Augustus, Elector of Saxony

Augustus, Elector of Saxony

Augustus I, Elector of Saxony (b. Freiberg, 31 July 1526 – d. Dresden, 11 February 1586) was Elector of Saxony from 1553 to 1586

First Years

Augustus was born in Freiberg, the youngest child and third (but second surviving) son of Heinrich of Saxony and Katharina of Mecklenburg. He consequently belonged to the Albertine branch of the Wettin family. Brought up as a Lutheran, he received a good education and studied at the university of Leipzig.

When Duke Heinrich died in 1541, he decreed that his lands should be divided equally between his two sons; but as his bequest was contrary to the Albertine Law, it was not carried out, and the Dukedom passed almost intact to his elder son, Maurice. Augustus, however, remained on friendly terms with his brother, and to further his policy spent some time at the court of Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna.

In 1544 Maurice secured the appointment of his brother as administrator of the bishopric of Merseburg; but Augustus was very extravagant and was soon compelled to return to the Saxon court at Dresden. Augustus supported his brother during the war of the Schmalkaldic League, and in the policy which culminated in the transfer of the Saxon electorate from John Frederick I, the head of the Ernestine branch of the Wettin family, to Maurice.

In Torgau on 7 October 1548 Augustus was married to Anna, daughter of King Christian III of Denmark and Dorothea of Saxe-Lauenburg. They took up residence at Weissenfels. The couple had fifteen children:

#Johann Heinrich (b. Weissenfels, 5 May 1550 - d. Weissenfels, 12 November 1550).
#Eleonore (b. Wolkenstein, 2 May 1551 - d. Wolkenstein, 24 April 1553).
#Elisabeth (b. Wolkenstein, 18 October 1552 - d. imprisoned in Heidelberg, 2 April 1590), married on 4 June 1570 to Count Palatine Johann Casimir of Simmern; they were separated in 1589.
#Alexander (b. Dresden, 21 February 1554 - d. Dresden, 8 October 1565), Hereditary Elector of Saxony. []
#Magnus (b. Dresden, 24 September 1555 - d. Dresden, 6 November 1558).
#Joachim (b. Dresden, 3 May 1557 - d. Dresden, 21 November 1557).
#Hektor (b. Dresden, 7 October 1558 - d. Dresden, 4 April 1560).
#Christian I (b. Dresden, 29 October 1560 - d. Dresden, 25 September 1591), succesor of his father in the Electorship.
#Marie (b. Torgau, 8 March 1562 - d. Torgau, 6 January 1566).
#Dorothea (b. Dresden, 4 October 1563 - d. Wolfenbüttel, 13 February 1587), married on 26 September 1585 to Duke Heinrich Julius of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel.
#Amalie (b. Dresden, 28 January 1565 - d. Dresden, 2 July 1565).
#Anna (b. Dresden, 16 November 1567 - d. imprisoned in Veste Coburg, 27 January 1613), married on 16 January 1586 to Duke Johann Casimir of Saxe-Eisenach; they divorced in 1593.
#Augustus (b. Dresden, 23 October 1569 - d. Dresden, 12 February 1570).
#Adolf (b. Stolpen, 8 August 1571 - d. Dresden, 12 March 1572).
#Frederick (b. Annaberg, 18 June 1575 - d. Annaberg, 24 January 1577).

Soon after his marriage, Augustus desired a more imposing establishment. The result was that Maurice made more generous provision for his brother, who acted as Regent of Saxony in 1552 during the absence of the elector. Augustus was on a visit to Denmark when by Maurice's death in July 1553 he became elector of Saxony.

Elector of Saxony

The first care of the new elector was to come to terms with John Frederick, and to strengthen his own hold upon the electoral position. This object was secured by a treaty made at Naumburg in February 1554, when, in return for the grant of Altenburg and other lands, John Frederick recognized Augustus as elector of Saxony. The elector, however, was continually haunted by the fear that the Ernestines would attempt to deprive him of the coveted dignity, and his policy both in Saxony and the wider Holy Roman Empire was coloured by this fear.

In imperial politics Augustus acted upon two main principles: to cultivate the friendship of the Habsburgs, and to maintain peace between the contending religious parties. To this policy may be traced his share in bringing about the religious peace of Augsburg in 1555, his tortuous conduct at the diet of Augsburg eleven years later, and his reluctance to break entirely with the Calvinists. His policy of religious peace was also promoted by the marriage he negotiated between his niece Anna and the then-Catholic Prince of Orange, at the time one of the chief Habsburg vassals in the Netherlands, in 1561.

On one occasion only did he waver in his allegiance to the Habsburgs. In 1568 a marriage was arranged between Johann Casimir, son of Frederick III, Elector Palatine, and Elisabeth, a daughter of Augustus, and for a time it seemed possible that the Saxon elector would support his son-in-law in his attempts to aid the revolting inhabitants of the Spanish Netherlands. Augustus also entered into communication with the Huguenots; but his aversion to foreign complications prevailed, and the incipient friendship with the elector palatine soon gave way to serious dislike.

Although a sturdy Lutheran the elector hoped at one time to unite the Protestants, on whom he continually urged the necessity of giving no cause of offence to their opponents, and he favoured the movement to get rid of the clause in the peace of Augsburg concerning ecclesiastical reservation, which was offensive to many Protestants. His moderation, however, prevented him from joining those who were prepared to take strong measures to attain this end, and he refused to jeopardize the concessions already won.

Religious policies

The hostility between the Albertines and the Ernestines gave serious trouble to Augustus. A preacher named Matthias Flacius held an influential position in ducal Saxony, and taught a form of Lutheranism different from that taught in electoral Saxony. This breach was widened when Flacius began to make personal attacks on Augustus, to prophesy his speedy downfall, and to incite Duke John Frederick to make an effort to recover his rightful position. Associated with Flacius was a knight, Wilhelm von Grumbach, who, not satisfied with words only, made nroads into electoral Saxony and sought the aid of foreign powers in his plan to depose Augustus. After some delay Grumbach and his protector, John Frederick, were placed under the imperial ban, and Augustus was entrusted with its execution. His campaign in 1567 was short and successful. John Frederick surrendered, and passed his time in prison until his death in 1595; Grumbach was taken and executed; and the position of the elector was made quite secure.

The form of Lutheranism taught in electoral Saxony was that of Melanchthon, and many of its teachers and adherents, who were afterwards called Crypto-Calvinists, were favoured by the elector. The Crypto-Calvinists were confident that they would be able to bring Augustus over to their Calvinizing positions by convincing Augustus that they were in fact merely loyal Lutherans, when in fact they were working to introduce Calvinist views of the Lord's Supper and the doctrine of predestination at the University of Wittenberg. Augustus at first was deceived. Spurred on by his wife the matter reached a climax in 1574, when letters were discovered, which, while revealing a hope to bring over Augustus to Calvinism, cast some aspersions upon the elector and his wife. Augustus ordered the leaders of the Crypto-Calvinists to be seized, and they were tortured and imprisoned. He restored genuine Lutheranism to Saxony and began to work on a way to bring unity among Lutherans by commencing a process that would lead to the publication, in 1580, of the Lutheran Book of Concord. Augustus I personally sponsored the publication of the Book of Concord, a book containing the various Lutheran Confessions of faith, which was signed by over 8,100 ministers and professors and nearly 30 territories, states and cities in Germany. A strict form of Lutheranism was declared binding upon all the inhabitants of Saxony, and many persons were banished from the country.

The change in Saxony, however, made no difference to the attitude of Augustus on imperial questions. In 1576 he opposed the proposal of the Protestant princes to make a grant for the War against the Ottoman Empire conditional upon the abolition of the clause concerning ecclesiastical reservation, and he continued to support the Habsburgs.

Territorial expansion

Much of the elector's time was devoted to extending his territories. In 1573 he became guardian to the two sons of John William, duke of Saxe-Weimar, and in this capacity was able to add part of the county of Henneberg to electoral Saxony. His command of money enabled him to take advantage of the poverty of his neighbours, and in this way he secured Vogtland and the county of Mansfeld. In 1555 he had appointed one of his nominees to the bishopric of Meissen, in 1561 he had secured the election of his son Alexander as bishop of Merseburg, and three years later as bishop of Naumburg; and when this prince died in 1565 these bishoprics came under the direct rule of Augustus.

As a ruler of Saxony Augustus was economical and enlightened. He favoured trade by encouraging Flemish emigrants to settle in the country, by improving the roads, regulating the coinage and establishing the first posts. He was specially interested in benefiting agriculture, and added several fine buildings to the city of Dresden. His laws were numerous and comprehensive. The constitution of 1572 was his work, and by these laws the church, the universities and the police were regulated, the administration of justice was improved, and the raising of taxes placed upon a better footing.

Second Marriage and death

On 1 October 1585 the Electress Anna died. Three months later, on 3 January 1586, in the city of Dessau, Augustus married secondly with Agnes Hedwig, a daughter of Joachim Ernest, Prince of Anhalt. The bride was only 13 years; the groom, almost 60. August died one month after his new marriage, and was buried at Freiberg Cathedral. His only surviving son, Christian I, was his succesor.

Augustus was a covetous, cruel and superstitious man, but these qualities were redeemed by his political caution and his wise methods of government. He wrote a small work on griculture entitled "Künstlich Obstund Gartenbüchlein". He was also famous for his various museum collections, including the finest collection of arms and weapons in Northern Europe, paintings, and an extensive collection of tools. The library named in his honor in Wolfenbuettel contains the world's largest collection of original documents relating to the Lutheran Reformation and German and Early Modern Europe history.


* C. W. Böttiger and T. Flathe, "Geschichte Sachsens", Band ii. (Gotha, 1870)
* M. Ritter, "Deutsche Geschichte im Zeitalter der Gegenreformation", Band i. (Stuttgart, 1890)
* R. Calinich, "Kampf und Untergang des Melanchthonismus in Kursachsen" (Leipzig, 1866)
* J. Falke, "Geschichte des Kurfürsten August in volkswirtschaftlicher Beziehung" (Leipzig, 1868)
* J. Janssen, "Geschichte des Deutschen Volks seit dem Ausgang des Mittelalters" (Freiburg, 1885-1894)
* W. Wenck, "Kurfürst Moritz und Herzog August" (Leipzig, 1874)

External links

* [ Biography in the Biographisch-Bibliographischen Kirchenlexikon (Bautz)]
*de icon [ Biography from the Institut für Sächsische Geschichte und Volkskunde e.V.]
*de icon [ Biography]

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