John George I
JOHN GEORGE I (1585-1656), elector of Saxony, second son of the elector Christian I., was born on the 5th of March 1585, succeeding to the electorate in June 1611 on the death of his elder brother, Christian II. The geographical position of electoral Saxony hardly less than her high standing among the German Protestants gave her ruler much importance during the Thirty Years' War. At the beginning of his reign, however, the new elector took up a somewhat detached position. His personal allegiance to Lutheranism was sound, but he liked neither the growing strength of Brandenburg nor the increasing prestige of the Palatinate; the adherence of the other branches of the Saxon ruling house to Protestantism seemed to him to suggest that the head of electoral Saxony should throw his weight into the other scale, and he was prepared to favour the advances of the Habsburgs and the Roman Catholic party. Thus he was easily induced to vote for the election of Ferdinand, archduke of Styria, as emperor in August 1619, an action which nullified the anticipated opposition of the Protestant electors. The new emperor secured the help of John George for the impending campaign in Bohemia by promising that he should be undisturbed in his possession of certain ecclesiastical lands. Carrying out his share of the bargain by occupying Silesia and Lusatia, where he displayed much clemency, the Saxon elector had thus some part in driving Frederick V., elector palatine of the Rhine, from Bohemia and in crushing Protestantism in that country, the crown of which he himself had previously refused. Gradually, however, he was made uneasy by the obvious trend of the imperial policy towards the annihilation of Protestantism, and by a dread lest the ecclesiastical lands should be taken from him; and the issue of the edict of restitution in March 1629 put the coping-stone to his fears. Still, although clamouring vainly for the exemption of the electorate from the area covered by the edict, John George took no decided measures to break his alliance with the emperor. He did, indeed, in February 1631 call a meeting of Protestant princes at Leipzig, but in spite of the appeals of the preacher Matthias Hoe von Hohenegg (1580-1645) he contented himself with a formal protest. Meanwhile Gustavus Adolphus had landed in Germany, and the elector had refused to allow him to cross the Elbe at Wittenberg, thus hindering his attempt to relieve Magdeburg. But John George's reluctance to join the Protestants disappeared when the imperial troops under Tilly began to ravage Saxony, and in September 1631 he concluded an alliance with the Swedish king. The Saxon troops were present at the battle of Breitenfeld, but were routed by the imperialists, the elector himself seeking safety in flight. Nevertheless he soon took the offensive. Marching into Bohemia the Saxons occupied Prague, but John George soon began to negotiate for peace and consequently his soldiers offered little resistance to Wallenstein, who drove them back into Saxony. However, for the present the efforts of Gustavus Adolphus prevented the elector from deserting him, but the position was changed by the death of the king at Liitzen in 1632, and the refusal of Saxony to join the Protestant league under Swedish leadership. Still letting his troops fight in a desultory fashion against the imperialists, John George again negotiated for peace, and in May 1635 he concluded the important treaty of Prague with Ferdinand II. His reward was Lusatia and certain other additions of territory; the retention by his son Augustus of the archbishopric of Magdeburg; and some concessions with regard to the edict of restitution. Almost at once he declared war upon the Swedes, but in October 1636 he was beaten at Wittstock; and Saxony, ravaged impartially by both sides, was soon in a deplorable condition. At length in September 1645 the elector was compelled to agree to a truce with the Swedes, who, however, retained Leipzig; and as far as Saxony was concerned this ended the Thirty Years' War. After the peace of Westphalia, which with regard to Saxony did little more than confirm the treaty of Prague, John George died on the 8th of October 1656. Although not without political acumen, he was not a great ruler; his character appears to have been harsh and unlovely, and he was addicted to drink. He was twice married, and in addition to his successor John George II. he left three sons, Augustus (1614-1680), Christian (d. 1691) and Maurice (d. 1681) who were all endowed with lands in Saxony, and who founded cadet branches of the Saxon house.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)