Friedrich Wilhelm IV
- Category : Royalty
- Type : GE
- Profile : 2/4 - Hermit / Opportunist
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Maya 3
Frederick William IV (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. Also referred to as the "romanticist on the throne", he is best remembered for numerous buildings he had erected in Berlin and Potsdam, as well as for sponsoring the completion of the gothic Cologne cathedral. In politics he was conservative and he crucially rejected the title of German Emperor offered to him by the Frankfurt parliament in 1849.
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 and the composer Felix Mendelssohn. He married Elisabeth Ludovika of Bavaria in 1823. Since she was a Catholic, this involved difficult negotiations that ended with her conversion to the Protestant faith. There were two wedding ceremonies—one in Munich and one in Berlin. Although it was a very harmonious marriage, 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 the liberalization of Germany and only aspired to unify its lands within what he viewed as a historically legitimate framework, inspired by the ancient laws and customs of the now dissolved Holy Roman Empire. As such, Frederick William opposed the idea of a unified German state, believing that Austria was divinely ordained to rule over Germany and contenting himself with the title of "Grand General of the Empire".
He became King of Prussia on the death of his father in 1840. He also became in personal union the sovereign prince of the Principality of Neuchâtel (1840–1857) in what is today Switzerland. In 1842, he gave his father's menagerie at Pfaueninsel to the new Berlin Zoo, which opened its gates in 1844 as the first of its kind in Germany. Other projects under his reign—often involving his close collaboration with the architects—included the Alte Nationalgalerie and the Neues Museum in Berlin, the Orangerieschloss at Potsdam as well as the reconstruction of Schloss Stolzenfels on the Rhine (Prussian since 1815) and Burg Hohenzollern, in the ancestral homelands of the dynasty which became part of Prussia in 1850.
Although a staunch conservative, Frederick William did not seek to be a despot and so he toned down the reactionary policies enacted by his father, easing press censorship and promising to enact a constitution at some point, but 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, his Romantic leanings led him to settle the Cologne church conflict by releasing the imprisoned Archbishop of Cologne. He also patronized further construction of Cologne Cathedral, Cologne having become part of Prussia in 1815. 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 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". The King's refusal was rooted in his Romantic aspiration to re-establish the medieval German Reich comprising smaller, semi-sovereign monarchies under the limited authority of a Habsburg emperor. Therefore Frederick William would only accept the imperial crown after being elected by German princes to do so, as per the old empire's ancient customs. This sentiment was expressed in a letter to his sister Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna. Here, he claimed the Frankfurt Parliament had overlooked that "in order to give, you would first of all have to be in possession of something that can be given." In the king's eyes only a resurrected College of Electors could possess such authority. With the failed attempt by the Frankfurt Parliament to include the Habsburgs in a newly unified German Reich, the Parliament turned to Prussia. Seeing Austrian ambivalence towards Prussia taking a more powerful role in German affairs, Frederick William began considering a Prussian led union. All German lands, excluding those of the Habsburgs, would be unified under Hohenzollern authority and these two polities would be linked in an overarching political framework. Frederick William, therefore, did attempt to establish the Erfurt Union, a union of German states excluding Austria, but abandoned the idea by the Punctation of Olmütz on 29 November 1850, in the face of renewed Austrian and Russian resistance. The German Confederation remained the common government of German Europe.
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.
Following the revolutions, the increasingly gloomy king withdrew from the public eye, surrounding himself with advisers who preached absolute orthodoxy and conservatism in religious and political matters. 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 is buried, together with his wife, in the crypt underneath the Friedenskirche in the park of Sanssouci, Potsdam.