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Coat of arms of the Ernestines on a boundary stone

The Ernestine duchies, also called the Saxon duchies (although also the Albertine appanage duchies of Weissenfels, Merseburg and Zeitz were "Saxon duchies" and located adjacent to several Ernestine ones), were a changing number of small states largely located in the present German state of Thuringia, governed by dukes of the Ernestine line of the House of Wettin.

Contents

Overview

The Saxon duchy began fragmenting in the 15th Century as a result of the old German succession law that divided inheritances among all sons. All sons of a Saxon duke also inherited the title of Duke. Brothers sometimes ruled the territory inherited from their father jointly, and sometimes split it up. Some of the Ernestine duchies retained their separate existence until 1918. Similar events in the houses of Reuss and Schwarzburg led to all of Thuringia becoming a tangle of mini-states from the late 15th Century until the early 20th Century.

Background before Ernestine branch came into being

Count Bernhard of Anhalt, youngest son of Albert "the Bear" (1106-70), inherited parts of the old Saxon duchy, primarily around Lauenburg and Wittenberg, in 1180. He had two sons, Albert and Henry. Albert inherited the Duchy of Saxony. In 1260 Albert bequeethed the duchy to his sons John I and Albert II, who gradually divided Saxony into the duchies of Saxe-Lauenburg and Saxe-Wittenberg with definite effect of 1296. Saxe-Wittenberg was recognized as the electorate of Saxony in the Golden Bull of 1356. When the last duke of Saxe-Wittenberg died without heir in 1422, the Emperor Sigismund gave the duchy to Frederick IV of the house of Wettin, Margrave of Meissen and Landgrave of Thuringia, who thereby became Frederick I, Elector of Saxony. The name Saxony was then generally applied to all of the Wettin's domains, including those in Thuringia, because Saxony was a ducal title, highest they possessed, and all house members used it, although many of them held lands only in Thuringia. Frederick I was succeeded by his son, Frederick II. After the death of Frederick II in 1464, his oldest son, Ernest, became elector, and Ernest and Duke Albert, the younger son, shared governance of the Wettin lands. In 1485, by the Leipziger division, the brothers split the Wettin possessions, with Ernest receiving northern Meissen, southern Thuringia, and Wittenberg, and Albert receiving northern Thuringia and southern Meissen.

A study of the List of members of the House of Wettin will reveal much of the different strands of the ducal house and their possessions.

Detailed history of divisions in the Ernestine line

Electors of Saxony

In 1554, John Frederick I split the duchy between his three sons.

Duke of Saxe-Eisenach and Saxe-Coburg Duke of Saxe-Weimar Duke of Saxe-Gotha
  • John Frederick III, 1554–1565, son of John Frederick I
Division of Erfurt

In 1572 the Ernestine duchies were rearranged and redivided between the two sons of John Frederick II and the son of John William.

Dukes of Saxe-Coburg-Eisenach Dukes of Saxe-Weimar
  • Co-rulers;

In 1596 the brothers agreed to split the lands between them.

After Frederick William's death, the land was split between his young sons and his brother.

Dukes of Saxe-Coburg Dukes of Saxe-Eisenach

After the death of John Casimir without heirs, the inheritance fell to his younger brother.

Dukes of Saxe-Altenburg Dukes of Saxe-Weimar
  • Co-rulers;
    • John Philip, 1603–1639, son of Frederick William I
    • Frederick, 1603–1625, son of Frederick William I
    • John William, 1603–1632, son of Frederick William I
    • Frederick William II, 1603–1669 (sole ruler from 1639), son of Frederick William I
  • Frederick William III, 1669–1672, son of Frederick William II
  • John II, 1602–1605, son of John William
Dukes of Saxe-Coburg-Eisenach

After the death of John Ernest without heirs, his principality was divided between Saxe-Weimar and Saxe-Altenburg.

Elector Ernest died in 1486, and was succeeded by his son, Frederick III, the Wise. Leipzig, the economic center of Saxony, as well as the seat of the only university in Saxony, was located in Albertine Saxony. Wanting a university in his lands, for example for educating civil servants and pastors, Frederick founded the University of Wittenberg in 1502. It was there that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses. Frederick protected Luther, refusing to extradite him to Rome for trial. Frederick, as did other German princes, allowed Lutheran reforms to be implemented in his domain.

Frederick III died in 1525; he was succeeded by his brother, John the Steadfast (1525-1532). John was a leader in the Schmalkaldic League of Protestant princes in the Holy Roman Empire. John died in 1532 and was succeeded by his son John Frederick I. For the first ten years of his reign, John Frederick shared the rule of Ernestine Saxony with his stepbrother, John Ernest, titularly Duke of Saxe-Coburg, who died childless. John Frederick increasingly hardened his support of the Lutheran Reformation, while the Emperor, Charles V, avoided direct confrontation with the Protestant princes, as he needed their support in his struggle with France.

Charles eventually came to terms with France, and turned his attention to the Protestant lands of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1546 the Schmalkaldic League raised an army. Elector John Frederick led the league's troops south, but shortly thereafter John Frederick's cousin, Duke Maurice of Albertine Saxony (Meissen), invaded Ernestine Saxony. John Frederick hurried back to Saxony, expelled Maurice from the Ernestine lands, conquered Albertine Saxony and proceeded to invade Bohemia (held directly by Emperor Charles V' brother Ferdinand and that latter's wife Anna of Bohemia and Hungary). Charles' forces drove the Schmalkaldic League troops back and decisively defeated them in the Battle of Mühlberg (1547). John Frederick was wounded and taken prisoner. The Emperor condemned him to death as a rebel, but stayed the execution because he did not want to take the time to capture Wittenberg, defended by John Frederick's wife Sybille of Cleves. To save his life, John Frederick conceded in the Capitulation of Wittenberg to resign the Electorate and the government of his country in favor of Maurice of the Albertine Saxony, and his punishment was changed into imprisonment for life. When the newly-minted Elector Maurice, having again changed sides, attacked the Emperor, Duke John Frederick was released from prison, and given back the Landgraviate of Thuringia. He established his capital in Weimar, and started a university at Jena (to replace the one in Wittenberg lost to Maurice) before his death in 1554.

The three sons of John Frederick I shared the territory, with John Frederick II becoming head (and briefly, 1554-56, holding the electoral title) with his seats in Eisenach and Coburg, the middle brother John William staying in Weimar (Saxe-Weimar), and the youngest, John Frederick III (namesake of the eldest brother, which thing has caused innumerable confusion in history writing) establishing residence in Gotha (Saxe-Gotha). When John Frederick III of Gotha died unmarried and heirless in 1565, John William of Weimar tried to claim succession to Saxe-Gotha, but the sons of the imprisoned John Frederick II entered their own claim.

The contenders reached agreement in 1572 in the Division of Erfurt by which John William added the districts of Altenburg, Gotha and Meiningen to Saxe-Weimar. When John William died a year later, his older son, Frederick William I received Altenburg, Gotha and Meiningen with using the title of Duke of Saxe-Altenburg, and with his several sons founding the first Saxe-Altenburg line, while Saxe-Weimar went to the younger son John II. John Casimir (d 1633 heirless), the older son of John Frederick II, and John Ernest (d 1638 heirless), the younger son of John Frederick II, received together the territory of Saxe-Coburg-Eisenach, but got a legal guardian because they were underage. In 1596 the brothers agreed to split the duchy into Saxe-Coburg and Saxe-Eisenach.

Johann II, Duke of Saxe-Weimar (or John II), died young leaving eight surviving sons (including Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar, the youngest, the famed general) and a will ordering them to rule jointly. When the eldest of them, John Ernest III, Duke of Saxe-Weimar died in action (1626) unmarried, two more of his brothers were already deceased without children, leaving five dukes of Saxe-Weimar, with Wilhelm the eldest. Two more died within fifteen years, including Bernhard in 1639, without heirs. In 1638, the senior Coburg-Eisenach line went extinct and its possessions were divided between the Altenburgs and the Weimars, this doubled the Saxe-Weimar possessions and made it again feasible to be divided. In c 1640, the remaining brothers finally divided their patrimony, William remaining in Weimar, Albert (Albrecht) receiving seat as Duke of Eisenach and Ernest (by-named "the Pious") also got his share and became known as Duke of Gotha.

Ernest I, Duke of Saxe-Gotha (1601-75) had married Elisabeth Sophie, the only child of John Philip, Duke of Altenburg and Gotha (1597-1638), the eldest son of Frederick William I. When Elisabeth Sophie's cousin Frederick William III, Duke of Altenburg, died unmarried 1672, the entire first Altenburg line went extinct in male line, opening a succession strife. Ultimately, Ernest and Elisabeth Sophie's sons received the lion's share of Altenburg inheritance, on basis of Duke John Philip's testament (as it was ultimately recognized in law that the Salic Law does not prevent an agnate to will all his possessions to those other agnates of the house he desires to make his heirs, leaving other agnates without; and if those favored agnates also happened to be the testator's son-in-law and maternal grandsons, that's in no way prohibited), but a portion (one fourths of the original Altenburg moiety) passed to the Saxe-Weimar branch. These two lines: Weimar and Gotha(-Altenburg) form the basis of future Ernestine lines, and both have surviving male lineage up to today. After the division of the inheritance of the first Altenburg line, the senior, Weimar, line held somewhat less than half of the Ernestine lands, and the junior, Gotha-Altenburg, line held more than half. Gotha-Altenburg line subdivided more and Weimar line not so much, and ultimately all the said Weimar line's possessions were concentrated in primogenitural hands in 1741 and in 1815 were raised to grand ducal title of Weimar.

Duke Ernest of Gotha and Duchess Elisabeth Sophie's numerous sons divided the inheritance (five eights of all Ernestine lands) initially to seven parts: Gotha-Altenburg, Coburg, Meiningen, Römhild, Eisenberg, Hildburghausen and Saalfeld. Of them, Coburg, Römhild and Eisenberg did not survive over that one generation and were divided between the four persevering lines.

The Ernestine territories in Thuringia were thus divided up and recombined many times as Dukes left more than one son to inherit, and as various lines of the Ducal Ernestines died out in male line. Eventually, primogeniture became the rule for inheritance in the Ernestine Duchies, but not before the number of Ernestine duchies had risen to ten at one point. By 1826 the remaining Ernestine duchies were the Grand Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (approximately three eights of all the Ernestine lands), and the ("Elisabeth-Sophie-line") duchies of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg, Saxe-Meiningen, Saxe-Hildburghausen and Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. In 1826 Ernest the Pious' senior line, the Gotha-Altenburg, went extinct. Daughter of its penultimate duke had been married with Duke of Coburg and Saalfeld, and the couple had two sons (younger of whom was to become Albert, Prince Consort of the United Kingdom). The patrimony of Gotha-Altenburg was divided between the other three lines stemming from Ernest the Pious and Elisabeth Sophie, causing changes in nomenclature: onwards, they were Saxe-Meiningen-Hildburghausen, Saxe-Altenburg (the former Hildburghausen line) and Saxe-Coburg and Gotha - the youngest line (originally Saalfeld line) receiving the "maternal" seat of Gotha which had been the seat of Ernest the Pious, progenitor of all these seven lines. All of the Ernestine Duchies ended with the abolition of the monarchy and princely states in Germany shortly after the end of World War I.

Five of the Ernestine duchies were members of the Upper Saxon Circle of the Holy Roman Empire:

  • Saxe-Weimar
  • Saxe-Eisenach
  • Saxe-Coburg
  • Saxe-Gotha
  • Saxe-Altenburg

Membership in the Circle gave the ruler of a state a vote in the Reichstag. In the 1792 Session of the Reichstag, the Duke of Saxe-Weimar was also the Duke of Saxe-Eisenach, and had two votes (as well as three-eights of all the Ernestine lands); the Duke of Saxe-Altenburg was also the Duke of Saxe-Gotha (as senior heir of both Duke John Philip and Duke Ernest the Pious), and had two votes; and the Duke of Saxe-Coburg had one vote.

The other Ernestine duchies were never members of the Imperial Circle, and were subordinate to the five duchies that did belong to the Imperial Circle (for example, the principalities of Meiningen and Hildburghausen were such; that was one reason why Duke of Hildburghausen exchanged his patrimony to that of Altenburg). Ultimately, in the German Confederation, all these became equally sovereign.

Ernestine duchies

The Ernestine Duchies in Thuringia after 1825

See also

References

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The Ernestine duchies, also called the Saxon duchies (although also the Albertine appanage duchies of Weissenfels, Merseburg and Zeitz were "Saxon duchies" and located adjacent to several Ernestine ones), were a changing number of small states largely located in the present German state of Thuringia, governed by dukes of the Ernestine line of the House of Wettin.

Contents

Overview

The Saxon duchy began fragmenting in the 15th Century as a result of the old German succession law that divided inheritances among all sons. All sons of a Saxon duke also inherited the title of Duke. Brothers sometimes ruled the territory inherited from their father jointly, and sometimes split it up. Some of the Ernestine duchies retained their separate existence until 1918. Similar events in the houses of Reuss and Schwarzburg led to all of Thuringia becoming a tangle of mini-states from the late 15th Century until the early 20th Century.

Background before Ernestine branch came into being

Count Bernhard of Anhalt, youngest son of Albert "the Bear" (1106-70), inherited parts of the old Saxon duchy, primarily around Lauenburg and Wittenberg, in 1180. He had two sons, Albert and Henry. Albert inherited the Duchy of Saxony. In 1260 Albert bequeethed the duchy to his sons John I and Albert II, who gradually divided Saxony into the duchies of Saxe-Lauenburg and Saxe-Wittenberg with definite effect of 1296. Saxe-Wittenberg was recognized as the electorate of Saxony in the Golden Bull of 1356. When the last duke of Saxe-Wittenberg died without heir in 1422, the Emperor Sigismund gave the duchy to Frederick IV of the house of Wettin, Margrave of Meissen and Landgrave of Thuringia, who thereby became Frederick I, Elector of Saxony. The name Saxony was then generally applied to all of the Wettin's domains, including those in Thuringia, because Saxony was a ducal title, highest they possessed, and all house members used it, although many of them held lands only in Thuringia. Frederick I was succeeded by his son, Frederick II. After the death of Frederick II in 1464, his oldest son, Ernest, became elector, and Ernest and Duke Albert, the younger son, shared governance of the Wettin lands. In 1485, by the Leipziger division, the brothers split the Wettin possessions, with Ernest receiving northern Meissen, southern Thuringia, and Wittenberg, and Albert receiving northern Thuringia and southern Meissen.

A study of the List of members of the House of Wettin will reveal much of the different strands of the ducal house and their possessions.

Detailed history of divisions in the Ernestine line

Electors of Saxony

In 1554, John Frederick I split the duchy between his three sons.

Duke of Saxe-Eisenach and Saxe-Coburg Duke of Saxe-Weimar Duke of Saxe-Gotha
  • John Frederick III, 1554–1565, son of John Frederick I
Division of Erfurt

In 1572 the Ernestine duchies were rearranged and redivided between the two sons of John Frederick II and the son of John William.

Dukes of Saxe-Coburg-Eisenach Dukes of Saxe-Weimar
  • Co-rulers;

In 1596 the brothers agreed to split the lands between them.

After Frederick William's death, the land was split between his young sons and his brother.

Dukes of Saxe-Coburg Dukes of Saxe-Eisenach

After the death of John Casimir without heirs, the inheritance fell to his younger brother.

Dukes of Saxe-Altenburg Dukes of Saxe-Weimar
  • Co-rulers;
    • John Philip, 1603–1639, son of Frederick William I
    • Frederick, 1603–1625, son of Frederick William I
    • John William, 1603–1632, son of Frederick William I
    • Frederick William II, 1603–1669 (sole ruler from 1639), son of Frederick William I
  • Frederick William III, 1669–1672, son of Frederick William II
  • John II, 1602–1605, son of John William
Dukes of Saxe-Coburg-Eisenach

After the death of John Ernest without heirs, his principality was divided between Saxe-Weimar and Saxe-Altenburg.

Elector Ernest died in 1486, and was succeeded by his son, Frederick III, the Wise. Leipzig, the economic center of Saxony, as well as the seat of the only university in Saxony, was located in Albertine Saxony. Wanting a university in his lands, for example for educating civil servants and pastors, Frederick founded the University of Wittenberg in 1502. It was there that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses. Frederick protected Luther, refusing to extradite him to Rome for trial. Frederick, as did other German princes, allowed Lutheran reforms to be implemented in his domain.

Frederick III died in 1525; he was succeeded by his brother, John the Steadfast (1525-1532). John was a leader in the Schmalkaldic League of Protestant princes in the Holy Roman Empire. John died in 1532 and was succeeded by his son John Frederick I. For the first ten years of his reign, John Frederick shared the rule of Ernestine Saxony with his stepbrother, John Ernest, titularly Duke of Saxe-Coburg, who died childless. John Frederick increasingly hardened his support of the Lutheran Reformation, while the Emperor, Charles V, avoided direct confrontation with the Protestant princes, as he needed their support in his struggle with France.

Charles eventually came to terms with France, and turned his attention to the Protestant lands of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1546 the Schmalkaldic League raised an army. Elector John Frederick led the league's troops south, but shortly thereafter John Frederick's cousin, Duke Maurice of Albertine Saxony (Meissen), invaded Ernestine Saxony. John Frederick hurried back to Saxony, expelled Maurice from the Ernestine lands, conquered Albertine Saxony and proceeded to invade Bohemia (held directly by Emperor Charles V' brother Ferdinand and that latter's wife Anna of Bohemia and Hungary). Charles' forces drove the Schmalkaldic League troops back and decisively defeated them in the Battle of Mühlberg (1547). John Frederick was wounded and taken prisoner. The Emperor condemned him to death as a rebel, but stayed the execution because he did not want to take the time to capture Wittenberg, defended by John Frederick's wife Sybille of Cleves. To save his life, John Frederick conceded in the Capitulation of Wittenberg to resign the Electorate and the government of his country in favor of Maurice of the Albertine Saxony, and his punishment was changed into imprisonment for life. When the newly-minted Elector Maurice, having again changed sides, attacked the Emperor, Duke John Frederick was released from prison, and given back the Landgraviate of Thuringia. He established his capital in Weimar, and started a university at Jena (to replace the one in Wittenberg lost to Maurice) before his death in 1554.

The three sons of John Frederick I shared the territory, with John Frederick II becoming head (and briefly, 1554-56, holding the electoral title) with his seats in Eisenach and Coburg, the middle brother John William staying in Weimar (Saxe-Weimar), and the youngest, John Frederick III (namesake of the eldest brother, which thing has caused innumerable confusion in history writing) establishing residence in Gotha (Saxe-Gotha). When John Frederick III of Gotha died unmarried and heirless in 1565, John William of Weimar tried to claim succession to Saxe-Gotha, but the sons of the imprisoned John Frederick II entered their own claim.

The contenders reached agreement in 1572 in the Division of Erfurt by which John William added the districts of Altenburg, Gotha and Meiningen to Saxe-Weimar. When John William died a year later, his older son, Frederick William I received Altenburg, Gotha and Meiningen with using the title of Duke of Saxe-Altenburg, and with his several sons founding the first Saxe-Altenburg line, while Saxe-Weimar went to the younger son John II. John Casimir (d 1633 heirless), the older son of John Frederick II, and John Ernest (d 1638 heirless), the younger son of John Frederick II, received together the territory of Saxe-Coburg-Eisenach, but got a legal guardian because they were underage. In 1596 the brothers agreed to split the duchy into Saxe-Coburg and Saxe-Eisenach.

Johann II, Duke of Saxe-Weimar (or John II), died young leaving eight surviving sons (including Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar, the youngest, the famed general) and a will ordering them to rule jointly. When the eldest of them, John Ernest III, Duke of Saxe-Weimar died in action (1626) unmarried, two more of his brothers were already deceased without children, leaving five dukes of Saxe-Weimar, with Wilhelm the eldest. Two more died within fifteen years, including Bernhard in 1639, without heirs. In 1638, the senior Coburg-Eisenach line went extinct and its possessions were divided between the Altenburgs and the Weimars, this doubled the Saxe-Weimar possessions and made it again feasible to be divided. In c 1640, the remaining brothers finally divided their patrimony, William remaining in Weimar, Albert (Albrecht) receiving seat as Duke of Eisenach and Ernest (by-named "the Pious") also got his share and became known as Duke of Gotha.

Ernest I, Duke of Saxe-Gotha (1601-75) had married Elisabeth Sophie, the only child of John Philip, Duke of Altenburg and Gotha (1597-1638), the eldest son of Frederick William I. When Elisabeth Sophie's cousin Frederick William III, Duke of Altenburg, died unmarried 1672, the entire first Altenburg line went extinct in male line, opening a succession strife. Ultimately, Ernest and Elisabeth Sophie's sons received the lion's share of Altenburg inheritance, on basis of Duke John Philip's testament (as it was ultimately recognized in law that the Salic Law does not prevent an agnate to will all his possessions to those other agnates of the house he desires to make his heirs, leaving other agnates without; and if those favored agnates also happened to be the testator's son-in-law and maternal grandsons, that's in no way prohibited), but a portion (one fourths of the original Altenburg moiety) passed to the Saxe-Weimar branch. These two lines: Weimar and Gotha(-Altenburg) form the basis of future Ernestine lines, and both have surviving male lineage up to today. After the division of the inheritance of the first Altenburg line, the senior, Weimar, line held somewhat less than half of the Ernestine lands, and the junior, Gotha-Altenburg, line held more than half. Gotha-Altenburg line subdivided more and Weimar line not so much, and ultimately all the said Weimar line's possessions were concentrated in primogenitural hands in 1741 and in 1815 were raised to grand ducal title of Weimar.

Duke Ernest of Gotha and Duchess Elisabeth Sophie's numerous sons divided the inheritance (five eights of all Ernestine lands) initially to seven parts: Gotha-Altenburg, Coburg, Meiningen, Römhild, Eisenberg, Hildburghausen and Saalfeld. Of them, Coburg, Römhild and Eisenberg did not survive over that one generation and were divided between the four persevering lines.

The Ernestine territories in Thuringia were thus divided up and recombined many times as Dukes left more than one son to inherit, and as various lines of the Ducal Ernestines died out in male line. Eventually, primogeniture became the rule for inheritance in the Ernestine Duchies, but not before the number of Ernestine duchies had risen to ten at one point. By 1826 the remaining Ernestine duchies were the Grand Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (approximately three eights of all the Ernestine lands), and the ("Elisabeth-Sophie-line") duchies of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg, Saxe-Meiningen, Saxe-Hildburghausen and Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. In 1826 Ernest the Pious' senior line, the Gotha-Altenburg, went extinct. The daughter of its penultimate duke had been married with Duke of Coburg and Saalfeld, and the couple had two sons (younger of whom was to become Albert, Prince Consort of the United Kingdom). The patrimony of Gotha-Altenburg was divided between the other three lines stemming from Ernest the Pious and Elisabeth Sophie, causing changes in nomenclature: onwards, they were Saxe-Meiningen-Hildburghausen, Saxe-Altenburg (the former Hildburghausen line) and Saxe-Coburg and Gotha - the youngest line (originally Saalfeld line) receiving the "maternal" seat of Gotha which had been the seat of Ernest the Pious, progenitor of all these seven lines. All of the Ernestine Duchies ended with the abolition of the monarchy and princely states in Germany shortly after the end of World War I.

Five of the Ernestine duchies were members of the Upper Saxon Circle of the Holy Roman Empire:

  • Saxe-Weimar
  • Saxe-Eisenach
  • Saxe-Coburg
  • Saxe-Gotha
  • Saxe-Altenburg

Membership in the Circle gave the ruler of a state a vote in the Reichstag. In the 1792 Session of the Reichstag, the Duke of Saxe-Weimar was also the Duke of Saxe-Eisenach, and had two votes (as well as three-eights of all the Ernestine lands); the Duke of Saxe-Altenburg was also the Duke of Saxe-Gotha (as senior heir of both Duke John Philip and Duke Ernest the Pious), and had two votes; and the Duke of Saxe-Coburg had one vote.

The other Ernestine duchies were never members of the Imperial Circle, and were subordinate to the five duchies that did belong to the Imperial Circle (for example, the principalities of Meiningen and Hildburghausen were such; that was one reason why Duke of Hildburghausen exchanged his patrimony to that of Altenburg). Ultimately, in the German Confederation, all these became equally sovereign.

Ernestine duchies

See also

References


Simple English

The Ernestine duchies, are sometimes called the Saxon duchies, were a changing number of small states in the present German state of Thuringia, governed by dukes of the Ernestine line of the house of Wettin The Albertine duchies of Weissenfels, Merseburg and Zeitz were are also sometime called "Saxon duchies" and border several Ernestine ones)

Contents

Overview

The old Duchy of Saxon began to split up in the 15th Century, because law said that all sons should inherit. All of the sons of a Saxon duke had the title of Duke, sometimes brothers ruled the territory together, and sometimes they divided it up between them. Some of the Ernestine duchies stayed independent until 1918. The nearby royal houses of Reuss and Schwarzburg also divided up their territory, so Thuringia was a tangle of little states, exclaves and enclaves from the late 15th Century until the early 20th Century.

Background

Albert, grandson of Albert "the Bear" inherited the Duchy of Saxony from his father. Albert's sons divided Saxony into the duchies of Saxe-Lauenburg and Saxe-Wittenberg. When duke of Saxe-Wittenberg died without an heir in 1422, the Emperor Sigismund gave the duchy to Frederick IV of the House of Wettin. Frederick was already Margrave of Meißen and Landgrave of Thuringia, and then became Frederick I, Elector of Saxony. Frederick was followed as Elector by his son Frederick II, and when Frederick II died in 1464 his sons Ernest and Albert took over. Because he was the older, Ernest became Elector of Saxony, but the brothers shared ruling the lands until 1485. Then Ernest took northern Meißen, southern Thuringia, and Wittenberg, with Albert receiving northern Thuringia and southern Meißen

The Ernestine line

Elector Ernest died in 1486, and was succeeded by his son, Frederick III, the Wise.

It was Frederick the Wise who set up the University of Wittenberg in 1502. This was because the only university in Saxony was in Leipzig, was in the part of Saxony controlled by the descendants of his uncle, Albert. The University of Wittenberg was were Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses. Frederick protected Luther, and did not send him to Rome for trial. Frederick allowed Lutheran reforms in his country.


Frederick the Wise had three grandsons to share the territory. John Frederick II set up his capitals in in Eisenach and Coburg, the middle brother John William staying in Weimar (Saxe-Weimar), and the youngest, John Frederick III took Gotha (Saxe-Gotha).

John Frederick III of Gotha died unmarried and heirless in 1565 and John William of Weimar tried to claim Saxe-Gotha, but the sons of the imprisoned John Frederick II entered their own claim.

In 1572 the claimants agreed to the Division of Erfurt. This treaty said John William of Saxe-Weimar would also take the districts of Altenburg, Gotha and Meiningen.


When John William died a year later.

  • his older son, Frederick William I received Altenburg, Gotha and Meiningen with using the title of Duke of Saxe-Altenburg, and founding the first Saxe-Altenburg line,
  • younger son John II. John Casimir took Saxe-Weimar

The older son of John Frederick II, and John Ernest (d 1638 heirless), the younger son of John Frederick II, received together the territory of Saxe-Coburg-Eisenach. In 1596 the brothers agreed to split the duchy into Saxe-Coburg and Saxe-Eisenach.

Johann II, Duke of Saxe-Weimar (or John II), died young but left eight surviving sons who ruled together, Three died, (including Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar, the youngest, the famed general) and a will ordering them to rule jointly. Only three survived by 1639, when the lands of the Coburg-Eisenach dukes were divided between the Altenburgs and the Weimarsthe remaining brothers finally divided their lands which were twice the size of what they inherited.

William kept Weimar, Albert became Duke of Eisenach and Ernest "the Pious" became known as Duke of Gotha.

Ernest I, Duke of Saxe-Gotha (1601-75) had married Elisabeth Sophie, the only child of John Philip, Duke of Altenburg(1597-1638). Elisabeth Sophie's cousin Frederick William III, Duke of Altenburg, died unmarried 1672. He was the last male descendant of the first Saxe-Altenburg line.

There was a big argument about who should get the Altenburg land. In the end most went to Ernest and Elisabeth Sophie's sons. One quarter the original Altenburglands went to the Saxe-Weimar branch.

These two lines: Weimar and Gotha(-Altenburg) form the basis of future Ernestine lines, and both have surviving male lineage up to today.

After the division of the first Altenburg lands line, the senior Ernestine branch (the Saxe-Weimar family ), line held just under half of the Ernestine lands, and the junior, Gotha-Altenburg, line held more than half. Gotha-Altenburg line divided more each generation. The Weimar line did not subdivide their land and by 1741 all of the land was controlled by the one branch of the Weimar family. In 1815 they became Grand Dukes.

Duke Ernest of Gotha and Duchess Elisabeth Sophie's numerous sons divided the inheritance into seven parts: Gotha-Altenburg, Coburg, Meiningen, Römhild, Eisenberg, Hildburghausen and Saalfeld. The new dukes of Coburg, Römhild and Eisenberg had no children, so their lands were quickly absorbed by the four remaining lines.

Eventually, primogeniture (that is, only the eldest son inherits) became the rule for inheritance in the Ernestine Duchies.

In 1825 the Ernestine duchies were

In 1825 Ernest the Pious' senior line, the Gotha-Altenburg, went extinct and the land was redistributed for the last time.

Altenburg went to the Duke of Saxe-Hildburghausen, but he gave Hildburghausen to the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen-Hildburghausen. The duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld gave up Saalfeld in return for Gotha.. All of the Ernestine Duchies ended with the abolition of the monarchy and princely states in Germany shortly after the end of World War I.

Five rulers of the Ernestine duchies

  • Saxe-Weimar
  • Saxe-Eisenach
  • Saxe-Coburg
  • Saxe-Gotha
  • Saxe-Altenburg

had a vote in the Holy Roman Empire’s Reichstag. In 1792 the Duke of Saxe-Weimar was also the Duke of Saxe-Eisenach, and the Duke of Saxe-Altenburg was also the Duke of Saxe-Gotha, so both had two votes; and the Duke of Saxe-Coburg had one vote.

The other Ernestine duchies were never members of the Imperial Circle, and were subordinate to the five duchies that did belong to the Imperial Circle (for example, the principalities of Meiningen and Hildburghausen were such; that was one reason why Duke of Hildburghausen exchanged his patrimony to that of Altenburg). Ultimately, in the German Confederation, all these became equally sovereign.

Ernestine duchies

References


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