History has produced a long line of lotharios, but none of them hold a candle to Augustus II the Strong—and none of them hide as disturbing a story. Starting out as the Electorate of Saxony, the lusty Augustus spent his life desperate to build his own royal dynasty. In the end, he stopped at nothing to get what he wanted…including betraying everyone who loved him.
Augustus II was born in May 1670 to gold and glory. As the son of the current Elector of Saxony, little Augustus wanted for almost nothing as a child. But there was one thing missing. Augustus was merely the second son of the family, and thus had no hopes of inheriting the Electorate when he grew up. Until, that is, horrible tragedy hit.
In 1694, Augustus’ older brother—who had already inherited the position of Elector—met a scandalous end, contracting smallpox from his mistress and then perishing. This ignominious turn of events nonetheless cleared the path for Augustus to become the Elector of Saxony himself, and suddenly the younger son wielded immense power. He just had no idea what to do with it.
Augustus II’s issues started early—just before he became Elector, in fact. The year before his brother conveniently passed on, the 24-year-old Augustus had married 21-year-old Christiane of Brandenburg-Bayreuth. It was instantly a bad idea. The union had been a purely political match rather than a love one, and the exuberant Augustus found the stoic, stern Christiane boring.
Christiane, for her part, didn’t much like her husband either. But soon, it turned supremely nasty.
Growing up as the second son, Augustus II had gotten used to some debauched antics. In particular, he was very used to having a string of mistresses warm his bed, and didn’t like the idea of marriage cramping his style. More than that, though, he flaunted his side pieces in front of Christiane, something she—shocker—took issue with.
Still, that didn’t seem to be quite enough for Augustus. He then went the extra mile to insult his wife.
During his official procession to become the Elector of Saxony, Augustus’s marital problems were uncomfortably on display. His courtiers were all dressed as gods and goddesses for the parade, but while his wife Christiane dressed modestly as a Vestal Virgin—not even a goddess role—Augusts had his main mistress, Maria Aurora von Konigsmarck, dress as the goddess Aurora.
It was public humiliation writ large, but their relationship was about to really explode.
As time wore on, Augustus only got more bombastic, not less. As Elector of Saxony, he immediately set about making the main city of Dresden into party central, taking the opulent palace of Versailles as his inspiration and constructing a string of pleasure palaces in its image. And what he did in those palaces is even more disturbing than you might think.
One of Augustus’s defining traits—and the reason for his nickname—was his above-average height of 5’9” and his absolutely dominant physical prowess. He put these traits to chilling use. While in Dresden, Augustus loved holding and participating in “animal tossing” contests, where he and his courtiers would literally hurl animals into the air. Oh, but it gets worse.
Never one to shy away from the spotlight, Augustus II made sure everyone knew just how strong he really was during these blood sports. He would show off by holding one of the slings they used with just one of his fingers, all while it took two other nobles to hold onto the other end. On other occasions, he liked to break horseshoes with just his hands.
But no amount of “fun” competition could distract from the circus his life was about to become.
By 1696, August was firmly settling into his role as Elector of Saxony—and more than that, his wife Christiane was pregnant, which was quite the feat considering the pair of them didn’t like each other much. Fortunately for them, it was a one and done situation: That fall, Christiane gave birth to a son and heir they named Frederick. But, well, then came the twist.
Augustus II was now a proud father—but his situation was about to get sordid. In a turn of events that proves the truth really is more scandalous than fiction, Augustus’s favorite mistress Maria Aurora was also pregnant at the exact same time, with his child, and had her own boy just 11 days after Christiane gave birth to the heir. This had immediate consequences.
Augustus’s wife Christiane might have been living in a macho man’s world, but she was still appalled at her husband’s infidelity, and she apparently never got over how his mistress stole her thunder. Indeed, Frederick would be the only child the couple had between them, and Christiane grew utterly distant from him right after. Which, as it happened, was very bad timing.
A year after the birth of his heir and his love child, Augustus II got a radical idea in his head. The Polish-Lithuanian throne was up for election (yes, election), and Augustus wanted that crown bad. There was just one very big problem: While Augustus’s family were famous as defenders of the Protestant faith, this new kingdom was extremely Catholic…and as you might know, Protestants and Catholics did not get along.
Enter: Augustus’s shocking betrayal.
Let’s be real, Augustus would never let a little thing like loyalty get in the way of power. With his mouth watering for the Polish crown, he completely threw over his Protestant upbringing and converted to Roman Catholicism without a second thought. Then, incredibly he got the Polish throne. The rest of Europe was in a tailspin—but the worst reaction came from inside his own home.
When he converted to Catholicism, Augustus II obviously thought that his wife Christiane would dutifully follow and help him campaign for the Polish throne. In fact, there are indications that he didn’t even tell his wife he wanted to take the throne, let alone that he was thinking of converting to a rival religion. Her reaction stopped him in his tracks.
At this point, Christiane was fully done playing the dutiful wife to her philandering husband, and she put her foot down in a big way. With his candidacy still fragile, Augustus needed her support, and wanted her to travel with him to Poland and set up court as his queen. Christiane, still loyal to the Protestant cause, flatly refused—so Augustus had to resort to less savory tactics.
In the face of his wife’s disobedience, Augustus got downright dirty. He enlisted Christiane’s own father to work on wearing her down, and for months the pair of them needled at her to come to Poland, throwing out promises like her ability to keep her faith and an oath that their son together would never convert. None of it worked, and Christiane was conspicuously absent from Augustus’ coronation.
As it happened, this would be a dark omen for his rule.
As usual with Augustus II, some of his biggest problems as the King of Poland started in the bedroom. Soon after the birth of his love child and his taking the Polish throne, Augustus tired of his mistress Maria Aurora. So, what was a man to do but immediately take another mistress? His choice was Maximiliane von Lamberg, the Countess Esterle.
Little did Augustus know, he was walking right into a mess.
As it happened, Maximiliane was already married when she became Augustus II’s mistress—though not for long. Her husband apparently noticed and deeply objected to the dalliance, because he divorced her soon after she became the royal sidepiece. As if that weren’t dramatic enough, Maximiliane and Augustus took their deception to the next level.
Some people might take their husband divorcing them as a wake-up call, but not Augustus’s favorite. Just months after her scandalous split, Maximiliane quickly married again…to yet another of Augustus’ courtiers. And the scandal wasn’t over. Soon into that marriage, she gave birth to what was very likely Augustus’s second love child, though she passed the boy off as her husband’s.
It looked like Augustus II had met his match in the debauchery department. And he had—which also meant he was about to get a taste of his own bitter medicine.
Years into his relationship with Maximiliane, Augustus was still utterly enthralled with his mistress. Until the day he made a disturbing discovery. It turned out Maximiliane didn’t consider Augustus her one and only, and he found out that she had been entertaining dalliances with other men at court for months, even years.
Oh boy, Augustus II did not let her go gently.
While there’s very little chance that Augustus himself had been faithful to Maximiliane in his turn, he was horrified at the thought of her having her own fun without him. Enraged, he gave her a bare 24 hours to leave the country entirely—a near impossible feat that must have left her scrambling to pack up all her dresses and attendants.
Maybe that’s why she dealt him one parting insult.
Augustus II apparently had a taste for feisty women, because his ex didn’t leave so quietly in the end. For one, Maximiliane didn’t stay out of the country for long: Soon, she had posted herself up in Wroclaw, still in Poland. And the vengeful woman got a petty dig in at Augustus. She ended up becoming the mistress of one of his old rivals for the Polish throne, Aleksander Sobieski.
By then, though, Augustus had a whole new set of dangerous problems headed his way.
Augustus came off like the ultimate good-time guy, but his bro-ish and philandering ways hid deep, dark ambitions. Namely, the elected King of Poland had always housed dreams of making the Polish throne hereditary, constructing a glorious dynasty for himself and passing it on to his firstborn son Frederick. But as the 18th century dawned, that all began to fall apart.
In the early 1700s, Augustus II found himself in a territory war with King Charles XII of Sweden—who just so happened to be his own cousin. The result was disastrous. Augustus found out, to his great detriment, that Charles was a brilliant commander, and by 1703 Charles had captured a handful of the most powerful Polish cities. Then he really twisted the blade in.
Augustus, embarrassed and humiliated, was nonetheless willing to be a good little boy and do whatever his cousin wanted him to in order to hold onto the Polish throne. Well, he was right out of luck: After years of turmoil, Charles wanted nothing to do with him, and installed his own puppet king, Stanisław Leszczyński, as the new King of Poland.
It looked like Augustus was defeated once and for all (spoiler: he wasn’t). In response, Augustus went off the deep end.
Even while fighting with Sweden, Augustus II naturally still had time for a string of mistresses. But right around his resounding defeat to King Charles XII, he took up with a dangerous woman. Anna Constantia von Brockdorff entered his life in 1704, and Augustus—all too eager for a distraction—immediately fell for her beauty and cultivated charms.
But there was a dark side to this elegant woman.
Augustus II was infatuated with Anna, but everyone else in his court was deeply worried, and for good reason. Augustus had gone back to Saxony with his tail between his legs after losing Poland, and everyone there hoped that the Polish crown and that whole conversion to Catholicism was in the past. Well, his new mistress had much different ideas.
See, Anna Constantia was just as ambitious and politically minded as Augustus himself, and she was none too pleased at the prospect of merely hitching up with an Elector of Saxony and not a King of Poland. In no time at all, she had Augustus back up and raring to go after Poland again. The Saxon courtiers were beside themselves—but there was one more thing.
During this time, Augustus and his mistress may have been hiding a huge secret. There were whispers that Anna was so enchanting, Augustus wrote out a promise to marry her. This, of course, was despite the fact he already had a wife in Christiane, even if they were estranged. It was the last straw—and Augustus’s court knew just what they had to do.
Augustus was brawny and intimidating, but he was also predictable. So instead of the nobles getting up in arms about Anna, they hit Augustus in his real weak spot: His libido. For years, the nobles plotted to oust Anna with a different, Catholic, and obedient mistress. In 1713, they succeeded with the beautiful Marianna Denhoff, who quickly replaced Anna in his affections.
And just as he had done before when it came to breakups, Augustus was none too kind to his old flame.
All’s fair in love and war, but Augustus II was cruel at both. After losing his lust for Anna Constantia, he double-crossed his former mistress. Sensing she no longer had Augustus’s favor, Anna desperately tried to get a hold of the letter where Augustus had promised to marry her—she had given it to a cousin for safekeeping—but never found it. It was all the excuse Augustus needed, and he officially exiled Anna in 1716.
Yet for all that, Anna Constantia’s ambitions had already done their work, and Augustus couldn’t stop thinking about the Polish throne. He made a deal with the devil to get it back.
Let no one say that Augustus II the Strong was just a vapid party boy. The lengths he went to to get back his crown were terrifying. Namely, he teamed up with Russia and the fearsome Peter the Great. Backed by the supreme Russian might, Augustus handily won Poland back from the usurper king Stanisław Leszczyński in 1709. Yes, Augustus was King of Poland again.
Only, there was an extremely high price to pay.
With Poland back in his grasping hands, Augustus II wasn’t going to let any more time go by without realizing his ambitions. He finally put his long-held plan into place: He made it clear was going to make the Polish monarchy absolute and dynastic, securing the rights of his son Frederick and turning his name into a glorious royal house. I say “going to”, though, because it didn’t go well.
Augustus might have been ambitious despite his hedonistic ways, but that didn’t mean he was smart. His power-hungry ways backfired instantly. The Polish nobility quite frankly hated the idea, and soon conflict broke out all over the kingdom. The angry nobles even forced Augustus to limit the number of men in his army, cutting his power off at the knees. But that wasn’t all.
If there’s one thing Peter the Great could do, it was smell blood in the water—and after saving Augustus’ butt, the Russian Tsar had kept an especially close watch on Poland ever since. With this new conflict raging, Peter swung right back in and pressured Augustus to sign a treaty that gave Augustus a little protection while heavily promoting Russia’s own interests.
From that day on, Augustus was at the whims of the Russian Empire…and perhaps it was insecurity about this submissive position, but he began doing some very suspect things.
For decades now, Augustus’s wife Christiane had stood by her Protestant faith, living in Saxony quietly and even sometimes standing alongside Augustus when he came back to the Electorate. In the meantime, she had helped raise their only son, Frederick, alongside her mother-in-law.
To some kings, this might mean Christiane deserved some thanks. Instead, Augustus II committed his worst treachery yet.
In the early days of his bid for the Polish kingdom, Augustus had promised Christiane that their son could keep his Protestant faith. Well, surprise! He didn’t keep his promise. In 1717, just after Augustus solidified his rule in Poland once more, Frederick officially came out as Catholic, having quietly converted five years before. Both the Saxons and Christiane were furious—but Augustus II was just getting started.
Augustus may have been under Russia’s thumb, but he hadn’t given up his dreams of grandeur and creating his own dynasty. To that end, he began playing matchmaker for his son Frederick—and he hit upon a brilliant idea. In choosing Maria Josepha of Austria for his son’s bride, Augustus was aligning himself with the Holy Roman Empire, and it didn’t get much more powerful—or Catholic—than that.
Then, when it came to the royal wedding, Augustus really let it all hang out.
Ever since his animal tossing days, Augustus loved to show off, and he also knew that this was his opportunity to impress a lot of important people in the royal world. When Frederick and Maria Josepha married in August 1719, Augustus invited 800 guests to the lavish, two-week ceremony. And when those guests entered the reception, their jaws must have dropped.
Besides having a whopping 500 deer brought in from the nearby royal forest for the feast, Augustus had also decorated the banquet hall like a silver mine. As dignitaries and monarchs took their seats, the very walls glittered around them, with the whole event costing more than 4 million thalers, a hefty sum from Augustus’s coffers.
However, Augustus does have another claim to fame when it comes to expensive possessions.
We know by now that Augustus had a foolish side. So when the disgraced alchemist Johann Friedrich Bottger fled from the court of Frederick I for not producing gold, Augustus somehow still believed the man could. Indeed, he all but imprisoned Bottger within his own court and demanded the man make gold for him instead. Since Bottger was a total swindler, that’s not what happened. But something else miraculous took place.
Bottger, scared out of his wits, came up with a hasty plan. He couldn’t make gold, he told Augustus, but he could maybe get into pottery and produce porcelain. After all, porcelain was a very secret Chinese recipe at the time that everyone in Europe wanted to get their hands on. Augustus took what he could get, and said yes. And boy, did he luck out.
It took nearly a decade of Bottger experimenting with different chemical processes to produce anything of note. When he did, Augustus hit the jackpot. After realizing that he could bake clay at higher temperatures than previously attempted, Bottger finally unlocked the secret to porcelain, and suddenly Augustus had a porcelain manufactory in his hands, plus a whole lot of cold hard cash.
To this day, the porcelain breakthrough remains Augustus’s single most famous contribution to culture. Er, but he did have more unsavory accomplishments.
In truth, people didn’t call Augustus “The Strong” because of his physical prowess—it also became a sign of his rampant appetites in the bedroom. Although he usually only had one official mistress at a time, he went through women like drinking water. In the end, he racked up at least 10 official mistresses and countless dalliances.
In fact, it led one of his contemporaries to make a very infamous claim about the king.
Wilhelmine of Prussia was the older sister of Frederick the Great and a royal in her own right, so people listened to what she said. She’s also the source of a disturbing rumor about Augustus. Although there is some confusion around the assertion, Wilhelmine claimed that Augustus had as many as 382 children among his many affairs. Somehow, though Augustus’s behavior gets creepier.
For a king with so few morals, Augustus was somewhat secretive and shady about all of his love children. He only acknowledged a tiny handful of the babes as his own. And even then, he did it only because their mothers tended to be his favorite bedmates; the women people dubbed his “chosen ones". A big “ew” for that one.
In case you need yet another example of what a dirty dog Augustus was, look no further: Sure, his very first royal mistress Maria Aurora was one of his favorites at court…but that didn’t stop Augustus from also taking up with her own lady-in-waiting, a lower-born woman named Fatima Kariman. Indeed, Fatima became something of a constant companion to him over the years, and he would frequently go back to her when he was in between official mistresses.
In 1727, one of the last tragedies of Augustus’s life occurred, though he might not have considered it one. His wife Christiane, after a lifetime of being “Saxony’s pillar of prayer” for the Protestant religion, passed at the age of 55. Augustus gifted her with a final snub. Both he and their son Frederick didn’t attend her funeral. But karma came for him in the end.
Even lusty, powerful kings like Augustus are subject to the ravages of time—and they actually hit him particularly hard. As the years passed, Augustus’s famous strength went to seed, particularly after his hard-living lifestyle gave him diabetes. In his old age, he was morbidly obese, and by 1733 he was fading fast. His end was quick and harsh.
At the age of 62, Augustus suddenly collapsed and died after a parliamentary meeting, with his full, big life coming to an acute, quiet close. He did, however, earn one last victory: After years of trying to install a hereditary dynasty, his son Frederick succeeded him on the Polish throne after all, becoming Augustus III.
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