21. ‘Teuerster Polte’ – letters indicating the uneven friendship between Frederick Wilhelm IV. of Prussia and Leopold von Gerlach
By Laura Achtelstetter
In the Gerlach-Family Archive in Erlangen (GER), a copy of the diaries of Leopold von Gerlach, General of the Prussian Army and aidé de campe of Frederick Wilhelm IV., can be found. The originals have been lost since the Second World War. Signature LE02776 contains letters between Frederick Wilhelm IV, his wife Elisabeth and von Gerlach. What is interesting to note is the private tone some of Frederick Wilhelm’s letters contain. As an example, he addresses his general and subject with his nickname “Polte”. This salutation is normally used by von Gerlachs family members and very close friends. One might conclude that Frederick Wilhelm saw himself as a close friend. In another letter Frederick Wilhelm refers to Leopold’s gout disease. He urges von Gerlach to take a rest and the concludes ‘Hätte Papa sein Zipperlein vor etwa 20 Jahren fröhlich aufgenommen wie ich das meine, er lebte noch!’*
Those sources are interesting, as a king referring to his father and predecessor as ‘papa’ in front of a subject is quite uncommon and indicates that Frederick Wilhelm did not always see a need to maintain a respectable distance towards Leopold von Gerlach.
*Letter nb. 26, Berlin 14 March 1852. Transl.: If papa had happily accepted his gout/ minor ailment 20 years ago, as I did, he would be still alive.
Image: Franz Krüger, ‘Frederick Wilhelm IV of Prussia’, 1846. Oil on canvass. Public domain via Wikimedia commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1846_Krueger_Friedrich_Wilhelm_IV_anagoria.jpg.