Frederick William IV and the Prussian Monarchy, 1840-1861

Frederick William IV and the Prussian Monarchy, 1840-1861

Frederick William IV and the Prussian Monarchy, 1840-1861

Frederick William IV and the Prussian Monarchy, 1840-1861

Synopsis

This is the first full-scale study in English of the reign of Frederick William IV, King of Prussia from 1840 to 1861, and arguably the most important German monarch in the century between the death of Frederick the Great and the accession of William II. Dismissed by others as a Romantic reactionary, Frederick William comes through in this study as a modern and 'successful' monarch. Not strictly a biography, the book also focuses on the structures, institutions, and transformations of the Prussian monarchial system during a time of revolutionary change. Through his analysis of the Prussian state, this work enriches our sense of the structures of the nineteenth-century European state, and of the elites who inhabited and adapted to these states.

Excerpt

Frederick William IV, King of Prussia from 1840 to 1861, was perhaps the most important German monarch between Frederick the Great and William ii. An immensely complicated and contradictory personality, he was a man for whom aesthetic, religious, dynastic, and ideological values took precedence over considerations of Realpolitik. Many of his contemporaries thus believed that Frederick William inhabited a Romantic, anachronistic dream world utterly out of touch with its times. the well-known writer David Friedrich Strauβ expressed those sentiments with particular flair and piquancy in his 1847 pamphlet, The Romantic on the Throne of the Caesars. Ostensibly an analysis of Julian the Apostate, Strauβ's essay represented a thinly veiled critique of the King of Prussia and his attempts to transform his society into a 'Christian-German' state. and ever since the middle of the nineteenth century, Strauβ's image of the 'Romantic on the throne' has influenced most historians' perceptions of that monarch. So have the writings of older generations of German historians, from Ranke, Treitschke, and Sybel to Meinecke, Hintze, and Schnabel. From their works emerged an image of a king who was gifted and intelligent, but erratic, indecisive, unstable, and, in the end, a hapless and even tragic failure. That image has persisted, with slight variations, down to the present.

Although this study focuses on Frederick William iv, it is not a biography in the traditional sense. Rather, it is an attempt to reconsider Frederick William's reign in the context of new questions and new problems. the last few years have witnessed a revival of interest in conservative political movements, the cultural representations of conservative values, the adaptive strategies of conservative élites, and the 'invention' of traditions by those é1ites in the nineteenth century. Although historians have in fact long been aware of the tenacity of monarchical values and of effective royal authority in nineteenth-century Prussia, they have paid remarkably little attention to the actual character and significance of monarchical structures there, especially in the 'pre-Bismarck' period before 1862. This book attempts partially to redress that situation. It concerns the nature of the monarchical institutions of Prussia at a time when that state was beginning its transition to parliamentarism and industrialism. Above all, it attempts to consider the interaction between constantly evolving monarchical and courtly institutions on the one hand and larger processes of cultural, social, economic, and political change on the other. It thus intends to contribute to our understanding of the structures of the nineteenth-century European state and the ways in which conservative élites were able to adapt themselves to those structures.

To understand monarchical structures, it is, of course, necessary to understand the monarch himself. in a semi-absolutist setting, the ruler was not simply the creature of bureaucratic, court, military, or agrarian élites; rather, he was at the very . . .

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