Frederick I,” said he, “gained the electoral dignity for our house, and I, as Frederick III, would fain give it royal rank, according to the old saying that ‘the third time makes perfect.”
Continuing Prussia Proclaimed a Kingdom,
our selection from Memoirs of the House of Brandenburg and the History of Prussia During the 17th. and 18th. Centuries by Leopold von Ranke published in 1849. The selection is presented in three easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
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Frederick, while elector, was one of the most popular princes that ever reigned in Brandenburg. His contemporaries praise him for his avoidance of all dissipation, and his life entirely devoted to duty; while his subjects were still asleep, say they, the Prince was already busied with their affairs, for he rose very early. A poet of the time makes Phosphorus complain that he is ever anticipated by the King of Prussia. His manners were gracious, familiar, sincere, and deliberate. His conversation indicated “righteous and princely thoughts.” Those essays, written by him, which we have read, exhibit a sagacious and careful treatment of the subjects under consideration. He shared in a very great degree the taste of his times for outward show and splendor; but in him it took a direction which led to something far higher than mere ostentation. The works of sculpture and architecture produced under his reign are monuments of a pure and severe taste; the capital of Prussia has seen none more beautiful. He complacently indulged in the contemplation of the greatness founded by his father, the possession of a territory four times as large as that of any other elector, and the power of bringing into the field an army which placed him on a level with kings. Now, however, he desired that this equality should be publicly recognized, especially as he had no lack of treasure and revenue wherewith to maintain the splendor and dignity of a royal crown. In the mind of the father, this ambition was combined with schemes of conquest; in the son it was merely a desire for personal and dynastic aggrandizement. It is certain that the origin of such a state as the kingdom of Prussia can be attributed to no other cause than to so remarkable a succession of so many glorious princes. Frederick was resolved to appear among them distinguished by some important service rendered to his house. “Frederick I,” said he, “gained the electoral dignity for our house, and I, as Frederick III, would fain give it royal rank, according to the old saying that ‘the third time makes perfect.”
It was in the year 1693 that he first began seriously to act upon the project of obtaining a royal crown. He had just led some troops to Crossen which were to serve the Emperor against the Turks; but the imperial ministers neither arrived in due time to receive them, nor, when at length they made their appearance, did they bring with them the grants of certain privileges and expectancies which Frederick had looked for. In disgust at being treated with neglect at the very moment in which he was rendering the Emperor a very essential service, he went to Carlsbad, where he was joined by his ambassador to Vienna, who had been commissioned by the imperial ministers to apologize for the omissions of which they had been guilty. In concert with his ambassador, and his prime minister, Dankelmann, the brother of the former, Frederick resolved to make public the wish which he had hitherto entertained in secret, or only now and then let drop into conversation; the ambassador accordingly received instruction to present a formal memorial.
At that time, however, nothing could be done. The Count of Ottingen, who was hostile to the Protestant princes, was once more in favor at the court of Vienna; the peril from without had ceased to be pressing, and coalition had begun gradually to dissolve; the only result of the negotiation was a vague and general promise.
The Elector did not, however, give up his idea. The elevation of the Saxon house to the throne of Poland, the prospect enjoyed by his near kindred of Hanover of succeeding to that of England, and perhaps the very difficulties and opposition which he encountered, tended to sharpen his appetite for a royal crown. The misunderstandings which arose among the great European powers out of the approaching vacancy of the throne of Spain soon afforded him an excellent opportunity of renewing his demands. The court of Vienna was not to be moved by past, but by future, services.
It would be unnecessary to enter into the details of the negotiation on this subject; it suffices to say that the Prince devoted his whole energy to it, and never lost sight of any advantage afforded by his position. Suggestions of the most exaggerated kind were made to him; for instance, that he should lay his claims before the Pope, who possessed the power of granting the royal dignity in a far higher degree than the Emperor; while, on the other hand, some of the more zealous Protestants among his ministers were anxious to avoid even that degree of approach toward the Catholic element implied in a closer alliance with the Emperor, and desired that the Elector’s elevation in rank should be made to depend upon some new and important acquisition of territory, such, for example, as that of Polish Prussia, which then seemed neither difficult nor improbable. Frederick, however, persisted in the opinion that he was entitled to the royal dignity merely on account of his sovereign dukedom of Prussia, and that the recognition of the Emperor was the most important step in the affair. He was convinced that, when the Emperor had once got possession of the Spanish inheritance, or concluded a treaty upon the subject, nothing more was to be hoped from him; but that now, while the Elector of Brandenburg was able to render him as effectual assistance as any power in Europe, some advantage might be wrung from him in return.
Influenced by these considerations, he resolved to lay proposals before the Emperor, which acquired uncommon significance from the circumstances under which they were made. At that very time, in March, 1700, England, Holland, and France had just concluded a treaty for the division of the Spanish monarchy, in which the right of inheritance of Austria was utterly disregarded, in order to preserve the European balance of power. Spain and the Indies were, indeed, to fall to the share of the young Archduke Charles, but he was to be deprived of Naples, Sicily, and Milan; and should the Archduke ever become Emperor of Germany, Spain and the Indies were to be given up to another prince, whose claims were far inferior to his. This treaty was received with disgust and indignation at Vienna, where the assistance of Heaven was solemnly implored, and its interference in the affair fully expected.