Germany // Northern Bavaria: Franconia //


With the Thüringer Wald just to the north, Protestant Coburg scarcely feels Bavarian at all. Until the end of the World War I it was capital of the diminutive duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, which famously supplied Queen Victoria with her Prince Consort, Albert, and the opportunity to rediscover Britain’s forgotten dynastic link with Germany is one very compelling reason to visit. That aside, Coburg is a particularly handsome specimen of a Residenzstadt, with a small but perfectly-preserved Altstadt – barely 500m across – fringed by some fine examples of Jugendstil. Schloss Ehrenburg – the town residence of Coburg’s dukes until 1918 – is on its eastern fringe facing Schlossplatz, from where it’s a stiff 1km walk uphill to Veste Coburg, the town’s major attraction and one of the largest medieval castles in Germany. Further afield, you might wish to venture east of town to see Schloss Rosenau, birthplace of Prince Albert.

Brief history

The history of COBURG is intimately bound up with that of its ducal family, a branch of the Wettin dynasty whose most distinguished member was Elector Friedrich the Wise, champion and protector of Martin Luther. Excommunicated and outlawed in the Holy Roman Empire, Luther stayed at the Veste Coburg fortress above the town for six months during the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, under the protection of Friedrich’s brother and successor, Johann the Steadfast. Though he was banned from attending, Luther used messengers to stay in touch with the Diet’s negotiations on the fate of the Reformation, which led to the Augsburg Confession, a foundation stone of the Protestant Church.

Their loyalty to the Protestant cause cost the Wettins their Electoral status; as mere dukes they thereafter ruled a modest territory from Coburg, extended to include the Saxon duchy of Gotha in 1826, after which they were known as dukes of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Modest though their domain was, they pursued a highly successful “marriage offensive”, marrying their offspring into the great royal houses of Europe, including those of Belgium, Portugal, Bulgaria and Sweden. The most famous marriage of all was that of Prince Albert, younger son of Duke Ernst I, to his cousin Queen Victoria in 1840. Though its historic links to Thuringia and Saxony are strong, Coburg’s inhabitants voted against union with Thuringia after World War I, and the town became Bavarian.

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