Duchess Sabina von Württemberg, painting by Barthel Beham, 1530

A Bavarian princess in WürttembergSabina von Württemberg

Princess Sabina (1492–1564) was the granddaughter of Emperor Friedrich III and a very good marital match. She was promised to Duke Ulrich von Württemberg as a child. After the wedding, a turbulent life of marital drama and power plays began. During their marriage, she often resided in Urach.

Portrait of Sabina von Bayern, charcoal drawing, circa 1530

Sabina von Bayern had a very influential family.

Where was the princess from?

Sabina was of noble European birth. Her mother was the daughter of an emperor from the House of Habsburg, her father a Bavarian duke from the Wittelsbach family. In a political calculation, a six-year-old Sabina was promised to the then eleven-year-old Ulrich von Württemberg. Sabina's father, Albrecht IV and her maternal uncle, Maximilian I, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire as of 1508, were behind the arrangement. Both wanted to secure political influence in Württemberg.

How was their marriage?

Their marriage was ill-fated from the start. Her groom, Duke Ulrich, had to be forced to marry her in 1511, by none other than Sabina's uncle, Emperor Maximilian I. An unhappy marriage followed, full of strife, violence and scandals. Both spouses were hot-headed and chroniclers reported daily altercations. Ulrich had affairs and murdered his lover's husband. Afterward, Sabina opposed her husband outwardly and fled Urach in fear for Munich. In doing so, she provoked a huge scandal with political consequences. She never returned to Duke Ulrich, but did eventually return to Urach Residential Palace.

Duke Albrecht IV von Bayern, oil painting, 1535
“Habsburg peacock” with the Habsburg coat of arms, Augsburg, 1555
Emperor Maximilian I, painting by Albrecht Dürer, 1519

The Wittelsbachs and the Habsburgs were behind Sabina's arranged marriage.

Aerial view of Urach Residential Palace

She spent many years in Urach.

What tied Sabina to Urach?

The duchess’ court was situated in Urach. In 1515, she gave birth to her second child there, the long-anticipated successor, Christoph. Shortly after the birth, Sabina felt forced to flee from her husband. Only four years later, once Duke Ulrich had been banished from the duchy, did she return with her daughter, Anna. Sabina remained at Urach Palace for roughly 15 years, where her daughter died of the plague at just 17 years of age. When Duke Ulrich returned to Württemberg in 1534, Sabina fled once again.

What was Sabina’s stance on the Reformation?

Despite being from the House of Habsburg, which still subscribed to the old faith and credited the pope with a portion of their power, Sabina was open-minded about the ideas of the Reformation; contrary to her brother, Wilhelm IV, who was actively part of the Counter-Reformation. She did not proclaim herself to the Protestant faith publicly until she was 60. Her son, Christoph, had converted ten years earlier. Sabina's dower house in Nürtingen became a regional center for Protestantism in Württemberg. Here, she concerned herself deeply with religious questions, established a library and was involved in charitable endeavors.

Burial place in the St. Georg Collegiate Church in Tübingen

Sabina was buried next to Duke Ulrich in the collegiate church in Tübingen.

What role did Sabina play in Württemberg?

The Duchy of Württemberg was an object of constant power struggles between noble houses. However, Sabina did not let that deter her and used all of her means to secure the entire duchy as the future dominion for her children. In the face of great adversity, Sabina's son, Duke Christoph, actually managed to succeed in Württemberg after his father Ulrich's death. For Württemberg, his reign heralded a time of peace and restructuring.

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