Saxony, 1547-1618

Albertine Saxony, 1485-1547

The HOUSE OF WETTIN, in the course of the middle ages, had unified the territories that make up Saxony (in her borders of 1789, except Lusatia), including Thuringia. However, succession law foresaw that brothers inherited equal shares, which lead to periods of common rule as well as to partitions; one such partition, the TREATY OF LEIPZIG, in 1485, created two Saxon states - Ernestine Saxony, with the center at WITTENBERG, and with the Electoral Vote, and Albertine Saxony, with the center at Meissen / Dresden.
Duke Albert III. ruled from 1485 to 1500. Albrecht served as military commander of Emperor Maximilian in the War of Guelders 1497; in 1498 he was appointed GUBERNATOR (governor) OF FRIESLAND, a coastal region in the northern Netherlands, which was rather peculiar as it had escaped feudalization. After initially being welcomed by a fation of the Friesland estates, Albert soon found himself engaged in a money-consuming civil war; he is quoted to have said that "Friesland had eaten up all of Saxony and half of Meissen". Albrecht died in Emden in 1500; he was succeeded by GEORGE THE BEARDED (1500-1539). He reduced the Saxon involvement in Frisian affairs, trying to sell the Saxon claim, without success. The last Saxon stronghold in Friesland, Appingedam, fell in 1515; George sold his claims to Charles Duke of Burgundy, who was to become Emperor Charles V.
In his political testament of 1499, he outruled any future partition of the duchy (second sons were to be assigned certain revenues, but the political entity was not to be divided). When the reformation began in nearby Ernestine Saxony, Duke George remained loyal to the Catholic church. In the years 1517 to 1523 he promoted the sanctification of Bishop Benno of Meissen, who had lived in the late 11th century.
Albertine Saxony was affected by the GERMAN PEASANTS REVOLT in 1524/1525 (Thomas Müntzer had been priest in Zwickau in 1520/1521) and, in 1532, was the scene of the KOHLHASE FEUD - a merchant by the name of Hans Kohlhase was deprived of two of his horses by noblemen in the service of the Duke, who overstepped their authority and used the horses for their own purposes. Unable to get compensation from the courts, the merchant started a feud against the noblemen and anybody who had helped them, temporarily paralizing the economy of a large stretch within Albertine Saxony.
While Duke George remained loyal to the Catholic church, he was concerned about church reform, had priests who had concubines punished, had religious disputes organized (Leipzig 1534, 1539). Only in 1536, in an area assigned to his younger brother Henry, did the Jakob Schenk admonish the first eucharist to laymen (i.e. in the Lutheran rite). Future Duke Maurice was sent to Torgau to be given a Lutheran education (1537). George's successor Henry the Pious ruled only for two years (1539-1541); he formally introduced the Lutheran reformation in 1539. Henry was succeeded by MAURICE (1541-1553).
George, and in his succession Maurice strove to improve the duchy's administration in cooperation with the estates. The estates met annually; they consisted of the clergy (abbots), nobility and the third estates (burgomasters of cities). The estates had the right to approve taxes; Albertine Saxony, with silver mines, pursued a strict financial policy, outlawing the use of (low-quality) foreign coins in the country.
In 1546 the Schmalkaldic League (which Albertine Saxony had joined in 1537, as a passive member) raised an army, which, under the command of Duke-Elector John Frederick of Saxony, was stationed in Württemberg, when unexpectedly Ernestine Saxony was invaded by troops from Albertine Saxony (Duke Maurice, a Lutheran, from the perspective of the Schmalkaldic League a traitor). The ensuing war is referred to as the SCHMALKALDIC WAR (1546-1547). John Frederick lead his army back to Saxony, liberated his territories, conquered Albertine Saxony and proceeded to invade Bohemia (Territory of Emperor Charles V.). Imperial forces drove the Schmalkaldic troops back and decisively defeated them in the BATTLE OF MÜHLBERG (1547). Duke John Frederick was taken prisoner. He had to cede the larger part of his territory - Electoral Saxony to Maurice, the Bohemian fiefs to the Emperor. In addition, he had to give up the Electorate, which was transferred to Maurice as well.
Duke John Frederick kept most of Thuringia; these territories, due to the Wettin succession law, over time were split up in a number of tiny duchies of limited historical significance.

Article Schmalkaldic League, from infoplease, in English, 6 lines
Biography of George the Bearded, from BBKL, in German, 22 lines, bibliography
500 Jahre Provinz Friesland, from, in German
On Hans Kohlhase Rechtssemiotik, in German, Library entry : Die Fehde des Hans Kolhase
Moritz von Sachsen (Maurice of Saxony), from Leipzig Lexikon, in German, 26 lines; from MDR, in German, illustrated, detailed ; from BBKL, in German, 47 lines, bibliography
Article Schmalkadischer Krieg (Schmalkaldic War), from Oekumenisches Heiligenlexikon, in German, illustrated, 34 lines; from, in German, 23 lines
DOCUMENTS Schmalkalden Articles, 1537, posted by Gospel Plow
REFERENCE Reiner Gross, Geschichte Sachsens (History of Saxony), Berlin : Edition Leipzig 2001

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on December 22nd 2002, last revised on November 12th 2004

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