At the begining of the twentieth century, nine sovereign rulers derived from this family; the Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen, the Duke of Saxe-Altenburg, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and the kings of Saxony, Great Britain, Belgium, Bulgaria and Portugal.
The family claims descent from Wittekind, a leader of one of the Saxon tribes converted to Christianity under Charlemagne. The first documented ancestor was Count Dietrich im Hassegau, in the 10th century. His descendant Thimo built the castle of Wettin. Thimo's son Conrad became Margrave of Meissen and was granted part of Lusatia by the emperor.
By the marriage of Conrad's grandson, Dietrich, Margrave of Meissen (1162-1221) and the heiress of Thuringia, Jutta (d.1235) daughter of Landgrave Hermann of Thuringia, the Wettins inherited Thuringia, which served as the base for their later prosperity. (Jutta's brother, Konrad was Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights ca 1204-1241)
Thuringia was originally a small area between Saxony and Franconia with the large Thuringian forest along its southern border. There had originally been a distinct Thuringian people, but the territory had been amalgamated and assimiliated with Saxony. At the end of the 11th century Ludwig with the beard began accumulating various fiefs in the province, and his grandson was named Landgrave of Thuringia.
The city of Dresden was established in the early 1200's, when the Margrave of Meissen built his castle near a little fishing village on the Elbe river. Dresden's reputation as Florence on the Elbe has its origin mainly in the reign of Elector Friedrich August II, who was also King of Poland and went down to history as Augustus the Strong. Saxony has always had close relationships with its Polish and Czech neighbours. Today the region plays an active part in promoting the economic development and the integration of the East European countries in a united Europe.
When the Dukes of Saxony of the old Ascanian house became extinct, the Wettins were among the most powerful nobles in the region.
The emperor named Margrave Friedrich as Duke of Saxe-Wittenberg and Elector of Saxony in the Holy Roman Empire.
By division of the inheritance, the House of Wettin is split into two main branches, still extant today: the older Ernestine line at Wittenberg and the younger Albertine line at Leipzig and Dresden. The Albertine line of Wettin rulers made Dresden their official residence and capital in 1489.
The Ernestine line inherited Wittenberg, Thuringia and Vogtland, and was ancestor of the Saxon ducal houses, which later divided by way of succession into 7 branches (Gotha, Coburg, Meiningen, Eisenberg, Römhild, Hildburghausen, Saalfeld).
Albert took Meissen, and the electorate, which became the kingdom of Saxony on 1 January 1806 with Dresden as its capital. The Dukes of Saxony (Albertine branch) were also elected kings of Poland, 1697-1704 and again in 1709-1763.
The vast estates owned by members of the Wettin family were collected into many legal and sovereign entities. This arrangement gave the family more votes in the Reichstag and contributed to their political influence. When a branch of the family failed to produce a male heir, their properites and titles passed to another branch of the Wettin family. The lands of the two earlier Duchies of Coburg and Eisenach were divided between Weimar and Altenburg by drawing lots. Over the years several lines were founded and failed leading to new divisions and adjustments of borders.
Ernst became the Duke of Sachsen-Gotha. When the First House of Altenburg failed is was contested by younger members of the Weimar line, who occupied the Altenburg castle. Ernst won three quarters of the territory including the city of Altenburg, which extended his holdings to the larger part of the Ernestine territory, from Altenburg to Coburg and to the Harz Mountains.
Friedrich I von Sachsen-Gotha and Altenburg, the oldest son of Ernst, took formal possession of Altenburg. He kept two major portions for himself, the principalities of Gotha and of Altenburg. In addition, he maintained control over most of the other territories by centralizing the administration. Gotha administered the newly founded duchies of Sachsen-Roemhild (nominally under the leadership of his brother Heinrich) and Sachsen-Hildburghausen (at first, nominally under his brother Ernst, then independent). The administrators of Altenburg handled the affairs of the Duchy of Sachsen-Eisenberg (nominally under Christian) and of Sachsen-Saalfeld. The latter was nominally under Johann Ernst and his successors until 1805. Johann Ernst was the founding father of a line which, five generations later, would put both Victoria and Albert onto the British throne, and another five generations thereafter produce Prince William.
Only the next two oldest brothers were truly independent: Albert received the Duchy of Sachsen-Coburg; Bernhard received Sachsen-Meiningen; both of which had previously been part of the Duchy of Coburg, which had been merged with Altenburg. The separation of these duchies was more optical and financial than actual, most of the major functions and connections were maintained under the legal leadership of Gotha. Arriving at a fair settlement among the seven brothers was accomplished without bloodshed.
Three of the lines failed; Coburg in 1699 to Saalfeld; Eisenberg in 1707 to Altenburg; and Roemhild in 1710 to Meiningen.
The Electoral Swords from the Electoral coat of arms of Saxony used to distinguish Meissen porcelain from other manufacturers. The "Crossed blue swords" are one of the oldest known trademarks.
The Elector of Saxony becomes King of Saxony
With the death of Friedrich IV, the Second House of Saxe Altenberg became extinct in the male line. Luise, the only child of August von Saxe-Gotha and Altenburg was married to Ernst von Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. This Ernst was to take over Gotha in 1826 and, after a namechange, continued the line as Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Following the death of Duke Friedrich IV, the united duchies of Gotha and Altenburg were ruled jointly by the three reigning dukes of the neighboring Ernestine states, while the negotiations to redistribute the land and re-align both power and borders were underway. The new distribution of land was ratified on 12 November 1826 and became effective immediately.
Ernst von Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld received most of what used to be the Duchy of Gotha; the names of the duchy and all members of the family were changed to Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Ernst was the father of Albert und uncle of Victoria, later of England. Even though the marriage between Victoria, herself a Saxe-Coburg through her mother, and Albert took place in 1840, she was still considered a Hanoverian ruler because of her father's ancestry. The current royal house of Great Britain is therefore a branch of this Wettin-Sachsen tree and of the Second House of Altenburg. The German name was relinquished in 1917, during World War I, in favor of Windsor.
In the summer of 1865, a writer in one of Saxony's local newspapers extolled the kingdom's special virtues in euphoric tones. "Large states are not as lucky as little ones," wrote this contributor to the Budissiner Nachrichten. "We have a constitutional life, which Austria and Prussia do not have yet. Harmony reigns between king and people. Everywhere in the land we have prosperity, low taxes, and good finances. Higher . . . cultural pursuits are not neglected by us, nor are the interests of our larger Fatherland [Gesamtvaterland]. All fantasies entertained by the large states cannot disturb our well-being, for there is room enough in the smallest hut for a satisfied heart." With this view of their homeland as a lucky little state, many Saxons (perhaps the majority) agreed.
After the Saxons shared Austria's defeat by Prussia at the Battle of Königgrätz, Saxony's peace treaty with Prussia forced it to enter the new North German Confederation.http://www.usask.ca/history/cjh/retall.htm
The war ended in 1918, and with it a world of its own. ... ending more than a millennium and 31 successive generations of family rule over the eastern lands. All royal, ducal and princely families of Germany resigned their ancestral thrones. The Wettin dates of resignation were
Royal Saxony (Albertines) 13.11.1918
Coburg later became part of Bavaria, even though it had been part of Saxony for centuries. Koenigsberg was part of the Duchy of Coburg and for nearly a millennium part of Saxony, although it is located in the middle of Franconia, which is part of Bavaria.
Prince Ernst – a member of the royal Wettin family that ruled Saxony for eight centuries – took the family's famed silver and gold collection and buried it before fleeing the approaching Red Army. Soviet troops uncovered most of the items and carted them away in 1947. Some of those valuables later turned up in private collections. Many others wound up in storage at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. Prince Ernst apparently took the secret of where the rest was buried with him to the grave.
Two treasure-hunters discovery valuable pieces from the legendary treasure of the House of Wettin in aswamp near the Wettin's Palace at Moritzburg (Saxony). Some of the pieces belong the major works of European gold work. This is especially true for the precious goblet in form of a moor head, which was created by the goldsmith Wenzel Jamnitzer (1508-1585). Furthermore about 50 pieces of gold and silver work, 150 pieces of the silver of the House of Wettin dating from the end of the last century and a coin collection were discovered. The largest part of the treasure of the House of Wettin was found by the Soviet army after the war and was transported to the Soviet Union. It is known that today some of the pieces are in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.
A man and a woman uncovered two munitions crates and a metal cigar box brimming with gold and silver coins, a 16th-century silver trophy, an ornate table service and other valuables. Four of the discovered items are among the most valuable pieces in the history of European goldsmithing and their worth cannot be calculated.