Grand Duke of Mecklenburg, Prince of Wenden, Schwerin and Ratzeburg, Count of Schwerin, Lord of the Lands of Rostock and Stargard
Grand Duke Friedrich Wilhelm was born on 17 October 1819 in Neustrelitz. He was the
eldest son of Grand Duke Georg and his wife Grand Duchess Marie, née Princess of
Heir to the throne
The new Hereditary Grand Duke was christened on 2 November 1819 receiving the names Friedrich Wilhelm Carl Georg Ernst Adolf Gustav. Among his 19 godparents was his cousin and namesake Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia (later King Friedrich Wilhelm IV). As the son of the reigning grand duke, Friedrich Wilhelm grew up at the grand ducal court in Neustrelitz with his parents and siblings Luise, Caroline and Georg. As a young child he suffered from ill health. In the autumn of 1823 the young Friedrich Wilhelm fell ill with scarlet fever and had to travel to Berlin to receive treatment, eventually making a full recovery.
Friedrich Wilhelm and his brother received their early education from their governor,
Count Finkenstein. As he got older he was educated by professors from the local school
in Neustrelitz. Having embraced his initial education, following his confirmation
on 23 September 1836 and not yet 18, he left Neustrelitz later on that year to study
history and law at the University of Bonn receiving a solid education by noted professors,
academics and politicians. While at Bonn, Friedrich Wilhelm befriended various German
princes including the future Duke Ernst II of Saxe-
With the completion of his studies in 1839 Friedrich Wilhelm spent some time at the Berlin court of his uncle King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia. In the summer 1840 he went on a trip through Germany, Switzerland and Italy. While travelling in Italy he stayed over in Rome as present in the city at the same time were his uncle and aunt, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and their daughter, his first cousin, Princess Augusta. The families were very closely related, the Duchess was a sister of Friedrich Wilhelm’s mother and the Duke a son of Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III of Great Britain and a sister of Friedrich Wilhelm’s grandfather, Grand Duke Carl. After returning to Germany he made his way to Neustrelitz to be present at the 1841 marriage of his sister Caroline to the Crown Prince of Denmark (the future King Frederik VII) in Neustrelitz. Having accompanied his sister and her husband on their voyage to Copenhagen, once back in Germany, Friedrich Wilhelm travelled to Potsdam in order to begin an active army career. On 11 September 1841 he joined the Prussian Army’s 1st Uhlan Guard Regiment with the rank of Captain.
Marriage and family
Now well prepared for his future role as grand duke with a solid education and military service behind him, all that remained was for Friedrich Wilhelm to find a wife and hopefully secure the direct succession. With only one person in mind he travelled to Britain in 1842 where got engaged that autumn to his cousin Princess Augusta of Cambridge. As required Queen Victoria of Great Britain, Augusta’s cousin, gave her formal consent at a Privy Council Meeting on 2 November 1842. With the Queen’s consent having been acquired Friedrich Wilhelm left the United Kingdom on 21 December. In April 1843 Friedrich Wilhelm requested and received a discharge from active service in the Prussian Army. Later that month he returned to the United Kingdom for his wedding. With the marriage contact signed in London on 23 June 1843 the formalities were complete. Five days later at Buckingham Palace the couple were married.
Following the conclusion of the wedding celebrations in London, Friedrich Wilhelm brought his wife, the new Hereditary Grand Duchess, back to Neustrelitz where she was welcomed with great celebrations and festivities. The couple later returned to Britain where Friedrich Wilhelm resumed his law studies at the University of Oxford becoming a Doctor of Civil Law. In 1845 the hereditary grand ducal couple’s first son, Friedrich Wilhelm, was born at Cambridge House in London. Sadly the little Hereditary Prince only lived for a few hours. The couple had to wait until a month after their fifth wedding anniversary to welcome their second son, Adolf Friedrich, who was born in Neustrelitz.
Although the hereditary grand ducal family would spend time in Britain visiting Augusta’s family, as the years went by with Friedrich Wilhelm oneday to become grand duke it was important for him to be in Neustrelitz in order to became more involved in the affairs of state to ensure he would be as prepared, and as informed as possible for when the day came for him to succeed his father. In 1851 Friedrich Wilhelm sustained an injury to his left eye eventually causing him to lose his sight in the eye altogether. Although doctors did not think the sight in his other eye would become affected within a few years his right eye did unfortunately become affected and eventually also went. Because of his blindness a close friendship and bond developed between Friedrich Wilhelm and his first cousin King Georg V of Hanover who had also lost his sight.
Although an active army career had come to an end in April 1843, Friedrich Wilhelm continued to receive promotions in the Prussian Army throughout his tenure as heir apparent. He was made a Major on 12 September 1842, a Colonel on 4 April 1843, a General Major on 22 March 1845, a General Lieutenant on 4 April 1850 and finally a General of the Cavalry on 31 May 1859. He was also made a General of the Infantry in the Royal Hanoverian Army on 4 December 1860.
Friedrich Wilhelm and his family were visiting Augusta’s family at Kew in Britain
during the summer of 1860 when they received word that his father Grand Duke Georg
was seriously ill. Friedrich Wilhelm and his wife then left to return to Neustrelitz
arriving ten days before his father’s death on 6 September 1860. Coming to the throne
twelve years after the revolutions of 1848 and despite the Liberal reforms elsewhere,
Friedrich Wilhelm was a firm believer in Mecklenburg’s ancient feudal constitution
which his father had also successfully supported when the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-
Friedrich Wilhelm’s blindness did not prevent his succession or ability to govern as grand duke, thus following the example set by his cousin Georg V who nine years beforehand had still succeeded as King of Hanover despite his blindness. Faced with the task of governing with his handicap, Friedrich Wilhelm did not attempt to conceal his blindness, like the King of Hanover had tried to do, and during the oath of allegiance ceremony he openly alluded to his blindness in his speech.
A time of change in Germany
Friedrich Wilhelm’s reign witnessed a number of wars which brought about great change
to Germany and ever closer union between the German states. The first war was the
Second Schleswig War of 1864 between the German Confederation, dominated by Prussia
and Austria, and which Mecklenburg-
Following the resounding Prussian victory although Friedrich Wilhelm had effectively
lost his political independence he had at least saved the grand duchy from the fate
which befell Prussia’s other enemies in the conflict, the Duke of Nassau, the Elector
of Hesse and notably Friedrich Wilhelm’s cousin King Georg V of Hanover, who were
all deposed and their countries annexed by Prussia. With Friedrich Wilhelm angry
at his treatment and the annexation of Hanover, the relationship between Mecklenburg-
With a reign lasting not yet ten years Friedrich Wilhelm witnessed a third war on
19 July 1870 with the outbreak hostilities between Prussia and the French Empire
of Napoleon III. Due to his hostility to Prussia he was not keen to join their side
in the war. At the beginning of the conflict he had even provocatively replaced his
minister to Berlin with a Hanoverian and staunch supporter of deposed House of Hanover.
The new minister was viewed with such suspicion in Berlin that for a time Mecklenburg-
In spite of the wars great advancements were made around the same time of the conflicts,
and in the years following, with the construction of new roads and railways connecting
A financially shrewd ruler
Although the reign of Friedrich Wilhelm witnessed three wars it also saw a period
of financial diligence and prosperity. Twice a year he would summon to Neustrelitz
his Berlin banker to issue him with instructions on how he wished his money to be
used on the stock exchange. Through his sound financial management Friedrich Wilhelm
amassed a great fortune for Mecklenburg-
A year after celebrating his diamond wedding anniversary and with a reign lasting almost 44 years Friedrich Wilhelm fell ill. After being confined to his bed for a few months the 84 year old Grand Duke died in Neustrelitz on 30 May 1904. He had written his will on 4 August 1890 and had not altered it during the succeeding 14 years. His funeral was held at the Schloss Church in Neustrelitz on 6 June. At the time of his death he was the oldest German sovereign and the oldest Prussian general, and, although known Friedrich Wilhelm was known for his anti Prussian views, the German Emperor attended his funeral. Following the funeral in Neustrelitz, Friedrich Wilhelm’s remains were brought to Mirow and interned in the family vault in the Church of St John.
He was succeeded as grand duke by his only surviving son, Adolf Friedrich V. His wife Augusta also survived him, dying in the middle of the First World War on 5 December 1916 aged 94.
Decorations and honours
Honorary military posts