Elisabeth of Rochlitz was considered a bearer of hope among the campaigners and guarantor for an imminent reformation in Albertine Saxony. Her diverse family connections with the houses of Hesse and Saxony meant she was sitting in the middle of a familiar network of the most important advocates of this religious revival movement. She consciously used her preferred position to spin her reformation web with great tactical sensitivity and strategic flair.
When she was 3-years old, Elisabeth was promised to Duke John the Younger of Saxony. She was married to him 10 years later in November 1517 and left her mother’s home. At the age of 17 she travelled to the court of her strictly Catholic father-in-law, George the Bearded.
Difficult years awaited the young lady at the Dresden Court and continual disputes with the electoral prince clouded her life and her marriage. The tensions heightened when Elisabeth refused to go to confession and take the Eucharist in Catholic style, and in doing so made it known before God and the world that she had converted to Luther’s beliefs and to the reformation.
After her husband’s death, Elisabeth moved into her widow’s seat in Rochlitz Palace. In December 1537 she introduced the Reformation in Rochlitz against George’s will. In as little as a year later she was accepted as the only female member of the Schmalkaldic League. Far removed from the traditional role model for women, she acted as mediator in the run-up-to the Schmalkaldic War between the princes of the league and the Catholic princes.
Some 2000 of Elisabeth’s letters have been handed own to us and are proof of a self-determined woman, who had a deciding influence on events during the Reformation in 16th-century Saxony. And we can consider ourselves very lucky to have this legacy, because it also tells us a story of loss. This is the loss of correspondence written by women from the Early Modern Era, and especially of royal women’s correspondence from the outgoing 15th and 16th centuries, which disappeared in far greater numbers than correspondence written by men.
And this is apart from the exchange of letters between women, which either disappeared completely, or such as one of Elisabeth’s letters, were disregarded with the comment, „female clap trap.“ Which just goes to show that history can also be construed in this way.