by Susan Flantzer
On July 15, 1750, Franz Frederick Anton, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld was born in Coburg, now a town in Bavaria, Germany. He was the eldest of the seven children of Ernst Friedrich, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and his wife Sophia Antonia of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. Out of the seven children, only Franz Frederick Anton, a sister, and a brother survived childhood.
- Caroline Ulrike Amalie (1753 – 1829), an abbess at the secular Lutheran abbey, Gandersheim Abbey
- Ludwig Karl Frederick (1755 – 1806), had an illegitimate son Ludwig Frederick Emil of Coburg (1779 – 1827) whose five children were created Freiherren (Barons) von Coburg
On March 6, 1775, Franz married Princess Sophie of Saxe-Hildburghausen, a daughter of Ernst Friedrich III Karl, Duke of Saxe-Hildburghausen and his third wife Princess Ernestine of Saxe-Weimar. At the time, Franz was already in love with his future wife, Countess Augusta Reuss of Ebersdorf, but he was unable to break off his engagement with Sophie. The bride was only 16 years old and died of influenza just six months after the wedding which allowed Franz to marry his beloved Augusta.
On June 13, 1777, in the bride’s hometown of Ebersdorf, Franz married Augusta Reuss of Ebersdorf, the eldest daughter of Heinrich XXIV, Count Reuss of Ebersdorf and Karoline Ernestine of Erbach-Schönberg.
Franz and Augusta had ten children:
- Sophie (1778 – 1835), married 1804 Emmanuel, Count von Mensdorff-Pouilly, had six sons
- Antoinette (1779 – 1824), married 1798 Alexander of Württemberg, had four sons and one daughter
- Juliane (Grand Duchess Anna Feodorovna after marriage) (1781 – 1860), married 1796 to Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich of Russia, no issue, marriage annulled in 1820; had two illegitimate children
- Stillborn son 1782
- Ernst I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (1784 – 1844), married (1) 1817 Princess Louise of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg, had two sons, Ernst II, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria; married (2) 1832 Duchess Marie of Württemberg, daughter of his sister Antoinette, no issue; had three illegitimate children
- Ferdinand (1785 – 1851), married 1815 to Princess Maria Antonia Koháry, had three sons and one daughter including Ferdinand. King Consort of Portugal and Victoria, Duchess of Nemours; was the grandfather of Tsar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria
- Victoria (1786 – 1861), married 1818 to Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, had one child Queen Victoria
- Marianne Charlotte (1788 – 1794)
- Leopold I, King of the Belgians (1790 – 1865), married (1) Princess Charlotte of Wales, only child of George, Prince of Wales (King George IV), died in childbirth along with her son; married (2) 1830 Princess Louise of Orléans, had three sons and one daughter including Leopold II, King of the Belgians and Charlotte, Empress Carlota of Mexico
- Franz Maximilian Ludwig (1792 – 1793)
In 1800, Franz succeeded his father as Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, but he ruled only for six years. In 1805, due to the ailing finances, Franz was forced by his Prime Minister Theodor Konrad von Kretschmann to make a contract between the two duchies, Coburg and Saalfeld, for a uniform system of government. In 1806, with the end of the Holy Roman Empire, the Duchy regained its independence and joined the Confederation of the Rhine.
Franz was a great lover of art and books. In 1775, he began a print collection which ultimately consisted of 300,000 prints. The collection can be visited at the Veste Coburg. Because of Franz, the family’s library had an extensive collection of books. Franz conducted an extensive renovation of the family castles. Walls, ditches, and towers were demolished and replaced by gardens and other green areas. In 1805, Franz bought back Schloss Rosenau which the family had been forced to sell in 1704 due to debts.
Franz Frederick Anton died on December 9, 1806, in Coburg at the age of 56. He was buried in a mausoleum in the Coburg Court Garden, where in 1831, his second wife Augusta was buried.