Electorate of Saxony

Infobox Former Country
native_name = "Kurfürstentum Sachsen"
conventional_long_name = Electorate of Saxony
common_name = Saxony
continent = Europe
region = Central Europe
country = Germany
era = Early modern Europe
status = Vassal
empire = Holy Roman Empire
status_text = State of the Holy Roman Empire, then of the Confederation of the Rhine
government_type = Principality
year_start = 1356
year_end = 1806
event_start = Golden Bull
date_start = 1356
event1 = Ascanian ducal line extinct
date_event1 = 1422
event2 = Albertine–Ernestine
date_event2 = 26 August, 1485
event3 = Diet of Worms
date_event3 = January 28May 25, 1521
event4 = Peace of Westphalia
date_event4 = May 5 1648
event_end = Raised to kingdom
date_end =
p1 = Saxe-Wittenberg
image_p1 =
s1 = Kingdom of Saxony
flag_s1 = Flagge Königreich Sachsen (1815-1918).svg

image_map_caption = Saxony (spaces|3 just north-east of centre) within the Confederation of the Rhine in 1812, shortly after the Electorate was raised to a Kingdom
capital = Dresden
title_leader = Duke-Elector
leader1 = Rudolf I
year_leader1 = 1356
leader2 = Frederick Augustus III
year_leader2 = 1763–1806

The Electorate of Saxony ( _de. Kurfürstentum Sachsen) or Duchy of Upper Saxony was an independent hereditary electorate of the Holy Roman Empire from 1356–1806. It was clarifyme| the successor stateclarifyme|Some timelines problems here with Saxe-Witternberg article. The state (diplomatic title) in the thirty years war era was what??? Wasn't that referred to as yet another Duchy of Saxony? Or just as Saxony? of the Duchy of Saxe-Wittenberg and was itself replaced in Napoleonic times by the Kingdom of Saxony (1806).


After the dissolution of the medieval Duchy of Saxony, the name Saxony was first applied to a small part of the duchy situated on the Elbe around the city of Wittenberg. This was given to Bernhard, the second son of Albert I of Brandenburg, who was the founder of the Margraviate of Brandenburg, from which came the Kingdom of Prussia. Bernard's son, Albert I, added to this territory the lordship of Lauenburg, and Albert's sons divided the possessions into Saxe-Wittenberg and Saxe-Lauenburg. When, in 1356, the Emperor Charles IV issued the Golden Bull, the fundamental law of the empire which settled the method of electing the King, the Duchy of Saxe-Wittenberg was made one of the seven electorates. The duke as elector thereby received the right to elect, in company with the other six electors, the Roman-German King and future Holy Roman Emperor. In this way, the country, though small in area, obtained an influential position. The electoral dignity had connected with it the obligation of primogeniture; that is, only the eldest son could succeed as ruler; this excluded the division of the territory among several heirs and consequently prevented the disintegration of the country. The importance of this stipulation is shown by the history of most of the German principalities which were not electorates.

The Ascanian line of Saxony became extinct in 1422, upon which the Emperor Sigismund bestowed the country and electoral dignity upon Margrave Frederick II, a member of the Wettin line. The Margraviate of Meissen had been founded by the Emperor Otto I. In 1089, it had come into the possession of the Wettin family, who from 1247 also owned the Landgraviate of Thuringia. In 1422, Saxe-Wittenberg, and the Margravates of Meissen and Thuringia were united under one rule and gradually received the name of Saxony. Elector Frederick the Valiant died in 1464, and his two sons divided his territories at Leipzig on 26 August, 1485, which led to the still existing separation of the Wettin dynasty into the Ernestine and Albertine lines. Duke Ernest, the founder of the Ernestine line, received by the Partition of Leipzig the Duchy of Saxony and the electoral dignity united with it, as well as the Landgraviate of Thuringia; Albert, the founder of the Albertine line, received the Margraviate of Meissen. Thus, the Ernestine line had the greater authority until in the 16th century the electoral dignity and territory fell to the Albertine line, which at the beginning of the 19th century, it received the royal title as well.

Protestant Reformation

The Protestant movement of the 16th century was effected under the protection of the electors of Saxony. The Elector Frederick III established a university at Wittenberg in 1502, at which the Augustinian monk Martin Luther was made professor of philosophy in 1508; at the same time he became one of the preachers at the castle church of Wittenberg. On 31 October 1517, he posted up on this church the 95 theses against the sale indulgences with which he began what is called the Reformation. The elector did not become at once an adherent of the new opinions, but granted his protection to Luther; consequently, owing to the intervention of the elector, Pope Leo X did not summon Luther to Rome (1518); also through the elector's mediation Luther received Imperial safe-conduct to the Diet of Worms (1521). When Luther was declared at Worms to be under the ban of the entire empire, the elector had him brought to the Castle of the Wartburg in Thuringia. The new doctrine spread first in Saxony. The successor to Frederick the Wise (died 1525) was his brother John "the Constant" (died 1532). John was already a zealous Lutheran; he exercised full authority over the Church, introduced the Lutheran Confession, ordered the deposition of all priests who continued in the Catholic Faith, and directed the use of a new liturgy drawn up by Luther. In 1531 he formed with a number of other ruling princes the Smalkaldic League, for the maintenance of the Protestant doctrine and for common defence against Emperor Charles V, because Charles was an opponent of the new doctrine. The son and successor of John the Constant was John Frederick "the Magnanimous" (died 1554). He was also one of the heads of the Smalkaldic League, which was inimical to the emperor and Catholicism. In 1542 he seized the Diocese of Naumburg-Zeitz, and attacked and plundered the secular possessions of the Dioceses of Meissen and Hildesheim. The Catholic Faith was forcibly suppressed in all directions and the churches and monasteries were robbed. John Frederick was defeated and captured by Charles V at the Battle of Mühlberg on the Elbe, 24 April 1547. In the Capitulation of Wittenberg, 19 May 1547, the elector was obliged to yield Saxe-Wittenberg and the electoral dignity to Duke Maurice of Saxe-Meissen. After this the only possession of the Ernestine line of the Wettin family was Thuringia, which, however, on account of repeated divisions among the heirs was soon cut up into a number of duchies. Those still in existence at the time of the German Revolution, after World War I were the grand duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach and the duchies of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Saxe-Meiningen and Saxe-Altenburg.

Duke Albert (died 1500) was succeeded in the Duchy of Saxe-Meissen by his son George (died 1539). George was a strong opponent of the Lutheran doctrine and had repeatedly sought to influence his cousins the Electors of Saxe-Wittenberg in favour of the Catholic Church, but George's brother and successor, Henry IV (died 1541), was won over to Protestantism by the influence of his wife Katharina of Mecklenburg, and thus Saxe-Meissen was also lost to the Church. Henry's son and successor Maurice was one of the most conspicuous persons of the Reformation period. Although a zealous Protestant, ambition and desire to increase his possessions led him to join the emperor against the members of the Smalkaldic League. The Capitulation of Wittenberg gave him, as already mentioned, the electoral dignity and Saxe-Wittenberg, so that the Electorate of Saxony now consisted of Saxe-Wittenberg and Saxe-Meissen together, under the authority of the Albertine line of the Wettin family. Partly from resentment at not receiving also what was left of the Ernestine possessions, but moved still more by his desire to have a Protestant head to the empire, Maurice fell away from the German Emperor. He made a treaty with France (1551) in which he gave the Three Bishoprics of Metz, Toul, and Verdun in Lorraine to France, and secretly shared in all the princely conspiracies against the emperor who only escaped capture by flight. During the same year, the emperor was obliged by the Treaty of Passau to grant freedom of religion to the Protestant Estates. Maurice died in 1553 at the age of 32. His brother and successor Elector Augustus took the Dioceses of Merseburg, Naumburg and Meissen for himself. The last Bishop of Merseburg, Michael Helding, called Sidonius, died at Vienna in 1561. The emperor demanded the election of a new bishop, but the Elector Augustus forced the election of his son Alexander, who was eight years old, as administrator; when Alexander died in 1565 he administered the diocese himself. In the same manner after the death of Bishop Pflug (died 1564), the last Catholic bishop of Naumburg, the elector confiscated the Diocese of Naumburg and forbade the exercise of the Catholic religion. Those cathedral canons who were still Catholic were only permitted to exercise their religion for ten years more.

Thirty Years' War

In 1581, John of Haugwitz, the last Bishop of Meissen, resigned his office, and in 1587 became a Protestant. The episcopal domains fell likewise to Saxony, and the cathedral chapter ceased to exist. During the reigns of the Elector Augustus (died 1586) and Christian (died 1591), a freer form of Protestantism, called Crypto-Calvinism prevailed in the duchy. During the reign of Christian II (died 1611), the chancellor, Crell, who had spread the doctrine was overthrown and beheaded (1601) and a rigid Lutheranism was reintroduced and with it a religious oath. The great religious war called the Thirty Years' War (1618–48) occurred during the reign of Elector John George (1611–56). In this struggle, the elector was at first neutral, and for a long time he would not listen to the overtures of Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden. It was until the imperial general Tilly advanced into Saxony that the elector joined Sweden. However, after the Battle of Nördlingen (1634), the elector concluded the Peace of Prague (1635) with the emperor. By this treaty, Saxony received the Margraviates of Upper and Lower Lusatia as a Bohemian fief, and the condition of the Church lands that had been secularized was not altered. The Swedes, however, revenged themselves by ten years of plundering. The Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 took from Saxony forever the possibility of extending its territory along the lower course of the Elbe, and confirmed the preponderance of Prussia. In 1653, the direction of the "Corpus Evangelicorum" fell to Saxony, because the elector became the head of the union of the Protestant Imperial Estates. Under the following electors, religious questions were not so prominent; a rigid Lutheranism remained the prevailing faith, and the practice of any other was strictly prohibited. About the middle of the 17th century, Italian merchants, the first Catholics to reappear in the country, settled at Dresden, the capital, and at Leipzig, the most important commercial city; the exercise of the Catholic religion, however, was not permitted to them.

18th century

A change followed when on 1 June 1697, the Elector Frederick Augustus I (1694–1733) converted to the Roman Catholic Church and in consequence of this was soon afterwards elected King of Poland. The formation of a Catholic parish and the private practice of the Catholic Faith was permitted at least in Dresden. As the conversion of the elector to the Roman Catholic Church aroused the fear among Lutherans that the Catholic religion would now be re-established in Saxony, the elector transferred to a government board, the Privy Council, the authority over the Lutheran churches and schools which, until then, had been exercised by the sovereign; the Privy Council was formed exclusively of Protestants. Even after his conversion, the elector remained the head of the "Corpus Evangelicorum", as did his Catholic successors until 1806, when the Corpus was dissolved at the same time as the Holy Roman Empire. His son, Elector Frederick Augustus II (1733–63), was received into the Catholic Church on 28 November 1712, at Bologna, Italy, while heir-apparent. With this conversion, which on account of the excited state of feeling of the Lutheran population had to be kept secret for five years, the ruling family of Saxony once more became Catholic. Before this, individual members of the Albertine line had returned to the Church, but they had died without issue, as did the last ruler of Saxe-Weissenfels (died 1746). Another collateral line founded in 1657 was that of Saxe-Naumburg-Zeitz, which became extinct in 1759. Those who became Catholics of this line were Christian Augustus (died 1725), cardinal and Archbishop of Gran (Esztergom, Hungary) and Maurice Adolphus, Bishop of Leitmeritz in Bohemia (died 1759). The most zealous promoter of the Catholic Faith in Saxony was the Austrian Archduchess Maria Josepha, daughter of the Emperor Joseph I, who, in 1719, married Frederick Augustus, later the second elector of that name. The Court church of Dresden was built 1739–51 by the Italian architect Chiaveri in the Roman Baroque style; this is still the finest and most imposing church edifice in Saxony and is one of the most beautiful churches in Germany. Notwithstanding the faith of its rulers, however, Saxony remained entirely a Protestant country; the few Catholics who settled there remained without any political or civil rights. When, in 1806, Napoleon began a war with Prussia, Saxony at first allied itself to Prussia but afterwards joined Napoleon and entered the Confederation of the Rhine. Elector Frederick Augustus III (1763–1827) received the title of king of a new Kingdom of Saxony as Frederick Augustus I.

See also

* Electors of Saxony
* History of Saxony

External links

* [http://www.hoeckmann.de/germany/map-saxony.htm Map of the Electorate of Saxony in 1789]

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