Research Subjects: Miscellaneous

A Cursory View of Prussia from the Death of Frederick II to the Peace of Tilsit

LETTER IX: Prussian Internal Politics in Late 1805


THE Duke of Brunswick, with all the first nobility, apprehensive that Bonapartè would set the crown of the German empire upon his own head, warmly seconded Hardenberg’s decision for war.  Schulenburg, as a courtier, left his Majesty to his own determination; but, at all events, recommended dispatch and energy.

The Prince of Hohenlohe, a man of unbounded ambition, was desirous, as Prince of the Empire, to distinguish himself by the command of the army.  He was warmly for war, as were also Kalkreuth, Rüchel, and Blücher, who were solicitous of still increasing their military fame, and Prince Louis Ferdinand, who dreamed of nothing but the glory of conquering Bonapartè, was all fire at the idea of war with France.

Prince Louis was in every respect the most accomplished and animated of the whole family:  the energy and ardor of his mind had formed for a throne; but the circumscribed situation to which, as a younger branch, he was limited, was far too insufficient to employ the vigor of his powers; they therefore took an unfortunate course, and he gave up the reins of his judgement to dissipation and pleasure; nor did he admit any idea of morality to interrupt the gratification of his passions; for he held the whole world made for his enjoyment.  A character of such vivacity, and in every point so diametrically opposite to that of the temperate and frugal Monarch, could not possibly avoid giving offence to the latter.  The contempt was mutual, they took every opportunity to avoid each other; and as the prominent feature of the King’s character, his irresolution, had been frequently the subject of the Prince’s sarcastic wit, the present appearance of war furnished him with a sort of triumph; particularly as at this period the Emperor Alexander came to Berlin, and soon prevailed on Frederick William to conclude the well known convention of Potsdam.  Scarcely, however, was this settled, and the Emperor on the road to his army, when intelligence of the battle of Austerlitz was received.  The King now immediately regretted having swerved from his old system; but, hoping that this transaction would remain a state secret, he, instead of resenting Bonapartè’s duplicity, most heartily wished to bring his own situation with him to it’s former footing; even openly observing, “that it was fortunate for the world, that Bonapartè had so completely conquered, as this must lead to a general peace!”

Those in the French interest took this opportunity to encourage this sentiment; and, as Haugwitz was supposed to be in favor with Bonapartè, he was recalled, and ordered to sound the Corsican’s opinion of their old system.  Haugwitz was received with great politeness; but, on proceeding to business, Bonapartè drew a copy of the Potsdam convention from his pocket, and told him, that, with such a document in his possession, there was no thinking of neutrality.

Haugwitz had apparently his orders to effect a reconciliation on any terms.  It was therefore agreed that Prussia should oblige the English, Swedish and Russian troops to evacuate Lower Saxony:  that she should take conditional possession of Hanover, place the remainder of her army on the peace establishment, and deliver up Anspach, Cleves, and Neufchatel to the French.  The submission of Prussia to these degrading terms was the prognostic of her farther fall; for neither Bonapartè nor the French nation could have any respect for a Monarch who was so inconsistent in his conduct, so indecisive in his measures, and seemingly only desirous to fish in troubled waters.

Bonapartè himself is said to have compared the eagle of Prussia to a bird of prey, always in scent of carrion.  The nation also, in general, was much dissatisfied with this humiliating peace; and, on the return of the troops to Berlin, an evening serenade was brought to Count Hardenberg, almost as it were in the very presence of the King, whilst at the same time the windows of Haugwitz’ house were broken.  As Prince Louis Ferdinand was suspected to be at the head of these scenes, they passed over unnoticed.  Some few persons, indeed, for quietness sake, were glad of the peace; as they thought that success could have brought no advantage, but that misfortune would have totally ruined a country which had so few resources within itself.

In this unpleasant state of affairs, both France and Russia openly avowed their contempt for the cabinet; as the former would not transact any business with Hardenberg, nor the latter with Haugwitz.


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