Gregory Brown
513 Agnes Arnold Hall
Department of Philosophy
University of Houston
Houston, TX 77204-3004

Ernst August
(Ernest Augustus)

Prince bishop of Osnabräck (1662-1698)
Duke of Brunswick - Lüneburg - Calenberg (Hanover) (1679-1692)
First Elector of Brunswick - Lüneburg (Hanover) (1692-1698)

In 1692 Ernst August (1629-1698), Duke of Brunswick - Lüneburg, became the first elector of Brunswick - Lüneburg. Ernst August was the youngest of four sons born to Duke Georg von Calenberg (1582-1641) and his wife, Anna Eleonore of Hessen - Darmstadt (1601-1659). In the beginning, Ernst August had scarcely any prospect for a domain, since his three older brothers were favored in the right of succession. Thus in Hanover Christian Ludwig (1622-1665) ruled the principality of Brunswick - Lüneburg - Calenberg from 1641 to 1648; but after the death of his uncle Friedrich in 1648, he ruled the coveted principality of Brunswick -  Lüneburg - Celle until his death in 1665). Georg Wilhelm (1624-1705) ruled in Brunswick - Lüneburg - Calenberg (Hanover) from 1648-1665 and later, from 1665 to 1705, in Brunswick - Lüneburg - Celle. Johann Friedrich (1625-1679) ruled in Brunswick - Lüneburg -  Calenberg (Hanover) from 1665 to 1679.  So Ernst August, with his wife Sophie (1630-1714), adjusted to a rather modest life, since no one could have known that on the basis of her English kinship Sophie would one day be the heiress to the throne of England and that Ernst August would carry on the Lüneburg line in Hanover as elector.

In 1662 Ernst August was chosen by his family to become "secular bishop" of Osnabrück. After the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, the basis of the so-called alternation, a protestant prince from the Welf House and a Catholic bishop were alternately to assume power in the bishopric of Osnabrück.  When Johann Friedrich died in 1679, Ernst August became duke of Lüneburg - Calenberg, and eventually Ernst August inherited all the dominions from the Lüneburg line.

Duke Ernst August pursued a policy directed at widening the power of his realm and increasing recognition.  He also maintained a standing army in just the manner of his father, duke Georg von Calenberg.  Ernst August successfully aided the emperor in the war against the Turks and the French.  In 1683, in order to preserve once and for all his sovereign territory undivided, he instituted, against the vehement objections of his youngest son, Friedrich August (1661-1690), the rule of primogeniture: all dominions were in future to be inherited undivided by the first born son.  This was a prerequisite for the electoral rank which Ernst August sought.  Ernst August's elder brother, Georg Wilhelm, eventually agreed to defer to his younger brother in the event that electoral status were conferred upon Brunswick-Lüneburg, and in 1692 emperor Leopold I. (1640-1705) bestowed on duke Ernst August the ninth electorate in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.  This was due in no small to the efforts of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the duke's Librarian and Privy Counselor, who by then also had a world-wide reputation as philosopher, physicist, theologian, and mathematician.  Leibniz had first been appointed to the court at Hanover in 1676 by Ernst August's elder brother, Johann Friedrich, and he had been retained when Ernst August became duke of Lüneburg - Calenberg (Hanover) upon the death of Johann Friedrich in December 1679.  In 1696 Ernst August elevated Leibniz to the position of Privy Counselor of Justice, a judicial office ranking just below Vice-Chancellor.

Shortly after he had become duke of Lüneburg - Calenberg, Ernst August put Leibniz to work on a history of his royal House of Brunswick.  The idea for writing a history of the House of Brunswick was apparently first proposed by Leibniz himself in a letter to Prime Minister Franz Ernst von Platen shortly after Ernst August assumed power in Hanover.  While in Venice in April 1685, the duke apparently became interested in tracing his own Welf lineage back to the Italian House of Este, a connection that Leibniz was eventually able to establish.  Work on the history gave Leibniz an excuse to travel, and he spent most of the years between 1687 and 1690 traveling in southern Germany, Austria, and Italy, consulting with scholars and studying manuscripts and records in a variety of libraries and monasteries.  In the end, Leibniz was never able to complete the history, although the three volumes of his history were eventually published after his death.  The work on the history plagued Leibniz for the rest of his life, and in a letter the Jesuit mathematician Adam Kochanski he noted that writing the history bound him like the stone of Sisyphus.  Later, when Ernst August's son, Georg Ludwig (1660-1727), ascended the throne of England as George I. in 1714, he refused to summon Leibniz to join the royal family in London, ostensibly on the grounds that Leibniz had not made progress—sufficient, at least, to satisfy the king—on writing the history of the king's royal House of Brunswick with which he had been commissioned so many years before.

After several months of severe illness, constantly tended by his wife, Sophie, Ernst August died at Herrenhausen on 23 January 1698. He was succeeded as elector of Brunswick - Lüneburg by his son, Georg Ludwig, who inherited all of his fathers dominions undivided.

Through the Act of Settlement (1701), the English Parliament decided to amend the law of succession to the throne in favor of the Protestant House of Stuart.  In default of heirs from William or Anne, the Act declared that the English crown would settle upon "the most excellent princess Sophia, Electress and duchess-dowager of Hanover" and "the heirs of her body, being Protestant."  But Sophie died in her beloved park at Herrenhausen on 8 June 1714, and it was her son, Georg Ludwig, elector of Brunswick - Lüneburg (Hanover), who, upon the death of queen Anne on 12 August 1714, became the first Hanoverian to ascend the British throne.

--Adapted, with additions, from the website, Die Welfen


  • Aiton, E. J.  Leibniz: A Biography.  Boston: Adam Hilger, 1985.
  • Hatton, Ragnhild Marie.  George I: Elector and King.  Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978.
  • Knoop, Mathilde. Kurfürstin Sophie von Hannover.  Hildesheim, 1964.
  • Mates, Benson.  The Philosophy of Leibniz: Metaphysics and Language.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.