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Saxe-Gotha (Saxony)
AD 1553 - 1572

The electorate of Saxe-Thuringen was a descendant of the once-much larger electorate of Saxony which in 1356 had been rebuilt 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 that year 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 death in 1422 of Elector Albert IV left his state without an heir, so Emperor Sigmund appointed his faithful servant, the Wettin noble, Friedrich IV of Meissen. Friedrich's descendants continued to rule Saxony until the end of the First World War. Duke Ernest became sole ruler of all of the Wettin territories in 1482. 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 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.

Duke Ernest and his Ernestine line held the all-important title of prince-elector for only a few generations. The dukes of Saxe-Thuringen were heavily involved in the Protestant Reformation - Martin Luther was appointed by Duke Frederick III to the University of Wittenberg and was subsequently heavily protected by him. Ultimately, although they served the cause productively, the fortunes of the dukes themselves took a sharp downturn when defeated by the Holy Roman emperor in 1547. The title of prince-elector was transferred to Saxe-Meissen, while Saxe-Coburg had already been divided away for the duke's younger brother. Upon the death of John Frederick I in 1553, Saxe-Thuringen itself was divided to form Saxe-Weimar and Saxe-Gotha.

(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, and Saxe-Weimar (Worldstatesmen).)

1554 - 1566

John Frederick II

Son of John Frederick I of Saxe-Thuringen. Died in 1595.

1563 - 1566

John Frederick continues to pursue the aim of regaining his family's lost territory and the Saxon electorship which has been lost to Saxe-Meissen. John's able military commander, Wilhelm von Grumbach, attacks Würzburg in furtherance of this aim. The city is captured and plundered, with the chapter and bishop being compelled to restore the duke's lost lands.

Map of German states AD 1560
Introduced in 1560, the system of imperial states replaced the now-outdated feudal system, with an imperial circle ('reichskreis') being a regional grouping of the imperial states (click or tap on map to view full sized)

1566 - 1567

John Frederick is placed under the imperial ban in November 1566, but he refuses to obey the emperor even though he has now effectively been removed as duke of Saxe-Gotha. Elector Augustus of Saxony, the target of Grumbach's attacks, launches his own attack. The people of Gotha fail to rise up in support of John Frederick so the town is taken. Grumbach is handed over to Augustus (following which he is tortured and executed in 1567).

John Frederick is besieged in his Gotha fortress at the end of 1566, and then is imprisoned by the emperor. His brother, John William, duke of Saxe-Weimar, who had taken part in the siege against him, is gifted sole control of the duchy.

1566 - 1572

John William

Brother. Duke of Saxe-Weimar.

1572 - 1641

John William has angered the emperor and even his own subjects by supporting the Catholic French against the Protestant Huguenots. The emperor has encouraged the surviving sons of John Frederick II to agitate against John William so that, by 1572, the 'Division of Erfurt' is concluded.

As part of an ongoing German pattern of sub-dividing their imperial territories, Saxe-Gotha is now partitioned to form the junior subdivisions of Saxe-Coburg - for John Casimir - and Saxe-Eisenach for John Ernest. Duke John William himself retains a rump Saxe-Weimar, while adding Saxe-Altenburg and Saxe-Meiningen and keeping Gotha itself. Saxe-Gotha re-emerges as a definitive entity in 1641.

Saxe-Gotha (Saxony)
AD 1641 - 1680

The death in 1422 of Elector Albert IV of Saxony left his state without an heir, so Emperor Sigmund appointed his faithful servant, the Wettin noble, Friedrich IV of Meissen. In 1485 Friedrich and his brother, Albert the Bold, agreed under the terms of the Treaty of Leipzig (or 'Partition of Leipzig') to divide their 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.

The all-important title of prince-elector was transferred to Saxe-Meissen in 1547, while Saxe-Coburg had already been divided away for the duke's younger brother. Upon the death of Duke John Frederick I in 1553, Saxe-Thuringen itself was divided to form Saxe-Weimar and Saxe-Gotha (both in their initial guises). The complicated story of divisions and mergers then saw the end of Saxe-Gotha's initial phase of existence in 1572, when it was partitioned to form the junior subdivisions of Saxe-Coburg (in its second guise) and Saxe-Eisenach.

In 1602, after one generation, Saxe-Eisenach's holdings were handed out to the newly created Saxe-Altenburg and to Saxe-Weimar. With the newly-matured sons of the late Frederick William II now demanding their inheritance from John II of Saxe-Weimar, he gave them Saxe-Altenburg while he retained the smaller creation of Saxe-Weimar-Jena, more usually known simply as Saxe-Jena. Politically-speaking, Saxe-Weimar essentially ceased to exist for the period between 1603-1641.

The year 1641 proved to be an important one. The combination of territories which had formed Saxe-Altenburg and Saxe-Weimar were, on 22 September 1641, divided into recreations of Saxe-Gotha (for two generations of dukes), Saxe-Weimar (for Duke William, son of John II of the first creation of Saxe-Weimar, after previously having held Saxe-Jena from his attainment of adulthood in 1620), and Saxe-Eisenach (for Albert IV). The latter lasted just three years before it too was divided up between Saxe-Weimar and Saxe-Gotha.

(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, and Saxe-Gotha (Worldstatesmen).)

1641 - 1675

Ernest I 'the Pious'

Son of John II (Saxe-Weimar). Duke of Saxe-Altenburg (1672).

1644

Albert IV of Saxe-Eisenach dies without having produced an heir, just three years after assuming control of his territories. His titles and lands are divided between William in Saxe-Weimar and his brother Ernest in Saxe-Gotha.

Frederick William I of Saxe-Weimar
Frederick William I of Saxe-Weimar was only too keen on assisting in the running of Saxe-Meissen and the electorate, but in doing so he largely abandoned his own domains to the care of his brother, John II, father of Ernest 'the Pious'

1656

Saxe-Meissen is partitioned by Elector John George's successors into a smaller Saxe-Weissenfels, Saxe-Merseburg, and Saxe-Zeitz. The agreement is confirmed by Saxe-Meissen's John George II and his brothers in 1657, with the aim being to avoid fratricidal disputes over the succession. Now reduced, Saxe-Meissen continues to retain the electorship under John George II. He remains the senior of the four brothers, and the remaining portions of Saxe-Meissen remain part of the senior division.

1662

Saxe-Eisenach reappears (for two generations), formed out of Saxe-Weimar following the death of Duke William. One of his four sons, Adolf William, receives it, although he has to share it with a younger brother, John George. Both Saxe-Jena (which lasts for two generations), and Saxe-Marksuhl are also partitioned out of Saxe-Weimar.

1671 - 1672

With the untimely death in 1671 of the young and sickly William Augustus, Saxe-Eisenach goes to John George of Saxe-Marksuhl, who governs his territory from the small town of Marksuhl.

In the following year (1672) another death, this time of Frederick William III of Saxe-Altenburg, means that his heirless lands are partitioned. Saxe-Eisenach, still held by Saxe-Marksuhl, gains some territory out of this, Saxe-Jena has already been gained by Bernhard, brother of John Ernest II of Saxe-Weimar, and the rest of Saxe-Altenburg is gained by Ernest 'the Pious' of Saxe-Gotha.

The market place of Saxe-Marksuhl, with the castle tower in the background
Modern Marksuhl's immaculate market place is shown here, with the castle tower rising in the background as part of the home of the dukes of Saxe-Marksuhl

1675 - 1680

Frederick I

Son. Became duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg (1680).

1676 - 1680

Under the rules of governance, Frederick I must share power with his many brothers. This arrangement survives for just a year, faltering in 1676. Negotiations begin between the brothers to provide separate territories for each of them, with agreement being reached in 1680.

Then the duchy is divided for the seven sons of Duke Ernst der Fromme ('the Pious'). It is partitioned between (and into) Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg, Saxe-Coburg, Saxe-Meiningen, Saxe-Römhild, Saxe-Eisenberg, Saxe-Hildburghausen (1680-1826), and Saxe-Saalfeld.

Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg (Saxony)
AD 1680 - 1826

The German habit of encouraging territorial fragmentation in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw Saxony gradually being divided into ever-smaller pockets of land. Even before the all-important title of prince-elector was transferred to Saxe-Meissen in 1547, Saxe-Coburg had already been divided away as a separate holding. In 1553, Saxe-Thuringen itself was divided to form Saxe-Weimar and Saxe-Gotha (in their initial guises).

The complicated story of divisions and mergers then saw the end of Saxe-Gotha's first phase of existence in 1572, when Saxe-Coburg was restored and Saxe-Eisenach was created. In 1602 the latter was itself divided between Saxe-Altenburg and Saxe-Weimar. With the newly-matured sons of the late Frederick William II now demanding their inheritance from John II of Saxe-Weimar, he gave them Saxe-Altenburg while he retained the smaller creation of Saxe-Weimar-Jena, more usually known simply as Saxe-Jena. Saxe-Weimar was recreated in 1641, along with Saxe-Gotha (for two generations of dukes), and Saxe-Eisenach (for Albert IV). The latter lasted just three years before it too was divided up between Saxe-Weimar and Saxe-Gotha.

In 1672 the death of Frederick William III of Saxe-Altenburg meant that his heirless lands were partitioned, with some territory being gained by Saxe-Eisenach (still held by Saxe-Marksuhl), a restored Saxe-Jena being gained by Bernhard, brother of John Ernest II of Saxe-Weimar, and Ernest 'the Pious' of Saxe-Gotha gaining the rest of Saxe-Altenburg. He held both duchies in personal union until his death in 1675. Then his sons attempted to cooperate in shared governance before negotiating more divisions. In 1680, Saxe-Gotha ended up being partitioned between (and into) Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg (formal union of the two duchies under Frederick I), Saxe-Coburg (which re-emerged under one duke only), Saxe-Meiningen, Saxe-Römhild, Saxe-Eisenberg, Saxe-Hildburghausen, and Saxe-Saalfeld.

(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, and Saxe-Gotha (Worldstatesmen).)

1680 - 1691

Frederick I

Previously duke of Saxe-Gotha and Saxe-Altenburg.

1686

Duke John George of Saxe-Marksuhl and Saxe-Eisenach is killed in a hunting accident, just the year following the birth (in 1685) of Johann Sebastian Bach in his own domains. With the late duke's holdings being divided up amongst surviving relatives, Saxe-Eisenach now reappears again as an independent entity (for three generations).

Battle of Zenta 1697
The Battle of Zenta in 1697 was a Habsburg and Holy League success against the Ottoman Turks in the Great Turkish War, with the Europeans being commanded by the brilliant Prince Eugene of Savoy

1690

The death of the third and last duke of Saxe-Jena, the fifteen year-old John William, son of Bernard II, means that Saxe-Jena's brief existence as an independent territory is ended. Its lands are divided between Saxe-Weimar and Saxe-Eisenach.

1691 - 1732

Frederick II

Son. Underage at accession.

1691 - 1693

Bernhard I

Regent. Duke of Saxe-Meiningen.

1691 - 1693

Henry

Co-regent. Duke of Saxe-Römhild.

1699

The death of Albert V of Saxe-Coburg and Saxe-Saalfeld means that both territories are merged under the banner of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (which had, in effect, already existed in reality under Albert V since 1680). Since Albert has outlived his children, his brothers squabble over the inheritance, with John Ernst finally gaining the lands as the duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.

1707

The death of Duke Christian of Saxe-Eisenberg without any male heir means that the inheritance of his lands is disputed by his brothers and their descendants. The issue is more notable than the usual inheritance disputes, even being named as the 'Coburg-Eisenberg-Römhild inheritance dispute'. It takes until 1735 to fully iron out, with Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg and Duke Frederick II being the main beneficiary.

1710

The popular but luxuriously-living Duke Henry of Saxe-Römhild dies without an heir, and leaving behind him large debts. His estate is auctioned to the highest bidder in order to meet those debts, with Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld appearing to be the main winner in territorial terms.

Capture of Malmo 1709
The capture of the town of Malmo in 1709 by Count Magnus Stenbock was probably one of the last Swedish victories of the Great Northern War as Russia and her allies defeated the Swedes later the same year

1718

Having had five children - two of them sons - and having outlived four of them including the sons, Duke Maurice of Saxe-Zeitz dies at his home in Osterburg Castle. Since he has no male heir his lands and title revert to Frederick Augustus as elector of Saxony.

1732 - 1772

Frederick III

Son. Regent in Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (1748-1755).

1738

Henry, duke of Saxe-Merseburg, is the last of his particular line, barring two daughters who are ineligible to succeed him. Instead, for the first time since 1656, his title passes back into the hands of the senior branch, Saxe-Meissen and Elector Frederick Augustus II.

1741

Saxe-Eisenach goes to Saxe-Weimar in personal union, which is generally known now as Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. Formal merger of the two territories takes place in 1809 and the creation survives until 1918. One of its most notable grand dukes is Prince Bernhard, who serves as governor-general of Luxembourg in 1831.

1746

Independent since 1656, the death of John Adolf II from a heart attack at the age of sixty-one leaves Saxe-Weissenfels without a surviving male heir. He had been withdrawing into Bohemia along with the Saxon troops who are engaged in the War of the Austrian Succession. His territories and titles revert to the senior branch of the family in the form of Saxe-Meissen and Elector Frederick Augustus II.

War of the Austrian Succession
The War of the Austrian Succession saw Europe go to war to decide whether Maria Theresa would secure the throne left to her by her father, but several other issues were also decided as a wide range of wars were involved in the overall conflict

1756 - 1763

The Third Silesian War is sparked by Prussia pre-emptively invading Saxony and temporarily occupying it as part of the Seven Years War. Saxon resources are channelled into Prussian hands while Frederick the Great pursues his war against Austria. When the Treaty of Hubertusburg is signed in 1763 to end the war, Saxony is forced to renounce its claim on Silesia.

1772 - 1804

Ernest II

Brother. Enlightened ruler.

1804 - 1822

Emil Leopold Augustus

Son. Supporter of Napoleon Bonaparte. Died suddenly.

1806

The formal end of the Holy Roman empire is declared under the dictates of the French Emperor Napoleon I. However, the Austrian empire retains most of its eastern possessions and is (to an extent) a continuation of the Holy Roman empire in all but name.

In the autumn of 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte heavily defeats Prussia and the Fourth Coalition, and liberates Prussia's holdings in Poland, forming them into an imperial satellite state. Prussia's ally in the campaign, Saxony, is left without any information on Prussia's subsequent aims so it agrees a separate peace with Napoleon.

Prussians at the Battle of Jena in 1806
The once-formidable army of Frederick the Great was thoroughly beaten in just a month of campaigning by Napoleon Bonaparte, losing the descisive battle of Jena (shown here) and surrendering Stettin to just eight hundred French troops, making it necessary to overhaul Prussia's entire army after 1806

Saxony is forced to join his Confederation of the Rhine, losing some territory in Thuringia to the new kingdom of Westphalia, while gaining Cottbus from Prussia and being elevated on 11 December as the kingdom of Saxony. As duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg and an enthusiastic supporter of Napoleon Bonaparte, Emil Leopold Augustus is only too happy to join his confederation. Following Napoleon's fall, however, Augustus is none too popular at home.

1822 - 1825

Frederick IV

Brother. Died with no sons. Duchy divided amongst Wettins.

1826

As the daughter of Frederick IV, the wife of Duke Ernest III of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld is heiress to Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. When her father dies, his titles and territories fall to Ernest who combines his expanded - but non-contiguous - dominions as Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

Saxe-Altenburg is detached from Saxe-Gotha and passes to Saxe-Hildburghausen. The duke of Saxe-Hildburghausen takes this title in place of his previous title, and Saxe-Hildburghausen passes to Saxe-Meiningen. Saxe-Meiningen is renamed Saxe-Meiningen-Hildburghausen. It survives until 1918.