Johann Georg I (5 March 1585 – 8 October 1656) was Elector of Saxony from 1611 to 1656.
Born in Dresden, Johann Georg belonged to the Albertine line of the House of Wettin. He was the second son of the Elector Christian I of Saxony and Sophie of Brandenburg, daughter of the Elector Johann Georg of Brandenburg (1525–1598) by his second marriage with Sabina of Brandenburg-Ansbach (1548–1575), daughter of Margrave George of Brandenburg-Ansbach from his second marriage to Hedwig of Münsterberg-Oels (1508–1531).
Johann Georg succeeded to the electorate on June 23, 1611 on the death of his elder brother, Christian II. The geographical position of the Electorate of Saxony rather 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 the Electorate of 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 Johann Georg was easily induced to vote for the election of Ferdinand, Archduke of Styria, as Emperor Ferdinand II in August of 1619, an action which nullified the anticipated opposition of the Protestant electors.
The new emperor secured the help of Johann Georg 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 Friedrich V, Elector Palatine of the Rhine, (the Winter King of Bohemia) 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 capstone to his fears. Still, although clamouring vainly for the exemption of the electorate from the area covered by the edict, Johann Georg took no decisive 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, Gustaf II Adolphus of Sweden had landed in Germany, aiming to relieve Magdeburg. Gustaf II attempted to conclude an alliance with Johann Georg to allow him to cross the Elbe at Wittenberg, but Johann Georg remained hesitant to join the Protestant cause and the discussions went nowhere. Hoping that an alliance would be concluded eventually, Gustaf II avoided any military action.
Tilly, commander of the main imperial force, was also concerned about the possibility of an alliance, no matter how unlikely it was at the time. In order to preempt any such move, he invaded Saxony and started to ravage the countryside. This had the effect of driving Johann Georg into the alliance he had hoped to preempt, which was concluded in September 1631.
The Saxon troops were present at the battle of Breitenfeld, but were routed by the imperials, the Elector himself seeking safety in flight. Nevertheless, he soon took the offensive. Marching into Bohemia the Saxons occupied Prague, but Johann Georg 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 Gustaf II Adolphus prevented the elector from deserting him, but the position was changed by the death of the king at Lützen 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 imperials, Johann Georg 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 August 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, Johann Georg died on October 8, 1656.
Although not without political acumen, Johann Georg was not a great ruler; his character appears to have been harsh and unlovely, and he was addicted to drink and other diversions such as hunting. Wallenstein held him in contempt saying on more than one occasion “have you seen how he lives “.
Family and children
Johann Georg I was married twice. In addition to his successor Johann Georg II, he left three sons, August (1614–1680), Christian (died 1691) and Maurice (died 1681).
In Dresden on September 16, 1604 Johann Georg married firstly Sibylle Elisabeth of Württemberg (1584 – 1606) the third of fifteen children of Friedrich I, Duke of Württemberg and Sibylla of Anhalt.
She died in the birth of their only child:
Stillborn son (Dresden, January 20, 1606).
In Torgau on July 19, 1607 Johann Georg married secondly Magdalene Sibylle of Prussia (1586 –1659) the daughter of Albert Friedrich, Duke of Prussia, and Marie Eleonore of Cleves. She is a 6th times great grandmother to Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom.
They had ten children:
Stillborn son (Dresden, 18 July 1608)
Sophie Eleonore (Dresden, 23 November 1609 – Darmstadt, 2 June 1671), married on 1 April 1627 Landgrave Georg II of Hesse-Darmstadt
Marie Elisabeth (Dresden, 22 November 1610 – Husum, 24 October 1684), married on 21 February 1630 Duke Friedrich III of Holstein-Gottorp
Christian Albert (Dresden, 4 March 1612 – Dresden, 9 August 1612)
Johann Georg II (Dresden, 31 May 1613 – Freiberg, 22 August 1680), successor of his father as Elector of Saxony
August (Dresden, 13 August 1614 – Halle, 4 August 1680), inherited Weissenfels as Duke.
Christian I (Dresden, 27 October 1615 – Merseburg, 18 October 1691), inherited Merseburg as Duke
Magdalene Sibylle (Dresden, 23 December 1617 – Schloss Altenburg, 6 January 1668), married firstly on 5 October 1634 to Crown Prince Christian, eldest son and heir of King Christian IV of Denmark; and secondly, on 11 October 1652, to Duke Friedrich Wilhelm II of Saxe-Altenburg
Maurice (Dresden, 28 March 1619 – Moritzburg, 4 December 1681), inherited Zeitz as Duke
Heinrich (Dresden, 27 June 1622 – Dresden, 15 August 1622).