The article below was published in Pinnable’s newsletter in .


The Court of Augustus the Strong

Being a king is not so easy, especially after Louis XIV of France, the Roi-Soleil, spectacularly raised the bar for standing out. When Augustus the Strong (1670–1733) visited the Palace of Versailles in 1687 on his grand tour, he took it as an example. After succeeding his brother as Elector of Saxony in 1694, and later becoming King of Poland as well, he knew what to do and had some magnificent buildings built in & around Dresden, including the Zwinger and his summer residence Pillnitz Castle, and Moritzburg Castle, an oversized hunting lodge. His splendid treasury in the Green Vault, one of the oldest public museums in the world, is accessible for visitors wearing clean clothes, as desired by the King. Augustus also planned a ‘Saxon Versailles’ at Großsedlitz, but sadly he ran out of funds even before the construction of a palace was begun. Nevertheless, in 1731, Voltaire deemed Augustus’ court worthy of second place in the European league of royal splendour: ‘Sa cour étoit la plus brillante de l’Europe, après celle de Louis XIV’.

Großsedlitz Baroque Garden
Großsedlitz Baroque Garden, the unfinished Saxon Versailles

Augustus is remembered for not only his adoration of art & architecture, but also his love for women. Not so much for the Queen unfortunately, with whom he produced an heir in 1696, as for a series of mistresses that he kept — not necessarily one after another, incidentally. With five of these ladies he fathered eight more children, of which the first was born only eleven days after his legitimate son. Of all his mistresses, the Countess of Cosel is best known: the mother of his two youngest daughters and son, she seriously overplayed her hand and got herself involved in state matters too much, to such an extent that the King had her imprisoned for treason at Stolpen Castle. There she remained until her death, 49 years later. Augustus himself quickly moved on and acquired a Polish mistress in order to demonstrate to the Polish nobility that he was taking Poland seriously. It’s an open secret that there were even more women in his life, and rumour has it that His Majesty had 354 children in total. (Given the amount of time that has passed since then, it’s not entirely unimaginable that today all native Saxons are of royal descent one way or another.)

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King Augustus II, together with his son, also collected most of the principal works that are now on display in the Old Masters Picture Gallery, in the wing added to the Zwinger in 1854 by architect Gottfried Semper. The highlight of the collection is Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, acquired in 1754 by Augustus III.


Two historical novels (in German) about King Augustus the Strong and the Countess of Cosel, both by the Polish author Józef Ignacy Kraszewski (1812–1887), are König August der Starke and Gräfin Cosel, available in paperback for around € 10 each.


In 1949, the regime in the Soviet occupation zone renamed the Augustus Bridge in Dresden Georgij-Dimitroff-Brücke, after the Bulgarian communist Georgi Dimitrov. Locals ridiculed the new name, inventing the tale that Augustus, on catching sight of an attractive lady while crossing the bridge in his coach, said to his driver: ‘Die mit droff’, instructing him to get her into the carriage. Since 1990 the bridge has again been called Augustusbrücke.