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Territory in the Holy Roman Empire
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The Duchy of Saxony-Weimar
Form of rule Duchy
Ruler / government duke
Today's region / s DE-TH

Capitals / residences Weimar
Dynasties Wettiner
Denomination / Religions Lutheran

Incorporated into Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach

The Duchy of Saxony-Weimar was a land of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation on the territory of today's state of Thuringia and was ruled by the Ernestine Wettins (see Ernestine Duchies ). The capital and residence city was Weimar . It was created during the partition of Erfurt in 1572. From 1741 the duchies of Saxony-Weimar and Saxony-Eisenach were ruled in personal union, but formed two separate parts of the country until they were formally united in the Duchy of Saxony-Weimar-Eisenach (from 1815 Grand Duchy ) in 1809 .



Weimar before the Wettins came to power

The oldest mention of the place Weimar dates (controversial) from the year 899 or (certainly) from the year 915. In 949 the Counts of Weimar appeared for the first time, in 1062 the County of Weimar with the neighboring County of Orlamünde became the County of Weimar-Orlamünde united. In 1112 the Weimar counts died out, the county initially fell to a branch line of the Ascanians , in 1140 to their main line under Albrecht the Bear . After Albrecht's death in 1170, his son Hermann I founded the younger line of the Counts of Weimar-Orlamünde . The Ascanians can hold out until 1365, when they had to give their county to the Wettin family as a fief in the course of their defeat in the Thuringian Count's War . In 1486 the Ascanian counts finally die out, Wettin moves in the county as a settled fiefdom, since then the county has finally belonged to the Wettin sphere of influence.

Weimar under the Wettins to the division of Erfurt

The Wettins initially had their power base in Meißen , because the Margraviate of Meißen had belonged to them since 1088. From there they expanded their position of power in Central Germany. The acquisition of the Landgraviate of Thuringia by Heinrich the Illuminated in 1263 was a milestone on this path. The Grafschaft Weimar was just one of the many territories that the Wettins acquired in central Germany, and initially they did not pay much attention to the rather remote location.

In 1423 Margrave Friedrich IV., The feudal man of Meißen, acquired the Duchy of Saxony-Wittenberg as the successor to the Ascanian dukes, who died there. Associated with the duchy were the electoral dignity in the Holy Roman Empire and the office of arch marshal of the empire. As the most prestigious title, the Wettins transferred the term Saxony in future to all their possessions; this is how the name Sachsen-Weimar came about.

In 1485, Elector Ernst of Saxony and his brother Duke Albrecht III. of Saxony their possessions ( Leipzig division ). Two lines of Wettin emerged that still exist today: the Ernestines, the descendants of Elector Ernst, and the Albertines , the descendants of Albrecht III. The electoral dignity and Weimar initially remained with the older line, the Ernestines. The capital and residence of the Ernestines was initially Wittenberg , so Weimar continued to play no significant role.

In 1486, Friedrich III the Wise , a son of Ernst of Saxony, became elector. He promoted the Reformation and protected Martin Luther , whom he appointed professor at his university in Wittenberg . Since then, the Ernestines had been the protector of the Protestants in the empire and thus came into increasing opposition to the Catholic imperial house of the Habsburgs .

In the 16th century the Weimar Castle became the ancestral seat of the Ernestines in Thuringia

After the death of Frederick the Wise, he was followed in 1525 by his younger brother Johann the Steadfast , and finally in 1532 by his son Johann Friedrich I the Magnanimous . This led to a catastrophe for the Ernestines. The contrast between Catholics and Protestants in the empire had become so great that it erupted in the Schmalkaldic War in 1546/1547 . The Schmalkaldische Bund , the alliance of Protestants, suffered a decisive defeat on April 20, 1547 in the battle of Mühlberg . Johann Friedrich I, the magnanimous, was captured by the emperor. In the Wittenberg surrender he had to agree to harsh peace conditions. The Ernestines lost all territories outside Thuringia. The electoral dignity was transferred to Duke Moritz von Sachsen from the Albertine line; the Ernestines only had the title of Duke of Saxony. In 1552 Johann Friedrich I was released from imperial captivity. Since he had also lost his capital Wittenberg through the Wittenberg surrender, he made Weimar his residence for the last years of his life.

The division of Erfurt

After the death of Johann Friedrich I in 1554, his three sons ruled together, but shared their property in 1565. The Eisenach - Coburg - ( Gotha ) region and a Weimar region emerged. The eldest brother, Johann Friedrich the Middle , took up his residence in Gotha, from there he began an adventurous policy that was directed against the emperor and the empire and aimed at regaining the electoral dignity and the territories lost in 1547 (" Grumbachsche Handel "). The emperor imposed the imperial ban against him and instructed the Elector of Saxony with the Reichsexekution . Johann Friedrich the Middle was then besieged in Gotha and was imprisoned by the emperor, which he could not leave until the end of his life.

Johann Friedrich's younger brother, Johann Wilhelm , who had participated in the Reich execution against his brother, received the areas confiscated by Johann Friedrich. The Ernestine territories in Thuringia were thus united in one hand for the last time. However, Johann Wilhelm also quickly made himself unpopular with the emperor when he entered the service of his archenemy, the King of France, as a general. In 1570 the emperor therefore decreed that the two sons of the still imprisoned Johann Friedrich the Middle were reinstated in their inheritance rights. Johann Wilhelm had to agree to a division of his territories. The separated areas of Saxony-Coburg and Saxony-Eisenach went to his two nephews , Johann Wilhelm kept Weimar. This contract, known as the partition of Erfurt , became legally binding in 1572. Since this division, which was to be followed by many others, which finally created a patchwork of smaller and very small states in Thuringia, there have always been at least two Ernestine states. Since the division of Erfurt, one speaks of the Duchy of Saxony-Weimar.

Further division of the country, the duchy until the beginning of the Thirty Years War

Through the division of Erfurt, Johann Wilhelm's possession was reduced to an insignificant small territory (cf. Operetta State , Duodezfürstentum ). The duke died bitterly in 1573. Since his two children were still minors when he died, the duchy was initially administered by a regency led by Elector August I of Saxony . In 1586 Johann Wilhelm's eldest son Friedrich Wilhelm I ascended the ducal throne. He also ruled the Electorate of Saxony as regent from 1591, since there was also only one minor heir to the throne. He therefore stayed most of the time in the much more important electorate and left hardly any notable impulses in the duchy of Saxe-Weimar. In 1601 his reign ended in the electorate. Friedrich Wilhelm I returned to Weimar, but died the following year.

His younger brother Johann III followed him in the duchy . The sons of the late Friedrich Wilhelm I demanded their inheritance from Johann, which led to the division of the country again in 1603. The Duchy of Saxony-Altenburg was separated from Weimar and handed over to the sons of Friedrich Wilhelm I. Johann was married to Dorothea Maria , a born princess of Anhalt ; with this he had twelve children.

Johann III. died in 1605. Since all his children were still minors at that time, a regency was again established, which was again led by the Elector of Saxony. His eldest son had to fight for his inheritance before he became reigning duke. This is even expressed in a chronogram of the Eight Brothers' Talers from 1612 to 1616 . In 1615 Johann's eldest son Johann Ernst I, the younger , took over the rule.

Saxony-Weimar (around 1680)

The Duchy in the Thirty Years War, the sons of Duke Johann III.

The fruitful society

In 1617, the duchess mother Dorothea Maria died. At her funeral, Johann Ernst the Younger, his brothers Wilhelm and Friedrich, his uncle the Prince of Anhalt-Köthen founded the Fruitful Society , which soon developed into the leading literary society of the German Baroque . The duchy began to play an important role in the cultural field in Germany for the first time.

Johann Ernst the Younger intended to solve the financial problems of his country by hiring a "gold maker" (see alchemy ), whose experiments did not lead to the conversion of ordinary metal into gold, but resulted in the ducal castle in Weimar being opened in 1618 burned down to the ground. Johann Ernst started the reconstruction immediately, but his financial problems and the Thirty Years War that began in the same year meant that the castle would remain in ruins for a long time.

After the war began, Johann Ernst enthusiastically supported the Protestant cause. He was one of the military leaders of the "Winter King" Friedrich V of the Palatinate and shared his defeat in the Battle of White Mountain (November 8, 1620). Since Johann Ernst refused to submit to the emperor after the battle, he resigned as Duke of Saxe-Weimar so as not to direct the emperor's anger against his country. Johann Ernst remained a Protestant military leader, took part in various battles during the war, and finally died in 1626.

In the duchy, the younger brothers took over the reign, and the eldest finally ascended the ducal throne as Wilhelm IV after the death of Johann Ernst in 1626 . He, too, was initially involved on the Protestant side in the Thirty Years' War, becoming Swedish governor general of Thuringia in 1631 and lieutenant general in the Swedish army in 1632, the second highest office in the army after the king. Wilhelm's hopes to enlarge his territory through the war were not fulfilled, however, and after the death of the Swedish King Gustav II Adolf he came into increasing opposition to his chancellor Oxenstierna , who took over the leadership of Swedish politics after the death of the king. In 1635 he therefore joined the Peace of Prague between the Emperor and Electoral Saxony; the Thirty Years' War ended for the Duchy of Saxony-Weimar.

Duke Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar

The Thirty Years' War had catastrophic consequences for Saxony-Weimar, as it did for so many other German states. The capital Weimar was largely spared from acts of war, as it was remote from the major military roads and therefore the mercenary armies hardly got lost there. However, this meant that many people fled to Weimar. At times the city hosted more refugees than locals. The overpopulation led to plague epidemics (e.g. in 1635). The rural areas of the duchy, on the other hand, were badly affected by acts of war. After the end of the war, the Duke had a “ land visit ” (a kind of census ) carried out in 1642 , which revealed the full extent of the damage. Half of all homes and almost all of the livestock had been destroyed, and two thirds of the agricultural area lay fallow.

After the end of the war, the Duke began to rebuild his country as planned. As early as 1633 he had reformed the administration of the duchy with the "Chamber Rules". In 1647 he issued a ducal patent granting a two-year tax exemption to anyone who rebuilt and managed a farm devastated by the war. He was able to finish the reconstruction of the Weimar Palace. In the cultural field he achieved great things. In 1650 he became head of the fruitful society that moved from Köthen to Weimar.

Of his other brothers, Bernhard von Weimar , one of the greatest military leaders on the Protestant side during the Thirty Years' War , was best known .

Territorial changes of the duchy

During this time there were significant territorial changes. In 1638 the dukes of Saxe-Coburg-Eisenach died out. Their territory was divided between Weimar and Sachsen-Altenburg, two thirds fell to the Duchy of Sachsen-Weimar. The thus enlarged duchy was almost immediately divided again. Wilhelm had initially wanted his younger brothers to participate in the government of the duchy, but in order to free themselves from this obligation, the duchies of Saxe-Eisenach and Saxe-Gotha were separated for them in 1640 . However, his brother Albrecht von Sachsen-Eisenach died in 1644 without heirs, and the Duchy of Sachsen-Eisenach was then divided between Weimar and Gotha, so that half fell back to Weimar.

In 1583 the Counts of Henneberg-Schleusingen died out. Since the Ernestines and Albertines could not agree on the inheritance, the county of Henneberg was initially administered jointly. This joint administration was dissolved in 1660 and the Weimar portion of the former county (i.e. the offices of Kaltennordheim and Ilmenau ) agreed in the Kahla partition contract of 1554 was then united with the duchy.

Decline of the duchy until the attack of Eisenach

Duke Wilhelm IV died in 1662. His eldest son, Johann Ernst II, succeeded him as Duke. Johann Ernst II is not one of the more important rulers on the Weimar throne. He was actually only known for his passion for hunting ; he left the government largely to his chancellor. He also did not continue his father's cultural activities. The construction of the palace was stopped, the court chapel was dismissed, and the fruit-bearing society moved to Halle .

In 1672 there were again territorial changes in the duchy. In that year the older line of the dukes of Saxe-Altenburg died out (which emerged from Saxe-Weimar in 1602). Saxe-Altenburg was divided between Weimar and Gotha, with Saxe-Weimar receiving one quarter and Saxe-Gotha three quarters. Since Saxony-Weimar thus expanded slightly, the possibility of a new division of land between Duke Johann Ernst II and his brothers arose, and this division was carried out immediately. Eisenach and Jena were separated from Weimar and handed over to the two brothers, creating the duchies of Saxony-Jena (until 1690) and Saxony-Eisenach (until 1741). Since Saxony-Gotha, which emerged from the division in 1640, also existed, there were again four Ernestine duchies in Thuringia.

Duke Johann Ernst II died in 1683, and his two sons Johann Ernst III. and Wilhelm Ernst jointly followed him as dukes. Johann Ernst III. went down in history as a drinker and bully who once threw his own chancellor out of the window in a fit of anger. As a result, he was soon ousted by his brother. Although officially reigning duke until his death, Weimar politics was increasingly determined by Duke Wilhelm Ernst. This was characterized by strict Lutheranism and bigoted piety. He followed up on the cultural achievements of his grandfather, built the Ettersburg hunting lodge , re-established the court orchestra and had an opera stage built. Johann Sebastian Bach was at times court organist at his court; from this he parted, however, later in an argument.

In 1690 the line of the dukes of Saxony-Jena died out, and parts of the small duchy then reverted to Saxony-Weimar. When Johann Ernst III. Wilhelm Ernst died in 1707 and made his son Ernst August I his co-duke, without actually involving him in the government. Since Wilhelm Ernst died childless, Ernst August succeeded him in 1728.

Ernst August I, the last Duke of Saxe-Weimar, and at the same time the first Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, completely ruined the country financially. He maintained an army that was completely oversized for the financial possibilities of the small country, spent huge sums on his buildings (including Belvedere Palace and the Rococo Palace in Dornburg ), fell into a passion for hunting and owned over 1,000 dogs and 370 horses. After his wife died early, he had several lovers at the same time. Politically, he tried to introduce absolutism in Sachsen-Weimar and therefore came into conflict with the estates, for which he challenged their securitized rights of co-determination. In 1741 the line of the dukes of Saxony-Eisenach died out, and this duchy fell again, this time permanently, to Saxony-Weimar. Ernst August I, now Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, introduced the principle of primogeniture for his family . This avoided further division of the country.

Ernst August I. died in 1748 and was inherited by his son Ernst August II. Constantine .

The article on the Duchy, later Grand Duchy of Saxony-Weimar-Eisenach , deals with the further history of the country .

Ruler list

see list of the dukes of Saxe-Weimar .



  1. ^ Georg Wilhelm Sante (ed.): History of the German Lands - "Territories Ploetz". Vol. 1: The territories until the end of the old empire . A.-G.-Ploetz-Verlag, Würzburg 1964, p. 468.
  2. Lev Goldenberg: Chronogram and motto on the Achtbrüdertaler 1612 and 1613 von Sachsen-Weimar, 2006, pp. 27-29