Rudolf I, Duke of Saxe-Wittenberg

Rudolf I, Duke of Saxe-Wittenberg

Rudolf I, Duke of Saxony
Spouse(s) Jutta of Brandenburg
Kunigunde of Poland
Agnes of Lindow-Ruppin
Noble family House of Ascania
Father Albert II, Duke of Saxony
Mother Agnes of Habsburg
Born c. 1284
Died 12 March 1356(1356-03-12)
Buried Franciscan church in Wittenberg

Rudolf I, Duke of Saxe-Wittenberg (c.1284 12 March 1356) was a member of the House of Ascania. He was Duke, Prince-Elector of Saxony and Arch-Reichsmarschall of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation from 1298 until his death.


As the eldest son, he succeeded his father, Albert II, as Duke of Saxe-Wittenberg after his father died on 25 August 1298. Because he was still a minor at the time, his mother acted as guardian and regent. Before this date, in 1290, he had received the County of Brehna cum annexis, which was initially administered by his mother, Agnes of Habsburg, who gradually introduced him to the business of government at the court of her brother Albert I in preparation for his rôle as ruling duke.

Rudolph's first official act as holder of the electoral dignity of Arch-Reichsmarschall was to consent to the investiture of Austria, Styria and Carniola to Albert's sons Rudolf, Frederick and Leopold, as requested by King Albert I. In February 1300, Albert tried to grant Rudolf sole possession of Austria, but this was not confirmed by the spiritual electors and a military conflict erupted. Rudolph of Saxony was not involved in this conflict; he remained under the care of his mother until 1302.

In 1302, Rudolf assumed rule over Saxe-Wittenberg himself. Initially, he was anxious to further strengthen the country's sovereignty. To achieve this, he first of all had to make his cousins in Saxe-Lauenburg, Albert III, Eric I and John II agree that he, and not John II, had inherited his father's rank as Elector of Saxony.

Election of Henry VII, where Rudolf acted as Elector of Saxony

Of greater importance was his vote in the election of 1308, after his uncle Albert I of Germany had been killed. After some time of back and forth negotiations, Count Henry of Luxembourg was elected on 27 November 1308. Rudolf I voted for Henry and also assisted him by providing money and troops, earning him the goodwill of the newly elected emperor. Henry died on 23 August 1313 and the next election of the German king was held on 19 October 1314 in Sachsenhausen near Frankfurt.

For the first time, two candidates in the election claimed to have won it, the Wittelsbachian Louis IV the Bavarian and his Habsburgian cousin Frederick III, the Fair, the former considered king, the latter antiking.

Louis received five of the seven votes, to wit that of Duke John II, rivallingly claiming the Saxon prince-electoral power, Archbishop-Elector Baldwin of Trier, the legitimate King-Elector John of Bohemia, Elector-Archbishop Peter of Mainz, and Prince-Elector Waldemar of Brandenburg.

Rudolf's preferred candidate, the antiking Frederick the Fair, received in the same election four of the seven votes, one each from the deposed King-Elector Henry of Bohemia, thereby illegitimately assuming electoral power, Elector-Archbishop Henry II of Cologne, Louis's brother Prince-Elector Rudolph I of the Electorate of the Palatinate, and Rudolf I himself, rivallingly claiming the Saxon prince-electoral power. The two candidates met in battle at Mühldorf on 28 September 1322; Louis of Bavaria emerged victoriously as the German king.

As a supporter of the Habsburg side, Rudolf had to face consequences. In 1320, the Ascanian Margraves of Brandenburg died out with the death of Henry II. Rudolf I, who had administered Brandenburg as regent since 1319, claimed Brandenburg as an Ascanian fief. Louis, however, held that he could not grant the fief to an elector who had voted against him, and gave it to his son, Louis, to strengthen his family's position. With the Margraviate of Brandenburg, Louis V also received an electoral vote and the post of imperial arch-chamberlain.

After these and other sanctions by the emperor, Rudolf decided to subordinate himself and his brother Wenceslas to the emperor for tactical reasons. He attempted to prove himself as a true support of the new emperor. From then on, Rodulf acted as mediator in disputes between the various princes. This allowed him to build up useful connections. For example, he organised a meeting between six of the electors in Rhens in 1338. Rudolf also had a friendly relationship with the Pope, who excommunicated Louis of Bavaria. Louis finally changed his opinion of Rudolf and leased parts of Lusatia, including the cities of Brietz, Fürstenwalde and Beeskow to him for a 12-year period.

Under his mother's influence, he began the expulsion of Jews from Wittenberg, which continued until the middle of the 14th century. Rudolf outlawed the Slavic languages originally spoken in his territory. He founded the All Saints' Monastery from which the later All Saints' Church evolved. Around 1340, he built Wittenberg Castle as a suitabe residence for himself and his descendants. In the 16th century, Frederick III constructed a Renaissance castle on the foundations of Rudolf's castle. To cover the increasing cost of his imperial policies, he began to sell rights, such as market rights, coinage rights, low justice, customs and escort rights. These rights were the roots of the first communal structures in the Wittenberg area. In 1306, he organised defensive and offensive alliances with several cities; the cities expanded these alliances in subsequent years.

During his mediations, Rudolf also built up a close relationship with the court in Prague, which became apparent with the election on 11 July 1346 of Emperor Charles IV (1316-1378). Charles IV was crowned King of the Germans in Bonn on 26 November 1346. Rudolf I was the only elector who was present at this solemn coronation.

His close ties to Charles IV were rewarded when he received the Altmark in 1347. The Elbe River became the boundary between Saxony and Brandenburg. In addition, he received the Imperial Forestry at Frankfurt an der Oder in 1348, as compensation for his expenses as Elector. Under his direction, Lords John I and Albert II of Mecklenburg became Dukes and Imperial Princes. However, his relation with Charles deteriorated when in 1350 Charles confirmed Louis the Bavarian of the House of Wittelsbach as Elector of Brandenburg and Margrave of Lusatia. This confirmation aroused Rudolf's indignation and he withdrew from the court in Prague.

Rudolf and Charles IV reconciled after Charles gave Rudolf the Walchenhof Court in the Malá Strana district of Prague. Rudolf's greatest success came on 4 October 1355 when the emperor issued the Golden Bull, the bulla aurea Saxonica, defining the future law of the kingdom. This bull stipulated primogeniture for all electorates: the electorates were declared indivisible: the eldest son inherits the entire principality, or, if an elector has no sons, an elector's younger brother inherits. The Duke of Saxe-Wittenberg was confirmed as the Elector of Saxony. A prince-elector could cast his vote from the age of 18 and rule the electorate from the age of 21. The Saxe-Lauenburg branch of the House of Ascania finally lost all claims to the electoral vote and to the associated dignity of Imperial Arch-Marshall as well as the right to carry a sword in the imperial diet.

Rudolf I died on 12 March 1356 in Wittenberg. He was initially buried in the Franciscan church. In 1883, his body was transferred to the All Saints' Church.

Marriage and issue

Rudolf I married three times.

First marriage

In 1298 he married Margravine Jutta (Brigitte) of Brandenburg (died: 9 May 1328 in Wittenberg), a daughter of Margrave Otto V of Brandenburg. They had the following children:

  1. Albert (died young, on 4 July 1329)
  2. John (died young, in Wittenberg)
  3. Anna (mentioned in 1309 – died in Wittenberg in 1328 or 1329), married Bernard of Poland (died c.1356)
  4. Rudolf II (c.1307 6 December 1370), married Countess Elizabeth of Lindow and Ruppin
  5. Elisabeth (died 1353), married before 22 June 1344 with Prince Waldemar I of Anhalt-Zerbst (died 3 September 1367)
  6. Agnes (died 4 January 1338), married Prince Bernhard III of Anhalt-Bernburg (c.1300 20 August 1348)
  7. Otto (died 30 March 1350), married Elizabeth of Brunswick-Lüneburg (d. 1384), a daughter of Duke William II of Brunswick-Lüneburg and Hedwig of Ravensberg; their son was Albert of Saxe-Wittenberg, Duke of Lüneburg
  8. Beatrix (died in the Coswig Convent, after 26 February 1345), married on 27 January 1337 to Prince Albert II of Anhalt-Zerbst (1306 1362)

Second marriage

Rudolf married Kunigunde of Poland on 28 August 1328 (c.1298 9 April 1333 in Wittenberg), the daughter of King Władysław the Short of Poland and Hedwig of Kalisz. They had one son:

  1. Miesko (c.1330 1350), married Eudoxia

Third marriage

He married Agnes of Lindow-Ruppin in 1333 (18 December 1314 9 May 1343 in Wittenberg), the daughter of Count Ulrich of Lindow-Ruppin and the widow of Lord Henry II of Mecklenburg (d. 1329). They had the following children:

  1. William (died young)
  2. Wenceslaus I (c.1337 1388 in Celle), married on 23 January 1367 with Cecilia of Carrara (c.1350 between 1430 and 1434), the daughter of Francesco I da Carrara of Padua
  3. Helena (died 2 April 1367), married in 1353 with John I of Hardeck, Burgrave of Magdeburg



Rudolf I, Duke of Saxe-Wittenberg
Born: c.1284 Died: 12 March 1356
Preceded by
Albert II
Duke of Saxony
Succeeded by
Rudolf II
New creation Elector of Saxony
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