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John Frederick I The Magnanimous

JOHN FREDERICK I THE MAGNANIMOUS (1503-1554), called the Magnanimous, elector of Saxony, was the elder son of the elector, John the Steadfast, and belonged to the Ernestine branch of the Wettin family. Born at Torgau on the 30th of June 1503 and educated as a Lutheran, he took some part in imperial politics and in the business of the league of Schmalkalden before he became elector by his father's death in August 1532. His lands comprised the western part of Saxony, and included Thuringia, but in 1542 Coburg was surrendered to form an apanage for his brother, John Ernest (d. 1553). John Frederick, who was an ardent Lutheran and had a high regard for Luther, continued the religious policy of his father. In 1534 he assisted to make peace between the German king Ferdinand I. and Ulrich, duke of Wiirttemberg, but his general attitude was one of vacillation between the emperor and his own impetuous colleague in the league of Schmalkalden, Philip, landgrave of Hesse. He was often at variance with Philip, whose bigamy he disliked, and his belief in the pacific intentions of Charles V. and his loyalty to the Empire prevented him from pursuing any definite policy for the defence of Protestantism. In 1541 his kinsman Maurice became duke of Saxony, and cast covetous eyes upon the electoral dignity. A cause of quarrel soon arose. In 1541 John Frederick forced Nicholas Amsdorf into the see of Naumburg in spite of the chapter, who had elected a Roman Catholic, Julius von Pflug; and about the same time he seized Wurzen, the property of the bishop of Meissen, whose see was under the joint protection of electoral and ducal Saxony. Maurice took up arms, and war was only averted by the efforts of Philip of Hesse and Luther. In 1542 the elector assisted to drive Henry, duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbiittel, from his duchy, but in spite of this his relations with Charles V. at the diet of Spires in 1544 were very amicable. This was, however, only a lull in the storm, and the emperor soon began to make preparations for attacking the league of Schmalkalden, and especially John Frederick and Philip of Hesse. The support, or at least the neutrality, of Maurice was won by the hope of the electoral dignity, and in July 1546 war broke out between Charles and the league. In September John Frederick was placed under the imperial ban, and in November Maurice invaded the electorate. Hastening from southern Germany the elector drove Maurice from the land, took his ally, Albert Alcibiades, prince of Bayreuth, prisoner at Rochlitz, and overran ducal Saxony. His progress, however, was checked by the advance of Charles V. Notwithstanding his valour he was wounded and taken prisoner at Miihlberg on the 24th of April 154 7, and was condemned to death in order to induce Wittenberg to surrender. The sentence was not carried out, but by the capitulation of Wittenberg (May 1547) he renounced the electoral dignity and a part of his lands in favour of Maurice, steadfastly refusing however to make any concessions on religious matters, and remained in captivity until May 1552, when he returned to the Thuringian lands which his sons had been allowed to retain, his return being hailed with wild enthusiasm. During his imprisonment he had refused to accept the Interim, issued from Augsburg in May 1548, and had urged his sons to make no peace with Maurice. After his release the emperor had restored his dignities to him, and his assumption of the electoral arms and title prevented any arrangement with Maurice. However, after the death of this prince in July 1553, -a treaty was made at Naumburg in February 1554 with his successor Augustus. John Frederick consented to the transfer of the electoral dignity, but retained for himself the title of " born elector," and received some lands and a sum of money. He was thus the last Ernestine elector of Saxony. He died at Weimar on the 3rd of March 1554, having had three sons by his wife, Sibylla (d. 1554), daughter of John III., duke of Cleves, whom he had married in 1527, and was succeeded by his eldest son, John Frederick. The elector was a great hunter and a hard drinker, whose brave and dignified bearing in a time of misfortune won for him his surname of Magnanimous, and drew eulogies from Roger Ascham and Melanchthon. He founded the university of Jena and was a benefactor to that of Leipzig.

See Mentz, Johann Friedrich der Grossmutige (Jena, 1903) ; Rogge, Johann Friedrich der Grossmutige (Halle, 1902) and L. von Ranke, Deutsche Geschichte im Zeitalter der Reformation (Leipzig, 1882).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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