August the Strong

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Augustus 'the Strong' (May 12, 1607 - February 1, 1733, Warsaw) was, as Frederick Augustus I, Elector of Saxony; as Augustus II King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He was renowned as a great patron of the Arts.

Early life

Augustus was born in Dresden on 12 May 1670, the younger son of the Elector John George III and Anne Sophie of Denmark. As the second son, Augustus had no expectation of inheriting the electorate, since his older brother, John George IV, assumed the post after the death of their father on 12 September 1691. Augustus married Christiane Eberhardine of Brandenburg-Bayreuth in Bayreuth on 20 January 1693. They had a son, Frederick Augustus (1696–1763), who succeeded his father as Elector of Saxony and King of Poland as Augustus III.[1]

While enjoying himself during the carnival season in Venice, his older brother, the Elector John George IV, contracted smallpox from his mistress Magdalene Sybille of Neidschutz. On April 27, 1694, John George died without legitimate issue and Augustus became Elector of Saxony, as Frederick Augustus I.[2]

King of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

Following the death of Polish King John III Sobieski, and having converted to Catholicism, Augustus was elected King of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1697 with the backing of Imperial Russia and Austria, which financed him through the banker Berend Lehmann. Augustus hurried to the Commonwealth with a Saxon army.

Augustus meanwhile continued the war of the Holy League against Turkey, and after a campaign in Moldavia, his Polish army eventually defeated the Tatar expedition in the Battle of Podhajce in 1698. This victory compelled the Ottoman Empire to sign the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699. Podolia and Kamieniec Podolski went to Poland. Augustus hoped to make the Polish throne hereditary within his family, and to use his resources as Elector of Saxony to impose some order on the chaotic Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.

He was, however, soon distracted from his internal reform projects by the possibility of external conquest. He formed an alliance with Denmark's Frederick IV and Russia's Peter the Great to strip young King Charles XII of Sweden (Augustus' cousin) of his possessions on the south side of the Baltic. Poland's reward for participation in the Great Northern War was to have been the now-Swedish territory of Livonia. Charles proved an able military commander, however, quickly forcing the Danes out of the war, and then driving back the Russians at Battle of Narva in 1700, thereby allowing him to focus on the struggle with Augustus. However, this war ultimately proved as disastrous for Sweden as for Poland.


Charles defeated Augustus' army at Riga in July 1701, forcing the Polish-Saxon army to withdraw from Livonia, and followed this up with an invasion of Poland. He captured Warsaw on May 14, 1702, defeated the Polish-Saxon army again at the Battle of Kliszów, and took Kraków. He defeated another of Augustus' armies under the command of Generalfeldmarschall Adam Heinrich von Steinau at the Battle of Pułtusk]] in the Spring 1703, and besieged and captured Thorn. The Swedes now installed, in 1704, Stanisław Leszczyński and the Treaty of Warsaw (1705) tied the Commonwealth to Sweden.

This compelled Augustus to initiate military operations again in Poland, this time alongside Russia, a Treaty of alliance being concluded in Narva in the summer of summer 1704. The resulting civil war in Poland (1704-1706) and the Grodno campaign]] did not go at all well for August. Following the Battle of Fraustadt, on September 1, 1706, Charles invaded Saxony, forcing Augustus to yield the Polish throne to Leszczyński by the Treaty of Altranstädt (1706).

Russia's Tsar Peter the Great had meanwhile been reforming both his army and navy, and now dealt a crippling defeat to the Swedes at the Battle of Poltava. This spelled the end of the Swedish Empire and the rise of the Russian Empire.

Returns to throne of Poland-Lithuania

The weakened Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth soon came to be regarded as almost a protectorate of Russia. In 1709 Augustus II under a further Treaty of Thorn, Augustus returned to the throne of Poland under Russian auspices. Once again he attempted to establish an absolute monarchy in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, but was faced with opposition from the nobility (szlachta). Peter the Great seized on this opportunity to pose as mediator, threatened the Commonwealth militarily, and in 1717 forced Augustus and the nobility to sign an accommodation favorable to Russian interests, at the "Silent Sejm" (Sejm Niemy). For the remainder of his reign, in an uneasy relationship, Augustus was more or less dependent on Russia (and to a lesser extent, on Austria) to maintain his throne. He gave up his dynastic ambitions and concentrated instead on attempts to strengthen the Commonwealth. Faced with both internal and foreign opposition, however, he achieved little.

Although Augustus had failed to make the Polish throne hereditary in his house, his eldest son, Frederick Augustus II of Saxony, did succeed him to the Polish throne as Augustus III of Poland, although he had to be installed by the Russian army in the War of the Polish Succession.


In 1936 Augustus was the subject of a Polish-German film Augustus the Strong directed by Paul Wegener. Augustus was portrayed by the actor Michael Bohnen.


  1. Flathe, Heinrich Theodor (1878), "Friedrich August I., Kurfürst von Sachsen" (in German), Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB) (Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot) 7: 781–4 .
  2. Czok, Karl (2006) (in German), August der Starke und seine Zeit. Kurfürst von Sachsen und König von Polen, Munich: Piper, ISBN 3-492-24636-2 .