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European Kingdoms

Central Europe

 

Saxe-Lauenburg (Saxony)
AD 1272 - 1305

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. The town of 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. Saxe-Lauenburg held two unconnected territories as part of its division. 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 succeeded 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 - 1285

John I

Former duke of Saxony (1260). Abdicated in favour of sons.

1285 - 1288

John 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 Saxe-Wittenberg 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

1285 - 1305

John II

Son. Ruled Saxe-Mölln-Bergedorf from 1305.

1290 - 1296

Albert III of Saxe-Wittenberg 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 between the Wittenberg and Lauenburg halves is confirmed by 1296.

1296 - 1305

Albert IV (III)

Brother. Ruled jointly. Held Saxe-Ratzeburg from 1305.

1296 - 1305

Eric I

Brother. Ruled jointly. Held Saxe-Ratzeburg from 1305.

1305

Having already organised several phases of informally dividing their previously joint duties and various pockets of Saxon territory between themselves, the split is now made official. The three brothers formally divide their territory into Saxe-Mölln-Bergedorf (the senior Lauenburg branch, with Bergedorf being added in 1321) and Saxe-Ratzeburg (the junior Lauenburg branch).

Duchy of Saxe-Mölln-Bergedorf
AD 1305 - 1401

Following several divisions and reductions of Saxony's overall territory, in 1212 the rules governing inheritance within the Ascanian dynasty meant that the territory was further divided. Some of those divisions fell outside of what was now considered to be Saxony, so being lost to it. 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 latter eventually succeeded in gaining permanent use of the title, 'Elector of Saxony'.

During this same period, the three jointly-ruling electors of Saxe-Lauenburg were gradually sorting out the eventual official division of their own lands. This division was confirmed in 1305, creating Saxe-Mölln and Saxe-Ratzeburg. It was the eldest of the three brothers, John II, who commanded the senior Lauenburg line from Saxe-Mölln, while Eric and Albert, his two younger brothers, formed the junior Lauenburg line in Saxe-Ratzeburg. John also commanded the electoral privilege for the three of them. He gained Bergedorf shortly before his death in 1321, from Eric. The name was appended to that of Saxe-Mölln to give the domain its familiar title.

(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).)

1305 - 1321

John II of Saxe-Lauenburg

Former duke of Saxe-Lauenburg. Gained Bergedorf in 1321.

1308

The untimely death of the young Prince Albert III gifts Eric with his share of territories within Saxe-Ratzeburg. Part of this gain includes Bergedorf which he passes on to John II of Saxe-Mölln in 1321, shortly before that brother also dies.

Bergedorf Castle in Saxony
Bergedorf Castle played an important role in the identity of the Saxe-Mölln division of Saxe-Lauenburg, with John III gaining it in 1321 and his successors losing it through their own desperate need for money in 1363

1314

The two princes of Saxony - Rudolf I of Saxe-Wittenberg and John II of Saxe-Mölln - 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'.

1321 - 1343

Albert V (IV) of Saxe-Lauenburg

Son.

1343 - 1356

John III of Saxe-Lauenburg

Son. Died without producing an heir.

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.

Rudolf I 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.

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

1356 - 1370

Albert VI (V) of Saxe-Lauenburg

Brother. Died without producing an heir.

1363

Albert and his brother, Eric (Eric III: the first and third Erics hail from Saxe-Ratzeburg), are so short of money that, after having sold off the territory of Mölln to the city of Lübeck, they have resorted to government brigandage. Together they have planned to hijack merchants and general travellers who venture near Mölln, taking some comfort in the returns this produces.

Now the city of Hamburg and Adolphus VII, count of Schauenburg and Holstein-Kiel - with support from Prince-Archbishop Albert II of Bremen - clear the lanes of these 'brigands' to the north-east of Mölln. They also capture and take possession of Bergedorf castle.

1370 - 1401

Eric III of Saxe-Lauenburg

Brother. Died with no heir. Territory went to Saxe-Ratzeburg.

1370

With his monetary problems not having been resolved, Eric now pawns all of his remaining territories, including those around the lost castle of Bergedorf. Eric retains a life tenancy, meaning that the territories will be lost upon his death until his heirs or successors could pay to have them returned, along with Mölln. Luckily he is eventually granted an endowment through his family which resolves this problem.

1401

This senior Lauenburg line becomes extinct with the death of the childless Eric. His title and territories are rejoined with those of Saxe-Ratzeburg, in essence recreating the earlier Saxe-Lauenburg principality under Eric IV.