Ernest II (Ernst August Karl Johann Leopold Alexander Eduard) was the second sovereign duke of the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, reigning from 1844 to his death. Ernest was born in Coburg as the eldest child of Ernest III, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and his duchess, Princess Louise of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. Fourteen months later, his family would be joined by one brother, Prince Albert, later consort of Queen Victoria. Ernest's father became Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1826 through an exchange of territories.
An excellent musician and amateur composer all his life, Ernest was a great patron of the arts and sciences in Coburg, often giving awards and titles to members of the artistic and scientific world, such as Paul Kalisch, a German opera singer and chemist William Ernest Bush. Ernest composed songs, hymns, and cantatas, as well as musical pieces for opera and the stage, including Die Gräberinsel (1842), Tony, oder die Vergeltung (1849), Casilda (1851), Santa Chiara(1854), and Zaïre, which met with success in Germany He could also draw and play the piano. One of his operas, Diana von Solange (1858), prompted Franz Liszt the following year to write an orchestral Festmarsch nach Motiven von E. H. z. S.-C.-G., S.116 (E. H. z. S.-C.-G. was short for Ernst Herzog zu Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha).However, its production at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in 1890 inspired dismal reviews, with one spectator commenting that its "music was simply rubbish". Ernest was also an avid hunter and sportsman; one contemporary remarked that he was "one of the foremost and keenest sportsman produced by the present century". In addition, Ernest was an enthusiastic patron of everything connected with natural history, for instance traveling to Abyssinia with the German zoologist Alfred Brehm in 1862.