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European Kingdoms

Central Europe

 

Electorate of Saxony (Saxe-Wittenberg) (German Empire)
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 which 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.

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).)

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 electorate 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.

Saxony

(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.

Saxony

(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.

 
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