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Wettin (dynasty)

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Wettin (dynasty)

House of Wettin
Country Saxony

Founder Thiedericus
Final sovereign Multiple sovereigns until today
Current head Michael, Prince of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach
Founding January 1, 900; 1114 years ago (900-01-01)
Cadet branches

In order of seniority:


The House of Wettin is a dynasty of German counts, dukes, prince-electors (Kurfürsten) and kings that once ruled the area of today's German states of Saxony (953 years), the Saxon part of Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia for more than 800 years. Agnates of the House of Wettin have, at various times, ascended the thrones of Great Britain, Portugal, Bulgaria, Poland, Saxony, and Belgium; of these, only the British and Belgian lines retain their thrones today. (See list of members.)

Origins: Wettin of Saxony

The oldest member of the House of Wettin who is known for certain is Dietrich I von Wettin, also known as Thiedericus, or as Thierry I of Liesgau (died c. 982). He was most probably based in the Liesgau (located at the western edge of the Harz). Around 1000, the family acquired Wettin Castle, after which they named themselves. Wettin Castle is located in Wettin in the Hosgau on the Saale River. Around 1030, the Wettin family received the Eastern March as a fief.[1]

The prominence of the Wettin family in the Slavic marches caused Emperor Henry IV to invest them with the March of Meissen as a fief in 1089. The family advanced over the course of the Middle Ages: in 1263 they inherited the landgraviate of Thuringia (though without Hesse), and in 1423 they were invested with the Duchy of Saxony, centred at Wittenberg, thus becoming one of the prince-electors of the Holy Roman Empire.

Ernestine and Albertine Wettins

Main article: Treaty of Leipzig

The family divided into two ruling branches in 1485 when the sons of Frederick II, Elector of Saxony, divided the territories hitherto ruled jointly.

The elder son Ernest, who had succeeded his father as Prince-elector, received the territories assigned to the Elector (Electorate of Saxony) and Thuringia, while his younger brother Albert obtained the March of Meissen, which he ruled from Dresden. As Albert ruled under the title of "Duke of Saxony", his possessions were also known as Ducal Saxony.


The older, Ernestine branch remained predominant until 1547 and played an important role in the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation. Their predominance ended in the Schmalkaldic War, which pitted the Protestant Schmalkaldic League against Emperor Charles V. Although itself Protestant, the Albertine branch rallied to the Empire's cause; Charles V rewarded them by forcing the Ernestines to sign away their rights to the Electoral title to the Albertines.

The Ernestine line was thereafter restricted to Thuringia and its dynastic unity swiftly crumbled, dividing into a number of smaller states, the Ernestine duchies. It was only in the 19th century that one of the many Ernestine branches, the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, regained importance as the "stud of Europe", by ascending the thrones of Belgium (in 1831), Portugal (1853-1910), Bulgaria (1908–1946) and the United Kingdom (in 1901).

Electors of Saxony
Image Name Began Ended Notes
Frederick I
Friedrich I
6 January 1423 4 January 1428 Nicknamed "the Warlike." After the Wittenberg line of the House of Ascania became extinct, the Electorate was given to Frederick, Margrave of Meissen and Landgrave of Thuringia, of the House of Wettin.
Frederick II
Friedrich II
4 January 1428 7 September 1464 Nicknamed "the Gentle". Son of Frederick I. Ruled jointly in Saxony with his brothers, but was the sole holder of the Electorate. Father of Ernest and Albert, founders of the Ernestine (continuing below) and Albertine Saxon lines (see Albertine Dukes of Saxony).
Ernestine Line
7 September 1464 26 August 1486 Son of Frederick II, divided Saxony with his brother Albert, taking Wittenberg, northern Meissen, and southern Thuringia. Inherited Thuringia in 1482 and ruled it jointly with Albert until 1485.
Frederick III
Friedrich III
26 August 1486 5 May 1525 Nicknamed "the Wise." Son of Ernest. Protector of Martin Luther, but a lifelong Catholic.
5 May 1525 16 August 1532 Nicknamed "the Steadfast." Brother of Frederick III. Legally established Lutheranism in his territories in 1527.
John Frederick I
Johann Friedrich I
16 August 1532 19 May 1547 Nicknamed "the Magnanimous." Son of John the Steadfast. Deprived of his Electorate by Emperor Charles V for his role in the Schmalkaldic War. Died 1554.


The Albertine Wettin maintained most of the territorial integrity of Saxony, preserving it as a significant power in the region, and using small appanage fiefs for their cadet branches, few of which survived for significant lengths of time. The Ernestine Wettin, on the other hand, repeatedly subdivided their territory, creating an intricate patchwork of small duchies and counties in Thuringia.

The junior Albertine branch ruled as Electors (1547–1806) and Kings of Saxony (1806–1918) and also played a role in Polish history: two Wettin were Kings of Poland (between 1697–1763) and a third ruled the Duchy of Warsaw (1807–1814) as a satellite of Napoleon. After the Napoleonic Wars, the Albertine branch lost about 40% of its lands, including the old Electorate of Saxony, to Prussia, restricting it to a territory coextensive with the modern Saxony (see Final Act of the Congress of Vienna Act IV: Treaty between Prussia and Saxony 18 May 1815). Frederick Augustus III lost his throne in the German Revolution of 1918.

The present head of the Albertine "House of Saxony" is his great-grandson Prince Ruediger of Saxony, Duke of Saxony, Margrave of Meissen (* 23 December 1953). The headship of Prince Rüdiger is however contested by his second cousin, Alexander (* 1954), son of Roberto Afif, later by change of name Mr Gessaphe, and Princess Maria Anna of Saxony, a sister of the childless former head of the Albertines, Maria Emanuel, Margrave of Meissen (d. 2012) who had adopted his nephew, granting him the name Prince of Saxony, contrary to the rules of male descent under the Salic Law. The dispute is detailed in the article Line of succession to the former Saxon thrones.

Albertine Electors and Kings of Saxony

Image Name
(Life Dates)
Relation with predecessor Title
Albert III, Duke of Saxony
(* 1443; † 1500)
second son of Frederick II, Elector of Saxony Margrave of Meissen and Duke of Saxony
George, Duke of Saxony
(* 1471; † 1539)
Son of the previous Margrave of Meissen and Duke of Saxony
Henry IV, Duke of Saxony
(* 1473; † 1541)
Brother of the previous Margrave of Meissen and Duke of Saxony
Maurice, Elector of Saxony
(* 1521; † 1553)
Son of the previous Margrave of Meissen and Duke of Saxony, from 1547 Elector of Saxony. Second cousin of John Frederick, his Ernestine predecessor as Elector; grandson of Albert. Though a Lutheran, allied with Emperor Charles V against the Schmalkaldic League. Gained the Electorate for the Albertine line in 1547 after Charles V's victory at the Battle of Mühlberg.
Augustus, Elector of Saxony
(* 1526; † 1586)
Brother of the previous Elector of Saxony; recognized as Elector by the ousted John Frederick in 1554.
Christian I, Elector of Saxony
(* 1560; † 1591)
Son of the previous Elector of Saxony
Christian II, Elector of Saxony
(* 1583; † 1611)
Son of the previous Elector of Saxony
John George I, Elector of Saxony
(* 1585; † 1656)
Brother of the previous Elector of Saxony; ruled during the Thirty Years' War, during which he was at times allied with the Emperor and at times with the King of Sweden.
John George II, Elector of Saxony
(* 1613; † 1680)
Son of the previous Elector of Saxony
John George III, Elector of Saxony
(* 1647; † 1691)
Son of the previous Elector of Saxony
John George IV, Elector of Saxony
(* 1668; † 1694)
Son of the previous Elector of Saxony
Augustus II the Strong
(* 1670; † 1733)
Brother of the previous Elector of Saxony (as Frederick Augustus I) and King of Poland (as Augustus II). The first Albertine ruler since Luther's time to become a Roman Catholic, in order to gain the Polish throne (with the Albertines remaining Catholics ever since). Took the Polish crown 1697, opposed by Stanisław Leszczyński 1704, forced to renounce the throne 1706, returned as monarch 1709 until his death. A patron of the arts and architecture, the most prominent of all Albertine Wettins amassed an impressive art collection and built lavish baroque palaces at and around Dresden and Warsaw.
Augustus III of Poland
(* 1696; † 1763)
Son of the previous Elector of Saxony (as Frederick Augustus II) and King of Poland (as Augustus III); converted to Catholicism 1712. King of Poland 1734–1763. Called ""the Fat" or (in Poland) "the Saxon". A weak ruler but an important art collector.
Frederick Christian, Elector of Saxony
(* 1722; † 1763)
Son of the previous Elector of Saxony
Frederick Augustus I of Saxony
(* 1750; † 1827)
Son of the previous Elector of Saxony, 1806 King of Saxony. His Electorate ceased with the fall of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, and he became King of Saxony. Called "the Just."
Anthony of Saxony
(* 1755; † 1836)
Brother of the previous King of Saxony
Frederick Augustus II of Saxony
(* 1797; † 1854)
Nephew of the previous King of Saxony
John of Saxony
(* 1801; † 1873)
Brother of the previous King of Saxony
Albert of Saxony
(* 1828; † 1902)
Son of the previous King of Saxony
George, King of Saxony
(* 1832; † 1904)
Brother of the previous King of Saxony
Frederick Augustus III of Saxony
(* 1865; † 1932)
Son of the previous. The last king of Saxony. Lost his throne in the German revolution of 1918.

Residences of the Albertine Branch

The House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha

The senior Ernestine branch lost the electorship to the Albertine in 1547, but retained its holdings in Thuringia, dividing the area into a number of smaller states. One of the resulting Ernestine houses, known as Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld until 1826 and Saxe-Coburg and Gotha after that, went on to contribute kings of Belgium (from 1831) and Bulgaria (1908–1946), as well as furnishing husbands to queens regnant of Portugal (Prince Ferdinand) and the United Kingdom (Prince Albert). As such, the British and Portuguese thrones became possessions of persons who belonged to the House of Wettin.

From King George I to Queen Victoria, the British Royal family was variously called House of Hanover, being a junior branch of the House of Brunswick-Lüneburg and thus part of the dynasty of the Guelphs. In the late 19th century, Queen Victoria charged the College of Heralds in England to determine the correct personal surname of her late husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha—and, thus, the proper surname of the royal family upon the accession of her son. After extensive research they concluded that it was Wettin, but this name was never used, neither by the Queen nor by her son or grandson, King Edward VII and King George V; they were simply called 'Saxe-Coburg-Gotha'.

Severe anti-German sentiment during World War I led some influential members of the public quietly to question the loyalty of the Royal Family, because they had a German or German-sounding name. Advisors to King George V again searched for an acceptable surname for the British royal family, but Wettin was rejected as "unsuitably comic". By Order in Council, the name of the British royal family was legally changed to Windsor, prospectively for all time.

Branches and titles of the House of Wettin and its agnatic descent

Early Wettins


Extinct Albertines


Extinct Ernestines

Extisting Ernestines

Coats of Arms

See also


External links

  • Website of the House of Wettin (German)
  • 2nd official website of the House of Wettin (German)
  • The House of Wettin
  • Online Gotha
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