John George III, Elector of Saxony

John George III, Elector of Saxony

Johann Georg III (b. Dresden, 20 June 1647 – d. Tübingen, 12 September 1691) was Elector of Saxony from 1680 to 1691.

Early life

Johann Georg was the only son of the Elector Johann Georg II and Magdalene Sybille of Brandenburg-Bayreuth.

Johann Georg succeeded his father as Elector of Saxony when he died, in 1680; he was also appointed Marshal of the Holy Roman Empire. Because of his courage and his enthusiasm for the War he gained the nickname of the "Saxonian Mars".

From his childhood, he learned the typical duties and manners of an heir to the throne. That included not only a strictly Lutheran education but also language tuition and instruction in the art of fortress building and warfare.

In character he resembled his father, the Elector Johann Georg II. He shared his liking for Italian music and theatre. In 1685 Johann Georg met the Venetian opera singer Margarita Salicola and began a relationship; he brought her to Dresden (not only to work, but also as his official mistress). She began a new era for the opera in Saxony, which had previously been dominated by the "castrati". In 1686, the pietist Philipp Jakob Spener became the court chaplain in Dresden. But Spener was not generally accepted there and in 1691 he moved to Brandenburg.

Meanwhile, the duchy had recovered again from the consequences of the Thirty Years' War. By 1689, Dresden had a population of 21,300 and was becoming less provincial. Four years before, in 1685, the old city of Dresden was destroyed by a fire; later, Wolf Caspar of Klengel and Balthasar Permoser were entrusted by the Duke with the reconstruction of the city in the baroque style which was the new fashion at the time.

Johann Georg showed a strong interest in the military and even while he was still the heir led Saxonian Army forces in the Rhine Campaign.

Career as Elector

After his accession as Elector, he reduced the size of the royal household and began with the establishment of a small standing army of 12,000 men, after the model of the Margraviate of Brandenburg and managed to extract from the states of the realm a commitment to contribute funds. The Privy War Chancellery ("geheime Kriegskanzlei") was set up as the highest military authority. Extreme pressure was used to obtain recruits for the new army. He always neglected home affairs. In foreign policy, he was less inconstant than his father. He broke off relations with the French crown and strove energetically to win Brandenburg and other German princes for the Imperial war against the French aggressor.

Valued as an ally by the Habsburg court, he was nevertheless viewed with extreme distrust and was not able to overall command of all the imperial troops in the face of a Turkish invasion and he did not obtain the means (food supply and winter accommodation) necessary for the maintenance of his auxiliary troops. There was also the matter of Johann Georg's wish for Emperor Leopold I to decide a law case concerning a wooded area in the Ore Mountains ("Erzgebirge") in his favour. The Emperor did not grant material support until the siege of Vienna made his situation look increasingly desperate. Johann Georg even led his 10,400 strong army against the Turks. However, there was strong opposition from the estates of Saxony, not only because this expensive campaign was exhausting the finances of the Electorate of Saxony but also becaused they were not pleased at this support for the catholic Emperor, who had often proceeded harshly against Protestants in his own country. At Tulln, on the Danube, he joined the Imperial army and they set off for the relief of Vienna. In the ensuing Battle of Vienna (12 September 1683) he commanded the left wing, where he demonstrated great personal courage. The battle call selected by the emperor "Maria Help" (which might carry Roman Catholic connotations) had been previously amended to "Jesus and Maria help" at the request of Johann Georg.

The Polish King Johann III Sobieski, who also took part in the battle, said of Johann Georg: "the Elector of Saxony is an honest man with a straight heart".

Johann Georg also accompanied the Emperor after the victory when he entered Vienna. But on 15 September, without taking leave of the Emperor or the other commanders, he set off with his troops on the march back to Saxony, probably as a result of the brusque treatment he had been accorded as a Protestant.

In 1686 he again supported Leopold's Turkish War. For payment of 300,000 thalers, he sent a troop of 5,000 men to the Emperor. In 1685 he had already hired out 3,000 Saxon nationals for 120,000 thalers to the Republic of Venice for their war in Morea on the Greek Peloponnese Peninsula.

He did not join the League of Augsburg of 1686 against France, but he did travel personally to The Hague in March 1688, to discuss with William of Orange, Georg Wilhelm of Brunswick-Lüneburg, and Frederick Wilhelm of Brandenburg possible moves against Louis XIV. However, he did not directly support the forthcoming assumption of the English throne by William.

Following a renewed invasion by France in (1689), he again led his troops into battle to protect Franconia. He later joined the army of Charles of Lorraine and took part in the siege of Mainz.

He later had to leave the theatre because of an illness but, against the advice of his physicians and advisors, he returned in May 1690 and with a reinforced alliance with the Emperor, took overall command of the imperial army. Success was limited, however, partly owing to personal skirmishes between Johann George, the Field Marshal Hans Adam von Schöning and the imperial commander Caprara; only the crossing of the Rhine at Sandhofen succeeded.

Johann Georg died shortly after in Tübingen, where he had been brought, of an epidemic illness, probably Cholera or the Plague. He was buried in the Cathedral of Freiberg.


Johann Georg married Anna Sophie of Denmark, daughter of the King Frederick III, in Copenhagen on 9 October 1666. They had two sons:
#Johann Georg IV (b. Dresden, 18 October 1668 - died of smallpox, Dresden, 28 May 1694), successor of his father as Elector.
#Frederick Augustus I (b. Dresden, 22 May 1670 - died in Warsaw, 1 February 1733), successor of his brother as Elector and later King of Poland.

He also had an illegitimate son by his mistress, the opera singer Margarita Salicola:
#"Johann Georg Maximilian von Fürstenhoff (b. 1686 - d. 1753), married first to Margareta Dorothea Kühler (d. 1738) and then to a Charlotte Emilie (who identity is unknown). From his first marriage he had two children: a son and a daughter, both unknown; the son apparently died young and the daughter married Philipp Christian von Kleinberg, but both spouses died in 1743".


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