussia" Reverse (German): EIN VEREINSTHALER XXX EIN PFUND FEIN 1860, or in English, "One Double Thaler 30 to the Fine Pound"

Upon his accession, he toned down the reactionary policies enacted by his father, easing press censorship and promising to enact a constitution at some point, but he refused to enact a popular legislative assembly, preferring to work with the aristocracy through "united committees" of the provincial estates. Despite being a devout Lutheran[citation needed], his Romantic leanings led him to settle the Cologne church conflict by releasing the imprisoned Archbishop of Cologne, and he patronized further construction of Cologne Cathedral. In 1844, he attended the celebrations marking the completion of the cathedral, becoming the first king of Prussia to enter a Roman Catholic building. When he finally called a national assembly in 1847, it was not a representative body, but rather a United Diet comprising all the provincial estates, which had the right to grant taxes and loans but no right to meet at regular intervals.

When revolution broke out in Prussia in March 1848, part of the larger Revolutions of 1848, the king initially moved to repress it with the army, but later decided to recall the troops and place himself at the head of the movement on 19 March. He committed himself to German unification, formed a liberal government, convened a national assembly, and ordered that a Constitution of the Kingdom of Prussia be drawn up. Once his position was more secure again, however, he quickly had the army reoccupy Berlin and dissolved the assembly in December. He did, however, remain dedicated to unification for a time, leading the Frankfurt Parliament to offer him the crown of Germany on 3 April 1849, which he refused, purportedly saying that he would not accept "a crown from the gutter". He did attempt to establish the Erfurt Union, a union of German states excluding Austria, soon after, but abandoned the idea by the Punctation of Olmütz on 29 November 1850, in the face of Austrian resistance.

Rather than returning to bureaucratic rule after dismissing the national assembly, Frederick William promulgated a new constitution that created a parliament with two chambers, an aristocratic upper house and an elected lower house. The lower house was elected by all taxpayers, but in a three-tiered system based on the amount of taxes paid so that true universal suffrage was denied. The constitution also reserved for the king the power of appointing all ministers, reestablished the conservative district assemblies and provincial diets, and guaranteed that the bureaucracy and the military remained firmly in the hands of the king. This was a more liberal system than had existed in Prussia before 1848, but was still a conservative system of government in which the monarch, the aristocracy, and the military retained most of the power. This constitution remained in effect until the dissolution of the Prussian kingdom in 1918.

The crypt containing the Sarcophagi of Frederick William IV and his wife Elisabeth Ludovika of Bavaria in the Church of Peace, Sanssouci Park in Potsdam

A stroke in 1857 left the king partially paralyzed and largely mentally incapacitated, and his brother William served as regent from 1858 until the king's death in 1861, at which point he acceded the throne himself as William I.



  • Frederick William IV and the Prussian Monarchy 1840-1862, by David E. Barclay, (Oxford, 1995).

External links

Frederick William IV of Prussia
Born: 15 October 1795 Died: 2 January 1861
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Frederick William III
King of Prussia Succeeded by
William I
Prince of Neuchâtel
as Frederick William IV

1840 – 1857
Abdication after military defeats (1848 and 1856) in favour of a republican constitution of the Canton of Neuchâtel

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

FREDERICK WILLIAM IV. (1795-1861), king of Prussia, eldest son of Frederick William III., was born on the 15th of October 1795. From his first tutor, Johann Delbriick, he imbibed a love of culture and art, and possibly also the dash of Liberalism which formed an element of his complex habit of mind. But after a time Delbriick, suspected of inspiring his charge with a dislike of the Prussian military caste and even of belonging to a political secret society, was dismissed, his place being taken by the pastor and historian Friedrich Ancillon, while a military governor was also appointed. By Ancillon he was grounded in religion, in history and political science, his natural taste for the antique and the picturesque making it easy for his tutor to impress upon him his own hatred of the Revolution and its principles. This hatred was confirmed by the sufferings of his country and family in the terrible years after 1806, and his first experience of active soldiering was in the campaigns that ended in the occupation of Paris by the Allies in 1814. In action his reckless bravery had earned him rebuke, and in Paris he was remarked for the exact performance of his military duties, though he found time to whet his appetite for art in the matchless collections gathered by Napoleon as the spoil of all Europe. On his return to Berlin he studied art under the sculptor Christian Daniel Rauch and the painter and architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841), proving himself in the end a good draughtsman, a born architect and an excellent landscape gardener. At the same time he was being tutored in law by Savigny and in finance by a series of distinguished masters. In 1823 he married the princess Elizabeth of Bavaria, who adopted the Lutheran creed. The union, though childless, was very happy. A long tour in Italy in 1828 was the beginning of his intimacy with Bunsen and did much to develop his knowledge of art and love of antiquity.

On his accession to the throne in 1840 much was expected of a prince so variously gifted and of so amiable a temper, and his first acts did not belie popular hopes. He reversed the unfortunate ecclesiastical policy of his father, allowing a wide liberty of dissent, and releasing the imprisoned archbishop of Cologne; he modified the strictness of the press censorship; above all he undertook, in the presence of the deputations of the provincial diets assembled to greet him on his accession, to carry out the long-deferred project of creating a central constitution, which he admitted to be required alike by the royal promises, the needs of the country and the temper of the times. The story of the evolution of the Prussian parliament belongs to the history of Prussia. Here it must suffice to notice Frederick William's personal share in the question, which was determined by his general attitude of mind. He was an idealist; but his idealism was of a type the exact reverse of that which the Revolution in arms had sought to impose upon Europe. The idea of the sovereignty of the people was to him utterly abhorrent, and even any delegation of sovereign power on his own part would have seemed a betrayal of a God-given trust. "I will never," he declared, "allow to come between Almighty God and this country a blotted parchment, to rule us with paragraphs, and to replace the ancient, sacred bond of loyalty." His vision of the ideal state was that of a patriarchial monarchy, surrounded and advised by the traditional estates of the realm - nobles, peasants, burghers - and cemented by the bonds of evangelical religion; but in which there should be no question of the sovereign power being vested in any other hands than those of the king by divine right. In Prussia, with its traditional loyalty and its old-world caste divisions, he believed that such a conception could be realized, and he took up an attitude half-way between those who would have rejected the proposal for a central diet altogether as a dangerous "thin end of the wedge," and those who would have approximated it more to the modern conception of a parliament. With a charter, or a representative system based on population, he would have nothing to do. The united diet which was opened on the 3rd of February 1847 was no more than a congregation of the diets instituted by Frederick William III. in the eight provinces of Prussia. Unrepresentative though it was - for the industrial working-classes had no share in it - it at once gave voice to the demand for a constitutional system.

This demand gained overwhelmingly in force with the revolutionary outbreaks of 1848. To Frederick William these came as a complete surprise, and, rudely awakened from his medieval dreamings, he even allowed himself to be carried away for a while by the popular tide. The loyalty of the Prussian army remained inviolate; but the king was too tender-hearted to use military force against his "beloved Berliners," and when the victory of the populace was thus assured his impressionable temper yielded to the general enthusiasm. He paraded the streets of Berlin wrapped in a scarf of the German black and gold, symbol of his intention to be the leader of the united Germany; and he even wrote to the indignant tsar in praise of "the glorious German revolution." The change of sentiment was, however, apparent rather than real. The shadow of venerable institutions, past or passing, still darkened his counsels. The united Germany which he was prepared to champion was not the democratic state which the theorists of the Frankfort national parliament were evolving on paper with interminable debate, but the old Holy Roman Empire, the heritage of the house of Habsburg, of which he was prepared to constitute himself the guardian so long as its lawful possessors should not have mastered the forces of disorder by which they were held captive. Finally, when Austria had been excluded from the new empire, he replied to the parliamentary deputation that came to offer him the imperial crown that he might have accepted it had it been freely offered to him by the German princes, but that he would never stoop "to pick up a crown out of the gutter." Whatever may be thought of the manner of this refusal, or of its immediate motives, it was in itself wise, for the German empire would have lost immeasurably had it been the cause rather than the result of the inevitable struggle with Austria, and Bismarck was probably right when he said that, to weld the heterogeneous elements'of Germany into a united whole, what was needed was, not speeches and resolutions, but a policy of "blood and iron." In any case Frederick William, uneasy enough as a constitutional king, would have been impossible as a constitutional emperor. As it was, his refusal to play this part gave the deathblow to the parliament and to all hope of the immediate creation of a united Germany. For Frederick William the position of leader of Germany now meant the employment of the military force of Prussia to crush the scattered elements of revolution that survived the collapse of the national movement. His establishment of the northern confederacy was a reversion to the traditional policy of Prussia in opposition to Austria, which, after the emperor Nicholas had crushed the insurrection in Hungary, was once more free to assert her claims to dominance in Germany. But Prussia was not ripe for a struggle with Austria, even had Frederick William found it in his conscience to turn his arms against his ancient ally, and the result was the humiliating convention of Olmtitz (November 29th, 1850), by which Prussia agreed to surrender her separatist plans and to restore the old constitution of the confederation. Yet Frederick William had so far profited by the lessons of 1848 that he consented to establish (1850) a national parliament, though with a restricted franchise and limited powers. The House of Lords (Herrenhaus) justified the king's insistence in calling it into being by its support of Bismarck against the more popular House during the next reign.

In religious matters Frederick William was also largely swayed by his love for the ancient and picturesque. In concert with his friend Bunsen he laboured to bring about a rapprochement between the Lutheran and Anglican churches, the first-fruits of which was the establishment of the Jerusalem bishopric under the joint patronage of Great Britain and Prussia; but the only result of his efforts was to precipitate the secession of J. H. Newman and his followers to the Church of Rome. In general it may be said that Frederick William, in spite of his talents and his wide knowledge, lived in a dream-land of his own, out of touch with actuality. The style of his letters reveals a mind enthusiastic and ill-balanced. In the summer of 1857 he had a stroke of paralysis, and a second in October. From this time, with the exception of brief intervals, his mind was completely clouded, and the duties of government were undertaken by his brother William (afterwards emperor), who on the 7th of October 1858 was formally recognized as regent. Frederick William died on the 2nd of January 1861.

Selections from the correspondence (Briefwechsel) of Frederick William IV. and Bunsen were edited by Ranke (Leipzig, 18 73); his proclamations, speeches, &c., from the 6th of March 1848 to the 31st of May 1851 have been published (Berlin, 1851); also his correspondence with Bettina von Arnim, Bettina von Arnim and Friedrich Wilhelm IV., ungedruckte Briefe and Aktenstiicke, ed. L. Geiger (Frankfort-on-Main, 1902). See L. von Ranke, Friedrich Wilhelm IV., Konig von Preussen (works 51, 52 also in Allgem. deutsche Biog. vol. vii.), especially for the king's education and the inner history of the debates leading up to the united diet of 1847; H. von Petersdorff, Konig Friedrich Wilhelm IV. (Stuttgart, 1900); F. Rachfahl, Deutschland, Konig Friedrich Wilhelm IV. and die Berliner Meirzrevolution (Halle, 1901); H. von Poschinger (ed.), tinter Friedrich Wilhelm IV. Denkwiirdigkeiten des Ministers Otto Frhr. von Manteuffel, 1848-1858 (3 vols., Berlin, 1900-1901); and Preussens auswcirtige Politik, 1850-1858 (3 vols., ib., 1902), documents selected from those left by Manteuffel; E. Friedberg, Die Grundlagen der preussischen Kirchenpolitik enter Friedrich Wilhelm IV. (Leipzig, 1882).

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