Portrait of Ernest I (1497-1546), Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, Prince of Lüneburg (1520-1546)
Ernest of Brunswick-Lüneburg (German: Ernst der Bekenner) (27 June 1497 – 11 January 1546), also frequently called Ernest the Confessor, was duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg and a champion of the Protestant cause during the early years of the Protestant Reformation. He was the Prince of Lüneburg and ruled the Lüneburg-Celle subdivision of the Welf family's Brunswick-Lüneburg duchy from 1520 until his death. He was the son of Henry I, Duke of Lüneburg, and Margarete of Saxony, the daughter of Ernest, Elector of Saxony. Ernest's life coincided with the Protestant Reformation. In 1512 he was sent to the court of his mother's brother at Wittenberg, the Wettin elector Frederick III and received instruction there from Georg Spalatin in the University of Wittenberg; he remained at Wittenberg through the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. In 1520, political frictions with Charles V convinced his father, Henry I of Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg to abdicate and leave for the French Court which was ardently Catholic. Henry’s two eldest sons, Otto and Ernest, became regents of the country. At the urging of the Catholic forces, Henry returned to Lüneberg in 1527 and tried to regain control. But Henry's attempt failed and he returned to France. Henry was allowed to return in 1530 to spend his last days in the princely house in Lüneberg given to him by his eldest son. Henry's eldest son Otto (24 August 1495 – 11 August 1549), who also had been educated with his brothers at Wittenberg, succeeded as Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg; he was also the Prince of Lüneburg from 1520 to 1527 and Baron of Harburg from 1527 to 1549. Otto and Ernest appear to have ruled jointly from 1520 to 1527. But with the retirement of Otto, Ernest became sole ruler. The condition of his domain was not prosperous. Political considerations furthered the introduction of the Reformation; amongst the commoners it offered opportunity to restrict the privileges of the nobles and the clergy. From the nobles point of view, the Reformation offered the chance to gain from church and monastery property. Ernest was inclined to move slowly, but by 1525 the German Peasants' War gave him occasion to join with his brother in requiring the monasteries to declare their properties and to require them to admit Protestant preachers. Ernest had also promised his uncle, the elector of Saxony to stand by the Protestant cause. After an attempt by the Roman Catholic party in 1527 to reinstate his father had failed, Ernest's course became more decided as he succeeded as Duke. After 1530, Ernest was the most influential prince of North Germany. In the cities of Westphalia he strengthened the Protestant party against both the Roman Catholics and the enthusiasts, although his efforts were vain in Münster. His influence was also felt in Pomerania and Mecklenburg, in Hoya, and in East Friesland. Ernest's most effective work probably was accomplished by his restless activity for the Schmalkald League. He induced the North German cities, Hamburg, Bremen, Brunswick, Göttingen, and others to join, and he often became the successful mediator when a rupture was threatened between the overcautious elector of Saxony and the headstrong Philip of Hesse. While Ernest sometimes used harsh measures to accomplish his will, and was actuated by a desire to exalt his position as ruler as well as by higher motives, yet, on the whole, he was faithful to his motto: "aliis inserviendo consumor" ("consumed in service of others"). His four sons at his death were still minors, but the Protestant Church of Lüneburg was so firmly established that it could survive the regency and the unhappy time of the Schmalkald War.
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