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The Fifteen Princesses of Orange: Anna of Saxony

The second Princess of Orange, and also William the Silent’s second wife, is probably the most scandalous of them all. She was born on 23 December 1544 in Dresden as the daughter of Maurice, Elector of Saxony and Agnes of Hesse. She would be their only surviving child and she grew up in the court of the Saxony Electors. She was just nine when her father died and continued her education at her uncle’s court. Marriage negotiations had begun for a Swedish match but when those fell through a second candidate presented himself in the form of William the Silent, a widower since 1558.

William was 11 years older than her and marriage negotiations would last a year and a half. William was perhaps born Lutheran, but a condition of his inheritance stated that he must be a Catholic and fears arose that any possible children would be raised as a Lutheran. Things were eventually settled and the two were married on 24 August 1561 in Leipzig.

Though five children were born from this marriage, things would soon turn sour. After her first-born son Maurice died in infancy Anna fell into a depressions and supposedly had suicidal thoughts. She began to drink excessively.  Eventually only three of their children would live to adulthood. Just like his first wife, Anna would be left alone a lot. She became more and more discontent living under the watchful eye of William’s mother Juliana of Stolberg and several other family members. She loudly complained to anyone who would listen.

By 1568 Anna had gone to Cologne on her own, but she soon became indebted and she requested more money as she herself had brought quite a fortune to the marriage. Her dowry, however, had fallen into Habsburgs hands and had not yet been reclaimed by her husband. By the time things were settled and she and her husband would be ordered to Erfurt, Anna had different plans. In the meantime Anna had fallen head over heels in love with her legal advisor, Jan Rubens (If the name sounds familiar, Jan Rubens would later become the father of the famous painter Peter Paul Rubens). The lovers were not quite careful enough and things were soon found out. Jan was arrested in March 1571 and he confessed, though we do not know if he was tortured. Anna initially denied the affair but by August 1571 she was obviously very pregnant and she gave birth that month to a daughter, who would be known as Christina von Dietz.

Though Anna and Jan technically should’ve faced the death penalty her husband needed Anna’s powerful family members and he intended to keep the whole thing a secret. Anna would have to wait for a year and half to find out what her fate would be. In the meantime her mental state was worrying. She drank a lot, fought a lot with the servants and she suffered from extreme mood swings. By the end of 1572 she was ordered to Castle Beilstein where she would be under house arrest. She was given only religious books to read and the only one allowed to visit was a Lutheran priest. She wrote several begging letters to her husband, but he never responded.

By 1575 William had hoped to marry again. He even had a woman in mind. He managed to secure a somewhat dubious annulment and Anna was secretly brought back to Dresden. She was locked in a room where the windows were bricked up and food would be handed to her through a little hatch. She had no contact with the outside world, which only helped to further deteriorate her mental state. We do not know exactly what she died from, but there are reports of ‘constant hemorrhaging’. She died imprisoned and alone, just 32 years old.

Jan Rubens was spared the death penalty, but he was banished for ten years. His wife Maria wrote to him while he was imprisoned and ended the letter with ‘Written on April 1 in the night between 12 and 1 am. And do not write anymore, unworthy man, it is forgiven. U.L (Your Love), married housewife, Marie Ruebbens’. The child Christine lived with Anna for three years and was later raised by William the Silent’s brother Johann. She married a German noble and had three children with him.

Christine von Dietz

Christine von Dietz

Photocredit: Anna of Saxony in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons and Christine von Dietz in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.