Anna of Saxony

For other uses, see Anna of Saxony (disambiguation).
Anna of Saxony
Princess consort of Orange
Tenure 25 August 1561 – 22 March 1571
(9 years)
Born (1544-12-23)23 December 1544
Dresden, Duchy of Saxony
Died 18 December 1577(1577-12-18) (aged 32)
Dresden, Electorate of Saxony
Spouse William I, Prince of Orange
Issue Countess Anna
Anna, Countess William Louis of Nassau-Dillenburg
Count Maurice August Phillip
Maurice, Prince of Orange
Emilia, Princess of Portugal
Christine van Dietz (illegitimate)
House Wettin
Father Maurice, Elector of Saxony
Mother Agnes of Hesse

Anna of Saxony (23 December 1544 – 18 December 1577) was the heiress of Maurice, Elector of Saxony, and Agnes, eldest daughter of Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse.[1] Maurice's only son, Albert, died in infancy. Anna was the second wife of William the Silent.[1]

Anna was born and died in Dresden.[2] Her wealth drew many suitors;[2] before the proposal of Orange in 1560, there were negotiations with the Swedish royal house. She accepted the suit of William I of Orange, and they were married on 25 August 1561.[2]

Early life

After the death of her younger brother Albert (born November 28, 1545 † April 12, 1546) Anna was the only remaining child of her parents, and was especially loved and spoiled by the mother. Anna's shoulder was deformed and she walked with a limp.

On 11 July 1553, her father died leaving his younger brother, August (1526–1586), at the head of the office of elector. Anna's mother married the Duke Johann Friedrich the Middle of Saxony (1529–1595) two years after. Anna lived with two step-siblings from then on with her mother in Weimar. On 4 November 1555, six months after her second marriage, her mother died. The 11-year-old orphan then moved in with her closest relatives at the Dresden court, her uncle August and his wife Anne of Denmark and Norway, and was often unhappy and alone. She was described as proud, defiant, and stubborn, but was also regarded as intelligent and passionate.

She was, in her time, the wealthiest heiress in Germany. In 1556 Erik, son of the Swedish king Gustav Vasa, sought her hand in marriage, followed two years later by William of Orange. A marriage with a rich heiress and relation to the important electoral houses of Germany for him seemed of great value. Money may have not been one of the main motives for the marriage, but was probably the furthest planned course of the marriage. Anna's maternal grandfather, Philip the Magnanimous of Hesse, was opposed to the marriage. First, he did not consider William of Orange, already having a male heir, as befitting for an elector's daughter, believing she could marry someone of even higher rank. Secondly, there would have been too much debt incurred in the event of William's death. Philip's negative attitude delayed the marriage for a full year. Ultimately, however, the decisive factor was probably that William was a valuable ally for Germany and his Dutch resources for the Protestant cause.

Anna of Saxony—Engraving by Abraham de Bruyn (1566)

Marriage to William I of Orange-Nassau

On 2 June 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 24 August 1561 in Leipzig. On 1 September 1561 William of Orange, along with his young wife, relocated to the Netherlands.

The marriage produced five children, of whom three survived to adulthood:

  1. Anna (born and died Brussels, 31 October 1562).
  2. Anna (Breda, 5 November 1563 – Franeker, 13 June 1588), married on 25 November 1587 to Count William Louis of Nassau-Dillenburg.
  3. Maurice August Philip (Brussels, 8 December 1564 - Brussels, 3 March 1566).
  4. Maurice (Dillenburg, 13 November 1567 – The Hague, 23 April 1625), later Prince of Orange and Governor of the Netherlands.
  5. Emilia (Köln, 10 April 1569 – Geneva, 6 March 1629), married on 7 November 1597 to Prince Emanuel (I) of Portugal.

Just a few months after the wedding, in 1562 difficulties arose between her and her husband. Anna received letters from her uncle meant for William 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 Germany 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 Louis antagonizing William. In 1566 William finally complained about the "contentious" nature of his wife to her Saxon uncle August and her Hessian uncle Landgrave Wilhelm IV of Hesse-Kassel (1532–1592).

After the death of her first son Moritz in 1566, Anna fell to severe depression and suicidal thoughts for the first time. She also tried to drown her grief with excessive alcohol consumption.

In 1567 William 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 14 November 1567 she bore a son and named him Moritz again. At the baptism of 11–19 January 1568 a message arrived for William in Burgundy stating that on 20 December 1567 all his Dutch lands and possessions had been confiscated.

When Wilhelm on 15 August 1568 went back to Brabant to continue his war against the Spaniards, Anna decided on 20 October 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 Moritz, had been taken by her mother-in-law to Braunfels due to the risk of disease. The next year, after a fierce battle with William's mother, she was able to bring her children back to him. Her daughter Emilia was born on 10 April 1569 in Cologne.

On 4 March 1569 Anna met her husband in Mannheim. William's campaign against the Duke of Alva had failed, and King Philip II of Spain had forced him out. After this, he left Germany and went to support the Huguenots in France in their faith struggles. Since William 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 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 began 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 William 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 Johannes (Jan) Ruebens, who would later become the father of painter Peter Paul Rubens.[2]

During the Christmas holidays from 24 to 26 December 1570 William 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. William 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 7 and 10 March 1571. He was arrested outside the city of Siegen when he was on his way to see her. He 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 26 March 1571 to plead guilty. On 22 August 1571 Anna's last child, Christine, was born.[2] On the basis of the allegation, William of Orange didn't recognize the child as his daughter. Christine received the name van Dietz. On 14 December 1571 Anna had to sign their consent to the final separation from her husband.[2] In addition, William 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 1 October 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 William 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 William, whom he now called "Head of all the rogues and rebels " claimed one of the counties of Nassau, Hadamar and Diez. He 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 was 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.[2]

As of May 1577 Anna was suffering from continuous hemorrhaging. Anna died on 18 December 1577 shortly before her 33rd Birthday. She was buried in the cathedral of Meissen near her ancestors in a nameless tomb.




  1. 1 2 Byfield (2010). A century of giants, A.D. 1500 to 1600: in an age of spiritual genius, western Christendom shatters. Edmonton: Christian History Project, an activity of SEARCH, the Society to Explore and Record Christian History. p. 292. ISBN 9780968987391.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Midelfort, H.C. Erik (1994). Mad princes of renaissance Germany (2nd paperback printing. ed.). Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia. pp. 55–60. ISBN 0813915007.


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