Augustus II the Strong, Elector Friedrich August I of Saxony, John George IV of Saxony, Order of the Golden Fleece, Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, War of the Polish Succession
Augustus II (May 12, 1670 – February 1, 1733), most commonly known as Augustus the Strong, was Elector of Saxony from 1694 as well as King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania in the years 1697–1706 and from 1709 until his death in 1733. He belonged to the Albertine line of the House of Wettin.
Augustus was born in Dresden on May 12, 1670, the younger son of Johann Georg III, Elector of Saxony and Princess Anna Sophie of Denmark, the eldest daughter of King Frederik III of Denmark and Sophie Amalie of Brunswick-Lüneburg.
As the second son, Augustus had no expectation of inheriting the electorate, since his older brother, Johann Georg IV, assumed the post after the death of their father on September 12, 1691. Augustus was well educated, and spent some years in travel and in fighting against France.
Augustus married Cristiane Eberhardine of Brandenburg-Bayreuth in Bayreuth on January 20, 1693, the firstborn child of Christian Ernst, Margrave of Brandenburg-Bayreuth, and his second wife, Princess Sophie Luise of Württemberg, daughter of Eberhard III, Duke of Württemberg. She was named for her father, Christian, and her mother’s father, Eberhard. As the daughter of the Margrave of Brandenburg-Bayreuth, she was margravine by birth. She had five younger siblings, only two of whom survived infancy. She remained close to her relatives in Bayreuth and continued to visit them after her marriage.
While in Venice during the carnival season, his older brother, the Elector Johann Georg IV, contracted smallpox from his mistress Magdalena Sibylla of Neidschutz. On 27 April 1694, Johann Georg died without legitimate issue and Augustus became Elector of Saxony, as Friedrich August I.
Augustus’ great physical strength earned him the nicknames “the Strong”, “the Saxon Hercules” and “Iron-Hand”. He liked to show that he lived up to his name by breaking horseshoes with his bare hands and engaging in fox tossing by holding the end of his sling with just one finger while two of the strongest men in his court held the other end. He is also notable for fathering a very large number of children.
To be eligible for election to the throne of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1697, Augustus had to convert to Roman Catholicism. The Saxon dukes had traditionally been called “champions of the Reformation”. Saxony had been a stronghold of German Protestantism and Augustus’ conversion was therefore considered shocking in Protestant Europe. Although the Prince-Elector guaranteed Saxony’s religious status quo, Augustus’ conversion alienated many of his Protestant subjects.
As a Catholic, he received the Order of the Golden Fleece from the Holy Roman Emperor and established the Order of the White Eagle, Poland’s highest distinction. As Elector of Saxony, he is perhaps best remembered as a patron of the arts and architecture. He transformed the Saxon capital of Dresden into a major cultural centre, attracting artists from across Europe to his court. Augustus also amassed an impressive art collection and built lavish baroque palaces in Dresden and Warsaw. In 1711 he served as the Imperial vicar of the Holy Roman Empire.
His reigns brought Poland some troubled times. He led the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in the Great Northern War, which allowed the Russian Empire to strengthen its influence in Europe, especially within Poland. His main pursuit was bolstering royal power in the Commonwealth, characterized by broad decentralization in comparison with other European monarchies.
He tried to accomplish this goal using foreign powers and thus destabilized the state. Augustus ruled Poland with an interval; in 1704 the Swedes installed nobleman Stanisław Leszczyński as king, who officially reigned from 1706 to 1709 and after Augustus’ death in 1733 which sparked the War of the Polish Succession.
Augustus’ body was buried in Poland’s royal Wawel Cathedral in Kraków, but his heart rests in the Dresden Cathedral. His only legitimate son, Augustus II and his wife, Cristiane Eberhardine of Brandenburg-Bayreuth had a son, Friedrich August II (1696–1763), who succeeded his father as Elector of Saxony and King of Poland as Augustus III.