Born In: Coburg, Germany
Ernest I reigned as the last sovereign duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (as Ernest III) and as the first duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (as Ernest I). He is also remembered as the father of Prince Albert, who later married Queen Victoria and became Prince Consort of the UK. After the death of his father, Francis, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, in 1806, Ernest became the next Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld but could not establish an administration till the 1807 Peace of Tilsit. An able Prussian military general, Ernest fought in multiple campaigns against Napoleon Bonaparte. After Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, the Congress of Vienna gave Ernest the principality of Lichtenberg, which he later sold to Prussia. After his brother-in-law, Frederick IV, Duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg died without an heir, Ernest received Gotha but had to give up Saalfeld. In Coburg, he led major construction projects and built a court theater, too. Married twice, he was known for his infidelity and had also fathered three illegitimate children.
Also Known As: Ernst Anton Karl Ludwig Prinz von Sachsen-Coburg-Saalfeld
Died At Age: 60
Spouse/Ex-: Duchess Marie of Württemberg (m. 1832), Princess Louise of Saxe Gotha Altenburg (m. 1817–1826)
father: Francis, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld
mother: Countess Augusta of Reuss-Ebersdorf
children: Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Ernest II, Ernst Augustus Panam, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
Born Country: Germany
place of death: Gotha, Germany
Ernest I was born on January 2, 1784, to Francis, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and Countess Augusta of Reuss-Ebersdorf. He was the eldest son of his parents. His younger brother, Leopold Georg Christian Frederick, later became the first King of the Belgians.
On May 10, 1803, at the tender age of 19, Ernest was declared an adult, as his father being ill that spring, he was expected to take over the reins of the duchy. In 1806, Ernest’s father died. Following this, Ernest succeeded to the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, taking the name Ernest III.
However, back then, the duchy was occupied by Napoleon and was being ruled by the French administration. Thus, Ernest was unable to take full control of his duchy or establish a formal government.
Following the establishment of the Peace of Tilsit in July 1807, the duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld was reunited (having been dissolved earlier). The duchy was eventually given back to Ernest.
It is believed that Russia had a major role to play in the restoration of the duchy. This is because Ernest’s sister, Princess Juliane (then Grand Duchess Anna Feodorovna of Russia) was married to Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich of Russia, the brother of the erstwhile Tsar of Russia, Alexander I.
On July 3, 1817, Ernest married Princess Louise of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg in Gotha. The couple had two children: their sons Ernest II Augustus Charles John Leopold Alexander Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and Francis Augustus Charles Albert Emmanuel (who is better known as Albert).
Albert grew up to marry Queen Victoria and became the Prince Consort of the UK. Apart from being Queen Victoria’s father-in-law, Ernest was also her maternal uncle, as Queen Victoria’s mother, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, was Ernest’s sister.
Ernest was known for his infidelity. This later affected his marriage. In 1824, Ernest and Louise separated. On March 31, 1826, the couple divorced officially. However, Louise was also separated from her children and died at the tender age of 30.
On December 23, 1832, Ernest married his niece, Duchess Marie of Württemberg, in Coburg. Marie was the daughter of Ernest’s sister Antoinette. Ernest and Marie had no children.
Ernest also had three illegitimate children: a daughter named Berta Ernestine, with Sophie Fermepin de Marteaux, and two sons, Ernst Albert Bruno and Robert Ferdinand, with Margaretha Braun.
Ernest was a prominent Prussian general and had been part of many military campaigns against Napoleon. Apart from fighting in the battle of Auerstedt in 1806, Ernest also commanded the Saxon V army corps in 1813-1814 and participated in the battles of Lützen and Leipzig (1813).
Following the battle of Leipzig, Ernest commanded the 5. Armeekorps. In 1814, he blocked the French fortress of Mainz. He was also part of the campaign of 1815.
After Napoleon’s defeat in the Battle of Waterloo, Ernest was granted a huge area of land by the Congress of Vienna on June 9, 1815. It was an 8.25 sq. mile area around St. Wendel and had about 25,000 people living in it.
The area came to be known as the principality of Lichtenberg in 1819 and was also augmented to some extent by the second Treaty of Paris. It was sold by Ernest to Prussia in 1834.
Following the death of his brother-in-law, Frederick IV, Duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg, without an heir, in 1825, Ernest gave up Saalfeld and received Gotha in its place in 1826.
Frederick was his first wife Louise’s uncle. However, back then, Ernest was in the process of divorcing Louise.
The other Ernestine branches used this as an opportunity to bargain and insisted that Ernest should not inherit Gotha. A compromise was reached on November 12, 1826, by which Ernest would receive Gotha but would have to give up Saalfeld to Saxe-Meiningen.
Ernest thus became Ernest I of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. In 1821, he put forward a constitution for Coburg but did not alter the traditional system of estates and government that Gotha had in place.
In Coburg, Ernest focused on various construction projects, such as the establishment of the Hoftheater in its newly constructed building. The Schlossplatz was also largely constructed during his governance. He also stressed on the economic, constitutional, and educational development of his lands.
Ernest passed away on January 29, 1844, in Gotha, Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, German Confederation. He was 60 at the time of his death.
Ernest was initially interred in the Morizkirche. He was later buried in the new mausoleum of Friedhof am Glockenberg.
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