ERNEST I. [Ernst Anton Karl Ludwig], duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (1784–1844), was the son of Francis, duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and was born on the 2nd of January 1784. At the time of his father’s death (9th of December 1806) the duchy of Coburg was occupied by Napoleon as conquered territory, and Ernest did not come into his inheritance till after the peace of Tilsit (July 1807). Owing to the part he had played in assisting the Prussians at the battle of Auerstädt he continued out of favour with Napoleon, and he threw himself with vigour into the war of liberation against the French. After the battle of Leipzig he was given the command of the V. army corps and reduced Mainz by blockade; he also commanded the Saxon troops during the campaign of 1815. By the congress of Vienna he was rewarded with the principality of Lichtenberg on the left bank of the Rhine, which received a slight augmentation after the second peace of Paris. These territories he sold to Prussia in 1834. In 1826, in the division of the territories of the duchy of Saxe-Gotha which followed the death of its last duke (February 1825), he received the duchy of Gotha, ceding that of Saalfeld to the duke of Meiningen; and he now exchanged his style of Ernest III. of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld for that of Ernest I. of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. In 1821 he had given a constitution to Coburg, but he did not interfere with the traditional system of estates at Gotha. He died on the 29th of January 1844.

Duke Ernest, who was not only a good soldier and keen sportsman, but an enlightened patron of the arts and sciences, did much for the economic, educational and constitutional development of his territories; and his advice always carried great weight in the councils of the other German sovereigns. It was, however, for the splendid international position attained by the house of Coburg under him that his reign is chiefly distinguished. His younger brother Leopold (q.v.) became king of the Belgians; his brother Ferdinand (b. 1785) married the wealthy princess Antoinette von Kohary (1816) and was the father of the duchess of Nemours and of the future King Ferdinand of Portugal. Of his sisters, Antoinette (1779–1824) married Duke Alexander of Württemberg; Juliane [Alexandra Feodorovna] (1781–1860) married the Russian cesarevich Constantine, from whom she was, however, divorced in 1820; and Victoria (1786–1861), wife of Edward Augustus, duke of Kent, became the mother of Queen Victoria. Duke Ernest was twice married: (1) in 1817 to Louise, daughter of Duke Augustus of Saxe-Gotha, whom he finally divorced in 1826; (2) in 1831 to Maria, daughter of Duke Alexander of Württemberg. Of his sons, by his first wife, Ernest succeeded him in the duchy, and Albert married Queen Victoria.