House of Wettin

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House of Wettin
German: Haus Wettin
Royal family
Armoiries Saxe2.svg
Country  Belgium
 United Kingdom
Estates Wettin Castle (main; Wettin)
Style(s) "His/Her Majesty"
"His/Her Imperial and Royal Highness"
Founded 900; 1123 years ago (900)
Founder Theodoric I
Final ruler Saxony: Frederick Augustus III
Bulgaria: Simeon II
Portugal: Manuel II
Warsaw: Frederick Augustus I
Current head Michael, Prince of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach
Deposition Saxony: 1918 (1918)
Bulgaria: 1946 (1946)
Portugal: 1910 (1910)
Warsaw: 1815 (1815)
Ethnicity German
Cadet branches

The House of Wettin is a dynasty of German counts, dukes, prince-electors and kings that once ruled territories of present-day German states of Saxony and Thuringia for 953 years. The royal house is one of the oldest of Europe. Its origins can be traced back to the town of Wettin, Saxony-Anhalt. The Wettins gradually rose to power within the Holy Roman Empire. Members of the royal family became the monarchs of several medieval states, starting with Saxon Eastern March in 1030. Other states they gained were Meissen in 1089, Thuringia in 1263 and Saxony in 1423.

The family divided into two ruling branches in 1485 by Treaty of Leipzig: the Ernestine and Albertine branches. The treaty finally ruined a chance for an emergence of a great power in Central Germany, thus helping Brandenburg-Prussia gain influence within the Empire. The older Ernestine branch played a predominant role during the Protestant Reformation. Many ruling monarchs outside Germany were tied to its cadet branch Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The Albertine branch, while less prominent, ruled the most of Saxony and played a part in Polish history.

The Austrian Holy Roman Emperor preferred the Albertine branch over the Ernestine branch, thus transferring the electoral dignity to the Albertines in 1547.

Agnates of the House of Wettin have, at various times, ascended the thrones of Great Britain, Portugal, Bulgaria, Poland-Lithuania, Saxony, and Belgium. Only the British and Belgian lines retain their thrones today.

Origins: Wettin of Saxony

The oldest member of the House of Wettin who is known for certain is Theodoric I of Wettin, also known as Dietrich, Thiedericus, and 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 which was originally built by the local Slavic tribes ( See Sorbs), 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 Wettins in the Slavic Saxon Eastern March or Ostmark 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 (although 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

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The family divided into two ruling branches in 1485 after being under control from Charles IV King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor, 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 the Emperor Charles V. Although itself Lutheran, the Albertine branch rallied to the Empire's cause; Charles V rewarded them by forcing the Ernestines to sign away to the Albertines their rights to the Electorship.

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
Saxonia Museum fuer saechsische Vaterlandskunde III 10.jpg 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.
Saxonia Museum für saechsische Vaterlandskunde I 23.jpg 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
Saxonia Museum für saechsische Vaterlandskunde I 55.jpg Ernest
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.
Lucas Cranach d. Ä. 097.jpg Frederick III
Friedrich III
26 August 1486 5 May 1525 Nicknamed "the Wise." Son of Ernest. Protector of Martin Luther, but a lifelong Catholic.
Lucas Cranach d.Ä. - Kurfürst Johann der Beständige von Sachsen.jpg John
5 May 1525 16 August 1532 Nicknamed "the Steadfast." Brother of Frederick III. Legally established Lutheranism in his territories in 1527.
Lucas Cranach d. Ä. 044.jpg 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.


Albertine Wettin's royal coat of arms with the standard arms at the center (Kings of Saxony, 1806–1918)

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
Herzog-Albrecht-der-Beherzt.jpg Albert III, Duke of Saxony
(* 1443; † 1500)
second son of Frederick II, Elector of Saxony Margrave of Meissen and Duke of Saxony
Georg der Bärtige 2.jpg George, Duke of Saxony
(* 1471; † 1539)
Son of the previous Margrave of Meissen and Duke of Saxony
Lucas Cranach d. Ä. 042 small.jpg Henry IV, Duke of Saxony
(* 1473; † 1541)
Brother of the previous Margrave of Meissen and Duke of Saxony
Moritz-von-Sachsen-1578.jpg 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.
Lucas Cranach d. J. 004.jpg 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 of Saxony.jpg Christian I, Elector of Saxony
(* 1560; † 1591)
Son of the previous Elector of Saxony
Kurfürst Christian II. von Sachsen (Porträt).jpg Christian II, Elector of Saxony
(* 1583; † 1611)
Son of the previous Elector of Saxony
Johann Georg I Saxony.jpg 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.
Johan Georg II Johann Fink, vor 1675.jpg John George II, Elector of Saxony
(* 1613; † 1680)
Son of the previous Elector of Saxony
1647 Johann Georg.JPG John George III, Elector of Saxony
(* 1647; † 1691)
Son of the previous Elector of Saxony
Johann Georg IV. Kurfürst von Sachsen.jpg John George IV, Elector of Saxony
(* 1668; † 1694)
Son of the previous Elector of Saxony
Friedrich August der Starke von Polen.jpg 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.
August III.jpg 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.
Anton Raphael Mengs 006.jpg Frederick Christian, Elector of Saxony
(* 1722; † 1763)
Son of the previous Elector of Saxony
Fryderyk August I.jpg 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".
Anton-sachsen.jpg Anthony of Saxony
(* 1755; † 1836)
Brother of the previous King of Saxony
Friedrich August II of Saxony.jpg Frederick Augustus II of Saxony
(* 1797; † 1854)
Nephew of the previous King of Saxony
Louis Ferdinand von Rayski - König Johann von Sachsen, 1870.jpg John of Saxony
(* 1801; † 1873)
Brother of the previous King of Saxony
König Albert von Sachsen (Porträt).jpg Albert of Saxony
(* 1828; † 1902)
Son of the previous King of Saxony
Georg von Sachsen 1895.jpg George, King of Saxony
(* 1832; † 1904)
Brother of the previous King of Saxony
Friedrich August III van Saksen.jpg 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

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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, either by the Queen or 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".[citation needed] 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


Catholic members of the Royal Albertine branch of the House of Wettin buried in the crypt chapel of the Katholische Hofkirche, Dresden

Extinct Albertines


Extinct Ernestines

Existing Ernestines

Residences of Ernestine branches

Family Tree of the House of Wettin, the royal & ducal house of Saxony, and later Great Britain, Belgium, Portugal, and Bulgaria

Coats of arms

See also


  1. Lexikon des Mittelalters, vol. IX, col. 50, Munich 1969–1999

External links