Augustus II the Strong (Saxony and Poland) (1670–1733)

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AUGUSTUS II THE STRONG (SAXONY AND POLAND) (16701733), Elector Frederick Augustus I of Saxony 16941733 and King Augustus II of Poland 16971704 and 17091733. Augustus's father, Elector John George III of Saxony, and his mother, Anna Sophie, daughter of King Frederick III of Denmark, married in 1666 to tie the Danish royal family to the Wettin dynasty of Saxony. At the time of Augustus's birth, his grandfather, John George II, ruled Saxony. Augustus's father, John George III, was only twenty-three and had already sired Augustus's elder brother, John George IV. There seemed little likelihood that Augustus would ever rule Saxony. Therefore, his general disinterest in formal study and an early marked inclination to pursue pleasure and to seek glory hunting, soldiering, and womanizing were tolerated.

After his grandfather died of plague (1680), his father of apoplexy (1691), and his brother of smallpox (April 1694), Augustus became elector. Seeking military glory, he assumed command of an imperial army in the war against the Turks. His campaigns on the Transylvanian front in 1695 and 1696 were failures, though part of the blame must fall on the Imperial War Council, to whom Augustus was ultimately subject.

Augustus spent lavishly and converted to Catholicism to ensure his electoral victory as king of the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania in 1697. He levied oppressive taxes upon his Saxon subjects, the majority of whom were Lutheran, to finance the election. The Peace of Westphalia (1648) had contributed to the development of an international system that favored sovereign nation-states over territorial principalities like Saxony whose power was circumscribed by their inclusion in the fragmented empire. Notable German princes, in an effort to elevate themselves, raised armies, entered into European wars, and sought to become monarchs. The elector of Brandenburg had become king of Prussia, and George of Hanover would become king of England. It is against this background that Augustus's ambition must be viewed. While the election was costly, Augustus reasonably expected that Poland would provide lucrative markets for Saxon manufactured goods and was certain that his new title would enhance the status of the Wettin dynasty.

Augustus planned to seize Swedish Livonia to acquire ports for his new kingdom, and, to this end, he formed an anti-Swedish coalition with Denmark and Russia in 1699. Augustus's attack on Riga in February 1700 failed, highlighting his lack of power in Poland. Sweden defeated Russia at Narva, and Denmark sued for peace. Charles XII of Sweden (ruled 16971718) turned his mighty army against Augustus. In hindsight, Charles's determination to depose Augustus gave Russia a critical opportunity to rebuild and remold its army and ultimately to emerge victorious over Sweden. Augustus's forces in Poland suffered serious defeats, and he was deposed by the Swedes in January 1704 when a rump Polish parliament elected Charles's client as king. Augustus's Saxon troops continued to fight, suffering a terrible defeat at Fraustadt in February 1706. Swedish troops occupied Saxony for a year. Russia's eventual victory over Sweden enabled her to free Poland from Swedish influence in 1709, and Augustus was restored to the throne. In 1715 Russia thwarted a Polish anti-Saxon coalition opposed to Augustus's rash reforms, and in 1717 the "Dumb Parliament" agreed to Russian conditions that maintained Augustus in power. But Tsar Peter the Great controlled the diplomatic situation, and he took steps to prevent Augustus from turning the Polish monarchy into a hereditary one, and from passing the crown to his sole legitimate heir, Frederick August II of Saxony. Forever scheming, Augustus arranged the 1719 marriage of his heir to the daughter of the Holy Roman emperor, Joseph I, as part of an unfulfilled plan to transfer the imperial dignity to the House of Wettin.

Augustus was renowned as the most gallant ruler of his time, and his court in Dresden was characterized by fireworks displays, masquerades, tournaments, hunts, and annual celebrations, such as the famed Carnival. Augustus used these feasts, as did all baroque rulers, as occasions for enhancing his status and negotiating with high-ranking guests. Endowed with incredible physical strength, Augustus was rumored to have sired 354 illegitimate children with a series of mistresses, though the actual number was probably closer to ten. Augustus's ultimate failures in statecraft are mitigated, ironically, by the enduring value of the projects upon which he spent so lavishly. He established porcelain manufacturing in Meissen (1710) and initiated projects that transformed Dresden into a magnificent baroque capital"the Florence of the Elbe." Augustus died on 1 February 1733, of complications from diabetes, in Warsaw.

See also Baroque ; Charles XII (Sweden) ; Dresden ; Frederick I (Prussia) ; Peter I (Russia) ; Poland-Lithuania, Commonwealth of, 15691795 ; Saxony ; Westphalia, Peace of (1648) .


Czok, Karl. August der Starke und seine Zeit: Kurfürst von Sachsen, König in Polen. Leipzig, 1997.

Held, Wieland. Der Adel und August der Starke: Konflict und Konfliktaustrag zwischen 1694 und 1707 in Kursachsen. Cologne, 1999.

Hughes, Lindsey. Russia in the Age of Peter the Great. New Haven, 1998. Focuses on the age of Peter the Great and covers Augustus II in some detail.

Pilz, Georg. August der Starke: Träume und Taten eines deutschen Fürsten. Berlin, 1986.

Sharp, Tony. Pleasure and Ambition: The Life, Loves, and Wars of Augustus the Strong. New York, 2001.

James Goodale

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Augustus II the Strong (Saxony and Poland) (1670–1733)

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