Augustus III of Poland


Frederick Augustus II († October 5, 1763 ibid.) became Elector and Duke of Saxony in 1733 after the death of his father Augustus the Strong and, as Augustus III, also King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania. Continuing his father”s foreign policy, he led the Electorate of Saxony into the disastrous Seven Years” War. The personal union of Saxony and Poland ended with his death. His rank as one of the greatest patrons of the arts of his time is undisputed. In 1736 he endowed the Order of St. Henry.

It is usually said of the son of King August II and Christiane Eberhardine of Brandenburg-Bayreuth that he often retreated into the private sphere and paid little attention to politics. Older literature emphasizes that he liked to organize large hunts, frequently went to the opera, took care of his extensive art collections, and showed great sense of family. The newer Polish research, for example Jacek Staszewski, on the other hand, also emphasizes that August III was a very industrious and prudent Polish king.

His upbringing initially took place at the court of his grandmother Anna Sophie, a Danish king”s daughter with a widow”s seat in Prettin, and was under the influence of members of the aristocratic opposition who rejected the king and his Polish policy. The most serious family issue was the question of religion, since both Frederick August”s mother Christiane Eberhardine (residing in Pretzsch) and his grandmother opposed conversion to Catholicism, which was a prerequisite for later succession as king in Poland. Augustus the Strong then decided to remove him from the influence of the two women and the opposition of the nobility and in May 1711 unexpectedly sent him on a cavalier tour across Europe lasting several years.

In November 1712, the prince converted to the Catholic faith. But the conversion was kept secret for years so as not to challenge the opposition in the motherland of the Reformation. Although Frederick Augustus (II) became a Catholic according to his father”s wishes and showed himself inclined to the finer sides of life (art, music, hunting, etc.) after the cavalier tour he had been on for years, he also became a thoroughly pious man with moral standards, who rejected his father”s mistress economy and almost endless, noisy festivities, and later had a functioning marriage. In October 1717, his conversion to the faith was announced in Vienna, which triggered a domestic crisis in Saxony, but also enabled him to apply for the hand of the emperor”s daughter.

As Elector Prince he married in 1719 the daughter of Emperor Joseph I, Maria Josepha of Austria († November 17, 1757 in Dresden), Archduchess of Austria, Princess of Hungary and Bohemia etc.. According to his father”s will, the marriage was to provide him with later claims to the Habsburg inheritance (cf. Pragmatic Sanction). The so-called planetary celebrations in the context of the wedding wrote city history in Dresden (see August the Strong

In the course of the 1720s, Frederick Augustus (II) was gradually introduced to the government and took over as head of the Privy Cabinet and deputy to his father in the latter”s absence in Poland. Even then, however, he preferred the “collegial form of decision-making”.

The Elector was elected King of Poland with the support of Austria and Russia and the usual bribes from magnates and Schlachta, which triggered the Polish War of Succession (1733-1738). However, his election came about only after Russian troops under Peter of Lacy appeared on the Vistula River and the supporters of King Stanisław Leszczyński, the candidate of France and Sweden, who had been elected a few days earlier, had left Warsaw. August III was crowned in Kraków on January 17, 1734, and on his visit to Leipzig on October 5, 1734, he was honored with the cantata Preise dein Glücke, gesegnetes Sachsen, to which Johann Sebastian Bach had composed the music. He claimed the crown in the Peace of Vienna (1738) in the face of a significant loss of sovereignty of the once very powerful state of Poland-Lithuania, which, however, had already begun under August the Strong. For example, in 1734-1736 it was necessary to put down the uprising of the Confederation of Dzików under Adam Tarło, who opposed the election. During the reign of August III, Russian troops remained stationed in the east of the country, although this was not considered negative at the time, given the good relations with Tsarina Elizabeth.

The margins for his government in Poland-Lithuania were extremely narrow, given the dispute between the two major magnate groupings of the Czartoryski and Potocki in the Sejm. Reform proposals from the crown were usually seen as attacks on justice and freedom, so that the electoral Saxon and royal Polish prime minister Heinrich von Brühl advanced one of the diverse groups to look after royal interests. For their part, the magnate parties enjoyed foreign support, so Poland-Lithuania became the plaything of rival neighboring powers. Almost all imperial diets were inconclusive, despite a plethora of reform proposals from both parties (compare Liberum Veto). One example was the Imperial Days of 1744 and 1746, in which the crown and the grand chancellor sought to initiate carefully defined reforms in the economic and military sectors. Ultimately, they failed in the Sejm because of the delaying tactics of the opposing party, and with foreign interference. Without properly held sejmies, ministers were also not held accountable, which encouraged corruption.

In view of this state of affairs, the king and his prime minister Brühl hoped to keep their heads above water in Poland with the “ministerial system” of magnates loyal to Saxony (who sat or were seated in key positions) and to be able to link the two countries politically. They even gained the approval of their three allies for a renewed candidacy for the throne of Saxony during the Seven Years” War, but the successes were only apparent and did not last. Thus, at the end of the 1750s, a barely veiled quarrel broke out between the Czartoryski and the court”s supporters, which, among other things, once again caused the Sejm to part without success in the fall of 1762. The king offered the Czartoryski reconciliation, but they demanded in the end the allocation of all vacancies in their favor and the removal of Brühl, which he could not grant under any circumstances.

A modest economic recovery continued to be noticeable in Poland, later hampered by the effects of the Seven Years” War (Prussian coin counterfeiting, tributes, requisitions, and partial looting by Prussian and Russian troops).

In Saxony, after the fall of Alexander Sulkovsky, Heinrich von Brühl led the sole government from 1738 to 1756, combining a variety of offices and posts. In 1746, he formally became prime minister. Brühl had the sole right of presentation to the king and a court of about 300 people. From the spring of 1738, the other ministers were no longer allowed to appear before the king without being summoned, which made Brühl virtually unassailable, but made his weaknesses and mistakes all the more serious.

Brühl was a successful diplomat and consolidated the administration, but was sharply attacked for wrong financial policy in the Landtag in 1749. It became the last Landtag until 1763. Despite Brühl”s ruthless financial measures, Saxony was headed for a state crisis.The forced exchange of assets for state bonds shook the economy, the army, which was already too small, had to be disarmed and a significant proportion of taxes had to be pledged. In addition, there was external pressure, as Saxon exports were severely hampered by the Prussian and Austrian (customs) policies of the time.

In the first two Silesian Wars, Brühl”s government first tried to isolate Prussia, which occupied Silesia. The Dresden Alliance of February 16, 1741, seemed to provide the opportunity, but in practice neither Saxony nor Austria had an operational army – and Russia dropped out as a political partner with the death of Tsarina Anna – so the alliance became moot. Saxony therefore joined the Nymphenburg Alliance on October 19, 1741. Five weeks later, the Saxon. Five weeks later, the Saxon troops entered Prague with the allies, and Karl Albrecht of Bavaria was elected emperor with Saxony”s vote on January 24, 1742 (see also Vicariate Coins (Saxony)

After the peace, Brühl pursued a policy of mediation aimed at bringing the imperial house and France closer together and thus encircling Prussia. He quickly succeeded in restoring Saxony-Poland”s foreign policy standing through diplomatic channels (marriage of the French crown prince to a daughter of August III in February 1747; double marriage with Bavaria, June 1747). But when his and other similar efforts finally resulted in the overthrow of the alliances or a strong anti-Prussian coalition (1756) many years later, Saxony was already on the diplomatic sidelines due to the above-mentioned state crisis. Frederick II (who was largely aware of the alliance”s plans through informants in the Dresden and Petersburg chancelleries) decided to launch a pre-emptive strike at a time when Saxony was neither politically nor militarily prepared for war.

The too small Saxon army surrendered under Count Rutowski (against the king”s will without a fight) at Lilienstein (cf. siege at Pirna), August III and his court moved to Warsaw, where they remained in relative political powerlessness until the end of the war. Nevertheless, the king”s presence in Warsaw is also considered positive, since the now permanent court (despite the severely limited funds) enhanced the capital function of this city by providing cultural impulses and likewise forced the Polish magnates to increase their presence. When for the Elector Friedrich Christian in 1759 a further stay in Dresden seemed no longer appropriate, even dangerous, he fled with his family to Munich, where he was hospitably received by his brother-in-law, Elector Maximilian III Joseph, and stayed for two years.

Saxony, on the other hand, now provisionally administered by the Prussians and (at least temporarily) by some cabinet ministers around Wackerbarth-Salmour, became a theater of war and suffered from the high tribute payments of both sides, in addition to the confiscation of all state coffers, tax increases and coin counterfeiting by the Prussians, as well as forced recruitments. Prussia alone withdrew contributions amounting to about 48 million riksdaler; the profits from Prussian coin counterfeiting (to the disadvantage of Saxony and Poland) are estimated at about 45 million talers.In total, Saxony paid over a third of Prussian war costs (see quote attributed to Frederick II. v. Prussia: “Saxony is like a flour sack, no matter how often you hit it, something still comes out.”), which Prussia would not have been able to pay from its own resources, despite the English subsidies. Dresden itself changed occupation and was besieged by Frederick II in 1760, causing extensive destruction in the city.

When the Seven Years” War ended in the Hubertusburg Peace in 1763, Saxony, which had been quite prosperous until then (despite mismanagement), was ruined, which the royal court was reluctant to acknowledge. Although Brühl formally remained in office, a new era began with the appointment of a Restoration Commission headed by Baron Thomas von Fritsch. The commission was composed primarily of people with political-administrative experience and upper middle-class backgrounds, was under the protection of Elector Friedrich Christian, and began its work in April 1762. However, the implementation of the proposals did not take place until the following years. At least in August 1763, i.e. still during the king”s reign, the Diet was convened, in which the acceptance and reduction of the debt burden by the estates was the main topic.

August III died during a visit to the opera on October 5, 1763, Brühl died three weeks later. The king was buried in the Wettin crypt of the Catholic Court Church.

Saxony had no influence on the subsequent award of the Polish crown: Poland-Lithuania had fallen more than ever under the domination of Russia, and the successor of August III, Stanislaus II August Poniatowski, was appointed by the Tsarina Catherine II. However, the Elector-King”s love of art brought him lasting fame.

The Dresden Opera was one of the largest and best stages in Europe at that time. In the 1750s, it had an audience of 2,000 and its maintenance cost millions. Johann Adolf Hasse”s annual fee alone was 12,000 thalers, and the staff as a whole cost over 100,000 thalers annually. A ballet opera performed twice cost over 36,000 thalers in February 1752. The prima donnas were Faustina Bordoni and her rival Regina Valentini. Worth mentioning, for example, were the productions of Solimano (1753) and Ezio (1755). For Ezio, 500 performers, 102 horses and eight dromedaries were brought on stage and 30,000 thalers were paid. However, nothing happened that had a revolutionary effect musically; rather, the late Baroque development reached its brightly shining climax and conclusion.

In Warsaw, too, the king endeavored to promote opera. But the new opera house in the Saxon Garden, built on his instructions in 1748, was never fully occupied with 540 seats, to the king”s regret. The Poles strongly criticized the foreign (i.e. Italian and French) character of the programs, performed by foreigners.

August III was also known as a collector of paintings, for whom buyers (e.g. Francesco Algarotti) were active all over Europe. After the arrival of the collection of the Duke of Modena, the paintings were represented from 1747 in the rebuilt stable building at the Jüdenhof and at the same time made into a public, generally accessible collection, which was not a matter of course at that time. According to Heinecken, they were divided into four classes: the first-class ones were in the gallery, the second-class ones in Hubertusburg Castle, the third-class ones in Warsaw and the fourth-class ones (i.e. many copies) in the archive. The most important painting today is considered to be the Sistine Madonna by Raphael, acquired in 1754; in the 18th century it was the Holy Night by Correggio (of great art-historical importance is also the long unrecognized Slumbering Venus by Giorgione. Brühl emulated his master and created his own gallery, which had fewer paintings but was longer than the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. His heirs later sold a large part of his collection to Tsarina Catherine.

Since August III lacked his father”s expert passion for building, the administrative and also artistic direction of the building process fell to Johann Christoph Knöffel, the youngest among Augustus the Strong”s higher building officials. Also, the king was no longer the decisive client, but the influential representatives of the court and official nobility, above all the prime minister Count Brühl, a patron of Knöffel. Nevertheless, Dresden architecture continued to be on the cutting edge. Knöffel”s successor became Julius Heinrich Schwarze in 1752.

Warsaw had only about 25,000 inhabitants around 1750 (compared to Dresden”s 60,000) and lagged behind other European capitals in its development. However, the city also changed its appearance during the Saxon period, which Canaletto captured in his vedute for King Stanislaus II Poniatowski between 1767 and 1780.

The royal building activity in Poland was directed by the Warsaw building office, which under August III was headed by Joachim Daniel Jauch until 1754 and then by Johann Friedrich Knöbel. The younger Pöppelmann also played an important role in Polish building affairs. According to Count Hennicke”s estimate, six times the amount was needed for the buildings in Poland than August II had spent on them.

On the Polish side, work in the capital was under the authorities of Grand Crown Marshal Bielinski. He endeavored to plan and pave the streets, build sewers, and demolish dilapidated or abandoned houses and cottages (see Komisja Brukowa).

On August 20, 1719, he married Maria Josefa Benedikta (1699-1757), Archduchess of Austria, in Vienna. Together they had the following fifteen children, eleven of whom survived infancy:

He was portrayed by actor Rolf Hoppe in the film series Sachsens Glanz und Preußens Gloria.


  1. August III. (Polen)
  2. Augustus III of Poland