Elisabeth of Brandenburg – Staunch Reformer, Heartbroken Mother

Elisabeth, aided by Philipp von Hessen (one of the main leaders of the Schmalkaldic League), introduced the Reformation in her lands.

A prolific writer, she also wrote several hymns for the church and a long letter to the nobility, explaining that their rank matters little if not accompanied by piety. She then proceeded to give an example of piety by emphasizing pure worship and the preaching of the Word, by ministering to the needy, and by accompanying Corvinus in some of his pastoral visitations.


Just before Easter 1527, Elisabeth of Brandenburg, who had become Duchess of Braunschweig-Calenberg by marriage, received some shocking news. Her mother Elisabeth of Denmark, Electress of Brandenburg, had stunned her court by taking communion after the Protestant rite: both bread and wine, without a mysterious transformation of the elements and without claims of re-sacrificing Christ. Whether the Electress meant her action to go public or not, the news spread fast. In fact, they soon reached her husband Joachim I, a belligerent opponent of Luther, who was traveling at that time.

Our Elisabeth, then 17, was in Braunschweig, having been married for two years to the 55-year old Duke Erich I, also a fierce Roman Catholic. Over the next few months, she must have learned of her father’s threats to her mother and of her mother’s escape to Lutheran lands. She was, however, busy giving birth and raising kids for her husband who had unsuccessfully tried to have a progeny from his first wife. At the time of her mother’s escape, she already had a two-year old daughter (another Elisabeth) and was pregnant with her first son, Erich.

Betrayal and Independence

In spite of the age difference, Elisabeth’s marriage was apparently marked by fondness and devotion, until 1531, when her recovery from a particularly stressful pregnancy was perturbed by distressing news: her husband had betrayed her with a previous long-term lover, Anna Rumschottel. Her husband’s lies about his lover’s sudden death (corroborated by a fake funeral) fell apart when Elisabeth discovered the woman had been sent to a nearby castle in order to give birth to Erich’s son.

Enraged and deeply hurt, Elisabeth blamed Anna for her own troubled pregnancy, and accused her of witchcraft, forcing Erich to send her away. As a token of repentance, he awarded Elisabeth the territories of Gottingen and Munden, where she spent much of her time.

This geographical independence allowed her to reflect on her religious convictions. After a visit from her mother in 1534, she began corresponding with Luther and received a Lutheran preacher, Antonius Corvinus, at her court. It was not long until she publicly declared her faith by taking the Lord’s Supper in the Lutheran fashion.

Her husband’s reaction was far different from that of her father toward her mother. Erich had met Luther and was not opposed to his teachings, but considered himself too old to change.

When he died in 1540, Elisabeth, aided by Philipp von Hessen (one of the main leaders of the Schmalkaldic League), introduced the Reformation in her lands.

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