On June 15, 1888, a mere ninety-nine days after ascending the throne to become king of Prussia and German emperor, Frederick III succumbed to throat cancer. Europeans were spellbound by the cruel fate nobly borne by the voiceless Fritz, who for more than two decades had been celebrated as a military hero and loved as a kindly gentleman. A number of grief-stricken individuals reportedly offered to sacrifice their own healthy larynxes to save the ailing emperor.
Frank Lorenz Müller, in the first comprehensive life of Frederick III ever written, reconstructs how the hugely popular persona of “Our Fritz” was created and used for various political purposes before and after the emperor’s tragic death. Sandwiched between the reign of his ninety-year-old father and the calamitous rule of his own son, the future emperor William II, Frederick III served as a canvas onto which different political forces projected their hopes and fears for Germany's future. The book moves beyond the myth that Frederick’s humane liberalism would have built a lasting Anglo-German partnership, perhaps even preventing World War I, and beyond the castigations and exaggerations of parties with a different agenda. Surrounded by an unforgettable cast of characters that includes the emperor’s widely hated English wife, Vicky—daughter of Queen Victoria—and the scheming Otto von Bismarck, Frederick III offers in death as well as in life a revealing, poignant glimpse of Prussia, Germany, and the European world that his son would help to shatter.
I found this one of the most readable, enjoyable, and wise studies on Imperial Germany to have appeared in the past decade. The title Our Fritz illustrates how Müller is able to avoid writing a hagiography of a tragic king. Instead, he weaves the threads of affection -- given and received, not given and not received -- into a fabric that envelops a nuclear family, a dynasty, and a nation. A mature scholarly assessment and first-rate writing make the story of Frederick come alive and offer something genuinely new. I highly recommend it.
A gripping biographical study of a fascinating and important figure. Müller presents a number of bracingly revisionist arguments in a thorough, rigorous, and compelling way, anchored in a witty and humane portrayal of the central actors. My enthusiasm for this book is not only for its historical acuity, breadth of compass, and evidentiary depth, but for the memorable portrait it paints of a gifted, privileged, melancholy, and doomed individual.
[A] thought-provoking, highly informed biography.
Effective, well-grounded and thoughtful...This is an important work, particularly notable for its discussion of political myths, and especially as a political resource. It is to be hoped that comparable work can be produced for several other contemporary rulers.
How many times have I told a class that if only William I had died earlier, the history of Europe would have been different? Frank Lorenz Müller has made me less certain of that. His excellent biography of Frederick William--one part biography, one part revisionism and one part cultural histor--offers a subtler, more nuanced and less emotional account of "Our Fritz."
A concise, vivid and unfailingly interesting portrait of one of the nineteenth century's most appealing and most unhappy rulers.
- 366 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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