Ernest I

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Ernest I (German: Ernst Anton Karl Ludwig; 2 January 1784 – 29 January 1844) was the last sovereign duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (as Ernest III) and, from 1826, the first sovereign duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (as Ernest I).

He was the father of Albert, Prince Consort, who was the husband of Queen Victoria.

Ernest fought against Napoleon Bonaparte, and through construction projects and the establishment of a court theatre, he left a strong imprint on his residence town, Coburg.

Early life

Ernest was born on 2 January 1784. He is the eldest son of Francis, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and Countess Augusta of Reuss-Ebersdorf. His youngest brother, Leopold Georg Christian Frederick, was later elected the first King of the Belgians.

On 10 May 1803, aged 19, Ernest was proclaimed an adult because his father had become gravely ill, and he was required to take part in the government of the duchy. When his father died in 1806, he succeeded in the duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld as Ernest III. However, he could not immediately take over the formal government of his lands, because the duchy was occupied by Napoleonic troops and was under French administration. The following year, after the Peace of Tilsit (1807), the duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld was reunited (having previously been dissolved) and restored to Ernest. This occurred through Russian pressure, since his sister Juliane was married to the brother of the Russian Tsar.

Marriages and children

Ernest married Princess Louise of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg in Gotha on 31 July 1817. They had two children:

  • Ernest II, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (21 June 1818 – 22 August 1893), who married Princess Alexandrine of Baden on 3 May 1842.
  • Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (26 August 1819 – 14 December 1861), who married Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom on 10 February 1840. They had nine children.

The marriage was unhappy because both husband and wife were promiscuous. As the biographer Lytton Strachey put it: "The ducal court was not noted for the strictness of its morals; the Duke was a man of gallantry, and the Duchess followed her husband's example. There were scandals: one of the Court Chamberlains, a charming and cultivated man of Jewish extraction, was talked of; at last there was a separation, followed by a divorce." Ernest and Louise were separated in 1824 and were officially divorced on 31 March 1826. As heirs to Coburg, the children remained with their father. Louise died in 1831.

In Coburg on 23 December 1832, Ernest married his niece Duchess Marie of Württemberg, the daughter of his sister Antoinette. They had no children. This marriage made Marie both Prince Albert's first cousin and his stepmother.

Ernest had three illegitimate children:

  • Berta Ernestine von Schauenstein (26 January 1817 – Coburg, 15 August 1896), born to Sophie Fermepin de Marteaux. She married her first cousin Eduard Edgar Schmidt-Löwe von Löwenfels, the illegitimate son of her father's sister, Juliane.
  • Ernst Albert and Robert Ferdinand, twins born in 1838 to Margaretha Braun. They were created Freiherren von Bruneck in 1856.


After 1813, Ernest was a Prussian general and participated in military actions against Napoleon. He fought in the battles of Lützen and Leipzig (1813), and drew in 1814 into the French fortress of Mainz. After the battle of Leipzig, he commanded the 5. Armeekorps.

After the defeat of Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo, the Congress of Vienna on 9 June 1815 gave Ernest an area of 450 square kilometres with 25,000 inhabitants around the town of St. Wendel. Its area was somewhat augmented by the second Treaty of Paris. In 1816, this estate received the name of Principality of Lichtenberg. Ernest sold it to Prussia in 1834.: 106 

In 1825, Frederick IV, Duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg, who was the uncle of Ernest's first wife Louise, died without an heir. This resulted in a rearrangement of the Ernestine duchies. It was only as a member of the Ernestine dynasty (and not as Louise's husband) that Ernest had a claim on the late duke's estates. However, he was at that time in the process of divorcing Louise, and the other branches used this as a leverage to drive a better bargain for themselves by insisting that he should not inherit Gotha. They reached a compromise on 12 November 1826: Ernest received Gotha, but had to cede Saalfeld to Saxe-Meiningen. He subsequently became "Ernest I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha". Although he had given a constitution to Coburg in 1821, he did not interfere in the system of government in Gotha.

At Coburg, Ernest was responsible for various construction projects, including the establishment of the Hoftheater in its new building. The Schlossplatz as it appears today is largely due to work under his rule.  He is chiefly remembered for the economic, educational and constitutional development of his territories, and for the significant international position attained by the house of Coburg.

Death and burial

Ernest died on 29 January 1844 and was initially buried in the Morizkirche but later reinterred in the newly built mausoleum in Friedhof am Glockenberg.

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        Relation nameRelation typeBirth DateDeath dateDescription
        1Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and GothaPrince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and GothaSon26.08.181914.12.1861
        2Queen VictoriaQueen VictoriaDaughter in-law24.05.181922.01.1901
        3Артур Уильям Патрик, принц ВеликобританииАртур Уильям Патрик, принц ВеликобританииGrandson01.05.185016.01.1942
        4Edvards VIIEdvards VIIGrandson09.11.184106.05.1910
        5Alfrēds Edinburgas, Olsteras un Kentas, Saksen- Koburgas  un Gotas HercogsAlfrēds Edinburgas, Olsteras un Kentas, Saksen- Koburgas un Gotas HercogsGrandson06.09.184431.07.1900
        6Prince LeopoldPrince LeopoldGrandson07.04.185328.03.1884
        7Beatrice Mary Victoria  FeodoreBeatrice Mary Victoria FeodoreGranddaughter14.04.185726.10.1944
        8Victoria Princess RoyalVictoria Princess RoyalGranddaughter21.11.184005.08.1901
        9Принцесса ЛуизаПринцесса ЛуизаGranddaughter18.03.184803.12.1939
        10Princess Alice Of the United KingdomPrincess Alice Of the United KingdomGranddaughter25.04.184314.12.1878
        11Empress Alexandra  FeodorovnaEmpress Alexandra FeodorovnaGranddaughter06.06.187217.07.1918
        12Prince AlfredPrince AlfredGreat grandson15.10.187406.02.1899
        13Wilhelm  IIWilhelm IIGreat grandson27.01.185904.06.1941
        14George  VGeorge VGreat grandson03.06.186520.01.1936
        15Sophia of  PrussiaSophia of PrussiaGreat grandson14.06.187013.01.1932
        16Prince Albert VictorPrince Albert VictorGreat grandson08.01.186414.01.1892
        17Marie of RomaniaMarie of RomaniaGreat granddaughter29.10.187518.07.1938
        18Виктория Гессен-ДармштадтскаяВиктория Гессен-ДармштадтскаяGreat granddaughter05.04.186324.09.1950
        19Maud of WalesMaud of WalesGreat granddaughter26.11.186920.11.1938
        20Sophia of PrussiaSophia of PrussiaGreat granddaughter14.06.187013.01.1932
        21Victoria  MelitaVictoria MelitaGreat granddaughter25.11.187602.03.1936
        22Princess Victoria of the  United KingdomPrincess Victoria of the United KingdomGreat granddaughter06.07.186803.12.1935
        23Princess AlicePrincess AliceGreat granddaughter25.02.188303.01.1981
        24Елизавета ФёдоровнаЕлизавета ФёдоровнаGreat granddaughter01.11.186418.07.1918
        25Татьяна РомановаТатьяна РомановаGreat granddaughter10.06.189717.07.1918
        26Великая княжна Мария НиколаевнаВеликая княжна Мария НиколаевнаGreat granddaughter26.06.189917.07.1918
        27Anastasia RomanovaAnastasia RomanovaGreat granddaughter18.06.190117.07.1918

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