Anna of Saxony
(23 December 1544 - 18 December 1577)
Anna was the first born child of Moritz, Elector of Saxony and his wife, Agnes Hesse. Their son, Alberto, was born a year later, but when he was only five months old, he died.
Anna was an ugly daughter, her hunched back and lameness exaserbated her uncomely fetures. Becaause of her repulsive looks and the death of her baby brother, she received little or no affection from her parents. At the age of eight, her father died. Two years later, her mother remarried, but died six months later.
Anna's uncle August, Elector of Saxony, readily assumed responsibility for her because as the only surviving child, Anna had inherited a vast fortune. Her wealth and luxurious lifestyle extended to those who raised her. She developed a strong sense of self-importance and in her teens became unruly, difficult, rebellious and prone to explosive fits of temper.
On November 18, 1560, Anna was invited to attend the wedding of Countess Katharine of Nassau-Dillenburg and the Count of Schwarzburg. There she met Katharine's widower-brother, the twenty-seven-year-old Prince William of Orange, or William the Silent as they called him in later years.
The handsome and sophisticated prince impressed the unattractive and obstinate Anna. He too, seemed genuinely impressed with her. William followed her to Dresden to woo her and Anna fell madly in love with him. In order to marry Anna, however, William needed to seek the king's permission. So he returned home to Dresden.
Almost immediately, he received three letters from the pining Anna. Matters of state occupied all of William's time, so he asked his younger brother, Ludwig, to pen responses to Anna's letters. Afterwards, William copied them in his own hand and sent them to her.
The Catholic king objected to a marriage between William and Anna because he feared it connected him too closely with the Protestant German princes, his enemies. Nevertheless, the king could not prevent it, and William and Anna were married on August 24, 1561 in Leipzig.
Certain the German princes would use the occasion to plot against him, the king insisted that Anna become a Catholic. Anna's grandfather, the Landgraf of Hessen, objected.
Anna was excessive in everything she did. She burst out in violent fits of temper, often smashing everything within easy reach to bits. At parties, she drank heavily and drunkenly flirted with the male guests.
Frequent hysterics, bouts of extreme happiness, drunken outbursts, and fits of depression did little to endear herself to her new husband. The marriage experienced problems from the start. To be married to a man so completely pre-occupied with matters of state was no easy matter.
Nevertheless, at the age of seventeen, Anna became pregnant. Her uncontrollable moods and emotional outbursts grew more frequent. Everyone credited to the pregnancy.
On October 31, 1562, Anna gave birth to their first child who they named Anna.
While William was busy conducting a costly guerrilla war, his relatives in Germany were forced to live frugally. Anna detested her life in Dillenburg. She publicly cursed and vehemently denunciated her husband. Her haughtiness, pigheadedness and insolence angered William's relatives.
On December 8, 1564, a second child was born. This time, it was a son who they named him Moritz August Philips. After the birth, she began to express thoughts of suicide and despair, secluding herself for days in a darkened room illuminated only by candles, receiving no visitors, and refusing food.
Anna was uncaring to both her own children and her two stepchildren, so in 1564 William took his own two children from her care. By then, it was common knowledge that their marriage was a complete failure.
In 1566 Anna's little son, Moritz, died at the age of 2. Anna's behavior grew even more distressed. She began experiencing sudden and inappropriate attitude changes, recurring fits of temper, and suicidal tendencies. Anna complained she was bored in Breda and traveled to Spa, where she publicly ridiculed William and openly mocked his sexual abilities. Thus, she became subject to gossip and disapproval of the whole society. Her impulsive behavior often discredited both herself and her husband. Soon, she would sink deeper into the darkness of total insanity.
Political turmoil interfered with their lives. When the news reached them that the Duke of Alva was on his way to The Netherlands with a large army, William fled Germany with his family. They went to live with his relatives at Dillenburg. Here, on 14 November 1567, Anna gave birth to another son named after Anna's father.
In August of 1568, William departed for The Netherlands and left Anna, who was again pregnant, with his mother and sister-in-law. Anna drank heavily and the women admonished her.
Because of the discord, Anna left Dillenburg on 20 October 1568, taking her children and sixty attendants with her to Cologne. Away from the prying eyes of family, she lived a life of extreme lavishness. Before long, she squandered all her money and lived in an almost constant inebriated state. She mistreated her staff terribly during this time.
Without financial resources, she wrote to her uncle and asked him to send someone who could help her with her problems. Erich Volckmar von Berlepsch arrived on January 1, 1569 and spent four days with her. Firstly, she told him that the reason for her departure from Dillenburg had been the plague from which several people had died. Secondly, she wanted to be in Cologne where she could be closer to her husband. Thirdly, she confessed her husband's relatives cared little for her. Last, she told him about her financial difficulties. She owed money as well as her staff's salaries. Von Berlepsch advised her she had too much staff so she reduced them to twenty-four and he authorized the money.
On 10 April 1569 her daughter Emilia was born.
William repeatedly asked her to return to him, but she publicly destroyed any correspondence he sent her. Finally, she agreed to meet with him in Mannheim, but they remained separated from each other.
In 1570, her uncle assigned Jan Rubens, a Flemish refugee, to her household to maintain the financial purse strings. This enraged Anna, so in May 1570, with Jan Rubens in tow, she left to speak to her uncle in person. She left her children in the care of Rubens's wife. During their journey, Anna seduced Jan, sleeping with him frequently.
Jan RubensTo avoid the scandal of having her affair and pregnancy by Jan known, she moved her household to the country castle in Siegen.
Gossip of Anna's indiscretion soon reached William and his brother, Count Johann VI. Johann arrested and imprisoned Rubens in Dillenburg Castle. Despite her obvious pregnancy, Anna denied any wrongdoing. She rejected the accusations vehemently. William presented her with Jan Rubens' signed confession. Anna broke down, begging William to execute them both, which was the common penalty for infidelity in such circumstances.
On 22 August 1571, while at Castle Siegen, she gave birth to the daughter fathered by Jan Rubens and named her Christina von Dietz. Weary of her unpredictable personality, her infidelity, and her unpopularity with his family and the public, William refused to acknowledge Christina as his own. He declared his marriage to Anna annulled and forthwith removed his and Anna's children to Dillenberg. They never saw their mother again.
In October 1572, Anna and her illegitimate child moved to the German Castle Beilstein. It was here that the first serious signs of madness became apparent.
When infuriated, she attacked her staff. After her meals, the staff removed and secreted away all the knives. Preachers delivered sermons to her twice a week in her room. However, her violent outbursts, hallucinations, and filthy talk grew worse. She even claimed to have killed her own children.
She was held in custody until 1575, when her uncle the elector of Saxony brought her home to Dresden on December 22, 1576. Her madness worsened. In Dresden, her uncle confined her in two rooms and sealed the windows with bricks. She spoke deliriously, nonsensical, shaking and foaming at the mouth.
Her uncle assigned two men to her protect her female staff from Anna's violent outbursts. One of the men reported that Anna had attacked him with knives and was "raging and foolish as if she were possessed". Her hallucinations and violent outbursts worsened. Her uncle removed Christina from her care and sent her to William to raise her with her half-siblings.
In 1577, William exiled Jan Rubens and he returned to his wife and had another child who became the famous painter Peter Paul Rubens.
Anna lived out the remaining year of her life Dresden. She died on 18 December 1577 at the age of thirty-three.
So much crowded into a mere 33 years.
I love your blog, and I have shared it on "Transformation Tuesday". Keep up the great work!
Any idea of cause of death?
Hi Big Bird,
I wish I knew for certain, but based on the last two paragraphs, after being bricked up into a room, I suspect neglect might have had something to do with it. What a horrible life...
Thanks so much for commenting.
Egads! Hopefully by then she was totally out of her mind and unaware.
I was so excited to find a fellow historian interested in Anna of Saxony, Princess of Orange. She is not well-known in the English speaking world, although her life rivals that of Anne Boleyn in adventure and tragedy.
For the last 5 years, Anna has been my passion, and I am currently putting the final touches on her biography.
By the way, some German historians claim that Anna never committed adultery with Jan Rubens. They assert that she was framed by William who wished to divorce her because of her difficult temper. I could not find any evidence of her innocence, however, and agree with your posting that Anna engaged in an extra-marital affair with Monsieur Rubens.
If you are interested in my viewpoint of Anna, here is my blog address:
PS: I love the layout and professionalism of your blog. Makes mine seem rather unsophisticated!
I have recently been reading original works and all kinds of posts related to the Dutch revolution, i.e. the eighty-years war. This is a fun addition, even for a serious historian.
Notice that Anna's son Maurits grew up to be a famous general and head of state of the Dutch Republic. A little son dead at 2 is sad, but to instead have borne a general and head of state is exciting. We should be sorry she did not get to enjoy it.
She is most definitely a woman who suffered . Thank you all for leaving your wonderful comments.
I'm very interested in this Anna von Sachsen as well. I would really like to know what your sources are, because I couldn't find anytrustworthy sources in other articles, just a repetition of earlier writers.
Oh dear, I wrote this article so long ago that I can't remember my exact sources. I scour the internet and some of the books I have on women's bio in my own personal library to put some of these bios together. She is still one of my most intriguing characters. I think I might write a novel about her life....possibly in the future someday.
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