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John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony


John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony

John Frederick I
Portrait by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1531.
Elector of Saxony
Reign 16 August 1532 – 24 April 1547
Predecessor John
Successor Maurice
Duke of Saxony
Reign 24 April 1547 – 3 March 1554
Predecessor Maurice
Successor John Frederick II
Landgrave of Thuringia
Reign 16 August 1532 – 24 April 1547
Predecessor John
Successor John Ernest
Born (1503-06-30)30 June 1503
Electorate of Saxony, Holy Roman Empire
Died 3 March 1554(1554-03-03) (aged 50)
Weimar, Electorate of Saxony, Holy Roman Empire
Burial St. Peter und Paul, Weimar
Spouse Sybille of Cleves
Issue John Frederick II, Duke of Saxony
John William, Duke of Saxe-Weimar
John Frederick III, Duke of Saxe-Gotha
House House of Wettin
Ernestine Line
Father John, Elector of Saxony
Mother Sophie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
Religion Lutheranism

John Frederick I (Weimar, 3 March 1554), called John the Magnanimous, was Elector of Saxony and Head of the Protestant Confederation of Germany (the Schmalkaldic League), "Champion of the Reformation".


  • Early years 1
  • Elector of Saxony 2
  • Prisoner 3
  • Final days 4
  • Ancestry 5
  • Marriage and family 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early years

28 scenes depicting the Protestant view of the life of the elector. Painting from 1630, Deutsches Historisches Museum Berlin

John Frederick was the eldest son of Elector John by his first wife, Sophie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. His mother died fourteen days after his birth, on 12 July 1503.

He received his education from Veit Warbeck of the French romance the Magelone, made in preparation of John Frederick's marriage in 1527; Catholic elements are suppressed.[1]

His father introduced him into the political and diplomatic affairs of the time, and he conducted the first negotiations of a treaty with Hesse in Kreuzburg and Friedewald. He took an active part in the disturbances caused by the Pack affair (see John the Steadfast), and Luther was grateful to him for his exertions, in spite of his youth, for the maintenance of peace.

During the second diet of Speyer (1529) he temporarily assumed the reins of government in place of his father. The intrigues of Archduke Ferdinand induced him after the diet to draw up a federal statute for the Evangelical estates, which shows that he was more decidedly convinced of the right and duty of defense than his father. He accompanied the latter to the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, signed with him the Augsburg Confession and was active in the proceedings. His attitude did not remain unnoticed, and won him the emperor's dislike.

Elector of Saxony

In 1532, John Frederick succeeded his father as elector. In the beginning he reigned with his half-brother, John Ernest, but in 1542 became sole ruler.

Chancellor Brück, who for years had guided the foreign relations of the country with ability and prudence, remained also his councilor, but his open and impulsive nature often led him to disregard the propositions of his more experienced adviser, so that the country was in frequent danger, especially as John Frederick was not a far-sighted politician.

Medal of John Frederick on the occasion of 32 birth anniversary (1535), National Museum in Warsaw

He consolidated the Lutheran State Church by the institution of an electoral consistory (1542) and renewed the church visitation. He took a firmer and more decided stand than his father in favor of the Schmalkaldic League, but on account of his strictly Lutheran convictions was involved in difficulties with the Landgrave of Hesse, who favored a union with the Swiss and Strasburg Evangelicals. He was averse to all propositions of Popes Clement VII and Paul III to support calling a General Council, because he was convinced that it would only serve "for the preservation of the papal and anti-Christian rule"; but to be prepared for any event, he requested Luther to summarize all articles to which he would adhere before a council, and Luther wrote the Schmalkald Articles. At the Diet of Schmalkalden in 1537 the council was refused, and the elector treated the papal legate with open disregard and rejected the propositions of Dr. Held, the imperial legate.

He followed the efforts at agreement at the conference of Regensburg in 1541 with suspicion and refused to accept the article on justification which had been drawn up under the supervision of Gasparo Contarini to suit both parties, and Luther, his steady adviser, confirmed him in his aversion. The efforts at agreement failed, and the elector contributed not a little to broaden the gulf by his interference in the ecclesiastical affairs of Halle and by aiding the Reformation which had been introduced there by Justus Jonas. His attitude became more and more stubborn and regardless of consequences, not to the advantage of the Protestant cause.

In spite of the warnings of the emperor, of Brück, and of Luther, he arbitrarily set aside in 1541 the election of Julius von Pflug as the BIshop of Naumburg, and instead instituted Nicolaus von Amsdorf as bishop, and introduced the Reformation. In 1542 he expelled Duke Henry of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel from his country to protect the Evangelical cities Goslar and Brunswick and introduced the Reformation there. New war-like entanglements hindered Charles V from interfering and by apparently yielding he succeeded in concealing his true intentions. The elector appeared personally at the diet of Speyer in 1544. The harmony of the emperor with the Evangelicals appeared never greater than at that time. He permitted the Regensburg declaration of 1541 to be embodied in the new recess and acknowledged all innovations which the Evangelicals had made between 1532 and 1541 because he needed the aid of the Protestants against France. John Frederick actually thought that peace had come and continued the ecclesiastical reforms in his country. Even the growing discord among the allies did not disturb him.

Battle of Mühlberg 1547 and imprisonment of elector Johann Friedrich of Saxony. Painting from 1630, Deutsches Historisches Museum Berlin

When the Schmalkaldic War broke out in 1546, he marched to the south at the head of his troops, but the unexpected invasion of his country by his cousin Duke Maurice compelled him to return. He succeeded in reconquering the larger part of his possessions and repelling Maurice, but suddenly the emperor hastened north and surprised the elector. The Battle of Mühlberg, 24 April 1547, went against him and dispersed his army. He received a slashing wound to the left side of his face, leaving him with a disfiguring scar from his lower eye socket down his cheek. He was taken prisoner by Charles V and sent into exile in Worms.


Shield depicting the surrender of John Frederick to Charles V, after an engraving by Maerten van Heemskerck.

Emperor Charles V condemned him to death as a convicted rebel; but, not to lose time in the siege of Wittenberg, which was defended by Sybille, the wife of the elector, he did not execute the sentence and entered into negotiations. To protect and save his wife and sons, and to prevent Wittenberg from being destroyed, John Frederick conceded the Capitulation of Wittenberg, and, after having been compelled to resign the government of his country in favor of Maurice of Saxony, his condemnation was changed into imprisonment for life.

He was never greater and more magnanimous than in the days of his captivity, as is evident from the correspondence with his children, his wife, and his councilors. Friends and foes were compelled to acknowledge his calm behavior, his unwavering faith, and his greatness under misfortune. He steadfastly refused to renounce the Protestant faith or to acknowledge the Augsburg Interim, declaring that by its acceptance he would commit "a sin against the Holy Ghost, because in many articles it was against the Word of God". Though offered several opportunities to be set free, if he would but compromise his faith and convictions, he steadfastly refused, and urged his sons to remain strong and faithful.

Final days

The return of Johann Friedrich and his last years. Painting from 1630, Deutsches Historisches Museum Berlin

The sudden attack upon the emperor by Elector Maurice made an end of John Frederick's imprisonment, and he was released on 1 September 1552. He firmly refused to bind himself to comply in matters of religion with the decisions of a future council or diet, declaring that he was resolved to adhere until his grave to the doctrine contained in the Augsburg Confession. His homeward journey was a triumphal march. He removed the seat of government to Weimar and reformed the conditions of his country, but died within two years. A special object of his care was the University of Jena, which he planned in place of Wittenberg, which he had lost (1547). He died in Weimar, Germany.


Marriage and family

In Sibylle of Cleves. They had four sons:

  1. Johann Frederick II, Duke of Saxony (b. Torgau, 8 January 1529 – d. as imperial prisoner at Schloss Steyer, Upper Austria, 19 May 1595)
  2. Johann Wilhelm, Duke of Saxe-Weimar (b. Torgau, 11 March 1530 – d. Weimar, 2 March 1573)
  3. Johann Ernst (b. Weimar, 5 January 1535 – d. Weimar, 11 January 1535)
  4. Johann Frederick III, Duke of Saxe-Gotha (1554–1565) (b. Torgau, 16 January 1538 – d. Jena, 31 October 1565).
John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony
Born: 30 June 1503 Died: 3 March 1554
Preceded by
Elector of Saxony
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Duke of Saxony
Succeeded by
Johann Frederick II


  1. ^ Krömmelbein, Thomas (1987). by Gmünder Volkshochschule"Historia von der schönen Magelone"Veit Warbeck und die kurzweilige . Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum und deutsche Literatur 116 (2): 67–69. 
  •   [2]
  • A. Beck, Johann Friedrich der Mittlere, 2 vols., Weimar, 1858
  • F. von Bezold, Geschichte der deutschen Reformation. Berlin, 1886
  • Biography on WHKLMA site

External links

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