Sophia Dorothea of Celle

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Sophia Dorothea of Celle
Electoral Princess of Hanover
Sophie Dorothea Prinzessin von Ahlden.jpg
Sophia Dorothea with her children
Born(1666-09-15)15 September 1666
Celle, Germany
Died13 November 1726(1726-11-13) (aged 60)
Ahlden, Germany
House Hanover
Father George William, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg
Mother Éléonore Desmier d'Olbreuse

Sophia Dorothea of Brunswick-Lüneburg-Celle (15 September 1666 – 13 November 1726) was the repudiated wife of future King George I of Great Britain, and mother of George II. The union with her first cousin was an arranged marriage of state, instigated by the machinations of his mother, Electress Sophia of Hanover. She is best remembered for her alleged affair with Philip Christoph von Königsmarck that led to her being imprisoned in the Castle of Ahlden for the last thirty years of her life.

George I of Great Britain King of Great Britain, Elector of Hanover

George I was King of Great Britain and Ireland from 1 August 1714 and ruler of the Duchy and Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Hanover) in the Holy Roman Empire from 1698 until his death in 1727.

George II of Great Britain British monarch

George II was King of Great Britain and Ireland, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Hanover) and a prince-elector of the Holy Roman Empire from 11 June 1727 (O.S.) until his death in 1760.

A marriage of state is a diplomatic marriage or union between two members of different nation-states or internally, between two power blocs, usually in authoritarian societies and is a practice which dates back into pre-history, as far back as early Grecian cultures in western society, and of similar antiquity in other civilizations. The fable of Helen of Troy may be the best known pre-historic tale reporting an incidence of surrendering a female member of a ruling line to gain peace or shore up alliances of state between nation-states headed by small oligarchies or acknowledged royalty.


Early life and marriage

Sophia Dorothea was born on 15 September 1666, the only child of George William, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg by his long-term mistress, Eleonore d'Esmier d'Olbreuse (1639–1722), Countess of Williamsburg, a Huguenot lady, the daughter of Alexander II d'Esmiers, Marquess of Olbreuse. George William eventually married Eleonore officially in 1676 (they had been married morganatically previously).

George William, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg Duke of Brunswick-Calenberg and Brunswick-Lüneberg

George William German: Georg Wilhelm was Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg. He ruled first over the Principality of Calenberg, a subdivision of the duchy, then over the Lüneburg subdivision. In 1689, he occupied the Duchy of Saxe-Lauenburg and passed it on to his successors. George William was the father of Sophia Dorothea of Celle, wife of George I of Great Britain.

There was some talk of marriage between Sophia Dorothea and the (then) future king of Denmark, but the reigning queen was talked out of it by Sophia of Hanover (her future mother-in-law). Another engagement, to the Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, was broken off after Duchess Sophia convinced her brother-in-law of the advantage of having Sophia Dorothea marry her cousin. This occurred on the day the engagement between Sophia Dorothea and the Duke was to be announced.

Sophia of Hanover Princess of the Palatinate, Electress of Hanover, heir presumptive and ancestor of British monarchs following the Act of Settlement 1701

Sophia of Hanover was the Electress of Hanover from 1692 to 1698. As a granddaughter of James I, she became heir presumptive to the crowns of the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Ireland under the Act of Settlement 1701. After the Acts of Union 1707, she became heir presumptive to the unified throne of the Kingdom of Great Britain. She died less than two months before she would have become queen succeeding her first cousin once removed, Queen Anne, and her claim to the throne passed on to her eldest son, George Louis, Elector of Hanover, who ascended as George I on 1 August 1714.

When told of the change in plans and her new future husband, Sophia Dorothea shouted that "I will not marry the pig snout!" (a name by which he was known in Hanover), and threw against the wall a miniature of George Louis brought for her by Duchess Sophia.[ citation needed ] Forced by her father, she fainted into her mother's arms on her first meeting with her future mother-in-law. She fainted again when presented to George Louis.

Hanover Place in Lower Saxony, Germany

Hanover or Hannover is the capital and largest city of the German state of Lower Saxony. Its 535,061 (2017) inhabitants make it the thirteenth-largest city of Germany, as well as the third-largest city of Northern Germany after Hamburg and Bremen. The city lies at the confluence of the River Leine and its tributary Ihme, in the south of the North German Plain, and is the largest city of the Hannover–Braunschweig–Göttingen–Wolfsburg Metropolitan Region. It is the fifth-largest city in the Low German dialect area after Hamburg, Dortmund, Essen, and Bremen.

On 22 November 1682, in Celle, Sophia Dorothea married her cousin, George Louis. In 1705 he would inherit the Principality of Lüneburg after the death of his father-in-law and uncle, George William, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, and in 1714 the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland and became King George I of Great Britain through his mother, Duchess Sophia, a granddaughter of James VI and I.

The Principality of Lüneburg was a territorial division of the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg within the Holy Roman Empire, immediately subordinate to the emperor. It existed from 1269 until 1705 and its territory lay within the modern-day state of Lower Saxony in Germany. The principality was named after its first capital, Lüneburg, which was ruled jointly by all Brunswick-Lüneburg lines until 1637. From 1378, the seat of the principality was in Celle. It lost its independence in 1705 when it was annexed by the Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg, but retained its vote in the Reichstag as Brunswick-Celle.

Kingdom of Great Britain constitutional monarchy in Western Europe between 1707–1801

The Kingdom of Great Britain, officially called simply Great Britain, was a sovereign state in western Europe from 1 May 1707 to 31 December 1800. The state came into being following the Treaty of Union in 1706, ratified by the Acts of Union 1707, which united the kingdoms of England and Scotland to form a single kingdom encompassing the whole island of Great Britain and its outlying islands, with the exception of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. The unitary state was governed by a single parliament and government that was based in Westminster. The former kingdoms had been in personal union since James VI of Scotland became King of England and King of Ireland in 1603 following the death of Elizabeth I, bringing about the "Union of the Crowns". After the accession of George I to the throne of Great Britain in 1714, the kingdom was in a personal union with the Electorate of Hanover.

Kingdom of Ireland Historical kingdom on the island of Ireland between 1542 and 1801

The Kingdom of Ireland was a client state of England and then of Great Britain that existed from 1542 until 1800. It was ruled by the monarchs of England and then of Great Britain in personal union with their other realms. The kingdom was administered from Dublin Castle nominally by the King or Queen, who appointed a viceroy to rule in their stead. It had its own legislature, peerage, legal system, and state church.

The marriage of George Louis and Sophia Dorothea was an unhappy one. His immediate family, especially his mother Duchess Sophia, hated and despised Sophia Dorothea.

The desire for the marriage was almost purely financial, as Duchess Sophia 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". [1]

Thaler silver coin used throughout Europe for almost four hundred years

The thaler was a silver coin used throughout Europe for almost four hundred years. Its name lives on in the many currencies called dollar and the Samoan tālā, and, until recently, also in the Slovenian tolar.

These feelings of contempt were shared by George Louis himself, who was oddly formal to his wife. Sophia Dorothea was frequently scolded for her lack of etiquette, and the two had loud and bitter arguments. Things seemed better after the birth of their first two children:

But George Louis acquired a mistress, Melusine von der Schulenburg, and started pointedly neglecting his wife. His parents asked him to be more circumspect with his mistress, fearful that a disruption in the marriage would disrupt the payment of the 100,000 thalers.

Affair with Königsmarck

Sophia Dorothea in 1686. Sophie Dorothea, Princess of Hannover by Henry Gascard.jpg
Sophia Dorothea in 1686.
Philip Christoph von Konigsmarck (4 March 1665 - 2 July 1694) Philipp Christoph von Konigsmarck@Residenzmuseum Celle20160708.jpg
Philip Christoph von Königsmarck (4 March 1665 – 2 July 1694)

George Louis and Sophia Dorothea became estranged—George preferred the company of his mistress, Melusine von der Schulenburg, and Sophia Dorothea, meanwhile, had her own romance with the Swedish Count Philip Christoph von Königsmarck. Threatened with the scandal of an elopement, the Hanoverian court, including George's brothers and mother, urged the lovers to desist, but to no avail. According to diplomatic sources from Hanover's enemies, in July 1694 the Swedish count was killed, possibly with the connivance of George, and his body thrown into the river Leine weighted with stones. The murder was claimed to have been committed by four of Ernest Augustus's courtiers, one of whom (Don Nicolò Montalbano) was paid the enormous sum of 150,000 thalers, which was about one hundred times the annual salary of the highest paid minister. [2] Later rumours supposed that Königsmarck was hacked to pieces and buried beneath the Hanover palace floorboards. [3] However, sources in Hanover itself, including Sophia, denied any knowledge of Königsmarck's whereabouts. [2]

George's marriage to Sophia Dorothea was dissolved, not on the grounds that either of them had committed adultery, but on the grounds that Sophia Dorothea had abandoned her husband. With the agreement of her father, George had Sophia Dorothea imprisoned in Ahlden House in her native Celle, where she stayed until she died more than thirty years later. She was denied access to her children and father, forbidden to remarry and only allowed to walk unaccompanied within the mansion courtyard. She was, however, endowed with an income, establishment, and servants, and was allowed to ride in a carriage outside her castle, albeit under supervision. [4] She remained under house arrest until her death more than thirty years later. Sophia Dorothea is sometimes referred to as the "princess of Ahlden".


Death and burial

Sophia Dorothea fell ill in August 1726. She died aged 60 on 13 November 1726 of liver failure and gall bladder occlusion.[ citation needed ]

George placed an announcement in The London Gazette to the effect that the "Duchess of Ahlden" had died, [5] but would not allow the wearing of mourning in London or Hanover. He was furious when he heard that his daughter's court in Berlin wore black. Sophia Dorothea's body was put into a casket and deposited in the castle's cellar. It was quietly moved to Celle in May 1727 to be buried beside her parents in the Stadtkirche . [6] George I died four weeks later while visiting Hanover.

Sophia Dorothea's affair and its tragic outcome is the basis of the 1948 British film Saraband for Dead Lovers . She is played by Joan Greenwood.


  1. Herman 2006, p. 100.
  2. 1 2 Hatton, Ragnhild (1978). George I: Elector and King. London: Thames and Hudson. pp. 51–61. ISBN   0-500-25060-X.
  3. Farquhar, Michael (2001). A Treasury of Royal Scandals. New York: Penguin Books. p. 152. ISBN   978-0-7394-2025-6.
  4. Hatton, pp. 60–64
  5. Michael L. Nash (9 February 2017). Royal Wills in Britain from 1509 to 2008. Palgrave Macmillan UK. ISBN   978-1-137-60145-2.
  6. Leslie Carroll (5 January 2010). Notorious Royal Marriages: A Juicy Journey Through Nine Centuries of Dynasty, Destiny,and Desire. Penguin Publishing Group. ISBN   978-1-101-15977-4.

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