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Frederick the Wise - Front
Book Cover


Martin Luther's Heroic Protector:


Chapter 1







"If one wants to judge, then one should know

the reason for matters from the beginning."

Proverb favored by Frederick the Wise[1]



In late summer of 1486, couriers burst from Colditz, one of many castles serving the House of Wettin princes in Saxony. Over the next days messengers prompted more messengers in ever farther reaches. They urged their steeds through forests, past harvesting fields, on trails, along wagon furrows—all arteries into and out of cities and noble strongholds. Each courier surrendered his message at the destination to an official, who after judging its importance rushed it to a superior. No one in the entire Holy Roman Empire dawdled over this message, for the news from Colditz was of imperial magnitude.

Ernst, the electoral prince of Saxony, was dead.

That great prince had died on the heels of hounds that chased that most noble prey, the red stag, in that most prime month of the hunt, August.[2] The prince collected spirited stallions like children collect baubles and perhaps his mount that day was a new prize that stumbled and rolled its steely croup over his chest, breaking ribs and driving them into his lungs. No simple fall would kill a hard-muscled noble of 45 who had ridden horses from his earliest memory and jousted ahorse before the first stiff hair on his chin.[3]

Wife and parents buried, Ernst's death most affected his oldest son, Frederick. This 23-year-old, as decreed by the Golden Bull of the Holy Roman Empire, would assume the seat of Saxon Elector vacated by Ernst.[4] As a Nuremberg master had portrayed Frederick in those very days (Fig. 1, below)[5], the Saxon exuded youth and sensitivity. To some observers he even revealed softness despite a beard, for it just fuzzed meekly along his jaw line. His saucer-eyed, pink face was convex, open and as defenseless as an egg, saved from appearing totally feckless by a firm jaw and the raptorish royal nose.[6] God help him if others saw in his great brown eyes the eyes of a rabbit.[7]

FIGURE 1: Frederick the Wise in 1486 at 23, painted by a Nuremberg Master.

Was it the perception of frailty in this wide-eyed son Frederick that had led his father Ernst just the year before to insist on officially dividing mighty Saxony with Ernst's own brother Albrecht? After all, could the portrait's slope-shouldered Frederick with the delicate hands of a lutist defend his throne against battle-fisted uncle Albrecht, a warrior so domineering, so fierce that he was one of the emperor's favorite field marshals?[8] For that matter, could Frederick someday defend himself against Albrecht's oldest son George, already showing his teeth at 15? Whatever Ernst's motive before his demise, if he and his leading official Hugold von Schleinitz[9] had schemed shrewdly enough, Frederick could at least try to rule his half of Saxony and hope uncle Albrecht was satisfied with his better half. For Albrecht had definitely already received the cream of Saxony.[10]

How had the rift between the brothers Ernst and Albrecht happened? They had exhibited an exceptionally healthy bond, even sharing for nearly 20 years a common household, though like most sovereigns of the day never in one permanent location.[11] Albrecht himself recalled the brothers' days of harmony when they "lived in the most friendly way in one castle, needed one table and one key, even received and disbursed all annuities, money and income at the same time, and always were so brotherly and friendly that whichever one demanded from the other whatever goods that were to come to him or his children, the other was happy and ready to grant and bestow".[12]

Harmony became an illusion, exposed in full discord when Ernst traveled to Rome in 1480 to secure powerful ecclesiastical positions for two of his sons.[13] Pointedly, during his absence Elector Ernst did not leave Albrecht in sole charge of Saxony. Albrecht had but one voice in a coalition with Ernst's most trusted councilors.[14] At the head of the councilors was High Marshal von Schleinitz, who in particular annoyed and perhaps even slandered Albrecht. That offense together with the affront that Ernst openly showed he no longer trusted Albrecht was like poking a lion in both eyes. Albrecht remained with his family in the common household after Ernst's return from Rome, even in some ways helped reform Saxony, but finally in 1482 the smoldering lion departed. He set up his own residence in Torgau at the Hartenfels, a favorite castle perched on a rock prominence over the River Elbe.[15]

When their uncle Wilhelm (the Brave) died that same year of 1482 Albrecht asked to assume Wilhelm's rule of Thuringia.[16] Thuringia was expansive and prosperous, but no equal to what remained for Ernst. He refused. This refusal to placate Albrecht was just one of a succession of decisions by Ernst that seemed to defy understanding. Why would he further anger Albrecht? Had he forgotten the infamous Brother War (Bruderkrieg)[17] that erupted in 1445 between their father Frederick and their uncle Wilhelm? The sad truth was that the Brother War had erupted after their father Frederick had given younger brother Wilhelm Thuringia. Influential councilor Apel Vitzthum kept Wilhelm unhappy enough with his share of property and power to fight his brother to the death.[18] The brothers had gathered their allies and fought each other year after year. Emperor Friedrich III himself relished the Saxons weakening their territory (his house of Habsburg's greatest rival). That the emperor's sister Margaretha was married to elector Frederick no doubt forced the emperor finally to threaten to intercede.[19] After six senseless years of lost lives and property.

Both Ernst and Albrecht had reason to remember the conflict well. The two boys at the ages of 14 and 12 had been kidnapped for a short time by a knight[20] who had ardently supported their father in the Brother War but felt uncompensated. The rescue of Ernst and Albrecht was celebrated in song at every Saxon festival, although the real heroes of the story—brave forest people including one stalwart charcoaler—crumbled to dust. The young princes, especially Albrecht, evolved into the heroes. But now they too were at odds with each other.

In 1484 Albrecht negotiated an annual salary with Ernst and officially withdrew from any rule of Saxony for 10 years. This action by Albrecht jolted Ernst.[21] The year 1484 had already been wrenching for Ernst. His wife Elisabeth died in March at only 41. Next his son Albrecht, placed so well by Ernst to become an elector, suddenly died in May at only 17. Though Ernst promoted another son for the open position, the pope awarded it almost immediately to Berthold von Henneberg-Römhild. These tragic setbacks plus the estrangement from Albrecht seemed to change Ernst from a hard-driving optimist to a fearful pessimist.

The tactic of withdrawal by Albrecht in some eyes released him from any obligation to Ernst or to Ernst's wishes. Was this a prelude to another brutal 'brother war'? The threat was now genuine to Ernst and he was well aware he was no match for Albrecht in a fight. Ernst could further reflect that he was himself 43 years old and his father had died at 52. If Ernst died during the 10-year withdrawal, Albrecht could claim the electorate. Who could stop him? Ernst must have reasoned therefore that he needed to resolve the danger for his own heirs while he was still alive.

Ernst announced he intended to rip Saxony in two!



A division of this kind to resolve a family dispute was not rare for the time. In the division involving Ernst and Albrecht, however, the consequences were rare. Not only had their father forbidden any division in his last will in1459[22], not only did the Golden Bull forbid dividing an electorate, but consider, as Saxons have done in all the centuries since, the enormity of that division by Ernst. Saxons from the first moment lamented the division officially acted upon in 1485 in Leipzig, thus known as the Leipzig Division (Leipzig Teilung). In the early 1470s Saxony, one of the largest princely territories of the empire with well over one million subjects, was beginning to discover lode after lode of silver, treasure that was making it even richer than its great size merited. Then in 1482 Thuringia once again was within the electoral territory. Saxony, controlled by the House of Wettin, was becoming the only territory that could challenge in wealth and power the House of Habsburg. The Habsburgs had controlled the empire since 1440. The difference between the two royal houses in the eyes of most imperial subjects was that the Habsburgs were suspiciously Austrian and now Burgundian too whereas the Saxons were German to the core.[23] Albrecht, clearly more oriented than Ernst to an imperial scale of thinking, protested the division for all the obvious reasons, denouncing High Marshal von Schleinitz in particular. Young Frederick may have protested the division as well.[24] This enormous potential for Saxony, this powerful nucleus for nation-building, Ernst was about to throw away. And this he did.[25]

Both brothers conceded that Ernst as the elector (Kurfürst) had to retain the original electoral land (Kurlande) to the north around Wittenberg. This one eighth of their total territory was beloved by neither. For the rest, according to Saxon custom, Ernst as the elder brother would divide the territory and then Albrecht would pick the half he wanted.[26] Ernst assigned his advisors, led of course by the ubiquitous von Schleinitz, to divide the territory. The High Marshal and his group purposely left the halves splintered, yet interconnected, on the premise that two such ugly halves would have to co-operate yet as a whole. The silver mines, because they were just developing, defied even this poor strategy, so they remained in common ownership along with coinage, the bishopric of Meissen[27] (considered the religious center of Saxony by all Wettiners[28]), and four large properties to the east outside Saxony proper. In truth no one could have fairly appraised the territory because data on wealth and population were so lacking. In addition, elements like feudal rights defied evaluation.

Nevertheless, how true rang the proverb "Whoever smells it, cringes from it".[29] The resulting division by Ernst and von Schleinitz smelled foul to the dullest nose (Fig. 2, facing page 6). The better half included the major part of the political entity Mark Meissen, as well as northern Thuringia. This half even included most of the precious silver works, though commonly owned, within its borders. It also had a major trade route from the southwest that passed through Leipzig to the eastern countries. Leipzig also boasted special trade fair privileges as well as the only university in Saxony. The poorer half created by Ernst and von Schleinitz embraced some of western Meissen, the Vogtland, the Ortland of Franconia and the greater part of Thuringia (though that part was riddled by extensive tracts of non-Wettin land, like the city-state of Erfurt).

Indeed, the division seemed contrived to lure Albrecht who had already shown a preference for Thuringia and Torgau to take the poorer half.[30] To further bait that trap, Ernst and von Schleinitz added an enormous requirement of 100,000 guldens to take the better half. They had misjudged Albrecht. No fool, he selected the better half anyway. Once settled, who could make the lion pay?[31] His half had most of Mark Meissen, the esteemed southeast portion that also embedded those royal cities so special to the heart of every Wettiner: Dresden and Meissen.

Nevertheless, Ernst's ugly half, splintered and inferior though it was, did have the original electorate added to the north. In its entirety it was definitely a territory most sovereigns would envy. After all, a man needed three days to ride a good horse from the southern boundary in Franconia through sprawling river-fed forests and fields to the northern boundary by Brandenburg. In the same way a man needed three days to ride from the western boundary near Hesse to the eastern boundary abutting Albrecht's half.[32] Great stone fortresses, belonging to the sovereign, loomed from heights. Trees, never out of sight, yielded hardwoods for every use: the dominant beech for tool handles but also the hornbeam for iron-tough gears and the oak for enduring furniture.













Figure 2: Simplified from Blaschke (1985) and Schwiebert (1950)




Forests offered inexhaustible nuts and woods for fuel. The fretworked canopy sheltered game, especially wild hogs and the prized red deer. Lowlands cleared for farming rippled with wheat, barley, rye, flax and oats. Cattle, horses, sheep and goats milled over the rougher pasturelands. Vegetable gardens, pigs and sundry fowl surrounded robust farmhouses. Orchards hung heavy with pears, apples, plums and cherries. Rivers teemed with waterfowl and silvery fish. Tending this horn of plenty were hundreds of thousands of the freest, least discontent countryfolk in the empire.[33]

These bountiful feudal lands graced the territorial sovereign with hard cash. In the 1480s the rents from nobles and countryfolk still rivaled the income from silver.[34] In addition, the ruling prince controlled the roads including the 'Low Road', the major southwest-northeast trade route that crossed what later came to be called 'ernestine Saxony'. Tolls, tariffs and safe conduct charges from the sovereign's roads poured into the coffers. In addition, no small amount of money came from protection contracts with imperial cities Mühlhausen and Nordhausen and with the city-state of Erfurt. Another source of income, less significant, was the disjointed judicial system that extracted fines and penalties. Taxes erratically collected brought in money to an even lesser degree. Nevertheless, in an era when annually a laborer might receive 20 guldens or a lawyer 200 guldens,[35] total income every year to the Elector ran into many tens of thousands of guldens.

This was the ernestine Saxony that young Frederick assumed upon Ernst's death, not yet one year after Ernst and Albrecht sealed the Leipzig Division. The document of that legal separation named 70 towns and cities in ernestine Saxony. The most populated of these were Zwickau, Torgau, Weimar and Wittenberg. Still, these four had less than 5,000 inhabitants each and probably little more than 2000, mere villages compared to the great cities of the empire like Augsburg, Nuremberg, Magdeburg and Cologne.[36] Demeaning for any territorial prince of the first rank was the lack of a university. As events would prove, troubling in particular to young Frederick was also the lack of any religious focus like the Chapel of Three Kings in the city of Meissen where the Wettiners buried their electoral princes. Overall, ernestine Saxony virtually shrieked to worldly outsiders that it was little more than a rough frontier with scarcely one thread of finery.

Coupled with the need of refinement was the urgency to reform the government, if for no other reason than governance had been in a shambles since the Leipzig Division. Subjects and officials were bewildered as to whom and how they served. Complicating the outlook for Frederick even more were his duties as an electoral prince, for he was now no ordinary prince, not even an ordinary imperial prince. Much greater than the responsibilities of other princes of the empire were the responsibilities of an electoral prince. These seven electoral princes or 'electors' had been enfoeffed since 1356 by the Golden Bull with the right to elect the 'king of the Romans'. This king expected soon thereafter to be crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire by the pope. At the right moment then, an electoral prince like Frederick was indeed a kingmaker. According to the Golden Bull, which codified electors who had in truth been serving since 1257, one elector had to be the king of Bohemia, three electors had to be the archbishops of Mainz, Trier and Cologne, and the remaining three had to be the secular princes from the Palatine, Brandenburg and Saxony.[37] The Golden Bull also designated the Saxon elector to be the High Marshal of the empire. Moreover, during an interregnum of the highest imperial office, the Saxon elector was the administrator of the eastern portion of the empire.



 "The uninformed can be the master of no one,"[38] was a proverb of the time, perhaps even muttered against Frederick. He knew that in 1486 he was the same age that his father Ernst had been when he began his rule in 1464. Just how well had this young prince Frederick been prepared for the responsibilities of a secular Elector?[39] His father Ernst had been ashamed in 1480 in Rome not to be able to talk to Pope Sixtus IV in Latin.[40] For Ernst, this lack of knowledge that an ambitious imperial prince needed, this dearth of Latin, the language of all educated people of the Christian world, seems to have arisen from the parochial attitude of his own father, Frederick the Meek. Frederick the Meek was so Saxon that in 1458 when Pope Calixtus III tried to offer indulgences in Saxony the elector demanded half the proceeds; he had 'inspectors' at every sale making sure he got every pfennig.[41] In spite of his father's insular attitude Ernst and his mother Margaretha knew very well that Latin was a cornerstone. She was the sister of the Habsburg emperor, the aunt of the Habsburg king Maximilian. Just as certainly, Ernst's wife Elisabeth knew Latin was a cornerstone. Elisabeth was a princess of the ruling Wittelsbachs of Bavaria. Elisabeth's brother Duke Albrecht IV was known as the shining linguist of the time, rivaled perhaps only by Maximilian.

But none of the maternal influences meant anything if Ernst resisted the world outside Saxony as his own father had. From Frederick's birth in Torgau on January 10, 1463, Ernst must have vowed his son would never blush before anyone. Ernst would prove again and again how perceptive he was. Who could better instill his children with the niceties as well as the necessities of a court life than his mother and his wife? He instituted in about 1470 the Women's Quarter (Frauen Hof or Frauenzimmer), a virtually independent court from his own.[42]  All the younger royal boys and girls immersed themselves in this separate Women's Quarter. Soon after, in 1471 Ernst by letter approved his mother to supervise Frederick; the boy was to learn Latin and French as well as the other necessities of a sovereign.[43] Thus Frederick was being sculpted into one of the better educated princes like those of Bavaria, Burgundy and Austria.

Though Frederick had an older sister Christine and a younger sister Margarete he probably had faint contact with them as a boy other than seeing them during their two daily meals (mid-morning and late afternoon) in the women's dining room.[44] Excepting mothers and grandmothers,[45] in day to day activity the female side of any noble court existed prudishly separate from the male side. Frederick was much closer to his brothers and male cousins; until the breakup of the common household in 1482 he lived alongside his brothers and uncle Albrecht's sons. For example, in 1476, before Frederick's brother Ernst left for his ecclesiastical career in Magdeburg, seven royal boys lived in the common household: Frederick 13; his brothers Ernst 12, Albrecht 9 and Johann 8; and the cousins George 5, Heinrich 3 and Frederick 1. Older Frederick had to seem the 'older brother' even to his cousins. Although Ernst and Albrecht soon left this group, the others remained together another six years.[46]

Margaretha surely wrote her brother the Habsburg emperor Friedrich III about this sober child. Did she convey to the emperor that the child was conscientious and trustworthy? Did she conceal that the boy, much like the emperor himself, was deliberate almost to a fault? Soon enough however the royal ladies yielded Frederick to a formal education. At age 10 Frederick had come within the sphere of the scholarly priest Ulrich Kemmerlin, probably at whatever Wettin residence the priest was needed. By 1474 Frederick at 11 had his own 'young lords' court at Torgau for 32 weeks with at least one of his brothers and 14 servants.[47] Kemmerlin taught reading, writing, mathematics and yet more Latin. Kemmerlin no doubt rigorously taught "the art of speaking, reading and writing Latin with facility…[through which] the students automatically acquired much training of mind and cultural knowledge."[48] It is implausible Frederick also studied under the humanist Fridianus Pighinucius, obscure except for his acquaintance with renowned humanist Conrad Celtis. Although documents prove Pighinucius tutored Frederick's brother Ernst, who was only one year younger, this occurred years after Ernst left for Magdeburg.[49] In any case, Frederick did learn Latin, even had favorites in Latin like Terence and Cato, both of whom spun elegant aphorisms so similar to proverbs. It seems likely because of their pervasive popularity for children he learned as well the animal stories of Aesop, each with an attached moral.

Throughout his life Frederick was fond of German proverbs. He considered proverbs virtually equal in wisdom to the Bible.[50] It was common, moreover, among all people in this time of illiteracy to quote proverbs. Even the literate nobility quoted proverbs, including some that targeted themselves. Some jibes were merely sour: "Where noblemen are, there are fancy sheets". Many were acid: "When Adam hoed and Eve spun, where then was the nobleman?" Some ran bitter: "Where there is a carcass, then don't worry where the noblemen and ravens are".[51]

The time of Frederick's youth did not stand out as a creative time in the empire for literary fare; Gutenberg's invention of the 1450s was ready and waiting for the printing explosion that was yet to happen. Frederick must have listened often to the old songs of chivalry and love from the minstrels who came and went. No doubt he read or listened to the wit of Wolfram von Eschenbach's 13th century Arthurian epic Parzival.[52] Frederick possibly read the Sachsenspiegel, an essential compilation of Saxon laws from that same century.[53] He probably heard accounts of the Heliand, the Old Saxon saga from the 9th century. Its mixture of New Testament and ancient pagan elements was provocative.[54] Could the Christian God conquer the inexorable forces of time and fate? Although the wealthy Wettiners might have possessed a copy, it is unlikely Frederick would have labored through the Low German alliterative poetry so tortuous to read.[55] Besides that, its pagan doubts were firmly answered by a much advanced Roman liturgy.

Frederick's later life confirmed that in his youth, probably reinforced by Father Kemmerlin, he deeply believed the tenets of the Roman church. There is nonetheless solid evidence that astrology intrigued him lifelong as it did many other contemporaries,[56] even the humanists (although his early confidante Dr. Mellerstadt in Leipzig carried on a highly audible harangue against astrology).[57] Not only did most people of the time believe that the stars and planets forecast events but also that two-headed calves and other sports of nature revealed the future. The safest course for a Christian prince was strict observance of traditional church discipline. As a tot Frederick probably already knew "The pious regret nothing".[58] Reading the Bible was not a normal part of church discipline, though Frederick could have read the Latin of the sanctioned Vulgate Bible. Fundamental to piety was learning the vast accumulation of church rituals and requirements on the church calendar.

The 1480 catechism in German by Dietrich Kolde detailed the duties of a Christian.[59] The essence of duties to the church was threefold obedience: to the seven Holy Sacraments, to the church's interpretation of the Ten Commandments, and to the five 'commandments of the church'. These latter five were weekly attendance at Mass, annual confession, annual communion, designated fasting and obedience to clerical jurisdiction. By church law, clerics could punish the disobedient by excommunication, refusal of burial in church grounds and other means. Sins were legion, the worst being idolatry, the next murder. The church formulated at least 16 categories of sexual sins.[60] Least offensive was an 'unchaste kiss'; not much worse was fornication. The worst were five categories of sins 'against nature'. Self-gratification was a graver sin in the eyes of the church than raping a woman. Frederick no doubt realized early on that most nobles and many clerics themselves winked at most of these sexual sins. Noblemen had few reservations in gratifying themselves with women below their class and not much more for those within the nobility.

The sin that was truly perilous was one that was also a civil crime, a transgression that would fall under the Elector's own jurisdiction. Frederick had to witness the administration of justice[61] in various entities under his father. Imprisonment other than short internment was seldom an option in those days. Throughout the empire, torture was a standard step in the legal processing of a defendant once accused by witnesses (more than one witness as in the bible) and indicted. Few accused, guilty or innocent, held out under torture pursued in well established stages of increasing degradation and pain. Punishment was public and watched excitedly "amid the noise of the crowd and the smell of frying pork sausages from butchers' stalls put up for the occasion".[62] The penalty of death was usually only for murder, treason or theft. The executioner 'mercifully' beheaded the highborn but pitilessly hanged most others. Burning and the horrific breaking on the wheel for heinous crimes were less frequent. Murder of an infant could require burial alive or drowning. Local officials were leery of executions on holy days and festivals although the anticipation and gore were highly popular, simply because a visiting sovereign so often pardoned criminals as a grand gesture. Theft and fraud were the most common crimes, punished occasionally by death but routinely by loss of fingers or ears. Some received public humiliation or banishment. Rape and adultery were definitely serious civil crimes, even capital crimes, though hard to prove.[63] Convictions for heresy and witchcraft, the foodstuff of gossips for centuries, were actually rare.

On a more pleasant subject, music was an everyday presence in the Wettin court, usually very brassy. Saxons were known throughout the empire for their trumpeters. These musicians were the most admired and the best paid. Ernst would loan them to other courts for special occasions but if the best were not returned he sent them a hard reminder. Documents from 1484 suggest Frederick for his own playing preferred the lute, a popular stringed instrument of the time.[64] Animals were also favorite diversions of the court besides the usual many dozens of falcons, dogs and horses.[65] Menageries were maintained at many locations. Several kinds of deer were ubiquitous. Bears had been common at Torgau and Meissen for decades. Other creatures included wolves, lynxes, eagles, waterfowl, songbirds, monkeys and peacocks. Exotic beasts amused the royals, though sometimes the imports did not survive long. Among these in Ernst's time were a camel and a lion.

Frederick had many male influences. Within the Wettin court, Frederick's uncle Albrecht without doubt influenced him.[66]  Did Albrecht's ominous restlessness make Frederick wary later of the possible discontent of his own brother Johann? Uncle Albrecht moved out of the electoral shadow of his brother Ernst to make a name for himself as a military leader. In 1471, in part because of his marriage to the daughter of the just deceased King George Podjebrad of Bohemia and in part because it was in the interest of Saxony, Albrecht with thousands of knights and foot soldiers fought futilely for the contested throne in Bohemia. In 1475 at Neuss on the lower River Rhine, Albrecht was the "emperor's great marshal and flagmaster"[67] at the side of the imperial field general Albrecht 'Achilles'.[68] Both fought Charles the Bold of Burgundy (ironically, a territory gained by Maximilian just a few years later through marriage to Charles's daughter Maria).[69] Though a fierce and cruel warrior, Albrecht was widely admired by Saxons. In 1476 he even put aside his bloody sword to travel with a great entourage to the Holy Land. On his return he resumed his imperial military career and rose ever higher in command.

That Frederick himself was versed in the ways of the knight is undeniable. As a youth, in Dresden riding up to the barrier for his turn to joust he overheard a woman in the crowd blurt, "Oh, what can that young child show!" This disturbed him so much at the time he could still recall it years later for Spalatin, his secretary and biographer.[70] How rarely he must have heard harsh words in his exalted station. Even as a child he undoubtedly wore the finest armor available and fought hard. A contemporary told Spalatin that the elector fought as hard as anyone in jousts.[71] Early on, Frederick developed a love for the great hunting lodge at Lochau, where red deer and wild boar[72] abounded as well as wolves and bears.[73] Hunting and jousting were not only for pleasure. Standing firm in the face of danger was no small element of the joust and the hunt. To shirk these knightly aspects was unthinkable for a prince of the time[74] unless he had already been slated for a religious life as had Frederick's brothers Ernst and Albrecht.

Frederick prepared himself well for the risk arising from combat, the joust or the hunt. Nevertheless he lived in a time of abrupt death in many forms. One danger above all seemed to later observers[75] to have caused in Frederick a fear of death that ballooned into a phobia: the threat of plague. Plagues were real enough; in half of the 25 years prior to 1487, somewhere in the empire plague raged.[76] Nuremberg alone during those 25 years had five severe outbreaks; similarly, Erfurt had four.[77] Two forms of plague seemed ever ready to strike and both were deadly. Deaths in towns mounted into the hundreds and in cities into thousands. Ernst had to move his court temporarily to Coburg in 1484 from fear of the plague.[78]  That was too late to save Frederick's mother Elisabeth, who died of plague that March at age 41.[79] It is plausible the death in May that same year of Frederick's 17-year-old brother Albrecht, who had begun a life in the church, was also from the plague. In 1487 the first altarpiece Frederick commissioned featured St. Mary, "most often invoked as a protector in times of war or against the plague".[80]    

Outside the Wettin court, Frederick spent time in the court of Mainz when his brother Albrecht had taken an ecclesiastical position there. In addition, Frederick undoubtedly visited the courts of powerful relatives, including uncle Albrecht IV of Bavaria and even the Austrian court of his grandmother Margaretha's brother, the emperor.[81] Probably he had also visited the court in Burgundy of his great uncle Maximilian, for somewhere Frederick polished the skill to speak, read and write French. All highborn princes also began attending at an early age 'diets'. Not only would Frederick have gone with his father the Elector to Landstags (territorial diets) within Saxony but he also would have gone to Reichstags (imperial diets) 'out in the empire'. Some claim in 1481 Frederick at 18 went with uncle Albrecht to the Reichstag in Nuremberg.[82] More certain is that Frederick at 23 and Johann at 18 attended the Reichstag at Frankfurt in 1486 with their father.

Many other possibilities arise for Frederick's preparation. His father Ernst and uncle Albrecht had traveled in rarified air. The atmosphere was colorful and festive. Perhaps in 1474 Frederick at 11 had been with father Ernst and uncle Albrecht when they traveled to Amberg east of Nuremberg for their niece's marriage to Prince Philipp of the Palatine.[83] Was Frederick in the procession from Saxony that entered Amberg with 300 subject knights, all dressed in flaming red? Did he note at the dance the amazement of nobles from the Palatine and Bavaria when Saxon musicians with their convoluted trumpets covered a range of notes unheard before? Did he see his father and Albrecht dance with each other? Did he watch the jousting tournament won by uncle Albrecht, a tournament so hotly contested a knight from Bavaria died of injuries?

Without doubt there were many festive occasions. In 1476 Frederick certainly numbered among 1200 resplendent Saxons and Thuringians at his brother Ernst's installation in the city of Magdeburg.[84]  It seems likely in 1478 Frederick at 15 attended the extravagant wedding of his sister Christine to Hans, crown prince of Denmark. Frederick, however, did not accompany his father and his "two hundred mounted retainers dressed in black livery, their horses in jewelled halters" to Rome in 1480.[85] That grand opportunity lost for Frederick to meet the pope seems reasonable only in light of Ernst's growing distrust of Albrecht. Did Ernst leave 17-year-old Frederick behind to observe and report the activities of Albrecht and even Ernst's own advisers?[86]

Frederick's greatest mentor was surely his father Ernst. Father Ernst was pious enough for a prince, taking Frederick and Johann in 1482 to a Franciscan monastery in Jüterbog for an overnight stay and confession.[87] There is nevertheless evidence Ernst enjoyed himself outside the marriage bed.[88] But what more can be gleaned of Ernst himself? What can outsiders believe of this influential prince who history ignores except for venting contempt on him over his decision to divide the most powerful territory in the core of Germany? Ernst never even earned a sobriquet. Yet he was able to gain from Rome two splendid ecclesiastical positions, Mainz and Magdeburg, for his sons as well as gain the coveted Golden Rose for himself. He managed powerful marriages of his daughters to the future king of Denmark and to the House of Braunschweig-Lüneburg. He also encouraged and achieved major institutional reforms in Saxony.[89] Nonetheless, Frederick's confidante Spalatin was said to have described Ernst as competent and prone to moderation—except a tendency to abrupt rages.[90] Was this Frederick's own assessment? If true, did this volcanic temper erupt, and then simmer for weeks and months? Did it result in the Leipzig Division? Did Frederick resolve never to fall prey himself to this destructive loss of control?

Records prove that before his father's death Frederick made demands on subjects in the name of the Elector.[91] Ernst's concern for his sons' survival may have prompted him to bring Frederick as well as Johann into governance early. If so, Frederick learned from high-powered officials like Chancellor Johann von Mergenthal and the notorious schemer Hugold von Schleinitz. Did Frederick question from this experience the custom of the time to use as councilors powerful nobles with their own personal ambitions? On the other hand, did he surmise those who were not powerful tended to become sycophants? Young Frederick had to have met the main councilors residing at the electoral court and everyone down to the grooms. If nowhere else, he encountered them while dining. Judging from later evidence,[92] at meals the constant retinue of the Elector numbered over 100, with places assigned at tables of ten. In reality, Frederick undoubtedly saw everyone of influence except some of Ernst's officials (usually called Amt men) scattered in towns about the territory.

In summary, in 1486 Frederick was a trilingual, well-traveled young prince who was acquainted not only with all the powers in the electorate but also with the mightiest figures of the empire. He was in truth related to almost all the most powerful families of the empire. It was a time when those who ruled called each other 'cousins', assuming with good reason a real blood connection or at least a marital bond of some kind. Though these 'cousins' quarreled among themselves it was a rash and unwise act for one to turn violently against another. The violence occasionally came from within the immediate family. Witness the brother wars. Nor did the nobility of countries outside the empire feel the same restrictions as those within. Beyond the eastern border in 1486 two dangerous factions were seething with impatience to test his mettle . . .



All young Frederick's weighty preparations meant nothing if he was too much the rabbit to retain his position as the electoral prince of Saxony. External dangers did exist. And they were immediate. In 1486 at the Reichstag in Frankfurt the six 'German' electors, bullied by Emperor Friedrich III, had elected his son Maximilian king of the Romans in the absence of the seventh elector, the king of Bohemia. The Bohemian king Vladislaus objected to this election of Maximilian.[93] In truth, the election in Frankfurt had violated the terms of the Golden Bull. Vladislaus and his Hungarian allies were particularly upset with the electors of Brandenburg and Saxony, whose territories abutted their own. Shouldn't their sympathies be with their neighbors and not with the Austrians?[94] Moreover, because the two electorates of Brandenburg and Saxony shared a defense pact, it meant little in the long run which electorate the Bohemians and Hungarians attacked first; the other electorate had to fight too. It was also of no importance that Ernst, weeks before he died, had been the one to cast the vote for Maximilian at the Reichstag. Frederick and his Saxons would bear the consequences.

Vladislaus had in his complaint an ally, the Hungarian king Matthius Corvinus. Corvinus was not just a rapacious lout. Like war-loving Maximilian, Corvinus embodied many of the admired traits of the time. He was multilingual, accumulated a notable library, and as a patron of the arts flaunted artists, poets and humanists in his court. Moreover he buffered the empire from the Ottoman Turks. Corvinus also claimed part of the rule of Bohemia himself. Therefore in his eyes he was also the Bohemian king; hence he too was the elector who had been wronged. Most likely he was the driving force behind the complaint. In contrast to Vladislaus he was truly menacing. He had already proven he was as formidable as the imperial power. He had captured the Habsburg stronghold Vienna in 1485 and no doubt had designs on the empire itself.[95] Was Saxony his next steppingstone? Matthius Corvinus and Vladislaus were to meet in the Bohemian city of Iglau within days after Ernst's death. Could anyone doubt that untested Frederick was one topic of their discussion?  

Even as Frederick mourned father Ernst at his burial ceremony in Three Kings Chapel in Meissen, he must have worried. Threats lurked on all sides of the new elector's territory. Perhaps even inside. Younger brother Johann had been accompanying Frederick and his father often to functions inside and outside Saxony. Johann was only 18 years old but as the younger brother decreed to rule in some capacity yet knowing in reality his role would be nominal, he, just like his uncle Albrecht many years earlier, had thrown himself fully into the ways of a knight. A princely family expected a younger brother to follow a military career if he could not or would not contend for a powerful ecclesiastical position. Johann had firmly embraced this martial course; none was keener on the joust. Horses, leather, steel and sweat were sweeter to Johann's nose than any flower. Frederick must have known he had to mollify this younger brother. 

Johann was not the only Wettiner who might have been interested in the electorate. Who knew if uncle Albrecht, a pet of both the emperor and his son King Maximilian, might not decide to reunite Saxony by overthrowing untested Frederick? Many throughout the empire would cheer such a move because it would set up again a powerful entity to keep the ruling Habsburgs from running roughshod over the imperial estates. The emperor had just weeks before Ernst's death been only too happy to sanction officially the division of Saxony; divided Saxony was less a rival to the House of Habsburg. Even so, if a crisis arose, who would fault a warrior like Albrecht for seizing power to save the honor of all Saxony?

In the meantime Frederick had to take the reins of ernestine Saxony. Swayed by his father over the years, Frederick had learned to prefer Dresden as his residence and to a lesser degree another residence on the moody River Elbe: his birthplace Torgau. Because uncle Albrecht now reigned in Dresden, Frederick gravitated in general to the Hartenfels castle in Torgau during the first half of the year and to the residence castle in Weimar the rest of the year.[96] Furthermore, because the Wettiners intentionally spurned permanent residences, the sovereign's court had to be mobile.[97] Frederick also made the effort to 'live' in a number of towns; occasionally he even visited the old rundown Askanian castle at Wittenberg. Of course he relished stays in the opulent hunting lodges at Lochau and Colditz.

Emperor Friedrich III was to confirm Frederick at a future Reichstag. In the meantime the fledgling had to evade some of the greatest predators in and out of the empire. He awaited the outcome of the meeting in Iglau between the Hungarian Corvinus and the Bohemian Vladislaus. No Saxon had reason to trust the Bohemians. It had been little more than 50 years since thousands of 'Hussite' soldiers invaded Saxony with hundreds of their dreaded war wagons.[98] Only the Swiss rivaled the Bohemians in ferocity and ingenuity. Though Vladislaus was a weak leader, his partner Corvinus was not. The Saxons, fueled by their knightly skills, were fierce enough, but like citizens of other imperial territories they won by superior numbers and courage, almost never by military genius.

Frederick and Johann Cicero, his counterpart in Brandenburg,[99] soon heard the outcome from Iglau. Corvinus and Vladislaus demanded extravagant remuneration from the two electoral princes.[100] Demands from Corvinus had teeth. He had taken much of Austria, including prized Vienna, from the emperor because the emperor had not paid 400,000 guldens that Corvinus demanded. In January 1487 Frederick and Johann Cicero, in the face of an attack by the Bohemians and Hungarians, appealed to the empire for military aid. Was this also the moment for Albrecht to seize the reins of power from Frederick? Albrecht as yet showed Frederick nothing but cooperation, but what if threat of war and the safety of Saxons demanded his total command of the situation?

What were the dispositions of Frederick's other neighbors?[101] In addition to previously discussed Bohemia to the east, Brandenburg to the north and intermeshed albertine Saxony, Frederick's most powerful adjacent neighbor was Hesse to the west. This territory under Landgrave Wilhelm was well-disposed toward Saxony. Many of Frederick's other adjacent neighbors were territories of counts and lords, chief among them Schönburgs, Hartensteins, Wildenfelsses, Tautenburgs, Schwarzburgs, Stolbergs and Mansfelds. In general they cooperated but were defiantly independent. Only slightly less independent were the bishoprics of Meissen, Merseburg and Naumburg,[102] imperial fiefs ruled by bishops who were essentially territorial lords. Once nearly embedded in one Saxony, the Leipzig Division had made all of them more difficult to dominate. Toward Frederick Naumburg was most cooperative, Merseburg least. Other neighbors were the powerful archdiocesan territories of Magdeburg and Mainz and the equally powerful dioceses of Würzburg and Bamberg—all of them for the moment friendly. Additional neighbors were abbeys, imperial cities and city-states as well as entities that defied definition. Frederick's neighbors typified the murkiness of the empire: numerous and diverse to the very limit of comprehension.

And who advised Frederick in this time of difficulty?[103] It was not the schemer von Schleinitz. The Saxon High Marshal had outwitted himself. All his hereditary properties were in Albrecht's half. He quietly slipped away from the ernestine court.[104] Frederick significantly abolished the office of High Marshal. His chief advisors in the first months were other incumbents who had served his father: Hofmeister Hans von Doringberg, Chancellor Johann Seyfried and Rentmeister Hans Guntherode.[105] None of these appeared in the chamber registry book of 1487 and 1488 that listed Frederick's 15 closest advisers.[106] Of these 15, four were of the titled nobility: counts from the families von Gleichen and von Stolberg. The other 11 were with less certainty all untitled nobility (collectively called knights): Heinrich and Götz von Ende, Otto and Dietrich Spiegel, Doctors Mellerstadt and Schrenk, Heinrich Löser, Ernst von Schonberg, Hans von Obernitz, Dietrich von Stenz and Cristoffel von Lipsk.  Notable in these earliest days because they were university graduates were Mellerstadt and Schrenk.[107] Assuming from their worth to Frederick over the next years, other advisors probably included Michael von Denstedt, Hans Hundt von Wenkheim, Conrad von König, Hans von Leimbach, Siegmund von Maltitz, Hans von Minkwitz, Heinrich von Starschedel and Anselm von Tettau.

The engagement of Frederick's sister Margarete with Duke Heinrich II of Braunschweig-Lüneburg had occurred in Leipzig in better days. For once, the two power-marriage partners had at least probably seen each other because years before Heinrich had been a guest of the Saxon court at Rochlitz. In February 1487 Margarete at 16 married 18-year-old Heinrich at the duke's royal residence in Celle. The young prince had just assumed his reign of this considerable territory northwest of ernestine Saxony. Yet the Braunschweig territory had once been much larger, one more example of a large dynasty shredded by poorly defined or poorly enforced inheritance rights. However splintered it was, the Braunschweig extended family was threaded throughout the empire. The marriage of Margarete and the previous marriage of Christine to the future king Hans of Denmark reflect a strategy of Ernst that to compete with the growing strength of the Hohenzollerns (that is, the Brandenburgs) to the north the Wettiners needed stronger alliances with other northern neighbors.[108] Religious appointments of Ernst's sons Albrecht and Ernst also fit the northern strategy.

Frederick's eastern neighbors remained a worry, although the Saxons heard King Vladislaus was having trouble enlisting support for any attack on Saxony and Brandenburg. Would his much more dangerous ally Corvinus feel in view of that poor alliance it would be more prudent for him to tend to the defense of his recent conquest of Austria? The Austrian situation was also the reason uncle Albrecht had no time for his ernestine nephews. He had become the emperor's commander in chief preparing a campaign to retake Austria. Albrecht's participation angered Corvinus even more against the Saxons.[109] Albrecht had been granted feudal rights to some properties east of Saxony under the control of Corvinus. Where would Corvinus try to take his revenge? In Austria or in Saxony? Was it significant that Iglau, the meeting place for Corvinus and Vladislaus, had been only a four- or five-day march directly southeast of Dresden, the heart of albertine Saxony?

Frederick, during early months of his rule, signaled his interest in influencing church matters and spiritual behavior. He initiated ecclesiastical changes, especially among the Franciscans so favored by the Wettins.[110] Brother Johann was active in this effort too. They prodded for reform in the Franciscan monasteries in Torgau and Wittenberg. Pope Martin had suggested reform in this begging order of monks in 1430. Now Frederick wanted this 'Martinian' form of stricter, more pious behavior implemented in the monasteries. This was not just to make them more self-sufficient; Frederick generously endowed and supported these cloisters. His territory enveloped about 100 monasteries and foundations. They were located in any town of size, but they were especially concentrated in the dioceses of Mainz and Halberstadt in western Thuringia and the Ortland (Coburg area).[111] Less than 30 in his territory at the beginning of his reign were reformed or in the process of reforming.[112]

It is probable that Frederick's father Ernst had planned to push reform himself. He had achieved a remarkable concession in 1485 from Pope Innocent VIII.[113] The pope expressly permitted the Saxon sovereign to reform both exempt and non-exempt monasteries of his territory if necessary. In all these matters Frederick included Johann. His father had wished this. Moreover, Johann was more likely to remain a loyal partner. One unspoken reason undoubtedly was that Frederick was preparing to launch an aggressive effort on more than one front that would become obvious only during and after his confirmation as Elector at the upcoming Reichstag. To do this Frederick needed a loyal Johann.



 "What a bird is, one knows by his song and feathers."[114]

Every prince knew the value of 'Representation'[115] or 'Presentation', that is, the public display befitting his office. It was not merely a display of power to intimidate. It was a deliberate, well-planned effort to show all the qualities of a prince most admired at the time: physical courage, power, generosity, thoughtfulness, intellect, curiosity, piety, nurturing, loyalty and other virtues. Representation included among other methods jousting, symbols, rituals, stagings, music, coins, books and funding. It was costly to carry out. To be totally effective every representation had to be as public as possible. In the empire no one surpassed King Maximilian at pomp; and he lagged behind the Italians. Frederick's first venture into this demanding, highly visible trial was in the first spring days of 1487 at the Reichstag in the imperial city of Nuremberg.[116] The impression he gave 'out in the empire' was of great importance.

On March 28 Frederick and his well-armed entourage emerged from dense forest north of Nuremberg. Across one half mile of cleared flats loomed one of the gems of the empire.[117] Inside the great three-fold walls with over 100 towers lived 20,000 citizens, among them the empire's finest artists and craftsmen. Frederick and Johann rode in through one of the west or north gates near the Kaiserburg fortress with several hundred horsemen in armor;[118] no doubt all the knights in the same vivid color, a showy arrival only a powerful prince could do. Triumphant harmony by his paid musicians amplified his importance; his court employed nine permanent musicians, all trumpeters but for one drummer.[119] Frederick's procession exhibited all the splendor of the well-orchestrated processions that began jousting tournaments. He was unlikely to forget one iota of flags, banners, staffs, or indeed any symbol of Saxon rule. Peers had to be noticing he was already a master of protocol.

The money-starved emperor had called for the Reichstag.[120] At that time Reichstags still occurred only as mandated by the emperor, an indication of how subordinate the estates were in the imperial view of governing. A Reichstag, always held in an imperial city, was nevertheless no trifling event; hundreds of masters and thousands of servants were involved for several weeks, often for several months. They burned time and money. For Frederick this Reichstag was a succession of grand occasions.[121] On April 18 the emperor crowned humanist Conrad Celtis poet laureate of the empire.[122] Frederick had championed this honor for Celtis, as indirectly acknowledged in 1486 when Celtis dedicated to Frederick his most significant work, Ars versificandi et carminum (The Art of Writing Verses and Poems).[123] Here is clear evidence that Frederick was far from a newcomer on the imperial scene. Moreover, he recognized that the work of Celtis was important, one of the first impulses of the humanistic groundswell from the south spreading over the empire. That Celtis was the son of a peasant suggests Frederick was open to talent regardless of social position. By crowning Celtis the emperor indirectly honored Frederick himself.

That was only the first triumph for Frederick at the Reichstag. On May 23 Frederick finished negotiations for a renewed 'inheritance protectorate' of ernestine Saxony with albertine Saxony, Brandenburg and Hesse. This kind of agreement among upper nobility dynasties was more and more popular. It served to define boundaries, protect inheritance and determine succession if a family died out. Implied also was some degree of mutual assistance in military difficulties. Such protectorates were only as dependable as the integrity and willingness of the parties involved. Frederick's father Ernst had signed a similar agreement with Bohemian king Vladislaus in 1482. That agreement seemed of little value in 1487. Still, the protectorate renewed among both Saxonies, Brandenburg and Hesse afforded some comfort to Frederick.

On May 23 occurred an even greater event. The emperor enfoeffed Frederick as Elector. From then forward without doubt he was Elector Frederick III of Saxony. He was the sixth Saxon sovereign named Frederick in the line of Wettiners that went back to Frederick I of the Bitten Cheek, who began his reign of Mark Meissen in 1292. Frederick I the Warlike had been the first Saxon elector, enfoeffed in 1423. It was convention at the time to begin numbering from one again after the third use. The only interruption in this almost 200-year-long chain of Saxon sovereigns named Frederick was Frederick's father Ernst. That was only because Ernst's older brother, of course named Frederick, died before he could assume the reign.

On June 3 Frederick and Johann hosted a great feast. All the princes and noble women at the Nuremberg Reichstag attended, as did the most important patricians of the city.[124] Records show the chefs served 20 courses. Frederick and Johann must have offered a wide spectrum of the animal kingdom, from pork to peacocks and from turtles to eels. Highlighting courses were 'subtleties', dishes designed to amaze and amuse, such as a 'baked' pie spewing forth live birds. No doubt the best wines from Rhine vineyards flowed freely too. Throughout the day the Saxon brass entertained, even at the dance that evening. The brothers surely followed custom (records prove Frederick did in later years) in hiring for the dance unattached ladies, the younger and more willing the better.[125] Later yet, patricians and highborn nobles gambled at cards. Cautious Frederick on such occasions seems to have won or lost only hundreds of gulden, not thousands as some patricians and nobles did.[126]

As to the business of the Reichstag itself, young Frederick and the other territorial princes were cynics. Nothing was to happen this time but the usual sad sequence of imperial politics. The emperor needed resources. The technique of Friedrich III was well worn. The emperor was mute in the meetings, and then cornered each individual prince or prelate privately to muscle money or soldiers from that person, while attempting to give nothing significant in return.[127] If pressed, in true Habsburg fashion he promised marriages, fiefs and other rewards that he might or might not deliver later. Though ancient for the time—he was 71—and considered sluggish by his detractors, the emperor was in truth doggedly effective. At Frankfurt the previous year the emperor had given the estates nothing but empty promises. In return he received a colossal triumph: the electoral princes elected his 26-year-old son Maximilian king, assuring his succession to the imperial throne. The electors had foolishly surrendered all their future leverage.

Voting for the king was the privilege of the curia of seven electors. On any issue other than the election of the king, all three curias of the imperial estates voted. The electors remained the most influential curia, deliberating first and then meeting with the 'curia of princes'. This 'curia of princes' consisted of some 250 non-electoral princes, counts, other titled nobility and prelates. Within this curia about 10 princes, especially those of Hesse, Württemberg and now albertine Saxony, dominated. Only after the curia of electors and the 'curia of princes' had resolved their differences and agreed on an issue did they meet with the third curia.[128] It was inevitable that the vote of this third curia of 60 or so free imperial cities meant nothing; its influence was an illusion.[129] Within the empire, with no voice whatever were about 2000 families of lower or untitled nobility (knights), hundreds of thousands of burghers from roughly 3000 non-imperial cities and towns, and over 15 million countryfolk (Bauern).

In 1484 a new force had arrived among the electors: 42-year-old archbishop of Mainz, Berthold von Henneberg-Römhild. This carried sad irony for Frederick, for Berthold had replaced Frederick's younger brother Albrecht who had succeeded Diether von Isenburg in 1482.[130] At first Berthold seemed a toady to the emperor and his son. How false that notion proved to be! Berthold had a vision of organizing the empire internally in a way that would benefit the estates, not simply help solve the problems of the House of Habsburg. The Habsburgs' concerns were real enough. Because their holdings were on the most peripheral parts of the empire they scuffled constantly with France, Switzerland, Italy, Bohemia, Hungary and even the Turks. In any case, by 1487 Berthold was truly emboldening all the estates. Though the three curias of electors, princes and imperial cities that voted at the Reichstag were well established, the emperor had learned to circumvent matters easily by inviting only those he trusted. Now the estates, encouraged by Berthold, resisted. Those present would not approve funds for the empire until the missing estates voted, present or absent. Berthold and others won change on another matter of great importance: the curias could now negotiate among themselves in secret. No longer were the eyes and ears of the imperial circle in attendance to intimidate. In 1487, as in no previous Reichstags, both the curia of electors and the curia of princes had become boldly independent. Under Berthold's influence the curias were now talking of a constitution.

Procedurally the curias were so much stronger at the 1487 Reichstag that the emperor had to employ more subtle tactics. Friedrich III became more the fox, less the wolf. A long-standing grievance of the electors and princes was lack of an imperial judicial court. The emperor's 'concession' to the final compromise of the 1487 Reichstag was that he allowed the concept of an imperial judicial court to be drafted for study.[131] In return the estates approved money for the emperor but in their new defiance they set rigid conditions on the funds. They would furnish money only for relief of the Austrian properties captured or threatened by Corvinus. To assure this outcome they would give the money only to the Brandenburg elector Johann Cicero. He would in turn disburse it only to the imperial commander in chief of the military, Frederick's uncle Albrecht. The old emperor had won just in time the previous year the guarantee of his son Maximilian as his successor.

At Nuremberg in 1487, new elector Frederick probably listened far more than he talked in the now secret discussions of the curias. Besides Frederick and the dynamic Berthold, four other electors completed this most powerful of the curias. Johann Cicero of Brandenburg at 31 was also a newcomer. More senior members were Archbishop Hermann of Cologne, at 36 an elector for 6 years and Philipp of the Palatine, at 38 an elector for 10 years. Grand old prince of the electors was Archbishop Johann II of Trier. Though only 52, the archbishop nevertheless had been an elector for 30 years. First becoming an elector at only 22 himself, the archbishop may have warmed to 24-year-old Frederick. Doubtless they all welcomed him, for whatever political skirmishes ensued, these five electors remained uppermost in Frederick's esteem the rest of his life.[132]

Regardless of Frederick's real or perceived role in the political maneuvers during the 1487 Reichstag, after it was over he was in good standing both with the curia of electors and, perhaps more importantly at the time, with the imperial circle. Frederick was not so naïve to think that the Habsburgs were indifferent to his assets of silver. Still, he knew advantages flowed from imperial approval. This tentative harmony with the Habsburgs was some assurance for the safety of ernestine Saxony against all potential enemies, with exception of formidable Corvinus.

Autumn 1487 would indeed bring a chill from the east as icy as the usual piercing winds.





Chapter 1: The Beginning


[1]. Georg Spalatin, Friedrichs des Weisen Leben und Zeitgeschichte von Georg Spalatin (Georg Spalatins historischer Nachlaß und Briefe 1), ed. Christian Gotthold Neudecker and Ludwig Preller (Jena: 1851), 32. Translated from German. This and all subsequent translations (unless noted) are by the writer.

[2]. Ernst died August 26, 1486, some time after he 'fell' from his horse while hunting.

[3]. Markus Leo Mock, Kunst unter Erzbischof Ernst von Magdeburg (Lukas Verlag, 2007), 217–218, reports unpublished details exist in Thüringisches Hauptstaatarchiv, Weimar, Ernestinisches Gesamtarchiv [ThHStA Weimar, EGA], Urk. 673, fol. 3r. Elector Ernst lingered long enough to execute his will.

[4]. Hajo Holborn, A History of Modern Germany: The Reformation (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1959), 27–28. The Golden Bull of 1356 was a quasi-constitution of the empire. The Bull detailed procedures for voting, governance and succession. It was revolutionary not only for its specificity but for obtaining active or passive approval from all the headstrong powers involved: Pope Innocent VI, Emperor Karl IV and the most powerful princes of the empire. The emperor, however, had been elected since the 9th century by the five Stämme of the Germanic people, among them Saxons, then since 1257 by seven electors.

[5]. Ernst Buchner, Das deutsche Bildnis der Spätgotik und der frühen Dürerzeit (Berlin: Deutscher Verein für Kunstwissenschaft, 1953), 129–131. Regarding this portrait in the Frankfurt Städelsches Kunstinstitut (Invoice Nr. 2128), Buchner, 130, stated (translated) the "dark brown, staring eyes with the great, precipitous pupils determine the overall impression of the picture," and noted the "intensive dull pink of the steeply oval face". Within the 'Schutzmantel Madonna' (formerly at Schloss Grafenegg, Austria, but 'lost' since 1945) is a virtual replica of the man portrayed in Frankfort (though kneeling). Fortunately a banner in the Schutzmantel identifies the kneeling "Frederick Elector of Saxony" (in Latin). Bodo Brinkmann and Stephan Kemperdick, Deutsche Gemälde im Städel 1300–1500 Kataloge der Gemälde im Städelschen Kunstinstitut Frankfurt am Main, v. 4 (Mainz, 2002), 368–374, summarize well the history of interpretation since 1953 as well as the museum's own investigations of the "resolute face…marked by a pronounced nose and prominent brown eyes" (translated). The identity of the artist can be no more specific than a Nuremberg Master.

[6]. Cf. Ingetraut Ludolphy, Friedrich der Weise: Kurfürst von Sachsen, 1463–1525 (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1984), 14 (translated): "This head, whose severity is underlined by a sprouting beard, expresses concentration, willpower and strength."

[7]. Germans for centuries regarded the rabbit a symbol for cowardice. The great eyes portrayed for Frederick are probably valid. No other portraits from the period show enlarged eyes, so evidently the artist did not gratuitously add them as a desired attribute of the time.

[8]. Eduard Heyck, Deutsche Geschichte; Volk, Staat, Kultur und geistiges Leben, v. II, (Leipzig, 1906), 368, states (translated) Albrecht by 1487 was called "the emperor's right arm".

[9]. Hans-Stephan Brather, "Administrative Reforms in Electoral Saxony at the End of the Fifteenth Century" in Pre-Reformation Germany, ed. Gerald Strauss (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), 236, characterized Hugold von Schleinitz, High Marshal (Obermarschall) since 1464, as "practically omnipotent" in Elector Ernst's court.

[10]. For a superior treatment of the division of Saxony see Ernst Hänsch, "Die wettinische Hauptteilung 1485 und die aus ihr folgenden Streitigkeiten bis 1491" (PhD diss., Un. Leipzig, 1909), or see the more accessible Karlheinz Blaschke, "Leipziger Teilung der wettinische Lander von 1485" in Sächsische Heimatblätter, (1985), 276–280.

[11]. Brigitte Streich, Zwischen Reiseherrschaft und Residenzbildung der wettinische Hof im späten Mittelalter (Köln; Wien: Böhlau,1989), 534, notes the Wettin princes were so adverse to designating any permanent residence, their court (Hof) was highly mobile; Ernst and Albrecht, nevertheless, clearly preferred Dresden and began in the 1470s a grand residence in nearby Meissen (now called the Albrechtsburg).

[12]. Blaschke, 277.

[13]. Franz Thurnhofer, "Die Romreise des Kurfürsten Ernst von Sachsen im Jahre 1480," Neues Archiv für Sächsische Geschichte [NASG] 42 (1921), 3. Ernst's trip to Rome for an appeal to Pope Sixtus IV, and considerable money well spent, secured the future archbishopric of Mainz for his son Albrecht and the diocese of Halberstadt for his son Ernst, the latter already on track to become archbishop of Magdeburg. Moreover, (Thurnhofer, 22f.) the pope awarded Ernst the prestigious Golden Rose, an honor no previous Wettiner had received.

[14]. This is not equivalent to Frederick later entrusting Saxony to a coalition of Johann and Frederick's trusted councilors. Johann was a lightly experienced 20-year-old.

[15]. This was already in Albrecht's inheritance since 1464. Streich 1989, 22, noted that the last will of Frederick the Meek (1459), in addition to the demand for 'indivisibility with no exception' of the territory, bequeathed Albrecht (translated) "the castle and city of Dresden, the castle and city of Torgau together with Lochau as well as a yearly pension of 14,000 gulden".

[16]. Streich 1989, 24: Wilhelm often left Thuringia in charge of his favorite nephew Albrecht.  

[17]. R. Kötzschke and H. Kretzschmar, Sächsische Geschichte (Dresden: 1935), revised H. Schiekel (Weidlich: Frankfurt am Main, 1965), 138–138. Also Karl Czok, Geschichte Sachsens (Weimar: Böhlau, 1989), 165.

[18]. Elector Frederick II (1412–1464) was dubbed 'the Meek' (or 'Gentle') only in comparison to his father Elector Frederick I (1370–1428) who was called for good reason the 'Warlike' or 'Belligerent'. Frederick the Meek, anything but meek, ruled so strongly he firmed Saxony into a powerful territorial state at the expense of the cities. Ernst Ullmann, ed., Deutsche Architektur und Plastik, 1470–1550, (Gütersloh: Prisma Verlag, 1984), 61, gives one example. Frederick the Meek's 1462 territorial protection letter for the entire construction trade ("gesamte Bauwesen") allowed him to enlist any craftsman at any time for his own territorial projects.

[19]. Margaretha had indeed mediated between her husband and Wilhelm, according to Birgit Streich, "Politik und Freundschaft. Die Wettiner, ihre Bündnisse und ihre Territorialpolitik in der zweiten Hälfte des 15. Jahrhunderts" in Kontinuität und Zäsur: Ernst von Wettin und Albrecht von Brandenburg, ed. Andreas Tacke (Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2005), 25.

[20]. Kunz von Kaufungen, beheaded in the Saxon town Freiberg just days after the crime.

[21]. Blaschke, 278.

[22]. Reiner Gross, Geschichte Sachsens (Berlin : Edition Leipzig, 2001), 31. Chapter I "Historical Survey of Saxony before 1486" in Maria Grossmann, Humanism in Wittenberg, 1485–1517 (Nieuwkoop: B. de Graaf, 1975), 10–19, is an excellent overview in English. Paula Sutter Fichtner, Protestantism and Primogeniture in Early Modern Germany (Yale Un. Press, 1989), 8, noted for 'German houses': "Partible inheritance of all private and even some public resources associated with princely titles remained the rule until the beginning of the eighteenth century…There were, however, serious limitations on what any territorial ruler could do with the lands attached to whatever office he held in the empire." Ernst technically did not divide the electorate defined by the Golden Bull.

[23]. Holborn, 27, alludes to tension caused by the Habsburg dynasty becoming more European than German, especially after 1477 when future emperor Maximilian wed Mary of Burgundy. How could the aims of a 'European' emperor ever agree with those of the German princes?

[24]. F. A. von Langenn, Herzog Albrecht der Beherzte (Leipzig: 1838), 550–553, quotes Albrecht's own statement that the scheming Schleinitz caused both the alienation of his brother and the bizarre Leipzig Division. Klaus Kühnel, Friedrich der Weise: Kurfürst von Sachsen (Wittenberg: Drei Kastanien, 2004), 11–12, and Ernst Borkowsky, Das Leben Friedrichs des Weisen, Kurfürst zu Sachsen. (Jena: Eugen Diedrichs, 1929) assert Frederick also vigorously objected. Neither author however supports assertions with sources. Bernd Stephan, "Beiträge zu einer Biographie Kurfürst Friedrichs III. von Sachsen, des Weisen (1463–1525)," (PhD diss., Un. Leipzig, 1980), 299, n. 130, notes that archives show only that Frederick and his brother Johann were in Leipzig with their father from September 20 to November 17, 1485; Ernst and Albrecht officially signed the division November 11.

[25]. Enno Bünz, "Die Kurfürsten von Sachsen bis zur Leipzig Teilung, 1423–1485," in Die Herrscher Sachsens, ed. Frank-Lothar Kroll (Beck, 2004), 54–55: A territorial prince of that time who admired nation-building would have been rare; they regarded their territory a family possession, their goals dynastic. Larry Silver, Marketing Maximilian: the Visual Ideology of a Holy Roman Emperor (Princeton Un. Press, 2008), repeatedly points out the Wettiners (and the Wittelsbachs even more so) viewed the Hapsburgs not as empire-builders but as a rival dynasty.

[26]. Bünz, 53.

[27]. The name 'Meissen' referred to three entities in the divided Saxony of 1486 to 1539: 1. the bishopric of about 150 km2 , 2. the city of Meissen southeast of the bishopric, and 3. the territory of Mark Meissen, built up to about 5000 km2 by the early Wettiners, that enveloped the other two.

[28]. Streich 1989, 470–475, argued Kreuzkirche in Dresden has strongest claim as the church for the royal court in the time of Ernst. Kreuzkirche did seem favored, much as Dresden was the favored residence. Yet Ernst and Albrecht before their rift were pulling the court to Meissen, to the Wettin burial site and one main residence with one main church.

[29]. James C. Cornette, Proverbs and proverbial expressions in the German works of Martin Luther, ed. Wolfgang Mieder and Dorothee Racette (Bern: Lang, 1997), 95: a rhymed proverb "Wer es reücht, aus dem es kreucht" that does not rhyme in literal translation.

[30]. Max Lewy, Schloss Hartenfels bei Torgau (Wasmuth: 1908), 9. The Wettins were indeed fond of Hartenfels castle in Torgau. Frederick the Meek was married there in 1428 and regularly resided there from October to Ash Wednesday. Hartenfels was weakly fortified but commodious for the time. Albrecht particularly liked to stay there.

[31]. Albrecht had clouded the issue even more by demanding compensation for all the money Ernst had doled out to secure two prime ecclesiastical positions for his sons (Mock, 13).

[32]. Maximilian Moritz Tutzschmann, Friedrich der Weise, Kurfürst von Sachsen, ein Lebensbild aus dem Zeitalter der Reformation nach den Quellen für alle Stände dargestellt (Grimma, 1848), 48, also assessed it in terms of travel time. Both the north-south distance and east-west distance are about 250 km. or 155 miles but that is misleading as to the actual area. Thomas Klein, "Politik und Verfassung von der Leipziger Teilung bis zur Teilung des ernestinischen Staates (1485–1572)," in Geschichte Thüringens, eds. von Patze, Hans and W. Schlesinger. V. 3. Das Zeitalter des Humanismus und der Reformation. (Cologne/Graz: 1967), 148, calculates an area of 21,780 km2 (or about 8400 square miles ).

[33]. Werner Rösener, Peasants of the Middle Ages, trans. Alexander Stützer (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992), 231. Many Saxon countryfolk were landowners and virtually free, stemming from incentives to move them from Flanders and other lands to farm the Saxon frontier. The writer uses countryfolk in preference to 'peasants' and its multitude of connotations.

[34]. Ludolphy, 285–289, discusses sources of electoral income.

[35]. Gerald Strauss, Nuremberg in the Sixteenth Century (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1966), especially 205–207, reports wages in detail.

[36]. Numerous studies estimate populations for this time. Among several relevant to ernestine Saxony is Edith Eschenhagen, "Beiträge zur Social- und Wirtschaftgeschichte der Stadt Wittenberg in der Reformationszeit," Lutherjahrbuch 9 (1927), 29–41.

[37]. It is revealing and suggestive of future events that secular power was concentrated in the north and east; ecclesiastical power in the south. 

[38]. Cornette, 85 (translated).

[39]. Ludolphy, 45–47, describes Frederick's education and training, but she relies primarily on Spalatin, 22–23.

[40] Paul Kirn, Friedrich der Weise und die Kirche (Leipzig/Berlin, 1926), 9. Elector Ernst received the golden rose. Kirn is an excellent source for all matters concerning Frederick's religious beliefs and practices.

[41]. Heiko A. Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil (Yale University Press, 1990), 16–17.

[42]. Streich 1989, 407–408.

[43]. Bernd Stephan, "Kulturpolitische Massnahmen des Kurfürsten Friedrich III., des Weisen, von Sachsen," Lutherjahrbuch 49 (1982), 53.

[44]. Streich 1989, 515. All the boys ate in the Women's Quarter (Frauenzimmer), even into their early teen years.

[45]. Also prominent in a common household must have been uncle Albrecht's wife Sidonia (1449–1510), daughter of George Podjebrad, the king who ruled Bohemia until 1471.

[46]. Among them were three future rulers of the split Saxonies: Frederick, Johann and George.

[47]. Streich 1989, 407–408.

[48]. George E. Ganss, "Changing Objectives and Procedures in Teaching Latin, 1556–1956," The Classical Journal 52 (1956), 15.

[49]. Mock, 212.

[50]. Spalatin, 32.

[51]. Cornette, 69, 149, 37 (all translated).

[52]. Eschenbach performed in the court of Landgrave Hermann I of Thuringia. Hermann's residence was none other than the fabled Wartburg. Frederick during his rule possessed this great castle, which would become Luther's refuge in 1521 and 1522.

[53]. Maria Dobozy, ed./trans., The Saxon Mirror: A Sachsenspiegel of the Fourteenth Century (Un. of Pennsylvania Press, 1999). Superb English version.

[54]. G. Ronald Murphy, S.J., The Heliand: The Saxon Gospel (Oxford Un. Press, 1992).

[55]. Paul Salomon. Literature in Medieval Germany (NY: Barnes & Noble, 1967), 17: details why the "alliterative verse in the Heliand does not appear to be particularly happy".

[56]. Stephan 1982, 68. Also Stephan 1980, 374, n. 484: Frederick's grandmother Margaretha wrote his uncle Albrecht (translated), "understand well astronomy and the motion of heavenly bodies," in 1472, the very year she took charge of Frederick. By 'astronomey' she meant astrology.

[57]. Grossmann, 43. Dr. Mellerstadt, a physician, was also known as Martin von Pollich.

[58]. Spalatin, 32: one of Frederick's 19 favorite proverbs (translated).

[59]. David Curtis Steinmetz, Luther in Context (Indiana Un. Press, 1986), 4–5.

[60]. Thomas N. Tentler, Sin and Confession on the Eve of the Reformation (Princeton Un. Press, 1977), 140–143.

[61]. Richard van Dülmen, Theatre of Horror: Crime and Punishment in Early Modern Germany (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990).

[62]. Strauss 1966, 230.

[63]. Caroline Dann, "The Language of Ravishment in Medieval England" Speculum 86 (2011), 79–116, discusses rape in the late middle ages. She notes, 115, the vague regard for a difference between knightly conquest and rape in a chivalric epic like that of Chretien de Troyes. The German epic Parzival is similar. Did not Parzival rape the sleeping Jeschute? Certainly the influence of these widely-admired, orally transmitted epics was no help to women.

[64]. Streich 1989, 500.

[65]. Streich 1989, 496–7. Also Fritz Stoy, "Friedrichs des Weisen Hoflager in Lochau in seinen letzten Lebensjahren," in Forschung und Leben. Heimatblätter des Schönburgbundes. Arbeitsgemeinsch. f. Heimatpflege im Regierungsbezirk Merseburg 2 (1928), 288.

[66]. Albrecht der Beherzte (the Courageous) was subject (as brother Ernst never was) of many books, past and present. Recent is Andre Thieme, ed., Herzog Albrecht der Beherzte (1443–1500) Ein sächsischer Fürst im Reich und in Europa (Böhlau: Cologne/Weimar/Wien, 2002).

[67]. "Albrecht der Beherzte" in Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, ed. Historischen Kommission bei der Bayrischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, vol. 1 (1875), 314: "Kaisers gewaltiger Marschall und Bannermeister".

[68]. The Brandenburg Elector was also the brother-in-law of Ernst and Albrecht, having married their sister Anna in 1458, yet another example of the intertwined higher nobility.

[69]. 'Burgundy' is somewhat misleading. Burgundy per se was a large territory west of Basel (Switzerland), deep within the continent. Not obvious is that Charles the Bold (and thus Mary of Burgundy, then the Habsburgs) also ruled a sprawling territory on the North Sea that included roughly what is now Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands.

[70]. Spalatin, 23, 52. Notably, Spalatin's spare biography describes this incident twice.

[71]. Spalatin, 52. Spalatin's source was Sebastian von Mistelbach, about the same age as Frederick and a member of the electoral entourage since at least 1491. 

[72]. Ludolphy, 86, quotes a story from Luther's 'Table Talk' in which grandfather Frederick the Meek crowed (translated) "He is of our blood!" when toddler Frederick gulped down wild boar meat. Source is V. 4, 224, of Martin Luther, D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Tischreden 6 volumes (Weimar: Hermann Böhlaus, 1912ff), hereafter abbreviated [WATR].

[73]. Bear pens exist today in the moat around Hartenfels castle in nearby Torgau. Local lore claims the pens were there in some form since 1452, the Wettiners keeping as many as 30 brown bears. Local lore has eleven of the bears being slaughtered for the feast at Johann's coronation as Elector in 1525. That is plausible because princely feasts were often on such a colossal scale, every food had to be garnered. Ludolphy, 88, documents 11,500 guests attended Johann's wedding with Sophie of Mecklenburg in Torgau in 1500.

[74]. Even noble ladies felt pressure to join the hunt. In 1482 Maximilian's pregnant wife Maria fell from her horse while hunting and died. See Hermann Wiesflecker, Maximilian I.: die Fundamente des habsburgischen Weltreiches (Munich: Oldenbourg, 1991), 51. Wiesflecker distills his definitive five-volume biography of Maximilian I into this one volume, which also includes his reflections over the intervening years.

[75]. Erwin Panofsky, Life and Art of Albrecht Dürer (Princeton Un. Press,1943), 93: Frederick was "more than normally afraid of those epidemics which had haunted Germany…"

[76]. Gerhard Benecke, Maximilian I (1459–1519): an analytical biography (London: Routledge, 1982), 158–162.

[77]. For Nuremberg: Benecke, 158–162. For Erfurt: Erich Kleineidam, Universitas studii Erffordensis: Überblick über die Geschichte der Universität Erfurt im Mittelalter 1329–1521, vol. 1 (Leipzig, 1964), 180.

[78]. Streich 1989, 493.

[79]. Paul Bacon, "Art Patronage and Piety in Electoral Saxony: Frederick the Wise Promotes the Veneration of His Patron, St. Bartholomew," Sixteenth-Century Journal (2008), 973–1001, on page 989. Elisabeth died March 5, 1484, in Leipzig.

[80]. Paul Bacon, "Mirror of a Christian Prince: Frederick the Wise and Art Patronage in Electoral Saxony," (PhD diss., Un. Wisconsin-Madison, 2004), 64.

[81]. Klein, 181.

[82]. Klein, 179–180.

[83]. Maximilian Buchner, "Zur Biographie des Stammvaters des sächsischen Königshauses, Herzog Albrechts des Beherzten, und seines Bruders, Kurfürsten Ernst von Sachsen," in Neues Archiv für Sächsische Geschichte [NASG] 29 (1908), 155–162. Details of the Amberg trip.

[84]. Mock, 15.

[85]. Jonathan Sumption, Pilgrimage: an image of mediaeval religion (London: Faber & Faber, 1975), 265–266.

[86]. Stephan 1980, 30, believed Frederick was in Aschaffenberg with Albrecht.

[87]. Kirn, 166.

[88]. Thurnhofer 1921, 29, offers the example of Ernst visiting 'beautiful women' in Venice during his 1480 Rome trip.

[89]. Brather, many pages.

[90]. Burchard-Gotthelf Struve, the librarian at Jena, attributed this in 1719 to Spalatin. Implied was documentary evidence. Hänsch, 9, confirms only the favorable part (translated): "Albrecht honored in Ernst the scrupulous conscientiousness, steadiness and moderation…"

[91]. Ludolphy, 306.

[92]. Stoy, 280 f.

[93]. Klein, 183–184, offers a succinct account of Frederick's difficulties with Bohemia and Hungary in his earliest days of rule.

[94]. Barbara, half-sister of Brandenburg Elector Johann Cicero, had married King Vladislaus only that August in 1476. This suggests the impetus was coming from Corvinus.

[95]. Wiesflecker 1991, 55.

[96]. Brather, 268, 244. Also Stoy, 277. Weimar had been under uncle Wilhelm until 1482.

[97]. Streich 1989, 534: Saxon court councilors even into the 1500s strongly advised against any permanent place. Streich, 505–506: Only the most important castles had furniture and kitchenware. For lesser residences, all necessities had to be transported or borrowed locally. 

[98]. Chapter "The Hussites" in Hans Delbrück, Medieval Warfare (1923 original in German, English reprint Un. Nebraska Press, 1990), 483–503.

[99]. Johann Cicero's father had voted (like Frederick's father Ernst) to make Maximilian king in 1486 and like Frederick's father had died that same year. Johann Cicero was as pacific as his father Albrecht Achilles had been prone to war. Johann Cicero was the son of Albrecht's first wife Katherine, not the son of his second wife who was Frederick's aunt Margarethe (of Thuringia).

[100]. Ludolphy, 243–248, discusses relationships of ernestine Saxony with all adjacent neighbors, including menaces to the east and south.

[101]. Ludolphy, 245.

[102]. Kirn, 29–36; Ludolphy, 375–378.

[103]. Frederick's advisors are assessed primarily from Uwe Schirmer, "Untersuchungen zur Herrschaftspraxis der Kurfürsten und Herzöge von Sachsen. Institutionen und Funktionseliten," in Hochadelige Herrschaft im mitteldeutschen Raum (1200 bis 1600): Formen, Legitimation, Repräsentation, ed. Jörg Rogge und Uwe Schirmer. (Leipzig/Stuttgart, 2003), 305–378, and Uwe Schirmer, "Die Ernestinischen Kurfürsten bis zum Verlust der Kurwürde 1485–1547," in Die Herrscher Sachsens, ed. Frank-Lothar Kroll (Beck, 2004), 55–71. Also Brather and Streich 1989.

[104]. Schirmer 2003, 368. Hugold von Schleinitz died January 1490. His family remained influential and the name appears often as advisers to the Wettins.

[105]. Brather, 236, and Ludolphy, 294. Brather notes Doringberg may be Dörnberg.

[106]. From Schirmer 2003, 315–6, who attributes the information to Brather's archival work. Streich 1989, 429, noted that two important officials, Guntherode and doorkeeper Karlowitz, almost immediately had no roles at all.

[107]. Streich 1989, 410. The first hint of the later flood of advisors from the universities.

[108]. Streich 2005, 11. Prior to Ernst many marriages occurred between Wettiners and various Braunschweig lines. Frederick's own paternal great grandfather Frederick the Warlike wed Catherina of Braunschweig-Lüneburg.

[109]. Klein, 184.

[110]. Kirn, 84 (translated): "The Franciscan order probably stood of all ecclesiastical orders closest to the Wettin princes…Frederick and Johann promoted them in every manner. Also here were their aims: introduction of the devout ascetic life in every single cloister; unity within the order (of Franciscans)…In the following years until 1496 the following conventions were reformed: Weimar (before 1487), Wittenberg and Torgau (1488), Altenburg (1489), Saalfeld and Weida (1493), Coburg (1496). Both princes gave in all these cases the motivation."

[111]. Walter Zöllner, 'Der Untergang der Stifter und Klöster im sächsischthüringischen Raum während des Reformationszeitalters', 157–169, in 450 Jahre Reformation , eds. Leo Stern and Max Steinmetz (VEB: Berlin, 1967), 157.

[112] Kirn, 195–197, provides a list of the reformed.

[113]. Ludolphy, 378. No doubt money was involved. Innocent VIII's successor in 1492 was Pope Alexander VI, even more corrupt.

[114]. Cornette, 111 (translated).

[115]. Rogge and Schirmer, 12. The medieval-early modern concept of 'Repräsentation' means far more than its English cognate.

[116]. Klein, 183. Frederick's advisors had gone to Frankfurt in January that year to ask the other estates for help against Bohemia "if it came to swords" (translated). 

[117]. Strauss 1966, is unsurpassed for a source in English that describes Nuremberg during this time.

[118]. Ludolphy, 140–141.

[119]. Ludolphy, 98–99. Nurembergers at that time crafted the finest brass instruments in the empire; they must have appreciated the famed Saxon trumpeting.

[120]. Excellent sources in English for politics of Reichstags and politics of the Holy Roman Empire are Fritz Hartung, "Imperial Reform, 1485–1495: Its Course and its Character" and Karl Siegfried Bader, "Approaches to imperial Reform at the End of the Fifteenth Century", both sources in Pre-Reformation Germany, ed. Gerald Strauss (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), 73–135 and 225–262. Also helpful is Wiesflecker 1991.

[121]. During this Reichstag Frederick probably sat for the portrait by the 'Nuremberg master' (Fig. 1).

[122]. "Chapter 1: The First Poet laureate" in Lewis Spitz, Conrad Celtis, the German arch-humanist (Cambridge: Harvard Un. Press, 1957), 1–10.

[123]. Spitz, 7: "The physician of Frederick the Wise, Martin Pollich of Mellerstadt, had drawn the attention of the prince to Celtis.".

[124]. Patricians were wealthy urban families, arising not from nobility but merchants. In this time the nobility accepted patricians socially more and more.

[125]. Ludolphy, 93.

[126]. Ludolphy, 94. Confirmed by records kept by Hans Hundt von Wenkheim, Frederick's keeper of the door, who managed the private purse of Frederick.

[127]. Ludolphy, 32: Luther many years later said the same of Frederick, that he (translated) "gathered with a shovel and gave out with a spoon."

[128]. Rudolf Bemmann, Zur Geschichte des Reichstags im XV. Jahrhundert (Leipzig, 1907) proved that the view that the curia of cities did not yet exist is incorrect. 

[129]. Hartung, 84, noted that even by 1491 "the cities remained, as before, dependent in all essentials on the discretion of the higher Estates". Imperial cities supposedly owed allegiance only to the emperor. They were concentrated in the south, the most prominent being Frankfurt, Nuremberg, Augsburg, Cologne and Worms.

[130]. Another irony was that Berthold had fought hard to elect Maximilian king in 1486, deluded into thinking Maximilian was himself a reformer.

[131]. The old fox in his lifetime never did allow an imperial judicial court.

[132]. Spalatin, 36. The five electors Frederick esteemed so highly remained intact for the next 12 years. In addition, Frederick's exclusive list had only three other names, all bishops: Friedrich of Entricht, Lorenz of Würzburg and Gabriel of Bamberg.




Frederick the Wise has long been in the shadow of Martin Luther. Comprehensive books about the life of Frederick the Wise, with one exception, have all been in the German language.


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