Frederick William III

Frederick William III, 1770–1840, king of Prussia (1797–1840), son and successor of Frederick William II. Well-intentioned but weak and vacillating, he endeavored to maintain neutrality in the Napoleonic Wars. In 1806, French troops were massed on Prussia's frontier and Frederick William was forced to take up arms against France. His crushing defeat by the French at Jena and the humiliating Treaty of Tilsit (1807), which virtually made Prussia a French vassal, served to waken the king to the need of reconstruction in Prussia. Unable to carry through the reforms himself, he was far-sighted enough to appoint capable ministers. The reforms of Karl vom und zum Stein, Karl August von Hardenberg, and Scharnhorst laid the basis of the modern Prussian state and prepared for the eventual war against Napoleon. Forced to send an auxiliary force to aid Napoleon's Russian campaign, the king was finally persuaded to support the Convention of Tauroggen (see Taurage), concluded with the Russians by the commander of the Prussian auxiliary force, General Yorck von Wartenburg. A few weeks later a military alliance with Russia was signed, and in Mar., 1813, the king declared war on France. After Napoleon's defeat and the Congress of Vienna, which he attended, Frederick William grew more reactionary. Influenced by Czar Alexander I and by Metternich, he joined the Holy Alliance and refused to grant the constitution he had promised. His consort, Queen Louise, far more popular than the king, died in 1810. His elder son, Frederick William IV, succeeded him. His second son was to become Emperor William I.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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