JOHN FREDERICK( THE MAGNANIMOUS: Son of John the Steadfast and elector of Saxony, 1532-1547; b. at Torgau June 30, 1503; d. at Weimar Mar. 3, 1554. He received his education from Spalatin, whom he highly esteemed during his whole life. His knowledge of history was comprehensive, and his library, which extended over all sciences, was one of the largest in Germany. He came early into personal relations with Luther, beginning to correspond with him in the days when the bull of excommunication was hurled against the Reformer, and showing himself even then a convinced adherent of the Gospel. With vivid interest he observed
At the age of twenty-one John Frederick succeeded his father. In the beginning he reigned with his stepbrother, John Ernest, but in 1542 became sole ruler. Chancellor Brück, who for years had guided the foreign relations of the country with ability and prudence, remained also his councilor, but his open and impulsive nature often led him to disregard the propositions of his more experienced adviser, so that the country was in frequent danger, especially as John Frederick was not a far-sighted politician. He consolidated the State Church by the institution of an electoral consistory (1542) and renewed the church visitation. He took a firmer and more decided stand than his father in favor of the Evangelical league, but on account of his strictly Lutheran convictions was involved in difficulties with the Landgrave of Hesse, who favored a union with the Swiss and Strasburg Evangelicals. He was averse to all propositions of Popes Clement VII. and Paul III. to win him for a council, because he was convinced that it would only serve "for the preservation of the papal and anti-Christian rule"; but to be prepared for any event, he requested Luther to summarize all articles to which he would adhere before a council, and Luther wrote the Schmalkald articles. At the diet of Schmalkald in 1537 the council was refused, and the elector treated the papal legate with open disregard and rejected the propositions of Dr. Held, the imperial legate.
He followed the efforts at agreement at Regensburg in 1541 with suspicion and refused to accept the article on justification which had been drawn up under the supervision of Contarini to suit both parties, and Luther, his steady adviser, confirmed him in his aversion. The efforts at agreement failed, and the elector contributed not a little to broaden the gulf by his interference in the ecclesiastical affairs of Halle and by aiding the Reformation which had been introduced there by Justus Jonas. His attitude became more and more stubborn and regardless of consequences, not to the advantage of the Protestant cause. In spite of the warnings of the emperor, of Brück, and of Luther, he arbitrarily set aside in 1541 the election of Julius von Pflug to the episcopal see of Naumburg, instituted Nicolaus von Amsdorf as bishop, and introduced the Reformation. In 1542 he expelled Duke Henry of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel from his country to protect the Evangelical cities Goslar and Brunswick and introduced the Reformation there. New war-like entanglements hindered Charles V. from interfering and by apparently yielding he succeeded in concealing his true intentions. The elector appeared personally at the diet of Speyer in 1544. The harmony of the emperor with the Evangelicals appeared never greater than at that time. He permitted the Regensburg declaration of 1541 to be embodied in the new recess and acknowledged all innovations which the Evangelicals had made between 1532 and 1541 because he needed the aid of the Protestants against France (see SPEYER, DIETS OF). John Frederick actually thought that peace had come and continued the ecclesiastical reforms in his country. Even the growing discord among the allies did not disturb him.
When the Schmalkald War broke out (1546) he marched to the south at the head of his troops, but the unexpected invasion of his country by Duke Maurice compelled him to return. He succeeded in reconquering the larger part of his possessions and repelling Maurice, but suddenly the emperor hastened north and surprised the elector. The battle of Mühlberg, Apr. 24, 1547, went against him and dispersed his army; being wounded, he fell into the hands of the conqueror. The emperor condemned him to death as a convicted rebel; but, not to lose time in the siege of Wittenberg, which was defended by Sibylla, the wife of the elector, he did not execute the sentence and entered into negotiations. To save his life, John Frederick conceded the capitulation of Wittenberg, and, after having been compelled to resign the government of his country in favor of Maurice, his condemnation was changed into imprisonment for life. He was never greater and more magnanimous than in the days of his captivity, as is evident from the correspondence with his children, his wife, and his councilors. Friends and foes were compelled to acknowledge his calm behavior, his unwavering faith, and his greatness under misfortune. He steadfastly refused to renounce the Protestant faith or to acknowledge the Interim, declaring that by its acceptance he would commit a sin against the Holy Ghost, because in many articles it was against the Word of God. The sudden attack upon the emperor by Elector Maurice made an end of his imprisonment, and he was released on Sept. 1, 1552. He firmly refused to bind himself to comply in matters of religion with the decisions of a future council or diet, declaring that he was resolved to adhere until his grave to the doctrine contained in the Augsburg Confession. His homeward journey was a triumphal march. He removed the seat of government to Weimar and reformed the conditions of his country, but died within two years. A special object of his care was the University of Jena, which he planned while a prisoner in place of Wittenberg, which he had lost (1547).
BIBLIOGRAPHY: A. Beck, Johann Friedrich der Mittlere, 2 vols., Weimar, 1858; F. von Bezold, Geschichte der deutschen Reformation. Berlin, 1886; and literature under LUTHER; REFORMATION.
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