1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Maurice, elector of Saxony
MAURICE (1521–1553), elector of Saxony, elder son of Henry, duke of Saxony, belonging to the Albertine branch of the Wettin family, was born at Freiberg on the 21st of March 1521. In January 1541 he married Agnes, daughter of Philip, landgrave of Hesse. In that year he became duke of Saxony by his father’s death, and he continued Henry’s work in forwarding the progress of the Reformation. Duke Henry had decreed that his lands should be divided between his two sons, but as a partition was regarded as undesirable the whole of the duchy came to his elder son. Maurice, however, made generous provision for his brother Augustus, and the desire to compensate him still further was one of the minor threads of his subsequent policy. In 1542 he assisted the emperor Charles V. against the Turks, in 1543 against William, duke of Cleves, and in 1544 against the French; but his ambition soon took a wider range. The harmonious relations which subsisted between the two branches of the Wettins were disturbed by the interference of Maurice in Cleves, a proceeding distasteful to the Saxon elector, John Frederick; and a dispute over the bishopric of Meissen having widened the breach, war was only averted by the mediation of Philip of Hesse and Luther. About this time Maurice seized the idea of securing for himself the electoral dignity held by John Frederick, and his opportunity came when Charles was preparing to attack the league of Schmalkalden. Although educated as a Lutheran, religious questions had never seriously appealed to Maurice. As a youth he had joined the league of Schmalkalden, but this adhesion, as well as his subsequent declaration to stand by the confession of Augsburg, cannot be regarded as the decision of his maturer years. In June 1546 he took a decided step by making a secret agreement with Charles at Regensburg. Maurice was promised some rights over the archbishopric of Magdeburg and the bishopric of Halberstadt; immunity, in part at least, for his subjects from the Tridentine decrees; and the question of transferring the electoral dignity was discussed. In return the duke probably agreed to aid Charles in his proposed attack on the league as soon as he could gain the consent of the Saxon estates, or at all events to remain neutral during the impending war. The struggle began in July 1546, and in October Maurice declared war against John Frederick. He secured the formal consent of Charles to the transfer of the electoral dignity and took the field in November. He had gained a few successes when John Frederick hastened from south Germany to defend his dominions. Maurice’s ally, Albert Alcibiades, prince of Bayreuth, was taken prisoner at Rochlitz; and the duke, driven from electoral Saxony, was unable to prevent his own lands from being overrun. Salvation, however, was at hand. Marching against John Frederick, Charles V., aided by Maurice, gained a decisive victory at Mühlberg in April 1547, after which by the capitulation of Wittenberg John Frederick renounced the electoral dignity in favour of Maurice, who also obtained a large part of his kinsman’s lands. The formal investiture of the new elector took place at Augsburg in February 1548.
The plans of Maurice soon took a form less agreeable to the emperor. The continued imprisonment of his father-in-law, Philip of Hesse, whom he had induced to surrender to Charles and whose freedom he had guaranteed, was neither his greatest nor his only cause of complaint. The emperor had refused to complete the humiliation of the family of John Frederick; he had embarked upon a course of action which boded danger to the elector’s Lutheran subjects, and his increased power was a menace to the position of Maurice. Assuring Charles of his continued loyalty, the elector entered into negotiations with the discontented Protestant princes. An event happened which gave him a base of operations, and enabled him to mask his schemes against the emperor. In 1550 he had been entrusted with the execution of the imperial ban against the city of Magdeburg, and under cover of these operations he was able to collect troops and to concert measures with his allies. Favourable terms were granted to Magdeburg, which surrendered and remained in the power of Maurice, and in January 1552 a treaty was concluded with Henry II. of France at Chambord. Meanwhile Maurice had refused to recognize the Interim issued from Augsburg in May 1548 as binding on Saxony; but a compromise was arranged on the basis of which the Leipzig Interim was drawn up for his lands. It is uncertain how far Charles was ignorant of the elector’s preparations, but certainly he was unprepared for the attack made by Maurice and his allies in March 1552. Augsburg was taken, the pass of Ehrenberg was forced, and in a few days the emperor left Innsbruck as a fugitive. Ferdinand undertook to make peace, and the Treaty of Passau, signed in August 1552, was the result. Maurice obtained a general amnesty and freedom for Philip of Hesse, but was unable to obtain a perpetual religious peace for the Lutherans. Charles stubbornly insisted that this question must be referred to the Diet, and Maurice was obliged to give way. He then fought against the Turks, and renewed his communications with Henry of France. Returning from Hungary the elector placed himself at the head of the princes who were seeking to check the career of his former ally, Albert Alcibiades, whose depredations were making him a curse to Germany. The rival armies met at Sievershausen on the 9th of July 1553, where after a fierce encounter Albert was defeated. The victor, however, was wounded during the fight and died two days later.
Maurice was a friend to learning, and devoted some of the secularized church property to the advancement of education. Very different estimates have been formed of his character. He has been represented as the saviour of German Protestantism on the one hand, and on the other as a traitor to his faith and country. In all probability he was neither the one nor the other, but a man of great ambition who, indifferent to religious considerations, made good use of the exigencies of the time. He was generous and enlightened, a good soldier and a clever diplomatist. He left an only daughter Anna (d. 1577), who became the second wife of William the Silent, prince of Orange.
The elector’s Politische Korrespondenz has been edited by E. Brandenburg (Leipzig, 1900–1904); and a sketch of him is given by Roger Ascham in A Report and Discourse of the Affairs and State of Germany (London, 1864–1865). See also F. A. von Langenn, Moritz Herzog und Churfürst zu Sachsen (Leipzig, 1841); G. Voigt, Moritz von Sachsen (Leipzig, 1876); E. Brandenburg, Moritz von Sachsen (Leipzig, 1898); S. Issleib, Moritz von Sachsen als protestantischer Fürst (Hamburg, 1898); J. Witter, Die Beziehung und der Verkehr des Kurfürsten Moritz mit König Ferdinand (Jena, 1886); L. von Ranke, Deutsche Geschichte im Zeitalter der Reformation, Bde. IV. and V. (Leipzig, 1882); and W. Maurenbrecher in the Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, Bd. XXII. (Leipzig, 1885). For bibliography see Maurenbrecher; and The Cambridge Modern History, vol. ii. (Cambridge, 1903).