Frederick III, Elector of Saxony

"Frederick the Wise" redirects here. For the Labour Party politician, see Frederick Wise, 1st Baron Wise.
Frederick III
Elector of Saxony
Landgrave of Thuringia

Frederick in a portrait by Lucas Cranach the Elder
Elector of Saxony
Reign 26 August 1486 – 5 May 1525
Predecessor Ernst
Successor John the Constant
Born (1463-01-17)17 January 1463
Died 5 May 1525(1525-05-05) (aged 62)
Burial Schlosskirche, Wittenberg
House House of Wettin
Father Ernst, Elector of Saxony
Mother Elisabeth of Bavaria
Religion officially Roman Catholic until his death, simultaneously having Lutheran leanings

Frederick III (17 January 1463 – 5 May 1525), also known as Frederick the Wise (German "Friedrich der Weise"), was Elector of Saxony (from the House of Wettin) from 1486-1525. Frederick was the son of Ernest, Elector of Saxony and his wife Elisabeth, daughter of Albert III, Duke of Bavaria. He is notable as being one of the most powerful early defenders of Martin Luther,[1] Lutheranism and the Protestant Reformation although he had little personal contact with Luther himself. Fredericks' treasurer Degenhart Pfaffinger (Pfaffinger being a German dynasty), spoke on behalf of him to Martin Luther.[2] Pfaffinger supported Frederick since the joint pilgrimage to the holy land.[3] He is considered to have remained a Roman Catholic all his life, yet gradually inclining toward doctrines of the Reformation.[4]

Frederick III is commemorated as a Christian ruler in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod on 5 May. His court painter from 1504 was Lucas Cranach the Elder.

Silver Saxony coin of Frederick III, known as a Groschen, minted ca. 1507–25. Both the obverse and the reverse bear a coat of arms.


Born in Torgau, he succeeded his father as elector in 1486; in 1502, he founded the University of Wittenberg, where Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon taught.

Frederick was among the princes who pressed the need of reform upon Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, and in 1500 he became president of the newly formed council of regency (Reichsregiment).

Frederick was Pope Leo X's candidate for Holy Roman Emperor in 1519—the pope had awarded him the Golden Rose of virtue on 3 September 1518—but he helped secure the election of Charles V. Frederick ensured Luther would be heard before the Diet of Worms in 1521 and subsequently secured an exemption from the Edict of Worms for Saxony.

Frederick collected many relics in his castle church; his inventory of 1518 listed 17,443 items, including a thumb from St. Anne, a twig from Moses' burning bush, hay of the holy manger, and milk from the Virgin Mary. Money was paid in order to venerate these relics and thus escape years in purgatory.[5] A diligent and pious person who rendered appropriate devotion to each of these relics could merit 1,902,202 years worth of penance (an earthly equivalent of time otherwise spent in Purgatory, removed by indulgences).[6] Two years later, the collection exceeded 19,000 pieces.[7]

He protected Martin Luther from the Pope's enforcement of the edict by faking a highway attack on Luther's way back to Wittenberg, abducting and then hiding him at Wartburg Castle following the Diet of Worms.

Frederick died unmarried at Lochau, a hunting castle near Annaburg (30 km southeast of Wittenberg), in 1525 and was buried in the Schlosskirche at Wittenberg with a grave by Peter Vischer the Younger. He was succeeded by his brother Duke John the Steadfast as Elector of Saxony.


See also


  2. Friedrich Gottlieb Canzler; August Gottlieb Meissner (1783–1785). Für ältere Literatur und neuere Lektüre. Leipzig: Breitkopf. p. 48.
  3. Spalatin, Georg (1851). Historischer Nachlass und Briefe. p. 89.
  4. "Frederick the Wise". Devillier Donegan Enterprise. Retrieved 25 December 2013.
  5. Martin E. Marty, Martin Luther: A Life. (Penguin Lives) Paperback, 2008, p. 18
  6. Borkowsky, Ernst (1929). Das Leben Friedrichs des Weisen. Jena. pp. 56–57.
  7. Geoffrey Parker; Caleb Carr; et al. (2001). "Martin Luther Burns at the Stake, 1521". In Robert Cowley. The collected What if? : eminent historians imagining what might have been. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. p. 511. ISBN 0-399-15238-5.


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Frederick III, Elector of Saxony
Born: 17 January 1463 Died: 5 May 1525
Preceded by
Elector of Saxony
Succeeded by
John the Constant
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