The 99 Day Kaiser

The ill-fated 99 day Kaiser was and remains a polarizing, what if in German history. Some see him as a would have been the savior of Liberal Germany, others as just another crown prince caught up in the Romantic movement. Most agree that Friedrich III, King in Prussia and German Kaiser would generally be a liberalizing force on the end of the 19th century. To many he is a footnote often forgotten or overlooked in history classes and never spoken of in any great detail. He was a complex and obscure character in the era. One that deserves an explanation and examination, he has never really received. Friedrich III did not have much of an impact on German politics historically, due in part to being bedridden and dying for most of his 99 day reign in the Year of Three Kaisers, shortly after his Father Wilhelm I, and also due to the domineering of Otto Von Bismarck. We know that Friedrich was heavily influenced by his British wife Victoria (eldest daughter of Queen Victoria) and even before marriage he had liberal sympathies. This caused him to come into constant conflicts with the Iron Chancellor, and he never really could convince his father to listen to him. His importance in alternative history is that he is constantly used as a pivoting point away from WWI or other WWI-like actions ever occurring. Is this really fair? Did one man succumb to esophageal cancer really ‘doom’ our timeline?

The truth of the matter is little is known of what he actually had planned. Bismarck feared he would replace him as Chancellor the leader of the Progressive party. Though there is little said about what he would actually implement for domestic policies, aside from constitutional reform and the potential replacement of Bismarck. What is known is he had significantly stronger ties to foreign powers, especially Britain. In 1858 he married Queen Victoria's eldest daughter, also named Victoria. This was arranged after a long and drawn out feud with his father, who was still crown prince. Wilhelm I wanted him to marry a Russian duchess, probably to strengthen the Russo- Prussian Alliance of the post-Crimean era. Victoria would go on to have a strong influence over Frederick, as such she is worth noting. What we can expect from Frederick's reign is a temporary warming of relations between Britain and Germany. A modified constitution transitioning away from Prussian Constitutionalism. As well as several less years of Otto Von Bismarck, which may or may not have been a good thing. It would be better for liberalism in Germany, however Bismarck held the concert of Europe together for decades and it would be interesting to see if the progressives could replace him with a Chancellor as adept at maneuvering the other powers. Or if their more peaceful diplomatic attempts would have fallen on deaf ears and encourage a Conservative revitalization.    

However, Friedrich had been already 57 when he died, admittedly he might not have lasted long enough to make it through to the Era of WWI (though his father made it to 90) Frederick would have a harder time convincing the fledgling German state to listen to his radically different opinions. That being said, the question of the 99-day Kaiser is one we must seek to address. If only because there is a chance he could have potentially reigned for 30 years. It is not a likely one, but it was a possible outcome. What would be more likely to be impactful was if the man he actually got to raise his own son. We know that his son, Kaiser Wilhelm II would definitively reign after Friedrich. Wilhelm was raised by tutors, few, if any actually selected by his parents, most selected by Kaiser Wilhelm I. This was due in part to his withered arm and the German Kaiser’s attempt to make a man of him. An attempt that his mother supported, in part because she blamed herself for his deformed arm. The Kaiser-to-be was raised to understand that his father is a war hero of the Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian wars. He never was brought up to understand the Classical Liberal ideals of his parents were meant to apply to Germany. If Friedrich was merely permitted to raise his own son, or at least have more of a role in the process, Wilhelm could have been a very different Kaiser. Instead he was raised in the hyper-militaristic Prussian military aristocratic standard. One that saw Wilhelm dismiss Bismarck for being ‘too peaceful’ as anti-British and anti-Russian sentiments roared up in Germany. As opposed to being anything like his peace loving father. Who said, "I do not like war, gentlemen. If I should reign I would never make it." to a British paper, not two years after the ‘glorious’ Franco-Prussian war.

And so the 99 day Kaiser would have made for an incredibly different Germany, if he had not spent his entire reign slowly succumbing to throat cancer, after decades of smoking to ‘cure’ what may have been asthma. And so the hope for a Liberal Germany, died with him only to resurface after two disastrous World Wars. How many lives we lost from this man only being a footnote in history? We may never know.                     


Further Reading:

Balfour, Michael. The Kaiser and his Times. Boston: Houghton Miffen, 1964.

Clark, Christopher. Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia 1600-1947. London: Penguin Books, 2008.

Von Poschinger, Margete Landau Edel.The Life of The Emperor Friedrich. Berlin, 1901.

Nichols, J. Alden.Year of Three Kaisers. 1987.