facts about Frederick the Wise, as
well as a select reading list!
17, 1463, in Torgau, Saxony (in Germany). 4
brothers, 2 sisters. Father: Ernst, ruler
[Elector] of Saxony and of the powerful House of
Wettin. Mother: Elisabeth, princess of the
influential House of Wittelsbach. Grandmother:
Margarethe, sister of Friedrich III, the
Habsburg emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Raised
Roman Catholic. Childhood distinctions: First
Wettin ruler fluent in Latin. Trains also in the
martial arts of the knight. 1486 Becomes ruler
[Elector] of Saxony at 23. Begins Grand Plan to
make Wittenberg showcase of Saxony. 1493 Travels
to the Holy Land. 1494 Imperial councilor in
Emperor Maximilian’s court. 1498 Imperial
Statthalter, next in authority to Maximilian.
1504 After Berthold von Mainz dies Frederick
becomes staunchest foe of imperial power. 1507
Pope Julius II appeals to all to bequeath
religious relics to Frederick’s famed relic
collection.1511 Luther becomes Professor of the
Bible at Frederick’s university in Wittenberg.
1513 Shares power with his brother Johann. 1517
Realizes Luther’s 95 theses will inflame the
pope. 1518 Refuses to surrender Luther. 1519
Although the most powerful prince in the empire
he turns down chance to become the new emperor.
1521 Has Luther ‘kidnapped’ and hidden at
Wartburg castle. 1522 Gives up collecting
relics. 1525 Dies May 5 at age 62 and is buried
in the Wittenberg castle church. Brother Johann
becomes Elector of Saxony.
Ranke, father of source-based historiography:
Frederick the Wise was “the most able
and prudent of all the princes of the empire...
His calm judgment, his well-known experience,
and the universal respect paid to his
acknowledged integrity and talents for business,
invested him with singular authority...[He]
absolutely refused to allow Luther to be tried
authority on Martin Luther and the Reformation:
“Historians of every stripe have found
only one statesman thoroughly praiseworthy:
Frederick the Wise. A German and a man of
integrity, he is considered to have been a
staunch representative of the interests of the
empire in a sea of corruptibility and national
Martin Luther’s definitive biographer:
“Frederick knew how to pursue his goals
persistently and tenaciously, and success was
also not denied him. Last but not least,
Frederick’s political decisions were
influenced by a sense of moderation and a
pronounced feeling for justice . . .”
Go to this page to learn
five values that made him a hero of history.
Go here to
find links to
other websites about this hero.
association with Amazon.com.
key books by clicking:
ABOUT THE LIFE AND TIMES OF FREDERICK THE
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.
The one exception in English is this
Wellman, Frederick the Wise:
Seen and Unseen Lives of Martin Luther’s
Protector (Wild Centuries Press, 2011)PB
among books in German, all superior in their
own way, are:
Robert Bruck, Friedrich der
Weise als Förderer der Kunst
(Strassburg: Heitz & Mündel, 1903).
Excellent for Frederick’s artistic side. Thanks
to Harvard University, Google and American
Libraries Internet Archive it is available in
Livia Cardenas, Friedrich der
Weise und das Wittenberger Heiltumsbuch
(Berlin, 2002). Superb account of Frederick’s
famed relic showcase in
Paul Kirn, Friedrich der Weise und die Kirche
(Leipzig/Berlin, 1926). Excellent for
Frederick’s spiritual side.
Ingetraut Ludolphy, Friedrich der
Weise: Kurfürst von Sachsen, 1463-1525
(Gottingen: Vandenhoeck &
Ruprecht, 1984). This is the MUST READ
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).
Priceless account by Frederick’s confidante.
Download as PDF HERE.
Also available in non-Fraktur font on Google
brief account of the life of Frederick the
Wise can be cobbled together from these books
Bainton, Roland H.. Here I Stand: A
Life of Martin Luther (New York:
Abingdon Press, 1950). Bainton is the standard
for a readable history of
Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: His
Road to Reformation, 1483-1521
(Minneapolis: Fortress, 1985). The definitive
Martin Brecht, Martin Luther:
Shaping and defining the Reformation
(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990). The definitive biography of
Will Durant, The Reformation: A History of
European Civilization from Wyclif to Calvin:
1300 to 1564 (Vol. VI. The Story of
Civilization). New York: Simon and Schuster,
Richard Friedenthal, Luther: His Life
and Times (New York: Harcourt Brace
Jovanovich, 1970) translation by John Nowell
(original in German: R. Piper & Co., 1967).
Maria Grossmann, Humanism in
Wittenberg, 1485-1517 (Nieuwkoop: B. de
Graaf, 1975). Buy if used if you can find it.
Heiko Oberman, Luther: Man
between God and the Devil Germany,
1981. English edition: (Yale University Press,
1989). One of the best.
von Ranke, History
of the Reformation in Germany, trans.
Sarah Austin. (London: Routledge and Sons,
Regretfully a lengthy account of
Frederick the Wise in Steven
Mighty Fortress (HarperCollins, 2004)
is not recommended. An account that does
not draw on Ingetraut Ludolphy’s 1984 magnum
opus but relies on old uncited biographies is
Two excellent theses are not recommended because they are
difficult for most to access. The more curious
however may want to see Paul Bacon, “Mirror of a
Christian Prince: Frederick the Wise and Art
Patronage in Electoral Saxony,” (PhD diss., Un.
Wisconsin-Madison, 2004) and Bernd Stephan,
“Beiträge zu einer Biographie Kurfürst
Friedrichs III. von Sachsen, des Weisen
(1463-1525),” (PhD diss., Un. Leipzig, 1980).