Frederick III: Germany's Liberal Emperor

By Patricia Kollander | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
Unification by Force, 1866-1871

Frederick's frequent meetings with Bismarck during the war of 1866 upset Victoria. While Frederick fought the war against the Austrians, Victoria waged her own battle against Bismarck's influence on her husband. Her task outlasted the war, which was quickly decided in Prussia's favor. Thanks to the superiority of Prussian arms and military leadership, Prussian troops decisively defeated the Austrians in the Battle of Königgrätz (Sadowa) on 3 July, only three weeks after the war began. Prussia's speedy victory shocked European leaders, since it was expected that the war would be a long and drawn-out conflict.

Frederick's overall performance as leader of the Second Army during the war made him a war hero. His leadership over the Second Army in the Battle of Königgrätz earned him the decoration "Pour le merité," which was bestowed upon him by his grateful father. 1 After hostilities ended, the crown prince continued to suppress his grief over the death of his two-year-old son, Sigismund, who succumbed to meningitis shortly after his father's departure for the war. 2 As he confided to his diary: "I was obliged to remember that this was no time to give way to feelings of any kind; on the contrary, all our thoughts must be directed solely toward the beaten enemy and to the proper use to be made of our victory." 3

Victoria acknowledged but resented Frederick's attitude. In a reference to her husband's absence from Sigismund's funeral, she wrote, "In you, of course, the soldier is uppermost." The longer her husband was away from her, the more she feared that his contact with Bismarck and conservative members of the military and the flush of victory would cause him to lose sight of his liberal constitutional beliefs. When she heard of the Prussian victory at Langensalza on 29 June, she wrote:

If you hope to gain anything in the future, do not forget that it is more important than ever to stay true to your principles. You should not give any hint that your views have changed in the slightest, even as you stand with the sword of victory in your hand. Forgive me for talking to you in this way--though I am a mother in mourning I nonetheless feel the

-79-

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