Saturday, April 7, 2012

Our Fritz by Franz Lorenz Müller

Frank Lorenz Müller's Our Fritz: Emperor Frederick III and the Political Culture of Imperial Germany (Harvard University Press:$45.00) is a magnificent achievement, a gripping study of the life of Friedrich III, German Emperor, who reigned for 99 days in 1889.   This is a stunning political biography of a man destined for what was perceived to be greatness, but -- thanks to his elder son, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Otto von Bismarck -- has largely become a footnote in Germany imperial history.

But being a footnote is not what was planned for Friedrich.  He was to be a modern monarch, celebrating political liberalism in the new Germany.  But he was also a patriot, he supported a united Germany, and he sneered at many of the minor German rulers.  As far back as 1860, he desired the minor duchies and principalities to be merged into Prussia.  During the War of 1866, he was the "ridiculous German titles converted into ducal or grand ducal titles."  He also expected the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen to come "crawling on his belly, which would be truly German-princely."

Crown Prince Friedrich was ably supported (some say dominated) by his wife, Victoria, a British princess, eldest children of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.   It was Albert who set in motion a plan to marry his beloved and brightest daughter to the heir to the Prussian.  The plan was to have this liberal couple take on the new Germany, to bring about a plan that eventually create a more peaceful Germany.  

Friedrich's father, Wilhelm I, died on March 8, 1888, three weeks before his 91st birthday.  It was now Friedrich's time.  Sadly, for Friedrich and his family, and tragically for Germany (and Europe), two bad fairies were waiting in the wings to destroy everything that Fritz and Vicky believed in: their son, Crown Prince Wilhelm and Otto von Bismarck.

Friedrich was already dying when he succeeded to the throne.  He suffered from an advance case of lung cancer, and his health was battered by bad doctors.  He died on June 15, 1888.  Crown Prince Wilhelm and von Bismarck were waiting to make their moves to destroy Fritz's liberalism and views for Germany.  Moreover, Wilhelm II tried to destroy his father's reputation.  Unfortunately, for Germany, the views and actions of Wilhelm II and Otto von Bismarck set up the motions that would led to not one, but two world wars. 

Müller, a professor at the University of St Andrews, offers a mature portrayal of Fritz, focusing on the Fritz's persona as a beloved military hero and his position as a purveyor of change to Germany's political climate. 

Professor Müller delves deep into the political history and the personalities that shaped the second half of 19th-century Germany.    A superbly researched book.  

Highly recommended.    This is the biography that Friedrich deserved. Get it, and put next to Patricia Kollander's equally scholarly Friedrich III Germany's Liberal Emperor, published in 1999 by Praeger.

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