Born the only child of the Duke George William of Brunswick-Lüneburg in 1666, Sophia Dorothea was illegitimate. Her mother was the Duke’s long standing mistress, Éléonore Marie d’Esmier d’Olbreuse, an exiled French Protestant aristocrat. They weren’t even supposed to be together, and Sophia Dorothea was not supposed to exist.
George William was supposed to marry Princess Sophia, daughter of the Palatine King of Bohemia (For more on her, please see this post: http://www.historynaked.com/sophia-of-hanover/) George William was so repulsed by the “mannish” Sophia, he traded his claim to the duchy of Hanover to his brother, Ernst Augustus, so he’d take her off his hands. Item: If you look at her picture, she’s actually quite pretty, but there is no accounting for taste. George William also agreed not to marry or have any heirs because along with being cousins, George William and Ernst’s children would be rivals for the throne of England. No one consulted Princess Sophia as she was supposedly in love with George William and wasn’t too thrilled with his brother, who was reported to have a terrible temper. All was fine until George William met Éléonore and fell head over heels with the beautiful French woman. Eventually, the Duke and Éléonore were legally married and Sophia Dorothea was retroactively legitimized without protest from Ernst and his wife because they had plenty of sons.
Sophia grew into a lovely young woman with thick dark hair, an ivory complexion and sparkling eyes. Sophia was said to be skilled at “womanly pursuits” such as sewing, dancing and music, and was quite witty. As a result, Sophia fielded offers from the future King of Denmark and the Duke of Wolfenbüttel, who was extremely handsome. However, it seemed advantageous to consolidate the claims by marrying the cousins. Electress Sophia hated her sister-in-law because she stole her man, and hated her niece by proxy. However, she was onboard with this plan and talked George William into breaking off the engagement with the Duke of Wolfenbüttel. Electress Sophia presented her niece with a miniature of her future husband, George Ludwig. Sophia Dorothea pitched the thing into a wall screaming, “I will not marry the pig snout!” and proceeded to scream and sob. Not a good start. The first time she met George, she fell into her mother’s arms in a faint. Same when she first met her future mother-in-law. Things did not improve from there.
Despite Sophia’s protests, she was forced into the marriage. George Ludwig and Sophia Dorothea were married in the Chapel of Celle Castle. The couple lived at the Leine Palace in Hanover, and everyone hated poor Sophia Dorothea. She was constantly reprimanded for a lack of court etiquette, and loud violent arguments were often heard from their chambers. George was described as not only ugly, but rude, aggressive and dumb as a brick. He instantly went off with his mistresses when he wasn’t yelling at his wife. Electress Sophia was especially cruel to the young couple and was only happy to have Sophia Dorothea for her large dowry payments. She wrote to her niece, Elizabeth Charlotte:
“One hundred thousand thalers a year is a goodly sum to pocket, without speaking of a pretty wife, who will find a match in my son George Louis, the most pigheaded, stubborn boy who ever lived, who has round his brains such a thick crust that I defy any man or woman ever to discover what is in them. He does not care much for the match itself, but one hundred thousand thalers a year have tempted him as they would have tempted anybody else.”
So they were basically in it for the money. Nice.
Sophia Dorothea was terribly unhappy, but did her duty giving birth to the needed son an heir, the future George II in 1683, and a daughter, Sophia Dorothea in 1686. The relationship did not improve at all. George’s affairs got more public, and carried on with two women as once. Sophia von Kielmansegg was the married daughter of his father’s mistress, and quite possibly George’s half sister, and was enormously fat. Later, when George came to England she was nicknamed “the Elephant”. The other was Ehrengard Melusine von Der Schulenburg, who was notoriously skeletal, and nicknamed by English “the Maypole”. People were shocked that they were outstandingly ugly. Because she had given them an heir, Sophia’s in laws backed off and things were almost cordial. They actually stepped in and asked George to cool it with the mistresses. He refused, and Sophia’s relationship with George got worse. In one notable incident at their daughter’s christening, George nearly strangled his wife in public. He was known to hit her on occasion as well. What a prince.
Sophia was lonely and sad, and in that state she turned to an old friend for comfort. Swedish Count Philipp Christoph von Königsmark met Sophia when she was sixteen and first married to George in Celle. He left Germany and became a favorite of Charles II, and a notable soldier and lover. He returned to Celle five years later, and found the lovely Sophia ripe for romance. They wrote each other’s names on palace windows. They exchanged love letters, where Philipp praised her sexy knees. This was apparently a compliment. He also wrote he longed to “kiss that little place which has given me so much pleasure.” I’m pretty sure he wasn’t talking about her knees. It was a full blown affair complete with secret codes, clandestine meetings and secret go betweens. However, Sophia’s father in law, Elector Ernst Augustus, got wind of the scandalous correspondence, possibly from his mistress Countess Platen, who was also the mother of George’s mistress “the Elephant”. Philipp was exiled and got a new post with the Elector of Saxony. Apparently, he couldn’t keep his mouth shut and went bragging he’d had George’s wife as one his many conquest. The rumors reached the ears of George’s other mistress, “the Maypole”, Ehrengard Melusine von der Schulenberg. She ran and tattled what she heard to George, and to say he was not happy was an understatement.
George confronted his wife with evidence of her affair. She was not about to be cowed and cast his own infidelity up to him. The argument turned violent and George threw himself on Sophia and began choking her and pulling out her hair. She was only saved when their attendants pulled him off, but was left with purple bruises. Sophia resolved she could not stay with such a man. She and Philipp attempted to elope. Their plans were foiled when Countess Platen, stuck her nose in again. Things went swiftly south from there. On July 2, 1694, Philipp disappeared. It is thought he was at Leine Castle to spring Sophia and from there escape. The legend goes that they tried to arrest Philipp, but as he was an excellent soldier and expert swordsman he got the better of the guards. One guard was wounded, but they eventually overcame him through numbers and Philipp was killed. Supposedly his body was covered in quicklime and buried under the bloodstained floor boards of Leine Castle. Supposedly, several guards and the Countess Platen confessed to his death on their deathbeds. Strangely, there was a skeleton found under the floorboards at Leine Castle in August 2016. Analysis by researchers at Lund University indicate the body is centuries old. The university is attempting to extract DNA from the bones to compare with samples from Philipp’s living relatives.
Whatever happened to Philipp, he was gone and Sophia was alone and under house arrest in hysterics. On December 28, 1694, a tribunal of judges and Lutheran Church officials was declared in favor of George. What else? Sophia was convicted of “malicious desertion”, and was imprisoned at Castle Ahlden. The marriage was dissolved. Sophia was only 28. She would never leave Castle Ahlden, even when George became George I of England. Keeping with the Hanoverian tradition, George and his son George Augustus hated each other as hard as they could. The main bone of contention between them was George’s treatment of Sophia. George Augustus was waiting for her father to die so he could free his mother and install her as the Dowager Queen of England.
She died thirty years later, and left a letter to George denouncing him for his cruelty to her. She was buried next to her parents in the Old Chapel in Celle. George refused to acknowledge her death except to overturn her will and take her property for his own. Fate did have the last laugh as George suffered an attack of apoplexy four weeks after Sophia’s death and only a few days after receiving her last letter. The official cause was listed as getting a stomach ache after imbibing an enormous supper with a huge dessert of fruit. However, there is a legend that a fortune teller had prophesied that if he caused his wife’s death, he would die himself in a year. The legends also say that Sophia’s ghost came back to take her revenge on George. So perhaps George got his after all.