Ernst I. (Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg)

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Duke Ernst I of Saxe-Gotha, posthumous copper engraving by Jacob von Sandrart from 1677, today in the Kupferstichkabinett of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
Duke Ernst the Pious of Saxe-Gotha (-Altenburg)
Memorial in front of Friedenstein Castle
Epitaph in the Margarethenkirche

Ernst I, the Pious (born December 25, 1601 in Altenburg , † March 26, 1675 in Gotha ) came from the Weimar branch of the Ernestine Wettins and had been Duke of Saxe-Gotha since 1640 . When a considerable part of the Duchy of Saxe-Altenburg fell , he founded the House of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg in 1672 .


Duke Ernst I was the ninth son of Duke Johann III. von Sachsen-Weimar and his wife Dorothea Maria von Anhalt . His brothers were Johann Ernst the Elder. J. von Sachsen-Weimar , Friedrich von Sachsen-Weimar , Wilhelm IV. Von Sachsen-Weimar , Albrecht von Sachsen-Eisenach , Johann Friedrich von Sachsen-Weimar and Bernhard von Sachsen-Weimar .

Like his brothers, Duke Ernst I received his education from Court Marshal Kaspar von Teutleben and Councilor Friedrich Hortleder .

Prince Ludwig I of Anhalt-Köthen accepted Duke Ernst I into the Fruitful Society in 1619 . He gave this the company name of bittersweet and the motto on both right . As emblem , he was a Jüdenkirsche with their little house opened to ( Physalis alkekengi being). The entry of Duke Ernst can be found in the Köthen society book of the fruit-bearing society under number 19.

Like almost all of his brothers, Duke Ernst served as a colonel in the Swedish army during the Thirty Years' War .

On October 24, 1636, he married Princess Elisabeth Sophia von Sachsen-Altenburg .

In 1640 the brothers Wilhelm IV, Albrecht and Ernst agreed on the division of the Duchy of Saxony-Weimar . From this division of the estate , the new duchies of Saxony-Eisenach and Saxony-Gotha emerged in addition to the reduced Saxony-Weimar . The latter fell to Duke Ernst I, who ruled it until his death and became the progenitor of the Ernestine line of Saxony-Gotha. Since there was no appropriate residence in Gotha when he took office (the Grimmenstein Castle there had been completely destroyed in 1567), Ernst began building the new Friedenstein Castle in 1643 (completed in 1654). It is one of the largest new palace buildings in Germany at the time of the Thirty Years War.

In his residence in Gotha he built a new mint for his duchy of Saxe-Gotha in 1650. The location of the coin was in the rooms of the west wing of the Residenzschloss Friedenstein.

In 1672 he succeeded in succeeding Friedrich Wilhelm III. of Sachsen-Altenburg and to inherit three quarters of its property . Through this inheritance, as well as, for example, through the coincidence of half of the Duchy of Saxony-Eisenach in 1645 and other acquisitions, Ernst I was able to enlarge his territory considerably.

Ernst appears as a ruler of transition. His political thinking was rooted in the traditional notions of the prince as the patriarchal authority, which is why his practice of rule was characterized by a strong patriarchal trait. He kept his distance from political theory doctrines of the primacy of the power calculation; Religion and church remained important pillars for his politics, which was also bound to end-time expectations of salvation. At the same time, however, strict administrative thinking broke out in the princely state of Ernsts des Pious, which extended to almost all areas of social life. A restless reform activity determined the Gotha territorial policy, which broke new ground in many fields.

Nevertheless, Ernst the Pious can hardly be regarded as an early advocate of absolutist state thought. Both the consensus-based handling of the estates and the succession regulation approaching a division of the laboriously rounded-off princely state speak against this. Ernsts rejected a primogeniture regulation for his successor.

Duke Ernst I and his principality were the model for the German princely state of Veit Ludwig von Seckendorff .

He tried to exert a positive influence on the morality, education and prosperity of the citizens by means of comprehensive regulations . Under Ernst I. Sigismund Evenius initiated the Weimar Bibles . He invited the Ethiopian theologian Abba Gregorius to his court and promoted the beginnings of Ethiopian studies , which was founded in Gotha by Job Ludolf .

Ernst the Pious was an important ruler of his time who sought to repair the damage caused by the war through comprehensive reforms. In addition to the promotion of the elite with the founding of the Gothaer Gymnasium (1524), general basic education was also promoted through the “ school method ” (1641), which institutionalized the elementary school system as the first independent school rules written independently of the church . This was followed by the introduction of compulsory schooling for five- to twelve-year-olds (1642), the establishment of an orphanage , the reorganization of the judiciary , state supervision of the health care system , all of these partly future-oriented measures go back to Duke Ernst I.

At the grammar school, students from Hungary , Silesia , Poland , Russia and Scandinavia , all of whom were welcome, mostly sons of persecuted Lutherans, whom the Duke offered asylum in Gotha . The Duke had new, epoch-making textbooks printed in his own school printer and promoted their translation into Italian and French . He financed a free school for the Lutheran congregation in Moscow , which was also open to the sons of the non-Christian peoples of the Russian Empire . An embassy from the Tsar was magnificently received and showered with good advice. Ernst offered the help of German mathematicians in surveying Russia, but also scientists and experts from various disciplines as “ development workers ”.

The successful reform work was widely recognized. The English lord protector Oliver Cromwell was informed in 1656 about the activities of the duke, whom he placed on a par with the great regents of his time.


Ernst I., the pious

Duke Ernst was buried in 1675 as the first member of the House of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg in the vault under the sanctuary of the town church of St. Margarethen on Neumarkt. In 1728, during the baroque redesign of the church, the Gotha council builder Biedermann made the epitaph that can be seen today on the north wall for him and his wife.

On September 4, 1904, the larger than life bronze monument to Ernst the Pious was inaugurated on the square in front of the north side of Friedenstein Castle. The sculpture created by the Berlin sculptor Caspar Finkenberger shows the prince in iron armor and an upright posture with a Bible in his hands. A helmet at his feet is partially covered by his wide coat, which - like the armor - refers to Ernst's role as a colonel in the Thirty Years War.

The Duke Ernst Seminar (today the Cooperative Comprehensive School "Duke Ernst" ) in the royal seat was named after the prince .

In 1939, Reinhold Schneider Ernst I set a literary monument in his story The Pious Duke .


After the Duke's death, Saxe-Gotha was first ruled jointly by his seven sons, before the Principality was divided up by the inheritance agreement of February 24, 1680:

  1. Friedrich I (1646–1691) received Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg
  2. Albrecht (1648–1699) received Saxe-Coburg
  3. Bernhard I (1649–1706) received Saxony-Meiningen
  4. Heinrich (1650–1710) received Sachsen-Römhild
  5. Christian (1653–1707) received Saxony-Eisenberg
  6. Ernst (1655–1715) received Saxony-Hildburghausen
  7. Johann Ernst (1658–1729) received Saxony-Saalfeld

From a total of 18 children, the seven sons and two daughters listed above survived him:

  1. Elisabeth Dorothea (1640–1709), married to Landgrave Ludwig VI. from Hessen-Darmstadt
  2. Dorothea Maria (1654–1682)

Remembrance day


Individual evidence

  1. Wolfgang Streguweit: History of the Gotha Mint from the 12th to the 19th Century , Weimar 1987, p. 63
  2. Ernst the Pious in the Ecumenical Lexicon of Saints

Web links

Commons : Ernst I.  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
predecessor Office successor
Johann Ernst I as Duke of Saxe-Weimar Duke of Saxe-Gotha
risen in Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg
predecessor Office successor
of Saxe-Gotha emerged Duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg
Friedrich I.