Anna of Saxony (December 23, 1544 — December 18, 1577) was the daughter and heiress of Maurice, Elector of Saxony, and Agnes of Hesse, eldest daughter of Philipp I, Landgrave of Hesse. Maurice’s only son, Albrecht, died in infancy. Anna was the second wife of Willem the Silent, Prince of Orange.
Willem the Silent (April 24, 1533 – July 10, 1584) was the main leader of the Dutch Revolt against the Spanish Habsburgs that set off the Eighty Years’ War (1568–1648) Willem was born at Dillenburg Castle in the County of Nassau-Dillenburg, in the Holy Roman Empire. He was the eldest son of Count Wilhelm I of Nassau-Dillenburg and Juliana of Stolberg.
Anna’s wealth drew many suitors; before the proposal of the Prince of Orange in 1560, there were negotiations with the Swedish royal house. She accepted the suit of Willem I of Orange, and on June 2, 1561 the marriage contract was signed in Torgau. Anna’s dowry would be the large sum of 100,000 thalers. The wedding took place on August 24, 1561 in Leipzig. On September 1, 1561 William of Orange, along with his young wife, relocated to the Netherlands.
The marriage produced five children, of whom three survived to adulthood:
Anna (born and died Brussels, 31 October 1562).
Anna (Breda, 5 November 1563 – Franeker, 13 June 1588), married on 25 November 1587 to William Louis, Count of Nassau-Dillenburg.
Maurice August Philip (Brussels, 8 December 1564 – Brussels, 3 March 1566).
Maurice (Dillenburg, 13 November 1567 – The Hague, 23 April 1625), later Prince of Orange and Governor of the Netherlands.
Emilia (Köln, 10 April 1569 – Geneva, 6 March 1629), married on 7 November 1597 to Manuel of Portugal.
Just a few months after the wedding, in 1562 difficulties arose between Anna and Willem. Anna received letters from her uncle meant for Willem stating he should work more towards pleasing her.
Both tried to end the rumours that they had an unhappy marriage. By 1565, it was well known in all the courts of the Holy Roman Empire and the Netherlands that the marriage was an unhappy one.
Her uncle August tried to save face by making claims that disputes arose due to his brother Ludwig antagonizing Willem. In 1566 Willem finally complained about the “contentious” nature of his wife to her Saxon uncle August and her Hessian uncle Landgrave Wilhelm IV of Hesse-Cassel (1532–1592).
After the death of her first son Maurice in 1566, Anna fell into severe depression and suicidal thoughts for the first time. She also tried to drown her grief with excessive alcohol consumption.
In 1567 Willem had to flee due to his opposition to the Habsburg Netherlands, and went with his wife to Dillenburg, the German headquarters of the family. On November 14, 1567 she bore a son and named him Maurice again. At the baptism of January 1568 a message arrived for William in Burgundy 11–19 stating that on December 20, 1567 all his Dutch lands and possessions had been confiscated.
When Willem on August 15, 1568 went back to Brabant to continue his war against the Spaniards, Anna decided on October 20, 1568 although pregnant again, to leave Dillenburg with her court (probably 43 people), to escape the antipathies of his mother and to create a new home in Cologne.
Their two children, Anna and Maurice, had been taken by her mother-in-law to Braunfels due to the risk of disease. The next year, after a fierce battle with Willem’s mother, she was able to bring her children back to him. Her daughter Emilia was born on April 10, 1569 in Cologne.
On March 4, 1569 Anna met her husband in Mannheim. Willem’s campaign against the Duke of Alba had failed, and King Felipe II of Spain had forced him out. After this, he left the Holy Roman Empire and went to support the Huguenots in France in their faith struggles.
Since Willem could no longer provide for the family, Anna looked to other means of support. She considered either persuading the Duke of Alba returning their confiscated goods, or demanding payment from Wilhelm IV of Hesse-Cassel as specified in the contract of 12,000 guilders or the castles of Diez or Hadamar. This would have meant a severe financial burden to be borne for Nassau. Anna became a substantial risk to the family.
To enforce their claims, they purchased the services of the successful lawyer Jan Rubens in the end of January 1569, the father of the painter Peter Paul Rubens, who had left Antwerp because of his Calvinist faith in 1568, and found refuge in Cologne.
The case was begun in January 1570 at the Royal Brussels to take fiscal action for their confiscated goods in the Netherlands.
Anna desired to see her husband again and met with him in May 1570 in Butzbach to discuss financial matters as well as other important topics. In June 1570, Anna and Willem moved in together again in Siegen for a few weeks, where she had settled with her three children. It was there where she began an affair with her lawyer Jan Rubens.
During the Christmas holidays from December 24 to 26 1570 Willem visited his family there again. It was likely a harmonious time, because he persuaded Anna to visit him in January 1571 in Dillenburg, where she even was willing to forego, for the time, payments from her jointure. She was pregnant again, this time from her lover. Willem accused Anna of adultery at this point and made plans to separate from her.
Rubens was often with Anna because he was their counsellor, financial advisor and attorney, and thus was suspected of adultery with Anna between March 7 and 10, 1571. He was arrested outside the city of Siegen when he was on his way to see her.
Rubens was blackmailed for a suitable confession. Anna was put under pressure too: either they must confess themselves or Rubens would be executed.
Anna agreed on March 26, 1571 to plead guilty. OnAugust 22, 1571 Anna’s last child, Christine, was born. On the basis of the allegation, Willem of Orange didn’t recognize the child as his daughter. Christine received the name van Dietz. On December 14, 1571 Anna had to sign their consent to the final separation from her husband. In addition, Willem of Orange was not willing to pay maintenance for her.
Imprisonment and death
In September 1572 Anna decided to challenge the Imperial Court’s ruling for her financial rights. At this time her Hessian and Saxon relatives had already made plans to turn Beilstein castle into a prison, to hold her captive as an adulteress. On October 1, 1572, she was brought there with her youngest daughter Christine. Three years later, her daughter was taken from her.
In March of that year, although the divorce was not finalized, the first news appeared of an impending remarriage of Willem of Orange. His chosen wife was the former Abbess of Jouarre, Charlotte de Bourbon-Montpensier, a daughter of Louis II of Bourbon, Duke of Montpensier, and his first wife, Jacqueline de Longwy.
Outraged at this news, some of Anna’s relatives demanded the return of large wedding gifts despite her possible infidelity. Her Uncle August also demanded of Willem, whom he now called “Head of all the rogues and rebels ” claimed one of the counties of Nassau, Hadamar and Diez.
August of Saxony also insisted that the marriage of the prince was not legally ended yet, and thus he had no right to remarry or confiscate her property. Anna did not admit her adultery in court, and if she did, then she could have proven that the prince had broken his marriage agreement. He also ordered the immediate transfer of his niece from Nassau to Saxony.
When Anna learned in December 1575 of her upcoming transferral to Saxony, she attempted suicide. After a long stay in Zeitz, she was taken to Dresden in December 1576. There, the windows of her room were walled up and fitted with additional iron bars. At the door was a square hole in the top panel that provided a narrow grid, which was closed off outside. Through this hole food and drinks were served to her. At the door there was also another iron gate, virtually guaranteeing no chance of escape.
As of May 1577, Anna was continuously hemorrhaging. She died on December 18, 1577, shortly before her 33rd birthday. Her bones reportedly lie in the cathedral of Meissen near her ancestors in a nameless tomb.