THE NINETY-NINE DAYS OF KAISER FRIEDRICH III
THE DEATH of the old sovereign made the mortality of his successor all the more apparent. Friedrich III was unable to greet the royal dignitaries who came to Berlin for his father's funeral, and he had to watch the somber procession, moving between towering banks of snow piled on the sidewalks, from a window in the Charlottenburg Palace. Those who had not seen their new ruler since his departure for England in June 1887 were relieved that his physical appearance belied somewhat the fatal nature of the malady that was devouring him. The Kaiser strove hard to seem well, but he had no illusions about the hopelessness of his condition. It was obvious that there would be no time for fundamental revisions in personnel or policies. The most that Friedrich III could hope for was to award the faithful for their devotion to his cause during the long years through which he had had to stand in his father's shadow.
The stricken Kaiser consequently left the conduct of government entirely in Bismarck's hands, and the chancellor now had even more complete authority than he had enjoyed under Wilhelm I. After Friedrich's brief reign had ended, Bismarck declared, "In fact for those three months I was an absolute dictator!" a situation entirely to the chancellor's autocratic tastes. "In my entire ministerial career," he wrote afterwards, "the conduct of business was never so pleasant or so lacking in friction as it was during the ninety-nine days of the Emperor Friedrich."1 Even the Kaiserin Friedrich, who for years had been Bismarck's most remorseless enemy, recognized that her husband's illness made the chancellor's retention imperative and that as long as Bismarck held office it would be dangerous to provoke him.2 The chancellor was well aware of his strength vis à vis the Empress, for what little influence she possessed with Wilhelm would vanish the moment her consort died, although the chancellor's would continue. On the day Wilhelm I expired, Bismarck called