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European Kingdoms

Central Europe

 

Saxony (Saxons) (Germans)

The Germanic tribes seem to have originated in a homeland in southern Scandinavia (Sweden and Norway, with the Jutland area of northern Denmark, along with a very narrow strip of Baltic coastline). They had been settled here for over two thousand years following the Indo-European migrations. The Germanic ethnic group began as a division of the western edge of late proto-Indo-European dialects around 3300 BC, splitting away from a general westwards migration to head towards the southern coastline of the Baltic Sea.

By the time the Germanic tribes were becoming key players in the politics of Western Europe in the last two centuries BC, the previously dominant Celts were on the verge of being conquered and dominated by Rome. They had already been pushed out of northern and Central Europe by a mass of Germanic tribes which were steadily carving out a new and expanded homeland. Germanic expansion continued over the next four centuries, while the original swathe of tribes and confederations were slowly wrought into a different combination by the fifth century AD.

At that time, during the late Roman empire period, the Saxon tribes could be found occupying a large swathe of territory around the North Sea coast of northern Germany, bordering on Frisia to the west, Angeln to the north, and what later became the eastern march counties, such as the North March. It was from the North Sea coast that many Saxon groups emigrated to Britain in the fifth to early seventh centuries while a loose Saxon state began to form behind them. However, Saxons had been emigrating to Britain for some time, being settled by the Romano-British authorities as laeti. In some instances these groups later formed their own small kingdoms in Britain, or merged with newly arriving groups of Angles and Saxons.

The Franks under Charlemagne slowly conquered the pagan Saxon tribes on the Continent between 782-804 (a period of Frankish-Saxon history known as the Saxon Wars). Initially they were subsumed within the Frankish empire, but they eventually emerged with a unified kingdom of their own during the Carolingian fragmentation which followed. Subsequent centuries saw the territory divided or dispersed until the only piece which still bore the Saxon name was down in the south-eastern corner (modern Saxony in eastern Germany), far removed from the former heartland of Saxony at its height.

Germanics

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Oxford History of England: The English Settlements, J N L Meyers, from The Oxford History of England: Anglo-Saxon England, Sir Frank Stenton, from Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians 751-987, R McKitterick (1983), from The Anglo-Saxon Age c.400-1042, D J V Fisher, from The Ethnology of Germany Part 3: The Migration of the Saxons, Henry H Howorth (Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol 7, 1878), and from External Link: the Medieval Sourcebook: Gregory of Tours (539-594): History of the Franks: Books I-X (Fordham University).)

Old Saxony (Saxons)
Incorporating the Euthiones

The Saxons formed a loose state after the collapse of the Roman empire, and were relatively important in northern Germany during the subsequent period. They seem to have been centred on the area between the North Sea coastline and Hannover, and then stretching southwards to an undetermined degree.

Their tribal collective (and territory) was probably swelled by the absorption of other tribes, such as the Germanic Chauci, the Cherusci who were so important in AD 9, and lesser tribes such as the Angrivarii, Dulgubnii, and Warini. Together they formed a large coalition in the territory between modern Berlin and the northern Frisian coast, and were bordered to the north by the Angles. The Saxons, Angles and Jutes formed the bulk of the emigrants to Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries, although sizable numbers of Saxons remained behind (such as the otherwise completely unknown Euthiones - see AD 536, below). This broad sweep of what is now northern Germany became known by the migrants in post-Roman Britain as Old Saxony.

FeatureThe name 'Saxon' itself was formed by combining a word for a type of knife - a seaxe, or sax - plus the common Germanic plural suffix that was often used after the name of a tribe, this being '-on' (whereas today English speakers would use an 's'). A 'sax' is a single-edged, drop-point knife, something that in North America is called a Bowie knife. Add the plural suffix '-on' and you have 'Saxon'. Its origins lay in an Indo-European word root which is pretty widespread in the form of 'skei-', meaning 'to cut, separate'. It can be seen in the Latin 'scio' and 'scire', and in the Cymric 'ysgïen', meaning 'knife, sword'. It's also available in Old Indian as 'chidira', meaning 'sword, axe' (see feature link, right, for further examination of the word source).

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Oxford History of England: The English Settlements, J N L Meyers, from The Oxford History of England: Anglo-Saxon England, Sir Frank Stenton, from Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians 751-987, R McKitterick (1983), from The Anglo-Saxon Age c.400-1042, D J V Fisher, from The Ethnology of Germany Part 3: The Migration of the Saxons, Henry H Howorth (Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol 7, 1878), from The History of the Franks, Volume II, Gregory of Tours (O M Dalton, Trans, 1967), from Wulf and Eadwacer, from From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms, Thomas F X Noble, from the Codex Gothanus, Lupus Servatus (commissioned by Eberhard of Friuli), from Res Gestae, Ammianus Marcellinus, and from External Links: The Latin Library, and the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, and the Medieval Sourcebook: Gregory of Tours (539-594): History of the Franks: Books I-X (Fordham University).)

1st century AD?

Vegdegg Odinson

Clearly a later Norse name. Randomly added to a modern list.

AD 98

In his work on Greater Germania, the Roman writer Tacitus omits to mention the Saxons, although it is known that they occupy territory in upper western Central Europe, in modern Schleswig-Holstein and north-west Germany, with the Frisians on their western flank and the Langobards to their immediate south.

Mandø Island
The islands between modern Denmark and Sweden were part of a little-known habitat for the early Suebic tribes of the Western Baltic Sea, including Mandø seen here, one of the islands in the Danish Wadden Sea off the south-west coast of Jutland

Instead, the Saxons of this period should be accounted as part of 'the seven tribes of Jutland and Holstein', which include the Angles, Aviones, Eudoses, Nuitones, Reudigni, Suardones, and Warini, all of whom are part of the Suebic confederation. Their omission is startling, but the Suardones may supply the answer, thanks to similarities between the names (this is discussed in more detail on the Suardones page).

270s

The division of the Goths into two branches causes population movements which, among other things, sees the Germanic Chauci gradually overrun by the Saxons in their homeland against the north-western coast of Germany. The absorption of this group is probably only partially voluntary, and could also include the absorption of some of the 'seven tribes' mentioned in AD 98. This would appear to be an event caused by the Saxon migration and expansion from their earlier homeland in Schleswig-Holstein.

287 - 292

In the late third century, Heruli raid into Iberia along with Alemanni and Saxons, possibly as a result of the Lower Rhine incursions of this year. Roman Emperor Maximianus is involved in heavy fighting on the Lower Rhine and also on the Upper Danube.

Map of Barbarian Europe 52 BC
This vast map covers just about all possible tribes that were documented in the first centuries BC and AD, mostly by the Romans and Greeks, with the early Saxons shown just to the south of today's Denmark, prior to expansion and absorption of other tribes (click or tap on map to view full sized)

297

The Sali (otherwise known as Salian Franks), seek Roman protection on the Batavian island after being expelled from their own lands by the Saxons. The Roman acceptance of their settlement there marks the beginning of the end for the Batavi as an identifiably separate people.

c.300 - c.375

According to the Codex Gothanus, the Langobards are subjugated by the Saxons around AD 300, but it seems that they later rise up under their own king, Agelmund. The reason may be the poor harvests that they suffer in the late fourth century. The Langobards begin to migrate southwards, but Ludo Moritz Hartmann suggests that they probably leave behind a sizable portion of their number, with these people being fully subsumed within the Saxon confederation and losing their name. The Angrivarii are also certainly subsumed within the confederation by this date, if not earlier.

Gelder

Saxon chief? Possibly a foundation name for Guelders.

364 - 367

According to Ammianus Marcellinus, the Picts, Scotti, Saxons, and Attacotti (possibly part of a Damnonian confederation) attack Roman Britain in what seems to be a serious incursion in 364. Saxons and Frisians are also part of the great 'Barbarian Conspiracy' of 367, with attacks falling on the Diocese of the Britains from all sides. This would appear to be the culmination of seven years of large-scale trouble on behalf of the Picts, Scotti, Saxons, and the mysterious Attacotti. Initially, Rome is taken by surprise before rallying to restore order.

Venta Belgarum
The Roman city of Venta Belgarum was refortified in the fourth century and Germanic mercenaries were brought in to improve the defences, suggesting an increasing lack of Roman soldiery fitted to the task

fl c.370s

Freawine

Later added to list of kings of Angeln. Killed by the Myrging.

c.370s

While Freawine is included in later English royal genealogies as an ancestor figure, Wieg is shown as his son (see below). However, in the story of Offa (see the Myrging of Widsith) they are shown as contemporaries and enemies, suggesting that the genealogies subsequently arrange them in series, making them genealogically father and son in the manner of most genealogies.

fl 400s

Guictglis

Probably Wihtgils, father of Hengist of Wehta's Folk.

5th century

The Angrivarii remain in their homeland of the last five centuries, still part of the Saxon confederation. By now they are known by a variety of names, the Angarii, Aggeri, Aggerimenses, Angeri, Angerienses, or the Angri, but the name is also beginning to appear as that of their homeland, Engern (in the modern German states of Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia).

406 - 409

The bulk of the Suevi cross the Rhine at Mainz in 406 in association with the Vandali and Alani. Some of the tribes of the Suevi confederation elect to remain behind in Germany, including the Alemanni and Warini. After this point the Warini probably come to be dominated by the growing Saxon confederation that fills the vacuum left by the departure of the Suevi.

c.440 - 500

Saxons who have emigrated to Britain advance along the Thames Valley and head north into the Chilterns to encroach on British territories. Some groups break off to settle the region around Londinium and become known as the Middel Seaxe and the Suther-ge.

Lowbury Hill in Berkshire
Increasingly beleaguered British territories began turning civilian structures into military ones, such as the former Roman temple at the top of Lowbury Hill (near Compton in west Berkshire), which apparently became a look-out point that faced towards the River Thames

Other Saxon groups head southwards towards the Upper Thames Valley from the territory of the Middil Engle. The success of Hengist and Horsa in Kent encourages greater Saxon and Angle leaders to migrate to Britain as a way of escaping the increasing pressures of life in their native lands, squeezed between dominant Danes to the north and Frisians to the south.

Wieg / Wig

'Son' of Freawine. Later added to Baeldaeg's Folk.

Ket

Brother. Mentioned in Widsith.

c.450?

The Myrging are a Germanic clan descended from Saxons who occupy territory in modern Schleswig-Holstein, on the border with the Angles to the north. They become involved in a war with Offa, who kills two of the sons of Eadgils. Eadgils himself is subsequently killed by Ket and Wig, the sons of the Saxon prince, Freawine, perhaps allowing the Myrging to overrun the border district between Saxons and Angles until they are completely conquered by Offa. The Myrging are totally absorbed into the Angle tribal collective, probably disappearing as a distinguishable people under the rule of Angeltheow, who abolishes the title 'king of the Myrging'.

fl 463

Eadwacer / Adovacrius

'King of the Saxons'. Leader of warband attacking Angers.

463

Saxons are sailing along the English Channel, hunting for settlement locations along the Gaulish coast. Despite the official end of Roman interest in Britain, it seems that Gaul is still a more attractive (and richer) option. Eadwacer leads a band of Saxons around the Gaulish coast to the River Loire. From there they sail up the river to capture Angers, only to be dislodged by Childerich of the Franks, acting as an ally of the Roman domain of Soissons. The chances of being able to break through the increasing Frankish domination of northern Gaul are apparently fading, and Britain is perhaps becoming a more realistic proposition for invasion and settlement.

Map of the Visigoth & Suevi kingdoms in AD 470
In AD 469/470 the Visigoths expanded their kingdom to its largest extent, reaching Nantes in the north on the border with the Roman sub-state of Soissons (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Eadwacer seems to be given as Odoacer in at least one translation of Gregory of Tours. The names are certainly very similar - Eadwacer (ed/od-oo-acer) to Odoacer (od-oc-er) but the geographical areas of interest are completely different. Eadwacer is a Saxon leader, operating in northern Germany and along the western coastline, while Odoacer is a Goth (most likely a Scirian), operating from Pannonia and then Italy. What is more, Odoacer is known as a commander of Heruli, Rugii, and Sciiri troops, not Saxons. Instead, this Eadwacer may be the character mentioned in the Old English poem, Wulf and Eadwacer.

? - 477?

Ælle / Aelle

Important chieftain in Old Saxony? Founded Suth Seaxe.

c.475 - 495

Angles begin to arrive and take control of the lower east coast of Britain, where they intermingle with the Saxon descendants of Roman foederati. The late Roman history of this coastline is almost completely blank, which serves to underline the loss of lines of communication and probably also towns.

477

FeatureÆlle and his sons, Cymen, Wlencing, and Cissa, land at Cymens ora and beat off the Britons who oppose their landing. These Saxons quickly become known as the Suth Seaxe, although it is possible that they are soon wiped out in a major defeat at the siege of Mons Badonicus.

486

Clovis of the Franks defeats, captures and executes Syagrius, the last Roman commander of Soissons. The Franks are now completely dominant in northern Gaul and Roman control has been thrown off. The death of Syagrius also sends a signal to the Saxons and other Germanic peoples that attempting to settle in Gaul is now hopeless. This would seem to be the single defining event that forces the Saxons to turn their attention to invading Britain instead.

Baptism of Clovis in Reims: http://www.museehistoiredefrance.fr/index.php?option=com_oeuvre&view=detail&cid=205
The baptism of Clovis in Reims in 496 made him the only barbarian Christian king and won him increased support from his former Roman subjects in Gaul. This romantic recreation of the event was by François-Louis Dejuinne (1786-1844), completed in 1837

c.500

Saxons move into British territory on the north bank of the Thames Estuary. They find that the Saxon descendants of Roman laeti have already been settled there for well over a century. Together these groups found the kingdom of the East Seaxe.

507

By this date, Saxon pressure from the north has slowly been forcing the Frankish peoples southwards from their original territory around Cologne and Cambrai, so that the northern border now lies along the Somme, giving them the same border as the former domain of Soissons.

The Old English poem Widsith seems not to mention the Suardones of Tacitus. The historian Johann Martin Lappenberg is the first modern scholar to connect the Suardones to the Sweodweras of Widsith, but if they are in fact the Saxons, then their fate is very much known as a major Northern European group which retains a recognisable identity for centuries, while their neighbouring tribes are eventually subsumed by the growing power and dominance of the Danes.

fl c.531

Hadugato

Acclaimed by Adam of Bremen as 'duke' of Saxons (a leader).

c.531 - 532

The Franks of Austrasia conquer the Thuringians to the immediate south-east of the Saxons (after which event Hadugato is mentioned as duke of the Saxons). Portions of Thuringian territory are subsequently lost to the Saxons on the north-west border.

The Education of the Children of Clovis by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
Like their powerful father, the children of Clovis probably received the warrior's education they would have needed in the constant fighting both within and without the various Merovingian kingdoms, such as Austrasia

These Saxons are probably part of the main body of Continental Saxons, but there also seems to be a reverse migration of Germanics from the east coast of Britain, where the recent native victory at Mons Badonicus has cut them off from the acquisition of new lands. These returning Angles and Saxons appear to be given land in Thuringia by King Theuderich of Austrasia. Warrior groups of Thuringians are soon to be found in another Frankish conquest, that of Alemannia, where they act as part of the governing Frankish authority.

536

The Eucii, or Saxones Eucii, are associated with the Saxons by this point, which is when they become dependants of the Franks. Some scholars identify these people with the Jutes who have been settled in Britain for almost a century. Instead, these Eucii may be an obscure tribe known as the Euthiones who are also associated with the Saxons in a poem by Venantius Fortunatus (written in 583).

fl c.550s

Hulderic

fl c.550s

Alof the Great

Female leader. Mother-in-law to Halga of the Danes (c.520s).

578

Chilperic, king of the Franks, sends an army to fight Waroch of Bro Erech along the Vilaine. The Frankish army consists of units from Anjou, Bayeux, Maine, Poitou, and Touraine. The Baiocassenses, the 'men from Bayeux', are Saxons. They in particular are routed by the Bretons over the course of three days of fighting. Waroch is forced to submit in the end, and pays homage by sending his son as a hostage and agreeing to pay an annual tribute. He subsequently breaks the latter promise, but Chilperic's dominion over the Bretons (or at least their eastern borders) is relatively secure as evidenced by Venantius Fortunatus' celebration of it in a poem.

Map of Western Europe at the death of Clovis in AD 511
This map shows the state of the Frankish kingdom at Clovis' death in 511, plus the general location of the Saxon lands (click or tap on map to view full sized)

587 - 590

Gunthchramn of Burgundy compels Waroch of Bro Erech to renew his oath in writing and demands a thousand solidi in compensation for raiding Nantes within the Breton March. That compensation has not been paid by 588, even though Waroch has promised it both to Gunthchramn and Chlothar II of the Franks. In 589 or 590, Gunthchramn sends an expedition against Waroch under the command of Beppolem and Ebrachain. Ebrachain is an enemy of Fredegund, queen consort to the late King Chilperic, and it is she who sends the Saxons of Bayeux to aid Waroch.

Beppolem fights Waroch alone for three days before dying, at which point Waroch attempts to flee to the Channel Islands (suggesting a Breton defeat). Ebrachain destroys his ships and forces him to accept renewed peace, the renewal of his oath, and surrendering a nephew as a hostage. Despite all of this, the Bretons retain their spirit of independence and refuse to be cowed by the powerful Franks.

early 600s

Boddic

? - 627

Berthoald / Berthoala / Berthold

'Duke of the Saxons'. Killed in battle.

622

King of the Franks, Chlothar II, gives Austrasia to his son, Dagobert I, effectively granting the kingdom semi-autonomy in repayment for the support of its nobles, most notably Pepin I, mayor of the palace of Austrasia. The Saxons have been paying tribute to the Franks at the rate of four hundred cows a year until this year (alternatively shown as 631). The Liber Historiae Francorum (of AD 727) and the Gesta Dagoberti (of the 830s) both describe Berthoald's revolt against Frankish authority, beginning with the defeat of Dagobert. Clothar is forced to intervene and Berthoald is slain in battle. The Saxons pay a heavy price for their revolt, with many being killed in retaliation.

fl c.660s-690s

Sighard

Son of Berthoald? Father of Theoderic?

Dietrich

678 - 690

The English Bishop Wilfred arrives in Frisia and the Anglo-Saxon Christianisation of the Germanic lands begins, although the first mission is quickly aborted. A second attempt in 690 proves much more successful and for the best part of a century churchmen and monks crisscross the English Channel or North Sea, intent on spreading the Christian faith amongst their Germanic cousins who border the Merovingian Frankish kingdom. There is special interest in the conversion of the German Saxons, whom the English consider their kinsfolk.

Saxon warriors
The average Saxon warrior of the seventh century would have looked very familiar to anyone coming from Saxon Britain, despite changes to dress there brought about by influences from the Romano-British

fl c.743 - 744

Theoderic / Theodoric

Captured in 744.

743 - 744

The Carolingian mayors of the Merovingian palace, Pepin the Short and Carloman, march first against the Bavarians and then against the Saxon leader, Theoderic, for his non-payment of the supposedly-restored annual tribute. Despite the loss to the Saxons of the castrum of Hohseoburg a repeat invasion has to be mounted in 744. This time Theoderic is captured. Wernicke, his possible replacement, is the father of Widukind, the great Saxon leader against Frankish repression following the creation of the Saxon March.

? - 768

Wernicke

Related to Theoderic? Died.

772

An opening skirmish in a fresh series of conflicts is struck when Charlemagne's Frankish empire destroys the Saxon sanctuary of Irminsul. Apparently the sanctuary takes the form of a sacred pillar - probably a tree, and specifically an oak - but its exact nature has been the subject of somewhat intense scholarly debate.

775

According to the Royal Frankish Annals, the lands of the Angrivarii are conquered in this year by Charlemagne after they have besieged the Frankish court at Fritzlar. The Angrian commanders conclude a separate peace agreement with the Carolingian empire near Bückeburg, removing themselves from the destructive Carolingian-Saxon wars to follow, while the Saxons themselves are forced to accept incorporation as a Frankish Saxon March (border territory).

Saxon March (Saxony)
AD 775 - c.832

The Saxon March was formed in 775 out of the great swathe of territory that was controlled by the Saxons in what is now northern Germany (a 'march' being a border territory, just like that of Mercia in England). Following the gradual fading and collapse of the Roman empire, the Saxons had become relatively important in the region. Their tribal collective (and territory) was probably swelled by the absorption of other tribes, forming a large coalition in the territory between modern Berlin and the northern Frisian coast in what became known to émigré Saxons as Old Saxony.

However, unlike the similar Bavarian confederation, the Saxons were not politically united. Their independent edhelingi (nobles) lived on rural lands in forest clearings while they dominated the frilingi (freemen), lazzi (half-free), and unfree members of Saxon society. Raids into the rich Frankish kingdom were commonplace, often triggering punitive expeditions by Charlemagne between 772-804, with each one biting a little deeper into the heart of Old Saxony and doing yet more damage in the way of massacres, Christian conversions, and deportations.

The creation of the Saxon March in 775 was a Frankish attempt to place some framework of order on the region, as well as perhaps officially defining its borders. Internally, though, all it did was rally resistance against the Franks under a single leadership and a degree of unity. Widukind (Withukund or Wittekind, sometimes nicknamed 'the Great') succeeded longer than any other leader in holding together a majority of Saxon chieftains in armed resistance to the Franks. Ultimately, internal feuding led to his capitulation, and around twenty years later the Saxons would finally be subdued.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Oxford History of England: The English Settlements, J N L Meyers, from The Oxford History of England: Anglo-Saxon England, Sir Frank Stenton, from Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians 751-987, R McKitterick (1983), from The Anglo-Saxon Age c.400-1042, D J V Fisher, from The Ethnology of Germany Part 3: The Migration of the Saxons, Henry H Howorth (Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol 7, 1878), from The History of the Franks, Volume II, Gregory of Tours (O M Dalton, Trans, 1967), from Wulf and Eadwacer, from From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms, Thomas F X Noble, from the Codex Gothanus, Lupus Servatus (commissioned by Eberhard of Friuli), from Res Gestae, Ammianus Marcellinus, and from External Links: The Latin Library, and the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, and the Medieval Sourcebook: Gregory of Tours (539-594): History of the Franks: Books I-X (Fordham University), and Encyclopaedia Britannica.)

fl c.777 - 785

Widukind / Withukund the Great

Chief antagonist against Charlemagne. Son of Wernicke.

777 - 778

Widukind is first mentioned by the Frankish Annals when he fails to attend Charlemagne's court at Paderborn alongside his fellow Saxon nobles. Instead he is visiting one 'Sigfred, king of the Danes' - probably Sigurd, son of the present king. In 778, and despite their peace agreement of 775, the Angrivarii invade the Frankish Rhineland while Charlemagne is busy in the south, dealing with events in Iberia, although this appears to be their last direct involvement in affairs.

Charlemagne
Charlemagne unified all the Frankish states under one ruler and created an empire that stretched deep into modern Germany, something the Romans had never managed - but this vast domain was too big to endure long as a single entity after his death

781

The Annalista Saxo records that Charlemagne establishes the bishoprics of Bremen, Halberstadt, Hildesheim, Verden, Paderborn, Minden, Münster, and Osnabrück in Saxony.

782 - 784

The Saxon Wars begin against the Carolingian empire when Widukind succeeds (probably after some years of trying) in securing the support of the other Saxon nobles in throwing off Frankish domination. It is one of Charlemagne's toughest conquests, taking a total of twenty-seven years. The fighting, by all accounts, is brutal, with little restraint or humanity being shown by either side. Saxon paganism, toughness, and ruthlessness perhaps foreshadows the future ferocity of their northern cousins, the Vikings. The mass execution of Saxons at Verdun in 782 has to be one of Charlemagne's darkest hours.

785

The Saxons have secured help from the Frisians, but even so Charlemagne drives Widukind and his forces back into the heartland of their territory. Widukind and his colleague or co-leader, Abo. are forced into a surrender in return for clemency and they accept Christianity. Both are baptised at Attigny, along with many of their people, although Widukind is imprisoned in a monastery for the rest of his life. Even so, he later becomes an almost mythological hero figure to many Germanic rulers, including the Saxon Ottonians and Billungs, and Matilda, wife to Henry I of England, all of whom claim him as an ancestor.

fl c.785 - 811

Abo / Abi

Successor to or colleague of Widukind. 'Count' in 811.

791 - 804

Pepin of Italy marches a Lombard army into the Drava valley to ravage Pannonia, with Duke Eric of Friuli assisting him. This strike is a diversionary tactic so that Charlemagne is able to take his own forces along the Danube into Avar territory. He suffers the loss of most of his army's horses to an equine epidemic during the summer of 791, and some of his more recently-acquired subjects rebel.

In 792 Charlemagne breaks off from his campaign to handle such a revolt by the Saxons, but Pepin and Eric continue to attack the Avars, taking their capital twice. The Avars are forced to submit in 796. The Saxon revolt, however, rumbles on until 803/4.

Map of the Frankish Empire in AD 800
Charlemagne at Paderborn
Charlemagne received the surrender of the Saxons at Paderborn in 785 after two hard years of fighting against a people who were determined to retain their independence, while above is a map of Frankish-dominated Europe around AD 800 (click or tap on map to view full sized)

804 - c.832

The Saxon Wars come to an end with the Carolingian empire annexing the Saxon state. The Franks now move northwards, finding themselves on the border with the Danes, who immediately respond to their threat by erecting defensive works.

In Saxony itself the Frankish local territorial administration unit, the pagus (which itself is a descendant of Roman organisation) is presumably introduced only after a certain degree of internal stability is achieved following the peace of 803/4. The '-gau' suffix that is applied to the names of local administrative units appears in imperial diplomas from the mid-ninth century. It is unlikely that this is a purely Saxon term as it is used in relation to pagi that are located in all of the original German provinces.

Dukes of Saxony (Hattonids) (Comes et Saxoniae patriae marchio)
c.AD 832 - 840

The Saxon Wars came to an end around AD 832 when the Carolingian empire was able to annexe the Saxon state. While the Franks were able to focus their next efforts at conquest along the border with the Danes, changes were being enacted in Saxony. The Frankish local territorial administration unit, the pagus (which itself was an adaptation of Roman organisation) is presumed to have been introduced only after a certain degree of internal stability had been achieved following the peace of 803 or 804. The '-gau' suffix that is applied to the names of local administrative units in Saxony appears in imperial diplomas from the mid-ninth century. It is unlikely that this is a purely Saxon term as it is used in relation to pagi that are located in all of the original German provinces.

Banzleib of the Hattonid family was a mid-ninth century Frankish magnate in the Carolingian empire. When the Saxon lands of what is now north-western Germany were organised into the duchy of Saxony, he was appointed by Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne, as the comes et Saxoniae patriae marchio, 'count of the Saxon border people', while seemingly retaining the title of count of Maine in the former Frankish kingdom of Neustria (the use of Saxoniae patriae marchio has been translated online as 'people and land' or the 'Saxon fatherland', but 'marchio' is the Latinised form of 'march', meaning a border zone, which clearly refers back to the Saxon March, the controlled or sanitised part of Saxon lands). The position seemingly stood above that of the dukes of Saxony. They claimed that title in direct succession to Widukind as the immediate ancestors of the Liudolfings, with Bruno III the main claimant when Banzleib was appointed. Unfortunately for Banzleib, he later supported the wrong side in the civil war which arose between Louis' sons.

By this time, the former Angrivarii tribe are believed to have been known as the Angrarii of Engern, one of three subdivisions of Saxony, the others being Westfalahi and Ostfalahi (all of which are in the modern German states of Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia). Their steady transformation from Germanic tribe to German province over the course of seven centuries provides a revealing insight into the early days of the creation of modern Germany.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians 751-987, R McKitterick (1983), from The History of the Franks, Volume II, Gregory of Tours (O M Dalton, Trans, 1967), from From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms, Thomas F X Noble, from the Codex Gothanus, Lupus Servatus (commissioned by Eberhard of Friuli), from Popular Revolt, Dynastic Politics, and Aristocratic Factionalism in the Early Middle Ages: The Saxon Stellinga Reconsidered, Eric J Goldberg (Speculum, Vol 70, No 3, Jul 1995), and from External Links: the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, and the Medieval Sourcebook: Gregory of Tours (539-594): History of the Franks: Books I-X (Fordham University), and from Encyclopaedia.com.)

832? - 840

Banzleib

Count of Maine (Neustria, 832). Dispossessed. Killed?

838 - 840

Banzleib is recorded as being count of Maine in the former Frankish kingdom of Neustria in 832, but is confirmed as also being the comes et Saxoniae patriae marchio in 838. Presumably he is granted the title soon after 832, when the Saxon lands have been reorganised following their capture by the Carolingians.

Map of Western Europe at the death of Clovis in AD 511
This map shows the state of the Frankish kingdom at Clovis' death in 511, with the kingdom of Neustria being known as Paris in its early stages (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Louis the Pious wills the Frankish empire to his sons in 840, but tries to ensure that the eldest gains the biggest share, in order to avoid the fragmentation of territory that so weakened the Merovingians. Lothar receives Middle Francia (the Rhine corridor including the kingdom of Burgundy, and Italy); Charles the Bald receives Western Francia (France and the duchy of Burgundy); and Louis the German receives East Francia (Germany, including Alemannia, Bavaria, Khorushka, and Saxony, plus regions that are already emerging as Franconia and Thuringia).

One of Louis the German's first acts - in December 840 - is to dispossess Banzleib of Saxony. Louis shares a mutual antipathy with the Hattonids, and East Francia's formation had already threatened to dispossess them of territory on the east side of the Rhine. Banzleib may even be killed in battle against Louis while defending his claim to Saxony. The title of comes et Saxoniae patriae marchio is granted instead to Warin, abbot of Corvey, son of Wigebart (Eckbert) of the Liudolfings.

840 - c.850?

Warin

Abbot of Corvey. Supported East Francia.

840 - 843

Lothar of Middle Francia initially claims overlordship over all three regions of the inherited regions, and Louis and Charles have to go to war to convince him to relent. The Treaty of Verdun, signed in 843, recognises the division of the empire. Warin seemingly holds the title of comes of the Saxons until around 850, by which time his nephew, Liudolf the Great has already secured control of the Saxon lands as the first (recognised) duke of Saxony.

Duchy & Kingdom of Saxony (Liudolfings & Ottonians)
AD 844 - 962

The Liudolfingers and Ottonians claimed descent from Widukind the Great of Saxony. Following his defeat in AD 785, two generations of his descendants were powerful figures in Saxony's late pre-conquest period - in the form of Wigebart (Eckbert) and Bruno III (otherwise unknown) - but they were not consensual leaders in the way that Widukind had been. It was the third generation of Widukind's descendants who apparently achieved that position (albeit questionably), beginning the process of cementing post-conquest Saxony into a single state.

The man in question was Liudolf, who was dux Orientalium Saxonum (duke of the eastern Saxons) and 'Graf von Sachsen' from AD 844, following his father's death in 843. He was already a duke of Saxony and 'Margrave de Saxe-Orientale (margrave of eastern Saxony) from 840 until about 850, and also graf of Wormsgau. The precise extent of Liudolf's leadership status and his exact legal relationship with the German king are unclear. Several early sources refer to Liudolf as dux, but there is no record of his formal appointment as Saxon leader. It may be the case that such an appointment passed to him, unrecorded or not worthy of mention, around 850 from Warin, the last of two appointments of a comes et Saxoniae patriae marchio, 'count of the Saxon border people', the first of whom was a Hattonid.

Liudolf may have enhanced his position by marrying Oda, daughter of a Frankish or Saxon lord named Billung (the Billungs would soon become important in Saxony's history). Improved in stature, he was able to marry off one of his own daughters to Louis the Younger of East Francia while a son, Bruno (clearly named for his grandfather) inherited his position and status without apparent question. Bruno's brother, Otto, became powerful enough to be a credible candidate for the royal succession after the extinction of the Carolingian dynasty in 911. In turn his son, Heinrich (Henry the Fowler), was elected king of Germany in 919 (East Francia).

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians 751-987, R McKitterick (1983), from The History of the Franks, Volume II, Gregory of Tours (O M Dalton, Trans, 1967), from From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms, Thomas F X Noble, from the Codex Gothanus, Lupus Servatus (commissioned by Eberhard of Friuli), from Popular Revolt, Dynastic Politics, and Aristocratic Factionalism in the Early Middle Ages: The Saxon Stellinga Reconsidered, Eric J Goldberg (Speculum, Vol 70, No 3, Jul 1995), and from External Links: the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, and the Medieval Sourcebook: Gregory of Tours (539-594): History of the Franks: Books I-X (Fordham University), and from Encyclopaedia.com.)

? - 827/34

Wigebart / Withert / Wicibert

Son of Widukind the Great. A duke of Saxony.

827 - 843

Bruno / Brunhart III

Son. Margrave and a duke of Saxony.

840 - 843

Lothar of Middle Francia initially claims overlordship over all three regions of the inherited Carolingian regions, and his brothers, Louis and Charles, have to go to war to convince him to relent. The Treaty of Verdun, signed in 843, recognises the division of the empire. Warin, abbot of Corvey and son of Wigebart (Eckbert), seemingly holds the title of comes et Saxoniae patriae marchio in Saxony until around 850, by which time his nephew, Liudolf the Great has already secured control of the Saxon lands as the first (recognised) duke of Saxony.

Map of the Frankish empire at the Treaty of Verdun AD 843
King Louis the Pious of the Frankish empire attempted to leave the empire intact for his eldest son, Lothar, but the others rebelled at the idea. The treaty of Verdun in AD 843 confirmed the official division of the empire between Charlemagne's three surviving grandsons (click or tap on map to view full sized)

844 - 864

Liudolf the Great

Son. Margrave and duke of Saxony.

864

Liudolf is the first acknowledged overlord of all of the Saxons, rather than a leading noble. The status of Widukind's leadership in the late eighth century is uncertain, but seems to have been based more on the necessity to have a single acknowledged battle leader rather than his being the ruler of the Saxons. Liudolf is mentioned in the Annales Alamannicorum as 'Ludolfus dux Saxoniæ avus Heinrici' (Liudolf, grandfather of Henry, duke of the Saxons) amongst those who swear allegiance to the king of East Francia.

after 852 - 880

Bruno / Brunhart (IV)

Son. Died on campaign.

876

The death of Louis the German results in his territory being divided between his three sons. This is something that he had already foreseen, and portions of territory had been appointed to each of them in 865. Now in a peaceful succession, Carloman inherits Bavaria and the Ostmark, Louis the Younger gains Franconia, Saxony, and Thuringia, while Charles the Fat succeeds to Rhaetia and Alemannia (Swabia). As the oldest son, Carloman also retains de facto dominance over the Eastern Franks as a whole.

This could be the point at which Saxon Hessengau passes to Franconia (which itself could also explain why Henry of Franconia (882-886) is sometimes known as margrave or count of Saxony). It is also the point at which a clear nobility begins to emerge in the future Hesse.

Fritzlar in Hesse
The Conradine success at the Battle of Fritzlar in 906 in Frankish Hessengau (immediately south of Saxon Hessengau) saw them reach the peak of their power, although this depiction of Fritzlar dates from the seventeenth century

880

Bruno dies either crossing a flooded river or in battle whilst undertaking an expedition against the Danes. The battle would be Lüneburg Heath, otherwise known as the Battle of Ebstorf in Saxon lands. This would place Bruno as a servant of Louis the Younger of East Francia (entirely likely), who is fighting a large body of Danes which had previously formed the 'Great Heathen Army' which had ravaged England for several years and had resulted in the creation of the Danelaw kingdom of East Anglia. The German forces are destroyed, but the Danish army is similarly destroyed at Thimeon in the same month.

880 - 912

Otto the Illustrious

Brother. Died in his seventies or older.

881 - 882

Charles the Fat succeeds as titular head of the Frankish empire in German lands, holding the position as Emperor Charles III. He is crowned by Pope John VIII. In the following year, 882, Louis the Younger dies and Charles, as the last remaining of the three brothers, inherits his territories of Bavaria, Franconia, Saxony, and Thuringia, thereby reuniting East Francia following its division in 876.

888 - 918

Under Otto, Saxony emerges as one of the more powerful stem duchies in East Francia (under the kings of Germany), once the formal split is made between East and West Franks.

Charles the Fat
Charles the Fat (not necessarily living up to his descriptive sobriquet) welcomes messengers into his tent as titular head of the Frankish empire, as depicted in the fourteenth century Grandes Chroniques de France

912 - 936

Henry I the Fowler / Heinrich

Son. King of Germany (918-936).

936 - 974

Otto I the Great

Son. King of Germany (936). King of Italy (961). HRE (962).

936

German expansion to the east begins in earnest when territory on the western side of the Oder is incorporated into two border zones or 'marches'. The northernmost of the two is the march of the Saxon family of the Billungs while the North March neighbours it to the south, with the march of Lusatia (Lausitz) to its own south. The main target of conquest both now and for several decades previously is the Polabian Slavs of the Elbe.

946 - 955

Agapetus is a surprisingly strong-willed Pope for this period. He appeals to Otto I to end the stranglehold of Alberic II of Spoleto over the papacy. The appeal has little immediate effect, until after Otto gains much greater power in 962.

948

Otto secures the powerful duchy of Swabia for his son, Ludolph. This comparatively new duchy, one of five and therefore extremely powerful in medieval Germany, includes the Alsace region, just as the Alemanni kingdom had done so before it.

953

Feeling that his position is threatened by his father's marriage to Adelaide, heiress of Italy, Ludolph of Swabia joins forces with his brother-in-law, Conrad the Red, duke of Lorraine, in revolt. Ludolph is supported by the Swabians, but Conrad fails to gain the same support from his own subjects. Otto I and Henry I of Bavaria defeat the rebellion. The following year, Ludolph is deprived of his title.

Otto I of Swabia
Duke Otto I of Swabia, grandson of Otto I the Great of Saxony, and also duke of Bavaria and Carinthia, is seen here on the right with his sister, Abbess Mathilda

961 - 962

Berengar II of Ivrea, king of Italy, is defeated by Otto I, which allows Italy itself to be officially incorporated into the expanding Germanic empire. With Otto's success the power of the Germanic Roman empire is confirmed, and Otto is quite vigorous in establishing new counties and border areas within and without the empire's borders. With he and his immediate family now concerned with imperial affairs, governance of Saxony is largely handed to his Billung relatives.

Duchy of Saxony (Billungs)
AD 962 - 1106
Incorporating the March of the Billungs

The duchy of Saxony had been formed gradually, over the course of less than a century during the days of the Saxon March and the subsequent pacification of the Saxons under a Carolingian comes (count) of the Saxon people. The emergence of an indigenous nobility around the same time led to the Liudolfings and their Ottonian descendants claiming the title of duke of Saxony without, it seems, any opposition. Their descent from Widukind the Great, chief defender of the Saxons against Charlemagne, probably explains that. In AD 961 Otto the Great was able to claim the title of Germanic Roman emperor. With he and his immediate family now concerned with imperial affairs, governance of Saxony was largely handed to his Billung relatives.

The Billungs also claimed descent from Widukind the Great. Their family had been joined to that of the Liudolfings through marriage by Liudolf, the first undisputed and politically dominant duke of Saxony, so it would have been natural to place a Billung relative in such a position of responsibility. Although significant central cohesion was achieved in Germany by the Ottonian emperors in the tenth century, Saxony itself maintained a considerable level of autonomy. Hermann Billung was appointed military chief in Saxony by Emperor Otto I and was referred to as dux (duke) from 965, but not necessarily of Saxony.

The ducal title attributed to the Billung dukes was at first not linked specifically to the territory of Saxony in contemporary documentation. Perhaps this was due to the largely military-orientated authority of the title-holder and the focus of his efforts on protecting the eastern frontier against the various tribes of Slavs, and to expanding Saxony's territory into that frontier along the Baltic coast. From the late tenth century onwards, contemporary sources do name a single dux in Saxony at any one time. Nevertheless, it is more appropriate to refer to Duke Hermann and his immediate successors as dukes 'in Saxony' rather than 'of Saxony'.

In AD 936 enthusiastic German expansion to the east of Saxony was triggered when territory on the western side of the Oder was incorporated into two border zones or 'marches'. The northernmost of the two was the 'March of the Billungs', neighboured to its south by the North March, with the march of Lusatia (Lausitz) to the south of that. The main target of conquest was the Polabian Slavs of the Elbe. The Slavic revolt of 983 threw off Saxon control of the march, with the harried Saxons only just able to prevent Slavic incursion into their own lands.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians 751-987, R McKitterick (1983), from The History of the Franks, Volume II, Gregory of Tours (O M Dalton, Trans, 1967), from From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms, Thomas F X Noble, from the Codex Gothanus, Lupus Servatus (commissioned by Eberhard of Friuli), from Popular Revolt, Dynastic Politics, and Aristocratic Factionalism in the Early Middle Ages: The Saxon Stellinga Reconsidered, Eric J Goldberg (Speculum, Vol 70, No 3, Jul 1995), and from External Links: the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, and the Medieval Sourcebook: Gregory of Tours (539-594): History of the Franks: Books I-X (Fordham University), and from Encyclopaedia.com.)

962 - 973

Hermann Billung

Military chief in Saxony to Emperor Otto. Dux from 965.

962

With the accession of the Saxon king, Otto I, the power of the Germanic Roman empire is confirmed. Otto is quite vigorous in establishing new counties and border areas within and without the empire's borders. The county of Ardennes under Sigfried gains the stronghold of Lucilinburhuc (the later Luxemburg), Arnulf I the Elder is restored in Flanders, and the march of Austria is formed (or confirmed) from territory already captured from Hungary (around 960).

Map of Germany AD 962
Germany in AD 962 may have had its new emperor to govern the territories shown within the dark black line, but it was still a patchwork of competing interests and power bases, most notably in the five great stem duchies, many of which were attempting to expand their own territories outside the empire, creating the various march or border regions to the east and south (click or tap on map to view full sized)

At the same time, Saxony gains Hermann Billung as its duke, charged with maintaining the duchy's eastern borders and expanding them further to the east, alongside the recently-created North March. Perhaps as a reaction to this or as the culmination of a process that is already heading that way, the duchy of Poland is formed around the same time.

973 - 1011

Bernard I

Son. Dau Othelindis m Dirk III of West Frisia.

983

The Slavic revolt of the marches sees the Polabian Slavs, plus the Lutici and Obotrite tribes, on the east bank of the Elbe rise up against German overlordship. Faced with a drive to convert them to Christianity as a way of integrating them into the German empire, they take the rare act of organising under Lutici leadership and destroy several churches and settlements. The Saxons are only just able to defend the line of the Elbe, but the 'March of the Billungs' and the North March are lost.

1011 - 1059

Bernard II

Son. Relationship troubled with HRE Henry II.

1024

Following the end of the Ottonian line of Saxon emperors, Franconia becomes the territorial heartland of the succeeding emperors, many of whom have their power base here. Conrad VI, husband of Gisela, daughter of Duke Herman II of Swabia, seemingly now gains the duchy of Franconia. Now he is a candidate for the throne of the Holy Roman empire, which he successfully gains.

Hohenstaufen coat of arms
The Hohenstaufen family of Swabia gained a strong foothold on power in the late eleventh century and went on to supply an entire dynasty of German emperors which included Frederick Barbarossa

1059 - 1072

Ordulf

Son. m dau of Olaf II of Norway.

1072 - 1106

Magnus

Son. Last of the Billungs. Died with no son to succeed him.

1079

With the removal of Swabia from the control of the former rival for the imperial title, Rudolph of Rheinfelden, the Swabian Hohenstaufen family of nobles gains the duchy through Frederick's marriage to Agnes of Germany, granddaughter of Henry I the Black (former Franconian emperor). Frederick is opposed by Rudolph's son, Berthold, while the latter is in exile in Saxony.

1106

The choice of Lothar of Süpplingenburg to succeed Magnus Billung as duke of Saxony after the extinction of the Billung family in the male line in 1106 is a compromise. The two more obvious candidates are Henry the Black, soon to be duke of Bavaria, and Otto, count of Ballenstedt of the Ascanian dynasty, both sons-in-law of Duke Magnus. However, Lothar greatly strengthens Saxon power and effectively transforms himself into the head of a Saxon nation.

Duchy of Saxony (Supplinburgs)
AD 1106 - 1127

The duchy of Saxony formed over the course of less than a century during the days of the Saxon March. By the mid-ninth century the Liudolfings and their Ottonian descendants were able to claim the title of duke of Saxony without any apparent opposition, probably thanks to their descent from Widukind the Great. In AD 961 Otto the Great was able to claim the title of Germanic Roman emperor, with governance of Saxony being passed on to his Billung relatives.

The choice of Lothar of Süpplingenburg (Supplinburg) by Emperor Henry V to succeed as duke of Saxony after the extinction of the Billung family in the male line in 1106 marked a turning point in Saxon history. Lothar's appointment was designed to limit the growing influence of the two more obvious candidates, the husbands of Magnus Billung's two daughters, Henry the Black, soon-to-be duke of Bavaria, and Otto, count of Ballenstedt of the Ascanian dynasty.

Far from being a mere stopgap candidate, however, Lothar created a powerful new force in Saxon politics. He was fortunate in expanding his own territorial holdings through inheritance. He also extended ducal authority into the northern frontier area of Nordalbingia and brought under his control the western part of the duchy. He created many new counties (and counts) which were directly responsible to him. Within a few years, Duke Lothar had effectively transformed himself into the head of a Saxon nation, when he broke Germanic imperial power in Saxony in 1115, rebelling against his former patron for his increasing autocratic governance. He further demonstrated his autonomy in 1123 with two key appointments and then, in 1125, succeeded as Holy Roman emperor himself.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The History of the Franks, Volume II, Gregory of Tours (O M Dalton, Trans, 1967), from From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms, Thomas F X Noble, from the Codex Gothanus, Lupus Servatus (commissioned by Eberhard of Friuli), from Popular Revolt, Dynastic Politics, and Aristocratic Factionalism in the Early Middle Ages: The Saxon Stellinga Reconsidered, Eric J Goldberg (Speculum, Vol 70, No 3, Jul 1995), and from External Links: the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, and from Encyclopaedia.com.)

1106 - 1127

Lothar III of Supplinburg

Son of Count Gebhard of Supplinburg. HRE (1125-1137).

1115

Duke Lothar effectively transforms himself into the head of a Saxon nation when he breaks Germanic imperial power in Saxony following a long-simmering dispute between himself, Emperor Henry V, and several other notable German leaders. The Battle of Welfesholz, near Mansfeld, is fought on 11 February 1115 between Saxon forces and the imperial army, with the latter being sent into flight. Henry V is denied power over Saxony.

Lothar of Supplinberg and Holy Roman emperor
Lothar III of Supplinberg became duke of Saxony through his marriage to Richenza, daughter of Count Henry of Northeim, his inheritance of that title and of the domains of the Billungs, and his initial support for Emperor Henry V

1123

Lothar further demonstrates his autonomy from imperial control in 1123 with two key appointments. He confers the margraviate of Lusatia on Albert 'the Bear', count of Ballenstedt (and soon also to be margrave of the North March), and the margraviate of Meissen on Conrad of Wettin.

1125

By now, Duke Lothar has risen to such prominence that he is elected king of Germany following the death of Henry V. After his accession to the German throne, Lothar retains Saxony in his own hands. He pursues the policy of creating new counts, including those of Wöltingerode, Wernigerode, Scharzfels, Ilfeld-Honstein, and perhaps Rothenburg. This further complicates the political scene in Saxony as these new creations are, by definition, imperial not ducal fiefs. The result is that later dukes are never the sole imperial fiefholders in the province, although the personal territorial holding in Saxony of each successive duke is significant.

1127

Lothar's daughter, Gertrude, marries Henry the Proud, duke of Bavaria, margrave of Tuscany and, through that latter title, duke of Spoleto. A strong supporter of Lothar who had helped him in his bid for the German throne in 1125, Henry now gains control of Saxony as the first of the Welf dukes.

Duchy of Saxony (Welfs)
AD 1127 - 1138

The Billungs had governed the duchy of Saxony from AD 962, shortly after the last of the Ottonian dukes, Otto the Great, was able to claim the title of Germanic Roman emperor and required his relatives to manage Saxony. When the last of the Billungs, Duke Magnus, died in 1106, he had no son to succeed him. Instead, two of the best-placed candidates were the husbands of his daughters. These were Henry the Black, soon to be duke of Bavaria, and Otto, count of Ballenstedt of the Ascanian dynasty. However, the compromise selection of Lothar of Supplinburg proved to be pivotal for the duchy.

Lothar of Supplinburg was selected by Emperor Henry V, initially because he had been a strong supporter of the emperor. But Henry's autocratic instincts soon turned even Lothar against him. Instead Lothar removed imperial control over Saxony in 1115 and then in 1125 became Germanic emperor himself. In 1127 his daughter, Gertrude, married Henry the Proud, duke of Bavaria, margrave of Tuscany and duke of Spoleto, and Henry was granted control of Saxony thanks to his firm loyalty to Lothar. As the empire was rife with opposition between the emperor's supporters and the Hohenstaufens (partially due to a struggle for control of Swabia), the same situation was repeated in Saxony, with some conflict arising. The Hohenstaufens eventually went on to become Holy Roman emperors while the Welfs lost out and were granted the duchy of Brunswick as compensation.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The History of the Franks, Volume II, Gregory of Tours (O M Dalton, Trans, 1967), from From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms, Thomas F X Noble, from the Codex Gothanus, Lupus Servatus (commissioned by Eberhard of Friuli), from Popular Revolt, Dynastic Politics, and Aristocratic Factionalism in the Early Middle Ages: The Saxon Stellinga Reconsidered, Eric J Goldberg (Speculum, Vol 70, No 3, Jul 1995), from Albrecht der Bär, Lutz Partenheimer (Böhlau Verlag, 2003, in German), and from External Links: the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, and from Encyclopaedia.com.)

1127 - 1138

Henry II (IV) Welf 'the Proud'

Henry X of Bavaria. Margrave of Tuscany (1136).

1136

Henry takes part in a campaign against the kingdom of Sicily which is undertaken by his father-in-law, Emperor Lothar II. Lothar is impressed with Henry's military capabilities during the campaign, and in reward makes him margrave of Tuscany.

Henry X the Proud of Bavaria and II of Saxony
As Henry X of Bavaria and Henry II of Saxony, Henry the Proud was a powerful supporter of Emperor Lothar II in Germany, and an opponent of the Hohenstaufens

1137 - 1138

The rivalry for the imperial title between Emperor Lothar and his main rival, Frederick II of Swabia, has a destabilising effect on Germany as a whole. Emperor Lothar and his Hohenstaufen successors in Franconia are supported by Louis I of Thuringia, but Lothar dies in 1137 on the way back from his campaign against the kingdom of Sicily.

The election is held to select the next emperor in 1138, but Henry the Proud is defeated as a candidate by Conrad Hohenstaufen of Franconia. Tensions between Conrad and Henry quickly escalate and he is relieved of Bavaria and Saxony in the same year. He fights on against his Ascanian replacement in Saxony.

Duchy of Saxony (Ascanians)
AD 1138 - 1142

The Billungs had governed the duchy of Saxony from AD 962, shortly after the last of the Ottonian dukes, Otto the Great, was able to claim the title of Germanic Roman emperor and required his relatives to manage Saxony. When the last of the Billungs, Duke Magnus, died in 1106, he had no son to succeed him. Instead, two of the best-placed candidates were the husbands of his daughters. These were Henry the Black, soon to be duke of Bavaria, and Otto, count of Ballenstedt of the Ascanian dynasty. However, the compromise selection of Lothar of Supplinburg proved to be pivotal for the duchy.

Lothar removed imperial control over Saxony in 1115 and then in 1125 became Germanic emperor himself. In 1127 his daughter, Gertrude, married Henry the Proud, son of Henry the Black, and this Henry gained the control of Saxony that his father had failed to achieve. As the empire was rife with opposition between the emperor's supporters and the Hohenstaufens (partially due to a struggle for control of Swabia), the same situation was repeated in Saxony, with some conflict arising.

The election for a new emperor was held in 1138, but as duke of Bavaria and Saxony, margrave of Tuscany, and also duke of Spoleto, Henry the Proud was defeated as a candidate by Conrad Hohenstaufen of Franconia. Tensions between Conrad and Henry quickly escalated and the latter was officially relieved of Bavaria and Saxony in the same year. He fought on against his Ascanian replacement in Saxony - Albert the Bear, son of Otto of Ballenstedt and margrave of the North March (he had been deprived of Lusatia in 1128) - and had all but secured control. A planned attack on Bavaria for 1139 was halted at the last minute by Henry's unexpected death. Albert was restored in his control of Saxony.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The History of the Franks, Volume II, Gregory of Tours (O M Dalton, Trans, 1967), from From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms, Thomas F X Noble, from the Codex Gothanus, Lupus Servatus (commissioned by Eberhard of Friuli), from Popular Revolt, Dynastic Politics, and Aristocratic Factionalism in the Early Middle Ages: The Saxon Stellinga Reconsidered, Eric J Goldberg (Speculum, Vol 70, No 3, Jul 1995), from Albrecht der Bär, Lutz Partenheimer (Böhlau Verlag, 2003, in German), and from External Links: the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, and from Encyclopaedia.com.)

1138 - 1142

Albert I 'the Bear'

Margrave of North March. Formed Brandenburg (1136).

1138 - 1139

Although he has been appointed to govern Saxony by the new Hohenstaufen emperor of Germany, Conrad III, Albert experiences some difficulties. Although Henry the Proud, former duke of Saxony, has been removed from his position he is fighting on to re-secure Saxony by force of arms. He largely does so by 1139 - along with taking Brandenburg - and is poised to mount an invasion of Bavaria in order to retake that too, but his sudden death ends the plan.

Albert the Bear
During his career, Albert 'the Bear' started out as margrave of Lusatia, gained the North March, lost Lusatia, gained Saxony, turned the North March into Brandenburg, and gave up Saxony to accept the counties of Orlamünde and Weimar (External Link: Creative Commons Licence 2.0 Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike Generic)

1142

Albert achieves peace with the son of Henry the Proud, Henry the Lion, eventually to be duke of Bavaria. Having done so he renounces his claim to Saxony and accepts in its place the counties of Orlamünde and Weimar (later to be a Saxon possession known as Saxe-Weimar). Henry the Lion succeeds him as the (restored) Welf duke of Saxony.

Duchy of Saxony (Welfs Restored)
AD 1142 - 1180

With the end of the Billungs as dukes of Saxony, the title had passed to Lothar of Supplinburg to keep it out of the hands of competing Welfs and Ascanians. That decision by the Germanic Roman emperor had proved pivotal for Saxony. Lothar removed imperial control over Saxony in 1115 and then in 1125 became Germanic emperor himself. In 1127 his daughter, Gertrude, married Henry the Proud, son of Henry the Black of the Welf dynasty of Bavaria, and this Henry gained the control of Saxony that his father had failed to achieve.

As the empire was rife with opposition between the emperor's supporters and the Hohenstaufens (partially due to a struggle for control of Swabia), the same situation was repeated in Saxony, with some conflict arising. An election for a new emperor was held in 1138, but as duke of Bavaria and Saxony, margrave of Tuscany, and also duke of Spoleto, Henry the Proud was defeated as a candidate by Conrad Hohenstaufen of Franconia. Tensions between Conrad and Henry quickly escalated and the latter was officially relieved of Bavaria and Saxony in the same year. He fought on against his Ascanian replacement in Saxony - Albert the Bear, son of Otto of Ballenstedt and margrave of Brandenburg - and had all but secured control. A planned attack on Bavaria for 1139 was halted at the last minute by Henry's unexpected death. Albert was restored.

However, Albert never really gained any solid control of Saxony and, in 1142, he achieved peace with the son of Henry the Proud, Henry the Lion, eventually to be duke of Bavaria. Having done so he renounced his claim to Saxony and accepted in its place the counties of Orlamünde and Weimar (later to be a Saxon possession known as Saxe-Weimar). Henry the Lion succeeded him as the (restored) Welf duke of Saxony. Unfortunately for Henry, the rivalry between him and the Saxon nobility intensified after his installation, aggravated by his acquisition of numerous additional territories by inheritance or aggression. The power struggle culminated in the 1166/1170 rebellion of princes who considered their positions to be threatened by Duke Henry's expansionism (which included obtaining Bavaria in 1156). In the end, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa removed Henry in 1180. This paved the way for the Ballenstedt family of Ascanians to take control and heralded the end of the old stem duchy in favour of a more fractured series of territories.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The History of the Franks, Volume II, Gregory of Tours (O M Dalton, Trans, 1967), from From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms, Thomas F X Noble, from the Codex Gothanus, Lupus Servatus (commissioned by Eberhard of Friuli), from Popular Revolt, Dynastic Politics, and Aristocratic Factionalism in the Early Middle Ages: The Saxon Stellinga Reconsidered, Eric J Goldberg (Speculum, Vol 70, No 3, Jul 1995), from Albrecht der Bär, Lutz Partenheimer (Böhlau Verlag, 2003, in German), and from External Links: the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, and from Encyclopaedia.com.)

1142 - 1180

Henry III (V) Welf 'the Lion'

Son of Henry the Proud. Duke Henry XII of Bavaria.

1164

Despite Pomerania already being Christianised, and increasingly Germanised, bishops and dukes from the Holy Roman empire continue to mount expeditions into Pomerania. The Battle of Verchen in 1164 makes Pomerania a vassal of Henry the Lion.

Henry the Lion and Matilda
Henry's second marriage was to Matilda, daughter of Henry II of England, but his eventual conflict with Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa cost him his lands and titles

1180

Henry refuses to follow his cousin, HRE Frederick Barbarossa, into war in Lombardy. In punishment for this the stem duchy is greatly reduced by the emperor. Westphalia is handed to the archbishop of Cologne, complete with most parts of Angria (the former Angrivarii tribal lands). The duchies of Brunswick and Lüneburg remain under the control of the Welfs, while the County Palatine of Saxony is handed to Louis III, landgrave of Thuringia (he promptly passes it onto his brother, the future Landgrave Herman I, in 1881). Pomerania is taken by Barbarossa.

The Ascanian dukes receive the Saxon ducal title. However, their dynastic focus has always lain towards the eastern side of Saxony, especially given their history in Lusatia and the North March (now Brandenburg). Their base remains in Lusatia and Thuringia, near the Elbe, resulting in the name of 'Saxony' migrating eastwards.

Duchy of Saxony (Ballenstedt Ascanians)
AD 1180 - 1272

With the accession of Lothar of Supplinburg as duke of Saxony in 1106, the duchy found itself being vastly strengthened. Lothar removed imperial control in 1115 and then in 1125 became Germanic emperor himself. In 1127 his daughter, Gertrude, married Henry the Proud of the House of Welf, soon to be duke of Bavaria in a time in which the empire was struggling against increasingly likely Hohenstaufen control. When the Hohenstaufen Conrad of Franconia was elected emperor in 1138, Henry the Proud was soon relieved of Bavaria and Saxony in favour (in the latter) of an Ascanian replacement: Albert the Bear, margrave of Brandenburg.

However, Albert never really gained solid control of Saxony and, in 1142, he achieved peace with the son of Henry the Proud, Henry the Lion, eventually to be duke of Bavaria himself. Henry the Lion succeeded him as the (restored) Welf duke of Saxony. Unfortunately for Henry, the rivalry between him and the Saxon nobility intensified after his installation, culminating in the 1166/1170 rebellion of princes who considered their positions to be threatened by Henry's expansionism. In the end, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa removed Henry in 1180, paving the way for the Ballenstedt branch of Ascanians to take control. The first duke was Bernard III, youngest of the seven sons of Albert the Bear.

The Ascanians received the Saxon ducal title, but with the vast Saxon lands being broken up at the same time. This was a period of territorial fracturing in German lands which was ending the old stem duchies and creating a patchwork of lesser holdings. Saxony fared no different than any of them. Sections were handed over to outside interests to be removed from the Saxon sphere of influence (and in some records the numbering of princely officeholders is restarted from scratch, although this habit was not universally followed. It has also not been followed in the list below, although the restarted alternatives are offered in parentheses).

The rich western areas - Westphalia, formerly part of Old Saxony, but only later becoming part of the post-Carolingian duchy of Saxony - were granted to the archbishop of Cologne, complete with most parts of Angria (the former Angrivarii tribal lands) which soon became obsolete as a designation. The County Palatine of Saxony was handed to Louis III, landgrave of Thuringia (who promptly passed it onto his brother, the future Landgrave Herman I, in 1181). The duchies of Brunswick and Lüneburg remained under the hand of the Welfs. Pomerania was taken by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa himself. The Ascanians had their base further east in Lusatia, near the Elbe, resulting in the name of Saxony migrating eastwards.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The History of the Franks, Volume II, Gregory of Tours (O M Dalton, Trans, 1967), from From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms, Thomas F X Noble, from the Codex Gothanus, Lupus Servatus (commissioned by Eberhard of Friuli), from Popular Revolt, Dynastic Politics, and Aristocratic Factionalism in the Early Middle Ages: The Saxon Stellinga Reconsidered, Eric J Goldberg (Speculum, Vol 70, No 3, Jul 1995), from Albrecht der Bär, Lutz Partenheimer (Böhlau Verlag, 2003, in German), and from External Links: the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, and from Encyclopaedia.com.)

1180 - 1212

Bernard III (II)

Son of Albert the Bear. Count of Anhalt & Ballenstedt.

1212

Upon the death of Bernard III the rules governing inheritance within the Ascanians means that his territory is divided. The eldest son, Henry, receives Anhalt, while his brother, Albert, gains Saxony. The fact that Saxony is seen as the lesser of the two territories reveals how much it has been reduced by the actions of 1180.

Codex Manesse, Henry, count of Anhalt
Henry, count (and prince from 1218) of Anhalt is portrayed in the Codex Manesse, which was copied and illustrated in Zurich between 1305-1340

1212 - 1260

Albert II (I)

Son. Margrave of Brandenburg (1205-1260).

1260

It had been Bernard III who had moved his court and primary residence to Wittenberg which straddles the River Elbe. Now, upon the death of his son, it is his grandsons who effectively partition the remaining Saxon lands. At first the division is largely theoretical, but it appears to take effect from or soon after 1272, and is further affirmed in 1296.

1260 - 1272

John I

Son. Ruled Saxe-Lauenburg after 1272.

1260 - 1272

Albert III (II)

Brother. Ruled jointly. Ruled Saxe-Wittenberg after 1272.

1272 - 1356

At some point after 1272, and by 1296 at the latest, John and Albert divide their Saxony between them. Saxe-Lauenburg is formed in the west while Saxe-Wittenberg is formed in the east. The combined duchy is the seat of one of the prince-electors of the Holy Roman empire, so there is some conflict between the two divisions as to who should retain the position.

Duchy of Saxe-Wittenberg
AD 1272 - 1356

Once a powerful medieval stem duchy under Lothar of Supplinburg, Saxony found itself at odds with the Hohenstaufen German emperors by the end of the twelfth century. Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa removed the incumbent Welf dynasty duke in 1180, paving the way for the Ballenstedt branch of Ascanians to take control. At the same time the vast Saxon lands were broken up, with sections being handed over to outside interests to be removed from the Saxon sphere of influence (in some records the numbering of princely officeholders is restarted from scratch, although this habit was not universally followed. It has not been used in the list below, although the restarted alternatives are offered in parentheses).

The rich western areas - Westphalia, formerly part of Old Saxony, but only later becoming part of the post-Carolingian duchy of Saxony - were granted to the archbishop of Cologne. The County Palatine of Saxony was handed to Louis III, landgrave of Thuringia (who promptly passed it onto his brother, the future Landgrave Herman I, in 1181). The duchies of Brunswick and Lüneburg remained under the hand of the Welfs. Pomerania was taken by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa himself. The Ascanians had their base further east in Lusatia, near the Elbe (the family also held Brandenburg), resulting in the very name of Saxony migrating eastwards. Wittenberg, seat of the dukes from 1260, remained the seat of the House of Ascania until its extinction at the death of Albert II in 1422.

As if to demonstrate how far reduced Saxony's importance had become, in 1212 the rules governing inheritance within the Ascanian dynasty meant that the territory was further divided. The eldest of the late duke's sons, Henry, received Anhalt, while his brother, Albert, gained Saxony, the lesser of the two. In 1260, these remaining Saxon lands were again partitioned. At first the division was largely theoretical, but it appeared to take firm effect from or soon after 1272, and was further affirmed in 1296. Saxe-Lauenburg was formed in the western section while the east was rebranded as Saxe-Wittenberg. The combined duchy was the seat of one of the prince-electors of the Holy Roman empire, so there was initially some conflict between the two divisions as to who should retain the position. In 1314 the two princes found themselves on opposite sides of a double election and, eventually, the Saxe-Wittenbergers under Rudolf succeed in gaining the upper hand, adopting the title 'Elector of Saxony'.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The History of the Franks, Volume II, Gregory of Tours (O M Dalton, Trans, 1967), from From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms, Thomas F X Noble, from the Codex Gothanus, Lupus Servatus (commissioned by Eberhard of Friuli), from Popular Revolt, Dynastic Politics, and Aristocratic Factionalism in the Early Middle Ages: The Saxon Stellinga Reconsidered, Eric J Goldberg (Speculum, Vol 70, No 3, Jul 1995), from Albrecht der Bär, Lutz Partenheimer (Böhlau Verlag, 2003, in German), and from External Links: the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, and from Encyclopaedia.com, and Cranach Digital Archive (in German and English), and Special Collections (University of Arizona).)

1272 - 1298

Albert III (II)

Former duke of Saxony (1260).

1285 - 1288

John I of Saxe-Lauenburg abdicates his position in favour of his three sons, all of whom are still minors. In theory at least Saxony overall is still governed between the three new dukes and their uncle, Albert III of Saxe-Wittenberg. Albert, though, has already positioned himself as the senior figure in this relationship. Just three years later he requests of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph I of Habsburg that his son (another Rudolf) be named as the official elector of Saxony.

Duke Albert III (II) of Saxony 1272-1298
Duke Albert III (II) of Saxony is pictured by Lucas Cranach the Younger between 1578-1580, painted on canvas and later laminated onto wood, and today owned by Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum

1290 - 1296

Albert gains the county of Brehna for 'his' Saxony in 1290, shortly after its control has reverted to the empire following the extinction of its rulers. In 1295 he gains the county of Gommern, the same year in which he agrees with Wenceslas II of Bohemia to elect Adolf of Nassau-Weilburg as the next emperor. This is the last time that Albert is officially noted as working alongside his three nephews of Saxe-Lauenburg (still minors), with them all being classed as joint electors. The division of Saxony is confirmed by 1296.

1298 - 1356

Rudolf I

Son. A minor. 'Elector of Saxony' (1314).

1298 - 1302

Agnes of Habsburg

Mother & regent. Daughter of HRE Rudolf I.

1314

The two princes of Saxony - Rudolf I of Saxe-Wittenberg and John II of Saxe-Mölln-Bergedorf (the successor to Saxe-Lauenburg) - are on opposite sides of a double election. Eventually the Saxe-Wittenbergers under Rudolf succeed in gaining the upper hand. To distinguish himself from other, now lesser, dukes of Saxony, Rudolf adopts the title 'Elector of Saxony'.

1347

Playing an increasingly important role as one of the new emperor's main supporters, Rudolf now gains the territory of Altmark from Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. The Elbe is now the border between Saxony and Brandenburg, which is currently a possession of those Ascanian opponents, the Wittelsbachs.

1355 - 1356

Emperor Charles IV issues his Golden Bull at the end of 1355. It lays down the redrafted laws for the Holy Roman empire, one of which stipulates the role of primogeniture, ensuring that only the eldest son or the valid next in line succeeds to a title and its territory.

Emperor Charles IV releases his Golden Bull
Towards the end of 1355 and in early 1356 Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV agreed with his prince electors a new treatise which regulated the emperor's position and the right of succession amongst all the princes

Rudolf and Saxe-Wittenberg are confirmed as the elector and electorate of Saxony respectively. Saxe-Lauenburg in its currently-divided format as Saxe-Mölln-Bergedorf and Saxe-Ratzeburg now formally loses any right to the role, along with the privileges it confers. Rudolf dies in March 1356, but his son is able to succeed him as prince-elector of Saxony.

Electorate of Saxony (Saxe-Wittenberg)
AD 1356 - 1547

The once powerful duchy of Saxony had been divided in 1180 by the Hohenstaufen German emperor, Frederick Barbarossa. The Ballenstedt branch of Ascanians took control of the eastern remnants, but with a focus that was much farther eastwards when compared to that of their predecessors. The 'lost' western territory eventually became known as Upper Saxony, and was largely subsumed within Westphalia and Brunswick. The eastern lands around the Lower Elbe became Lower Saxony, and this is where the name of 'Saxony' survived until the end of the German empire in 1918. Wittenberg, seat of the Saxon dukes from 1260, remained the seat of the House of Ascania until its extinction at the death of Albert IV in 1422.

That same year, 1260, saw the remaining Saxon lands again being partitioned. At first the division was largely theoretical, but it appeared to take firm effect from or soon after 1272, and was further affirmed in 1296. Saxe-Lauenburg was formed in the western section while the east was rebranded as Saxe-Wittenberg. The combined duchy was the seat of one of the prince-electors of the Holy Roman empire, so there was initially some conflict between the two divisions as to who should retain the position. In 1314 the two princes found themselves on opposite sides of a double election and, eventually, the Saxe-Wittenbergers under Rudolf I succeed in gaining the upper hand, adopting the title 'Elector of Saxony'.

As with many German states during the second millennium AD, territory continued to be divided with formal and permanent divisions between heirs, and some of these were never undone by succeeding generations. In fact, there could sometimes be as many dukes as there were heirs, although only one branch of the family would ever retain the important and powerful position of elector. The complicated divisions and swapping of territory and names become incredibly complex at times, but they are covered in brief below. The role of the senior Saxon duke as one of the seven electors of the empire was irrevocably confirmed in 1356 by the Golden Bull of Emperor Charles IV, which also decreed that the duke of Saxony should be imperial administrator of any territory which was subject to Saxon law in the absence of the emperor. The Saxe-Wittenbergers were thereby confirmed as electors.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The History of the Franks, Volume II, Gregory of Tours (O M Dalton, Trans, 1967), from From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms, Thomas F X Noble, from the Codex Gothanus, Lupus Servatus (commissioned by Eberhard of Friuli), from Popular Revolt, Dynastic Politics, and Aristocratic Factionalism in the Early Middle Ages: The Saxon Stellinga Reconsidered, Eric J Goldberg (Speculum, Vol 70, No 3, Jul 1995), from Albrecht der Bär, Lutz Partenheimer (Böhlau Verlag, 2003, in German), and from External Links: the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, and from Encyclopaedia.com, and Cranach Digital Archive (in German and English), and Special Collections (University of Arizona).)

1356 - 1370

Rudolf II 'the Blind'

Son of Rudolf I of Saxe-Wittenberg. Died without an heir.

1369

Rudolf had fought a series of minor wars against his Wettin neighbours of the margraviate of Meissen following their increasing claims of right of ownership of his own lands, which had virtually left the electorate penniless. Rudolf has generally enjoyed a quieter (and poorer) time of his later years. Now, however, he asserts his right of lordship over Lüneburg when Prince William II dies without a direct male heir. He awards it to Albert, William's grandson and Rudolf's own nephew.

Lüneburg Hanseatic town
Lüneburg had been Lower Saxony's only member of the Hanseatic League of trading ports, and it remained an important principality during the later centuries of the Holy Roman empire

1370 - 1388

Wenzel / Wenceslaus

Brother. Defeated and died soon after.

1388

It had been the Golden Bull of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV in 1356 which had granted the electors of Saxony supreme rights over Brunswick and Lüneburg. Despite this, others had disagreed. Rudolf's exercising of his right in 1369 had triggered the Lüneburg War of Succession in 1370. Now, eighteen years later, Duke Wenceslaus irrevocably loses that claim when he is defeated at the Battle of Winsen an der Aller. He dies in the same year, although the circumstances are disputed.

1388 - 1419

Rudolf III

Son. Probably poisoned while relieving Bohemia.

1419 - 1422

Albert IV (III) 'the Poor'

Brother. Numbering ignores Saxe-Lauenburg.

1422

Rudolf III had already outlived his male heirs before he had probably been poisoned on his way to provide relief for the imperial forces in Bohemia. His younger brother, Albert, had succeeded him as ruler of the impoverished electorate for just three years before a hunting accident now kills him (he dies of shock a few days after a near-fatal fire at the farmhouse which has been serving him).

He is the last of the Ascanians. With no heir, the emperor cedes the electorate to Margrave Frederick I of Meissen, creating a Wettin electorate of Saxony. This is protested by Eric V of Saxe-Lauenburg in the hope that he can regain the electorate for his branch of Saxony's royalty, but to no avail.

Electorate of Saxony (Wettins)
AD 1422 - 1485

In 1314 the two Saxon princes - of Saxe-Lauenburg and Saxe-Wittenberg - found themselves on opposite sides of a double election for the Holy Roman empire. Eventually, the Saxe-Wittenbergers under Rudolf I succeed in gaining the upper hand, adopting the title 'Elector of Saxony'. As with many German states during the second millennium AD, territory continued to be divided with formal and permanent divisions between heirs, and some of these were never undone by succeeding generations. In fact, there could sometimes be as many dukes as there were heirs, although only one branch of the family would ever retain the important and powerful position of elector.

The role of the senior Saxon duke as one of the seven electors of the empire was irrevocably confirmed in 1356 by the Golden Bull of Emperor Charles IV, which also decreed that the duke of Saxony should be imperial administrator of any territory which was subject to Saxon law in the absence of the emperor. The Saxe-Wittenbergers were thereby confirmed as electors.

The death in 1422 of Elector Albert IV, nicknamed 'the poor' due to the impoverished nature of his state, left it without an heir. He was the last descendant in the male line of the Ballenstedt dynasty. A fresh appointment was in the emperor's hands, so Emperor Sigmund appointed his faithful servant, Friedrich IV 'der Streitbare' (meaning 'arguable, warlike, belligerent'), markgraf (margrave) of Meissen (from 1407). Ironically it had been against the Wettins of Meissen that the Saxons had fought several conflicts in the fourteenth century. Friedrich's descendants continued to rule Saxony until the end of the First World War.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms, Thomas F X Noble, from the Codex Gothanus, Lupus Servatus (commissioned by Eberhard of Friuli), from Popular Revolt, Dynastic Politics, and Aristocratic Factionalism in the Early Middle Ages: The Saxon Stellinga Reconsidered, Eric J Goldberg (Speculum, Vol 70, No 3, Jul 1995), from Albrecht der Bär, Lutz Partenheimer (Böhlau Verlag, 2003, in German), and from External Links: the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, and from Encyclopaedia.com, and Cranach Digital Archive (in German and English), and Special Collections (University of Arizona), and Triumph for the heretics: the Battle of Aussig, Alexander Querengässer (Medieval Warfare Medieval Warfare, Vol 5, No 2, Karwansaray BV, 2015, and available via JSTOR).)

1423 - 1428

Frederick I 'the Warlike'

Duke & elector. Margrave Frederick IV of Meissen.

1425

On the death of Frederick's childless brother, William II of Meissen, Frederick inherits all of his holdings and is now the possessor of all Wettin holdings other than the landgraviate of Thuringia. That belongs to his cousin, Frederick IV of Thuringia.

The Hussite wars
As a staunch supporter of Emperor Sigismund, king of Bohemia, Frederick the Warlike, prince-elector of Saxony, found himself caught up in the Hussite wars

1426

Frederick I the Warlike leads his Saxon army to near-slaughter at the Battle at Aussig on 16 June 1426 (now Ústí nad Labem in Czechia). The city had been founded by German settlers the second half of the thirteenth century following an invitation by King Ottokar II of Bohemia. In 1423 Emperor Sigismund had pledged the town to Elector Frederick who had soon placed a Saxon garrison there.

With the Bohemian proto-Protestant Hussites now besieging it, a German army of seventy thousand is sent to relieve it. The twenty-five thousand Hussites slaughter them on Sunday 16 June, and then storm the town on the Monday, razing it to the ground. It takes three years before rebuilding work begins.

1428 - 1464

Frederick II 'the Gentle'

Son. Fought Saxon Fratricidal War over Thuringia.

1440 - 1451

The death of the childless Frederick IV, landgrave of Thuringia, means that his lands are inherited by Frederick II (as Frederick V of Thuringia) and his brother, William  III. Unfortunately, disagreements between Frederick and William lead to the Saxon Fratricidal War between 1446-1451, with no clear winner and a peace treaty to end it.

1445 - 1482

William (III) 'the Brave'

Brother. Meissen & Thuringia. Duke of Luxemburg (1439).

1464 - 1485

Ernest

Son of Frederick II. Ernestines founder in Saxe-Thuringen.

1482

Ernest succeeds his uncle, William III, as landgrave of Thuringia upon the latter's death. The Wettin lands are now united under a single ruler, although that does not long remain the case.

Princes Ernest and Albert of Saxony
As young princes, the two brothers, Ernest and Albert, ride in front of their father, Frederick the Gentle (sometimes called 'the meek')

1464 - 1485

Albert 'the Bold'

Brother. Founder of the Albertine Line in Saxe-Meissen.

1485

Ernest and Albert divide the Wettin territories between them under the terms of the Treaty of Leipzig, otherwise known as the 'Partition of Leipzig'. The division is generally between the Saxon and Thuringian halves, with Ernest retaining the Saxon part as the prince-elector of the duchy of Saxe-Thuringen. Albert gains the Thuringian part as the duke of Saxe-Meissen. Two pockets of territory to the east of the main holdings remain shared.

Electorate of Saxony (Saxe-Thuringen)
1485 - 1553

Saxe-Thuringen was a descendant of the electorate of Saxony which had been reconstituted in 1356 in the form of Saxe-Wittenberg. The role of the senior Saxon duke as one of the seven electors of the Holy Roman empire was irrevocably confirmed in 1356 by the Golden Bull of Emperor Charles IV, which also decreed that the duke of Saxony should be imperial administrator of any territory which was subject to Saxon law in the absence of the emperor.

The Saxe-Wittenbergers were thereby confirmed as electors, although there could sometimes be as many Saxon dukes as there were heirs. As with many German states during the second millennium AD, territory continued to be divided with formal and permanent divisions between heirs, and some of these were never undone by succeeding generations. Only one branch of the family would ever retain the important and powerful position of elector though.

The death in 1422 of Elector Albert IV, nicknamed 'the poor' due to the impoverished nature of his state, left it without an heir. He was the last descendant in the male line of the Ballenstedt dynasty. A fresh appointment was in the emperor's hands, so Emperor Sigmund appointed his faithful servant, Friedrich IV 'der Streitbare'. Ironically it had been against the Wettins of Meissen that the Saxons had fought several conflicts in the fourteenth century. Friedrich's descendants continued to rule Saxony until the end of the First World War.

The Wettin Duke Ernest of Saxony became sole ruler of all of the Wettin territories in 1482, upon the death of his uncle, William III, landgrave of Thuringia. In 1485 he and his brother, Albert the Bold, agreed under the terms of the Treaty of Leipzig (or 'Partition of Leipzig') to divide their Wettin territories between them. The division was generally between the Saxon and Thuringian halves, with Ernest retaining the Saxon part as the prince-elector of the duchy of Saxe-Thuringen. Albert gained the Thuringian part as the duke of Saxe-Meissen. Two pockets of territory to the east of the main holdings remained shared. However, this division actually harmed the prospects of a central German unified state emerging. It took another three centuries and the rise of Brandenburg Prussia for that to happen. Duke Ernest and his Ernestine line of dukes held the all-important title of prince-elector for only a few generations. The junior branch in Saxe-Meissen eventually gained the title of prince-elector for itself.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Albrecht der Bär, Lutz Partenheimer (Böhlau Verlag, 2003, in German), and from External Links: the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, and from Encyclopaedia.com, and Cranach Digital Archive (in German and English), and Special Collections (University of Arizona), and Triumph for the heretics: the Battle of Aussig, Alexander Querengässer (Medieval Warfare Medieval Warfare, Vol 5, No 2, Karwansaray BV, 2015, and available via JSTOR), and Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911 Edition.)

1485 - 1486

Ernest

Elector. Founder of the Ernestine Line of Saxony.

1486

Just nine months after signing the Treaty of Leipzig to formalise the division of Wettin lands between himself and his brother, Albert 'the Bold', duke of Saxe-Meissen, Ernest takes a fall from his horse. He dies on 26 August at the young age of forty-six.

Maximilian I of Austria and the Holy Roman empire
The sole heiress of Burgundy, Mary, married Maximilian of Austria, who became Holy Roman emperor in 1493 while also personally ruling Belgium, Burgundy, the Netherlands, and Austria

1486 - 1525

Frederick III 'the Wise'

Son & elector. Defended Martin Luther. Died unmarried.

1495 - 1502

Frederick is one of a group of princes who press the need of reform upon Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I in 1495. In 1500 he becomes president of the newly-formed council of regency (Reichsregiment). A keen student himself, two years later he founds the University of Wittenberg, to which is appointed Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon as professors.

1520 - 1521

A papal bull is issued by Pope Leo X Medici which orders Martin Luther's writings to be burned and the reformer to be restrained or sent to Rome. Frederick refuses to obey it. In 1521, Luther is placed under an imperial ban by the diet at Worms, so Frederick protects him at his castle at the Wartburg.

1525 - 1532

John 'the Constant'

Brother & elector.

1527

John continues the work of his late brother by establishing supporting ties with Duke Philip I of Hesse to further the Protestant reform. In this year he creates the state-supported Lutheran Church in Saxony which model soon spreads outside its borders.

1531

Many of the empire's princes and lords are organised by Elector John and Duke Philip I of Hesse to form the Schmalkaldic League when meeting at the town of Schmalkalden in Thuringia. Both have seen increasingly that there are moves by the Catholic leaders to provide a unified response to what they see as the Protestant 'threat', and they realise that the Protestant leaders need to be similarly unified in their response.

Religious Colloquium of Marburg 1529
In 1529 Philip paid host to Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli at the Religious Colloquium of Marburg, accompanied by some of their followers including Melanchthon (as shown in this wood carving of 1557)

1532 - 1553

John Frederick I 'the Magnanimous'

Son & elector. Defeated. Imprisoned 1547-1552.

1532 - 1542

John Ernest

Brother. Joint ruler. Then in Saxe-Coburg. Died 1553.

1542

John Frederick the Magnanimous and John Ernest have ruled jointly for the first decade following the death of their father. Now John Frederick decides to rule alone, so the Franconian areas of the Wettin family lands (Coburg and Eisfeld) are divided from Saxe-Thuringen to form Saxe-Coburg for John Ernest.

1546 - 1547

Holy Roman Emperor Charles V sees the tide of conversions to Protestant rites as a move by the many princes and lords of the empire to gain more autonomy from imperial governance. Now that Charles has returned from his war in Italy, the two sides concentrate their forces, with Charles intent on destroying the Protestant league.

Elector John Frederick is distracted by his cousin, Duke Maurice of the Albertine Saxe-Meissen, invading his lands, and ultimately the league is defeated in the Schmalkaldic War. John is captured and is forced to sign the Capitulation of Wittenberg, losing both his status as an elector and some of his lands to Maurice. The Albertines retain the electorship permanently while Saxe-Coburg is now free of interference from Saxe-Thuringen.

The Schmalkaldic League
The Schmalkaldic League was formed in 1531 during a meeting of German princes and dukes in the town of Schmalkalden in Thuringia.

1553

Saxe-Thuringen is divided into Saxe-Gotha and Saxe-Weimar by the sons of John Frederick I. The eldest becomes Duke John Frederick II of Saxe-Gotha while also being the dominant authority in Saxe-Eisenach and Saxe-Coburg. John William receives Saxe-Weimar. Weimar had previously been outside Saxon control, having been granted to Albert the Bear, Ascanian duke of Saxony, when he had relinquished that title in 1142. It is the electorate of Saxe-Meissen which is now and remains the senior Saxon line, even eventually being elevated to the status of kingdom.