Saxe-Coburg and Gotha,, one of the Saxon-Thuringian duchies, has an area of 751 sq. miles and two chief divisions, the Duchy of Coburg (216 sq. miles) and the Duchy of Gotha (541 sq. miles). These divisions are separated from each other by a portion of Saxe-Meiningen and a strip of land belonging to Prussia (Kreis Schleusingen). In 1910 the territory had 257,208 inhabitants; in 1905 its population of 242,432 included 3897 Catholics (2 per cent), 237,187 Evangelicals, and 714 Jews. The two duchies were united in 1826, but each territory has still its own constitution, diet, and internal administration, even as regards religion and education. Only for certain specified kinds of business do the diets hold a common session. Apart from the separation of the two states, and the marked difference in the extent of their Crown lands, which greatly influences questions of taxation, racial differences also contribute to keep the states separate, the inhabitants of Saxe-Gotha being of Saxon stock and the inhabitants of Saxe-Coburg of Frankish. The two duchies originated in the division of the ancestral estates of Duke Ernest the Pious (d. 1675), the founder of all the Saxon ducal lines (except the grand-ducal line of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach), among his seven sons. With Duke Frederick IV, who had become a Catholic at Rome in 1807, the line of Saxe-Gotha became extinct (1821), and, after long disputes concerning the succession, the territory of Gotha fell to the line of Coburg-Saalfeld in 1826. Members of the ruling house of Coburg-Gotha ascended the thrones of several European countries during the nineteenth century; by his marriage with Queen Victoria (1840), Prince Albert became the founder of the present royal house of England; Prince Leopold was elected hereditary King of Belgium in 1831, the Belgian branch of the House of Saxe-Coburg becoming Catholic. The line of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (often called Coburg-Kohary), founded through the marriage of Prince Ferdinand with the heiress of the Hungarian princely House of Kohary (1816), is also Catholic. A son of this marriage, Ferdinand, was the founder (1837) of the dynasty which ruled in Portugal until 1910; a grandson, also named Ferdinand, became in 1887 hereditary Prince, and in 1909 King (Tsar) of Bulgaria. In the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha the main line became extinct in 1893, the succession falling to the English branch; Duke Charles Edward (b. 1884), son of the Duke of Albany and grandson of the Prince Consort Albert and Queen Victoria, has reigned since 1899 (until 1905 under a guardian).
In the old Catholic days the territory of the present Duchy of Gotha belonged to the Archdiocese of Mainz, the episcopal jurisdiction being exercised by the coadjutor bishop living at Erfurt. The Reformation destroyed all Catholic life, and it was only at the end of the eighteenth century that a small Catholic community was again formed in the town of Gotha, the religious ministration being supplied from Erfurt and by the Franciscans of the Saxon province. Though accorded parish rights in 1807, this community had not a special priest until 1857. In 1868 all Catholics in the Duchy of Gotha were assigned to the parish of Gotha. The relations between the Catholic Church and the State were fixed in one-sided fashion by the “Regulativ fur die kirchliche Verfassung der romischkatholischen Glaubensgenossen im Herzogtum Gotha” of August 23, 1811; regulations were therein made for the state supervision of the entire ecclesiastical life, for the establishment of the ruler’s placet, etc. The validity of this “Regulativ” has never been recognized by the Catholic Church. On the reorganization of the German sees at the beginning of the nineteenth century the Catholics of Gotha were assigned to no diocese. At the desire of the Government of Gotha, expressed through the medium of Prussia, the Catholics of the duchy were assigned to the Diocese of Paderborn by papal Decree of December 13, 1853. The publication of this Decree, however, was forbidden by the Government of Gotha, because the Bishop of Paderborn refused to recognize the validity of the “Regulativ” of 1811, and the sovereign prerogatives of the duke in ecclesiastical affairs. Despite frequent attempts at settlement (the last in 1899), this dispute continues to the present day, the bishop being allowed to discharge episcopal functions in the duchy only after securing the permission of the Government. The duke and diet grants a small annual subsidy (about $200) for Catholic objects. The raising of church taxes is forbidden, and the administration of church property is controlled by the State. There are no special legal regulations concerning religious orders; the Sisters of St. Elizabeth (Grey Sisters) from Breslau have an establishment in the duchy.
The territory of the Duchy of Coburg was ecclesiastically subject to the Diocese of Würzburg until the Reformation, after the inauguration of which the few remaining Catholics were ministered to by the Benedictines from the Monastery of Banz (on the Main). At the end of the eighteenth century a small Catholic community was again formed in Coburg. The relations between Church and State were regulated here also in a partial manner by the “Herzoglich-Coburgische Regulativ fur die kirchliche Verfassung der katholischen Glaubensgenossen” of October 30, 1812. This “Regulativ” has also failed to find recognition from the Church. At the request of the Archbishop of Bamberg, the Catholics of the Duchy of Coburg were assigned to that see; the duke refused, however, to give his consent to the Decree, pending the results of the negotiations then being conducted by some German princes concerning the formation of a new diocese (Frankfort Conferences), but offered no objection to the provisional assignment of priests and the provisional exercise of episcopal jurisdiction in the duchy. There has been no change in these relations to the present day. The priests take an oath to up-hold the constitution. In 1868 all the Catholics of the duchy were assigned to the parish of Coburg; the parish priest has for some years received a small annual allowance from the State (about $125). No church tax may be levied. Religious orders which care for the sick are free to enter without State permission. The question of the religious training of the children of mixed marriages is left open in both duchies; until 1900, however, the principle religio sequitur sexum was applied to such children. The public elementary schools of both duchies are Evangelical-Lutheran, although religious supervision has been abolished since 1863, and a complete separation of Church and State thus effected. Private Catholic elementary schools exist in Gotha (since 1857; 100 pupils in 1910) and Coburg (since 1807; 100 pupils in 1910).