The nuptials fulfilled a dual function. On the one hand, it was to forge an alliance between Saxony and Austria for mutual protection against the rising power of Prussia. By forging this bond, the baroque kingdom of Saxony was shifting its political allegiances towards the south, and the consequences of that decision can still be seen in the architecture of Dresden.
At the same time, Augustus the Strong hoped that the marriage would increase the likelihood of the imperial crown coming to Saxony. Planning was set in motion a long time before. In 1712, seven years before the marriage, the heir to the throne was obliged to change his faith in order to be included in the ranks of potential spouses for Catholic princely houses.
But the conversion remained secret until 1717 in order not to stir up rebellion among the estates and nobility of Protestant Saxony. When the betrothal (or ‘hochfürstliche Beylager’, as the chroniclers called it three hundred years ago) came to fruition, Augustus the Strong wanted the whole world to see how serious he was about his imperial aspirations. His intention was that the lavish festivities of autumn 1719 would be talked about in the princely courts of Europe for a long time to come.
Simple in Vienna, luxurious in Dresden
The marriage had already officially taken place on 20th August in the chapel of the Alte Favorita palace in Vienna. It had been a comparatively simple ceremony without much fanfare except for the performance of a specially composed opera. It was not until the couple arrived in Dresden that the celebrations were stepped up to the next level, because the wedding meant far more to the court of Saxony than to the Habsburgs.
When the bride at last arrived on Saxon territory on 31st August, the Prince Elector instructed his court officials to lay on a programme of all the entertainments that were fashionable at that time: jousting and banquets, masked balls, parades and redoubts, hunting with dogs, tournaments, reworks, stately processions, plays, concerts, Italian and French comedies, operetta and opera performances as well as mock naval battles on the lake at Moritzburg Castle.