Elisabeth of Saxony was born on 18 October 1552 as the daughter of August, Elector of Saxony and Anna of Denmark, a daughter of King Christian III of Denmark.
On 4 June 1570, she married Count Palatine John Casimir of Simmern, during the Diet of Speyer. John Casimir was a Calvinist, while Elisabeth was a Lutheran. August had hoped that Elisabeth might sway her new husband to the Lutheran side.
Despite their different religious beliefs, the couple would go on to have seven children, though only one daughter survived to adulthood. John Casimir tried to convince his wife of his own beliefs but did not manage to break her. This led to such a deterioration of their marriage that in October 1589, she was arrested and accused of adultery and attempting to murder her husband.
It was impossible for her to write to her parents for help and either way, they both died shortly after the problems began. Her brother, Christian I, Elector of Saxony, was now the only one left to help her. She wrote him many times but never received an answer. While Christian did deal with Elisabeth’s husband politically, the relationship was cold. John Casimir wrote of his brother-in-law, “There is no heart or loyalty in this man.” It seems rather ironic coming from a man, who was imprisoning his own wife.
Elisabeth’s prayerbook, which survives to this day, contains the additionally added phrases, “did not steal, did not break marriage vows” and “My dear father, wake up, why do you sleep? On earth, no one wants to see and save my innocence?”
And what some have taken as evidence of her guilt, “I cannot raise my eyes to heaven, I am not worthy of the sun” and “the origin and source, from which my adultery and murder have sprung, is the original sin.” Perhaps they were the words of a woman driven mad by her imprisonment as it was reported that Elisabeth began to long for death and spent her days wailing and crying.
For the last five months of her life, she barely ate or slept and refused to take medication. She died on 2 April 1590, still only 37 years old. Despite her imprisonment, her funeral took place on 15 April with all the pomp and ceremony. John Casimir’s sister Dorothea Susanna, another Lutheran, wrote to her elder sister Elisabeth, “Dear sister, if she had only died blissfully, and had admitted that which she had done with true repentant heart, then she would not have fallen away from true pure doctrine”, which suggests that sometime during her captivity Elisabeth converted to Calvinism. 1
True sin indeed