Augustus II the Strong

Augustus II the Strong

Frederick Augustus I, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland (as Augustus II the Strong; _de. August II der Starke; _pl. August II Mocny; 12 May 16701 February 1733) was as Frederick Augustus I the Elector of Saxony 1694-1733, later also King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania 1697-1704 and again 1709-1733.

Augustus's 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. His ancestor Cymburgis of Masovia was also noted for her strength.

Augustus the Strong owed allegiance to the Imperial Habsburgs as a member of the Order of the Golden Fleece.

As Elector of Saxony, he is perhaps best remembered as a patron of the arts and architecture. He established the Saxon capital of Dresden as a major cultural centre, attracting artists and [ musicians] from across Europe to his court. Augustus also amassed an impressive art collection and built fantastic baroque palaces at Dresden and Warsaw.

As a politician, he is nowadays not held in high esteem in Poland, getting blamed for embroiling the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the Great Northern War. His attempts at internal reforms and at bolstering the royal power are considered to have come to naught, while his policies are said to have allowed the Russian Empire to strengthen its influence over the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Royal titles

*In Latin: "Augustus Secundus, Dei Gratia rex Poloniae, magnus dux Lithuaniae, Russie, Prussiae, Masoviae, Samogitiae, Livoniae, Kijoviae, Volhyniae, Podoliae, Smolensciae, Severiae, Czerniechoviaeque, necnon haereditarius dux Saxoniae et princeps elector etc."
*English translation: "Augustus II, by the grace of God, King of Poland, Grand Duke of Lithuania, Ruthenia, Prussia, Masovia, Samogitia, Livonia, Kyiv, Volhynia, Podolia, Smolensk, Severia and Chernihiv, and Hereditary Duke and Prince-Elector of Saxony, etc."


Augustus was born in Dresden, the second and youngest son of the Elector Johann Georg III and Anne Sophie of Denmark.

As the second son, Augustus had no expectation to inherit the Electorate since his older brother, Johann Georg IV, assumed the post after the death of their father, on 12 September 1691. In Bayreuth on 20 January 1693, Augustus married Christiane Eberhardine of Brandenburg-Bayreuth. They had a son, Frederick Augustus II (1696 - 1763), who succeeded his father as Elector of Saxony and King of Poland as Augustus III.

While at the Carnival in Venice, his older brother, the Elector Johann Georg IV, contracted smallpox from his mistress Magdalene Sybille of Neidschutz. On 27 April 1694 Johann Georg died without legitimate issue and Augustus became Elector of Saxony, as Frederick Augustus I.

In order to be eligible for the throne of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Augustus had to convert to Roman-Catholicism. Saxon dukes had traditionally been called "champions of the Reformation." The duchy was a stronghold of German Protestantism and therefore, Augustus's conversion was spectacular and not without controversy. The Roman-Catholic electors of Saxony lost the prestigious leading role of the Protestant estates in the Imperial Diet (see Reichstag) to Brandenburg-Prussia. Since the prince-elector guaranteed Saxony's religious status quo, Augustus's conversion alienated some of his Protestant subjects. Finally, as a result of the enormous expenditure of money used to bribe the Polish nobility and clergy at the expense of the Saxon treasury, Augustus's contemporaries derisively referred to the Saxon duke's royal ambitions as his "Polish adventure."

It is noteworthy that the directorate of the Corpus Evangelicorum, which was the official Imperial board of the Protestant estates and the counterpart of the Corpus Catholicorum, remained with Saxony and thus, paradoxically, with the Roman-Catholic Augustus as its head. His church policy within the Holy Roman Empire was orthodox Lutheran and ran counter to his new- found religious and absolutist convictions. The Protestant Princes of the Empire and the two remaining Protestant Electors (of Hanover and Prussia) were anxious to keep Saxony well-integrated in their camp. According to the Peace of Augsburg Augustus theoretically had the right to re-introduce Roman-Catholicism (see Cuius regio, eius religio) or at least give religious freedom to his fellow Catholics to the full extent, but this never happened. Saxony remained Lutheran and the few Roman-Catholics residing in Saxony were without any political or civil rights. In 1717 it became clear just how awkward the issue was: For his ambitious family-plans in Poland and Germany it was necessary that Augustus's heirs become Roman-Catholic. After five years as a convert, his son--the future Augustus III--publicly avowed his Roman-Catholicism. The Saxon estates were outraged and revolted. It was becoming clearer that the conversion to Roman-Catholicism was not only a matter of form but of substance as well.

Augustus I's wife, the Electress Christiane Eberhardine, refused to follow her husband's example and remained a staunch Protestant. She did not attend her husband's coronation in Poland and led a rather quiet life outside of Dresden, gaining for herself some popularity and notoriety for her stubbornness.

King of Poland for the first time

Following the death of Polish King John III Sobieski and having successfully converted to Catholicism, Augustus was elected King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1697 with the backing of Imperial Russia and Austria, which financed him through the Jewish banker, Berend Lehmann.

It is sometimes incorrectly stated that Augustus "defeated" the other leading candidates, Jakub Ludwik Sobieski, son of the previous king, and the French candidate, François Louis, Prince of Conti. Augustus actually received fewer votes than Conti (despite a massive bribery campaign), but he rushed to Poland and had himself crowned before the French candidate could set foot in the Commonwealth. Some Poles questioned the legality of Augustus's elevation.

He continued the war of the Holy League against Turkey: After a Moldavian campaign his Polish army defeated the Tatar expedition eventually in the Battle of Podhajce in 1698. It compelled the Ottoman Empire to sign the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699. Podolia and Kamieniec Podolski returned to Poland. An ambitious ruler, Augustus hoped to make the Polish throne hereditary within his family, and to use his resources as Elector of Saxony to impose some order on the chaotic Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He was, however, soon distracted from his internal-reform projects by the possibility of external conquest. He formed an alliance with Denmark's Frederick IV and Russia's Peter I to strip Sweden's young King Charles XII of his possessions. Poland's reward from this Great Northern War was to have been the Swedish territory of Livonia. Charles proved an able military commander, however, quickly forcing the Danes out of the war and then driving back the Russians at Narva, thereby allowing him to focus on the struggle with Augustus. Charles' decision ultimately proved as disastrous to Sweden as to Poland.

Charles defeated Augustus at Riga on 17 June 1701, forcing the Polish-Saxon army to withdraw from Livonia, and followed this up with an invasion of Poland. He captured Warsaw on 14 May 1702, defeated the Polish-Saxon army again at the Kliszów, and took Kraków. He defeated another of Augustus's armies under command of Generalfeldmarschall Adam Heinrich von Steinau at the Pułtusk in spring 1703, and besieged and captured Toruń.

By this time, Augustus was certainly ready for peace, but Charles felt that he would be more secure if he could establish someone more pliable on the Polish throne. In 1704 the Swedes installed Stanisław Leszczyński on Polish throne, it compelled Augustus II to introduce Poland to war alongside with Russia (alliance was concluded in Narva summer 1704). On 1 September 1706, Charles invaded Saxony, forcing Augustus to yield up the Polish throne to Leszczyński by the Treaty of Altranstadt.

Meanwhile Russia's Tsar Peter the Great had reformed his army, and dealt a crippling defeat to the Swedes at the Battle of Poltava. This spelled the end of the Swedish Empire and the rise of the Russian Empire.

King of Poland for the second time

The weakened Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth soon came to be regarded almost a protectorate of Russia. In 1709 Augustus II returned to the Polish throne under Russian auspices. Once again he attempted to establish an absolute monarchy in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, but was faced with opposition from the nobility ("szlachta", see Tarnogród Confederation). Peter the Great seized on this opportunity to pose as mediator, threatened the Commonwealth militarily, and in 1717 forced Augustus and the nobility to sign an accommodation, favorable to Russian interests, at the Silent Sejm ("Sejm Niemy").

For the remainder of his reign, in an uneasy relationship, Augustus was more or less dependent on Russia (and to a lesser extent, on Austria) to maintain his throne. After the Silent Sejm, he gave up his ambitions and finally settled on attempts to strengthen the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Faced with both internal and foreign opposition, however, he achieved little.

Augustus died at Warsaw in 1733. Although he had failed to make the Polish throne hereditary in his house, his eldest son, Frederick Augustus II of Saxony, did succeed him to the Polish throne as Augustus III of Poland — although he had to be installed there by a Russian army in the War of the Polish Succession.


Augustus II was called "the Strong" for his bear-like physical strength and for his numerous offspring (only one of them was the legitimate child and heir). The most famous of the king’s bastards was Maurice de Saxe who was a brilliant strategist and reached the highest military ranks in Ancien Régime France. In the War of the Polish Succession he remained loyal to his employer Louis XV of France, who was married to the daughter of Augustus’s rival Stanisław Leszczyński and hence an opponent of Augustus III. In recognition of his service, Maurice de Saxe was eventually made one of only six "maréchaux généraux" in French history. He was the great-grandfather of French novelist George Sand, the longtime companion of Polish composer Frédéric Chopin.

August was 1.76 meters (5’ 9½”) tall, above average height for that time, but despite his extraordinary physical strength he did not look big. In his final years he suffered from diabetes mellitus and became obese, at his death weighing some 110 kg (242 lbs). August II's body was interred in Poland — all but his heart, which rests at Dresden's Katholische Hofkirche.

In Warsaw, the Saxon Garden (Polish: "Ogród Saski") commemorates the role of August II in expanding the city's public places.

Augustus II and the arts

Augustus loved fine arts and architecture. During his reign, palaces were built, mainly in Dresden, known for centuries of extraordinary cultural and artistic splendor.

From 1687 to 1689 Augustus toured France and Italy. Especially the lavish and extravagant court in Versailles--which was perfectly tailored to fit the needs of an absolute monarch--impressed him deeply. In an absolute monarchy a flamboyantly splendid residence was symbolically most important as it publicly displayed and celebrated the princely power and thus legitimated the prince’s claim of governance: The court was an open arena to bind, entertain and eventually domesticate the aristocracy--which was vital for a monarch with absolutistic ambitions, as it turned independent nobles into fawning courtiers. Completely in accordance with the spirit of the baroque age Augustus--who was holding not just one but two highly prestigious princely titles--invested heavily in the representative splendor of his residence to show off--as did most absolute monarchs of that time, depending on their resources. On the one hand he started to create an adequate architectural and cultural background for his reign: With strict edificial regulations, major urban development plans and a certain feeling for art the king began to transform Dresden into a renowned baroque ensemble with one of Germany’s finest art collections, though most of the famous sights and landmarks of Dresden were completed during the reign of his son Augustus III. On the other hand Augustus II perfectly stage-managed his reign in Dresden. Being a man of pleasure the king used every excuse to throw a party: His lavish court balls, Venetian-style balli in maschera, gatherings, games and garden festivities were numerous, most luxurious and legendary. They are well documented by Saxon and Polish courtiers and they gave his court a fabulous reputation throughout Europe.

Meissen porcelain

Augustus II successfully set out to discover the secret of "white gold," as the porcelain that he produced at Dresden and Meissen was described. In 1701 he rescued the young alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger, who was fleeing from Fredrick the First's expectation that he produce gold as he had boasted he could. King Augustus II imprisoned Böttger and forced him to reveal the secret of manufacturing gold. Böttger's transition from alchemist to potter was orchestrated as an attempt to avoid the impossible demands of the king. Being an alchemist by profession rather than a potter gave Böttger an advantage in the quest for the secret of porcelain. He realized that the current approaches which involved mixing fine white substances like crushed egg shells into clay was not the answer, but rather his approach was to attempt to bake the clay at higher temperatures than ever before created in a kiln in Europe. He intended to melt the structure of the clay so as to transmute it into a new substance. That approach yielded the breakthrough which had eluded European potters for a century.Today the manufacture of fine porcelain continues at the Meissen porcelain Factory. Augustus II also gathered together in Dresden many of the best architects and painters from all over Europe, and his reign marked the beginning of Dresden's development as a leading center of technology and art.


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1= Augustus II of Poland
2= John George III, Elector of Saxony
3= Anna Sophia of Denmark
4= John George II, Elector of Saxony
5= Magdelene Sibylle of Brandenburg-Bayreuth
6= Frederick III of Denmark
7= Sophie Amalie of Brunswick-Lüneburg
8= John George I, Elector of Saxony
9= Magdalene Sibylle of Prussia
10=Christian, Margrave of Brandenburg-Bayreuth
11=Marie of Prussia
12=Christian IV of Denmark
13=Anne Catherine of Brandenburg
14=George, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg
15=Anne Eleonore of Hesse-Darmstadt

Illegitimate issue

The Electress Christiane, who remained Protestant and refused to move to Poland with her husband, preferred to spend her time in the Schloss Pretzsch at the Elbe, where she died.

August, a voracious womanizer, never missed his wife, spending his time with a series of mistresses:

*1694-1696 with Countess Maria Aurora of Königsmarck.
*1696-1699 with Countess Anna Aloysia Maximiliane von Lamberg.
*1698-1704 with Ursula Katharina of Altenbockum, later Princess of Teschen.
*1701-1706 with Fatima, Turkish woman, renamed later as Maria Anna of Spiegel.
*1704-1713 with Anna Constantia of Brockdorff, later Countess of Cosel.
*1706-1707 with Henriette Rénard.
*1708 with Angélique Duparc, french dancer and actress.
*1713-1719 with Maria Magdalena of Bielinski, by her first marriage Countess of Dönhoff and by the second Princess Lubomirska.
*1720-1721 with Erdmuthe Sophie of Dieskau, by marriage of Loß
*1721-1722 with Baroness Christine of Osterhausen, by marriage of Stanislawski.
*?-? with Fredierike, a black woman.

Some contemporary sources, including Wilhelmine of Bayreuth, claimed that Augustus had as many as 365 or 382 children. The number is extremely difficult to verify; Augustus officially recognized only a tiny fraction of that number as his bastards (the mothers of these "chosen ones," with the possible exception of Fatima, [The "noble" origin of Henriette Renárd is matter of dispute among historians.] were all aristocratic ladies):

—With Maria Aurora of Königsmarck:

#"Hermann Maurice (b. Goslar, 28 October 1696 - d. château de Chambord, 30 November 1750), Comte de Saxe."

—With Ursula Katharina of Altenbockum:

# "Johann Georg (b. 21 August 1704 - d. 25 February 1774), Chevalier de Saxe, later Governor of Dresden."

—With the Turk Fatima, later Maria Anna of Spiegel:

#"Frederick Augustus (b. Warsaw/Dresden [?] , 19 June 1702 - d. Pillnitz, 16 March 1764), Count Rutowsky."
#"Maria Anna Katharina (b. 1706 - d. 1746), Countess Rutowska; married firstly on January 1728 to Michał, Count Bieliński, but they divorced in the beginning of 1732; secondly, she married on February 1732 to Claude Marie Noyel, Comte du Bellegarde et d'Entremont."

—With Anna Constantia of Brockdorff:

#"Augusta Anna Constantia (b. 24 February 1708 - d. 3 February 1728), Countess of Cosel; married on 3 June 1725 to Heinrich Friedrich, Count of Friesen."
#"Fredericka Alexandrine (b. 27 October 1709 - d. 1784), Countess of Cosel; married on 18 February 1730 to Johann Xantius Anton, Count Moszinsky."
#"Frederick Augustus (b. 27 August 1712 - d. 15 October 1770), Count of Cosel; married on 1 June 1749 to Countess Friederike Christiane of Holtzendorff. They had four children. The two sons, Gustav Ernst and Segismund, died unmarried. One of the two daughters, Constantia Alexandrina, married Johann Heinrich, Lehnsgraf Knuth. The other, named Charlotte, first married Count Rudolf of Bünau and then married Charles de Riviere."

—With Henriette Renárd:

#"Anna Karolina (b. 26 November 1707 - d. Avignon, 27 September 1769), Countess Orzelska; married on 10 August 1730 to Karl Ludwig Frederick of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Beck. They divorced in 1733."

"Polonica" from the King's collection in Dresden

Portraits by

* Rosalba Carriera
* Louis de Silvestre

ee also

* History of Saxony
* Rulers of Saxony
* History of Poland (1569-1795)
* List of Lithuanian rulers
* Hans Carl von Carlowitz

External links

* [ Article: "Dresden in the time of Zelenka and Hasse" by Brian Robins]


* Desroches de Parthénay, "Histoire de Pologne sous le roi Auguste" (Hague, 1733-34)


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