House of Wettin

The House of Wettin (German: Haus Wettin) is a dynasty of German kings, prince-electors, dukes, and counts that once ruled territories in the present-day German states of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia. The dynasty is one of the oldest in Europe, and 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 family became the rulers of several medieval states, starting with the Saxon Eastern March in 1030. Other states they gained were Meissen in 1089, Thuringia in 1263, and Saxony in 1423. These areas cover large parts of Central Germany as a cultural area of Germany.

House of Wettin
CountryBelgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, United Kingdom
Founded10th century
FounderTheodoric I
Current headMichael, Prince of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach

The family divided into two ruling branches in 1485 by the Treaty of Leipzig: the Ernestine and Albertine branches. The older Ernestine branch played a key role during the Protestant Reformation. Many ruling monarchs outside Germany were later tied to its cadet branch, the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The Albertine branch, while less prominent, ruled most of Saxony and played a part in Polish history.

Agnates of the House of Wettin have, at various times, ascended the thrones of the United Kingdom, Portugal, Bulgaria, Poland, Saxony, Mexico and Belgium. Only the Belgian line retains their throne today.

All undisputably equal-marriage members, or those without morganatic marriages, are more than 70 years old.

Origins: Wettin of Saxony

Wettin Castle in Saxony-Anhalt

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 Hassegau (or 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

The family split into two ruling branches in 1485 when 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. Frederick III (Friedrich der Weise) appointed Martin Luther (1512) and Philipp Melanchthon (1518) to the University of Wittenberg, which he had established in 1502.[2]

The Ernestine predominance ended in the Schmalkaldic War (1546/7), which pitted the Protestant Schmalkaldic League against the Emperor Charles V. Although itself Lutheran, the Albertine branch rallied to the Emperor's cause. Charles V had promised Moritz the rights to the electorship. After the Battle of Mühlberg, Johann Friedrich der Großmütige, had to cede territory (including Wittenberg) and the electorship to his cousin Moritz. Although imprisoned, Johann Friedrich was able to plan a new university. It was established by his three sons on 19 March 1548 as the Höhere Landesschule at Jena. On 15 August 1557, Emperor Ferdinand I awarded it the status of university.[2]

The Ernestine line was thereafter restricted to Thuringia and its dynastic unity swiftly crumbled, dividing into a number of smaller states, the Ernestine duchies. Nevertheless, with Ernst der Fromme, Duke of Saxe-Gotha (1601–1675), the house gave rise to an important early-modern ruler who was ahead of his time in supporting the education of his people and in improving administration. In the 18th century, Karl August, Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, established what was to become known as Weimar Classicism at his court in Weimar, notably by bringing Johann Wolfgang von Goethe there.[2]

It was only in the 19th century that one of the many Ernestine branches, the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, regained importance through marriages as the "stud of Europe", by ascending the thrones of Belgium (in 1831), Portugal (1853–1910), Bulgaria (1908–1946) and the United Kingdom (1901-present, though the relevant marriage had taken place in 1840) and also providing a consort to the future Habsburg Emperor of Mexico (1857).[3]

Electors of Saxony
Image Name Began Ended Notes
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.
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
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.
Frederick III
Friedrich III
26 August 1486 5 May 1525 Nicknamed der Weise (the Wise). Son of Ernest. Protector of Martin Luther, but a lifelong Catholic.
5 May 1525 16 August 1532 Nicknamed der Beständige (the Steadfast). Brother of Frederick III. Legally established Lutheranism in his territories in 1527.
John Frederick I
Johann Friedrich I
16 August 1532 19 May 1547 Nicknamed der Großzügige (the Magnanimous). Son of John the Steadfast. Deprived of his Electorate by Emperor Charles V for his role in the Schmalkaldic War. Died 1554.

Residences of Ernestine branches


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

The junior Albertine branch maintained most of the territorial integrity of Saxony, preserving it as a significant power in the region, and used small appanage fiefs for its cadet branches, few of which survived for significant lengths of time. The Ernestine Wettins, on the other hand, repeatedly subdivided their territory, creating an intricate patchwork of small duchies and counties in Thuringia.

The Albertine Wettins ruled as Electors (1547–1806) and Kings of Saxony (1806–1918), and also played a role in Polish history – two Wettins were Kings of Poland (between 1697–1763) and a third ruled the Duchy of Warsaw (1807–1814) as a satellite of Napoleon I. After the Napoleonic Wars, the Albertine branch lost about 40% of its lands (the economically less-developed northern parts of 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 role of current head of the Albertine "House of Saxony" is claimed by his great-grandson Prince Rüdiger of Saxony, Duke of Saxony, Margrave of Meissen (born 23 December 1953). However, the headship of Prince Rüdiger is contested by his second cousin, Alexander (born 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 (died 2012), who had adopted his nephew and granted him the name Prince of Saxony, contrary to the rules of male descent under the Salic Law. Both are however not recognized by the Nobility Archive in Marburg, nor by the Conference of the Formerly Ruling Houses in Germany – Prince Rüdiger because his father Timo was expelled from the House of Wettin, and Prince Alexander because he is not of agnatic noble descent (his father was Roberto Afif from Lebanon). Consequently, the Albertine branch of the House of Wettin is officially treated by the German nobility as extinct in its legal succession-line.

Albertine Electors and Kings of Saxony

Image Name
(Life Dates)
Relationship to predecessor Title
Albert III, Duke of Saxony
Second son of Frederick II, Elector of Saxony Margrave of Meissen and Duke of Saxony
George, Duke of Saxony
Son of the previous Margrave of Meissen and Duke of Saxony
Henry IV, Duke of Saxony
Brother of the previous Margrave of Meissen and Duke of Saxony
Maurice, Elector of Saxony
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.
Augustus, Elector of Saxony
Brother of the previous Elector of Saxony; recognized as Elector by the ousted John Frederick in 1554.
Christian I, Elector of Saxony
Son of the previous Elector of Saxony
Christian II, Elector of Saxony
Son of the previous Elector of Saxony
John George I, Elector of Saxony
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.
John George II, Elector of Saxony
Son of the previous Elector of Saxony
John George III, Elector of Saxony
Son of the previous Elector of Saxony
John George IV, Elector of Saxony
Son of the previous Elector of Saxony
Augustus II the Strong
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.
Augustus III of Poland
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.
Frederick Christian, Elector of Saxony
Son of the previous Elector of Saxony
Frederick Augustus I of Saxony
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".
Anthony of Saxony
Brother of the previous King of Saxony
Frederick Augustus II of Saxony
Nephew of the previous King of Saxony
John of Saxony
Brother of the previous King of Saxony
Albert of Saxony
Son of the previous King of Saxony
George, King of Saxony
Brother of the previous King of Saxony
Frederick Augustus III of Saxony
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

The senior (Ernestine) branch of the House of Wettin lost the electorship to the Albertine line 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 as Saxe-Coburg and Gotha after that, went on to contribute kings of Belgium (from 1831) and Bulgaria (1908–1946), as well as furnishing consorts to queens regnant of Portugal (Prince Ferdinand) and the United Kingdom (Prince Albert), and the Emperor of Mexico (Carlota of Mexico)[4] Thus, the British and Portuguese thrones became possessions of persons who belonged to the House of Wettin for a time.

From King George I to Queen Victoria, the British Royal family was called the 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 Arms 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 (King Edward VII) or by her grandson (King George V); they were simply Kings of the House of "Saxe-Coburg-Gotha".

Severe anti-German sentiment during World War I (1914-1918) led some influential members of the British public (especially radical Republicans such as H. G. Wells[5]) to question the loyalty of the royal family. Advisors to King George V searched for an acceptable surname for the British royal family, but Wettin was rejected as "unsuitably comic".[6][7][8] An Order in Council legally changed the name of the British royal family to "Windsor" (originally suggested by Lord Stamfordham) in 1917.

Residences of the family

Branches and titles of the House of Wettin and its agnatic descent

Early Wettins


Existing Ernestine branches

Branch of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach

  • Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, extant lines all shared last common ancestor in the person of William Ernest, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. However there are only two members of this line left, Michael, Prince of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach and Prince Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. Both were born in 1946. Since Prince Michael has no sons, and Prince Wilhelm Ernst, whose only son Prince Georg-Constantin (13 April 1977 – 9 June 2018), a banker who was married but without issue, was killed in a horse riding accident on 9 June 2018 while riding with Jean Christophe Iseux von Pfetten. Therefore, the Grand Ducal House of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach will most likely become extinct in the male line. These two represent the last non-morganatic descendants of William, Duke of Saxe-Weimar

Branch of Saxe-Meiningen

  • Saxe-Meiningen lines all shared common descent from Georg II, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen
    • Morganatic lines from Ernst, Prince of Saxe-Meiningen
    • Morganatic line from Bernhard, Prince of Saxe-Meiningen
    • Legitimate line from Bernhard, Prince of Saxe-Meiningen of whom only Prince Frederick Konrad of Saxe-Meiningen (Born on 14 April 1952) is still alive today.

In the very likely event of the extinction of these two senior branches, the sole represantation of the Ernestine Wettins will pass to the descendants of Francis, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, who are the present Saxe-Coburg-Gothas led by Andreas, Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (b. 21 March 1943), the House of Windsor, the Royal Family of Belgium and the Royal Family of Bulgaria. Francis and his nephew Ludwig Frederick Emil von Coburg are also ancestors to morganatic lines.

Extinct Ernestine branches


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

Existing Albertine branch

  • Saxe-Gessaphe

Extinct Albertine branches

Family tree of the House of Wettin

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

Coats of arms

For an extensive treatment of the coats of arms, see: Coat of arms of Saxony

or in French: Armorial de la maison de Wettin

See also

  • Rulers of Saxony, a list containing many Wettins
  • Wettin, Saxony-Anhalt, the city from which the Wettin dynasty originated
  • Coinage of Saxony
  • Free Saxony, monarchist political party
  • Saxon Renaissance, regional type of architecture


  1. Lexikon des Mittelalters, vol. IX, col. 50, Munich 1969–1999
  2. Kellner, Stefanie (February 2016). "Die freiheitliche Geisteshaltung der Ernestiner prägte Europa". Monumente (in German). pp. 9–16. Retrieved 16 February 2016.
  3. "Carlota | archduchess of Austria | Britannica".
  4. "Carlota | archduchess of Austria | Britannica".
  5. Anne Edwards, Matriarch: Queen Mary and the House of Windsor (2014), p. 300.
  6. "We can hazard a guess that Wettin and Wipper, if given an English pronunciation, sounded quite as unsuitably comic in the ears of this sailor King in 1917 as they do to us today." Elizabeth Longford, The Royal House of Windsor (1984), p. 21.
  7. "British courtiers thought it sounded 'unsuitably comic' and the cumbersome 'Saxe-Coburg-Gotha' was invariably used." Barry Jones, Dictionary of World Biography 4th ed. (2017), p. 892.
  8. "Since the Saxe-Coburg family belonged to the House of Wettin in the District of Wipper, Wettin or Wipper might be more appropriate. Either one could have passed for an English name, but both were considered 'unsuitably comic.'" Anne Edwards, Matriarch: Queen Mary and the House of Windsor (2014), p. 302.
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