Franz, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (July 15, 1750 – December 9, 1806), was one of the ruling Thuringian dukes of the House of Wettin.
Franz was born on July 15, 1750. He is the eldest son of Ernst Friedrich, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and Sophia Antonia of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, the tenth of 17 children of Ferdinand Albert II, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg and Antoinette Amalie Brunswick-Lüneburg (1696–1762), youngest daughter of his first cousin Ludwig Rudolph, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg and his wife Princess Christine Louise of Oettingen-Oettingen.
Ludwig Rudolph, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg was the maternal grandfather of Empress Maria Theresa I, The Holy Roman Empress, Emperor Peter II of Russia and also Charles I, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel.
Franz received a private, careful and comprehensive education and became an art connoisseur. Franz initiated a major collection of books and illustrations for the duchy in 1775, which eventually expanded to a 300,000-picture collection of copperplate engravings currently housed in the Veste Coburg.
Franz was commissioned into the allied army in 1793 when his country was invaded by the Revolutionary armies of France. The allied forces included Hanoverians, Hessians, and the British. He fought in several actions against the French.
Franz succeeded his father as reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld in 1800. In the discharge of his father’s debts the Schloss Rosenau had passed out of the family but in 1805 he bought back the property as a summer residence for the ducal family.
Emperor Franz II dissolved the Holy Roman Empire on August 6, 1806, after its defeat by Napoleon at the Battle of Austerlitz. Duke Franz died December 9, 1806. On December 15, 1806, Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, along with the other Ernestine duchies, entered the Confederation of the Rhine as the Duke and his ministers planned.
In Hildburghausen on March 6, 1776, Franz married Princess Sophie of Saxe-Hildburghausen, a daughter of his Ernestine kinsman, Duke Ernst Friedrich II and Princess Ernestine of Saxe-Weimar. She died on October 28, 1776, only seven months after her wedding. There were no children born from this marriage.
Second marriage and children
In Ebersdorf on June 13, 1777, Franz married Countess Augusta Reuss of Lobenstein-Ebersdorf, daughter of Heinrich XXIV, Count Reuss of Ebersdorf and his wife Countess Karoline Ernestine of Erbach-Schönberg. They had ten children, seven of whom survived to adulthood.
His male-line descendants established ruling houses in Belgium, United Kingdom, Portugal and Bulgaria, while retaining the duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha until 1918.
His son Leopold ruled as King Leopold I of the Belgians. A grandson reigned jure uxoris as King Ferdinand II of Portugal while a great-grandson named Ferdinand became the first modern king of Bulgaria.
One of his granddaughters was Empress Carlota of Mexico, while another was Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. The latter’s son, Edward VII, a patrilineal as well as matrilineal great-grandson of Franz, inaugurated upon his accession to the British throne in 1901 the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the name of the ruling dynasty of the United Kingdom until the house name was changed to Windsor by King George V in 1917.
Further, as progenitor of a line of Coburg princes who, in the 19th and 20th centuries, ascended the thrones of several European realms, he is a patrilineal ancestor of King Edward VII, King George V, King Edward VIII, King George VI, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, Albert, Prince Consort of the United Kingdom, Victoria, German Empress, Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse, Queen Maud of Norway, Queen Marie of Romania, Margaret, Crown Princess of Sweden, Queen Marie-José of Italy, King Philippe of Belgium, Empress Carlota of Mexico, King Simeon II of Bulgaria, Grand Duchess Josephine Charlotte of Luxembourg and King Manuel II of Portugal.