01 July 2017

The Lutheran Lady: Anna Sophie of Denmark

via Wikimedia Commons
Anna Sophie walked into the chamber fearful of what she would see. The visit was a risk to her own health, but one she had to take. The Elector of Saxony lay in his bed, covered by pox, shivering but racked by fever. Just 25 years earlier, she had held him in her arms for the first time. John George had not been the best of sons, but he was her firstborn and soon she would see him no more.

Born far from Saxony in Denmark, Anna Sophie's father had become King Frederick III when she was just an infant. In 1647, Denmark was a formidable power in the Baltic and its princesses were highly in demand as brides. While her younger sisters were sent to Holstein, Sweden and the Palatinate, Anna Sophie was reserved for the future John George III Elector of Saxony. He was stout and unkind, preferring his mistress over his wife, and his first son followed closely in his footsteps. Although lovely and bright with six languages at her command, Anna Sophie found no love from her husband, he who called himself the "Saxon Mars."

She found some comfort in having fulfilled her duties in delivering two boy children: John George IV in 1668 and Frederick Augustus in 1670. Initially, the boys were raised by Danish ladies sent from her mother's court in Denmark and, in this century of continuing religious turmoil, they were rigorously trained in the Lutheran faith. Soon, however, male tutors were brought in and the princes began to pursue more manly and military pursuits like mistresses and war.

In 1685, Anna Sophie was joined by her widowed and childless younger sister Wilhelmine Ernestine, after an unhappy time as Electress of the Palatinate. The sisters would remain each other's companions for the rest of their lives. Seven years later, Anna Sophie was relieved of her own husband by a passing epidemic and left to the not-so-tender mercies of her oldest son's rule. The new Elector John George IV of Saxony had dutifully married Eleonore Erdmuthe of Saxe-Eisenach at his mother's insistence. Politically, the match was intended to strengthen the alliance between Saxony and Brandenburg, where Eleonore Erdmuthe's former stepson succeeded her first husband. Personally, the widowed princess with three children (who, of course, she had to leave behind) was seen by Anna Sophie as the best tool for ensuring the succession in Saxony. Although marriage had not cured her husband of seeking out mistresses, Anna Sophie hoped that a bride might distract her son from his lady love, Magdalene Sibylle "Billa" of Neidlutz, who might have been the new elector's illegitimate half sister.

Despite her earlier fertility, Eleonore Erdmuthe suffered two miscarriages in quick succession while Billa was delivered of young John George's daughter. Less than a year later, Billa died from smallpox and her royal lover soon followed suit.

After her first son's death, Anna Sophie turned all of her attention to her second son Frederick Augustus, the new elector, and his bride, Christiane Eberhadine of Brandenburg-Bayreuth. The younger son, more talented than his older brother, had always envied his brother's birthright. Now that he had inherited it from him, however, he showed some magnanimity by taking in his orphaned by illegitimate niece and providing for the little girl in his court. His sympathy to her may have stemmed from his affinity for his own philandering ways and numerous illegitimate children. Some contemporaries estimate that he had well over 300 children, although his official mistresses only gave him eight.

His wife, Christiane Eberhardine, gave him one son soon after his accession, named Frederick Augustus for himself. Frederick Augustus Senior, however, was much more concerned with power and might than familial relations. He had his sights set on a very big prize: Poland and he would not even have to battle to get it. All he needed was significant financial banking and political allies in the right places. After the death of John III Sobieski, King of Poland, the vacant throne was up for election, not in today's democratic terms of course. Despite rumors of meddling and tampering, he received strong enough backing from Russia and Austria to win the crown. All he had to do was make one small sacrifice: his Lutheran faith.

Despite his conversion to Catholicism, he guaranteed the Protestantism of his territory of Saxony, but his mother, who was raising his son, and his wife were outraged. They maintained a strong Lutheran front at home, while the new "Augustus the Strong" took up his armaments to expand his Catholic Polish rule elsewhere. Anna Sophie's piety and example were not enough to present her only legitimate grandson from converting when he reached adulthood, the Polish throne was a rich enticement after all, and he was the only legitimate child of his father.

Alas, Anna Sophie did not live long enough to see her grandson become Augustus III. She passed away 300 years ago today on July 1, 1717.

1 comment:

  1. Thank You. I enjoyed this very much. Usually we have much more information about the more famous Royalties. Anna Sophie was a very bright Lady!