Jacob Ferdinand Voet (1639-1689) — Portrait of Sophia Dorothea of Celle 2

Princess Sophia Dorothea of Celle

This is the shocking case of the Princess who was married against her will, spurned, divorced, and imprisoned for 33 years.

In August 2016, a human skeleton was found under the Leineschloss (Leine Palace, Hanover) during a renovation project; the remains are believed to be those of Swedish count, Philip Christoph von Königsmarck, (1665-1694) a soldier in the Hanoverian army and the lover of Princess Sophia Dorothea the wife of the first Hanoverian king of Britain.

Sophia Dorothea was just sixteen years old when she was married her cousin, George Louis of Hanover, the future king of Great Britain and Ireland. in 1705. She did not have a good start in life; she was born illegitimately; the daughter of her father’s long-term mistress, Eleonore d’Esmier d’Olbreuse, Countess of Williamsburg (1639–1722) on 15 September 1666. Her father, Prince George William, Duke of Brunswick Lüneburg, eventually did the right thing and married his mistress which had the effect of legitimising his only child.

Sophia Dorothea was ten years old when she became heir to her father’s kingdom, the Principality of Lüneburg. This made her a good catch despite her problematic origins because Luneburg was a wealthy principality and Sophia Dorothea, like her mother, was attractive and lively.

George 1

George I of Britain

Along with her legitimacy came talk of marriage. In the six years between her acceptance into the royal family and her eventual marriage, three prospective husbands were considered for her. First there was talk of marriage to the Danish heir presumptive. Some years later her engagement to the Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel was broken off by her father after her aunt, Duchess Sophia of Hanover, convinced him she should marry her cousin, George Louis of Hanover to join their two duchies together. Duchess Sophia hated her niece whom she considered brazen, coquettish, and uneducated. When told of the change of plan, sixteen year old, Sophia Dorothea shouted, “I will not marry the pig snout!”

Twenty-two year old George Louis was not keen on the match either; he already had a mistress and was happy with his life as a soldier. Although he was a prince he was ugly and boring, even his mother didn’t like him. Nevertheless Duchess Sophia was determined to keep the family fortune together and despite both Sophia Dorothea’s and her son’s objections the pair were married on 22 November 1682, in Celle. For his pains, George Louis received a handsome dowry and was granted his father-in-law’s kingdom upon his death and Sophia was left penniless.

The unhappy couple set up home in Leine Palace in Hanover where Sophia Dorothea was under the supervision of her odious aunt, the Duchess Sophia, and spied on by her husband’s spies when he was away on campaign. Despite their unhappiness the pair produced two children; George Augustus, born 1683, who later became King George II of Great Britain and a daughter born 1686 when Sophia Dorothea was twenty.

Sophia von Kielmansegg, Countess of Darlington

Sophia Charlotte von Keilmannsegg

Having produced two children George became increasingly distant from his wife spending more time with his dogs and horses and his nights with his mistress, the married daughter of his father’s mistress, a woman called Sophia Charlotte von Keilmannsegg, who was rumoured to be George Louis’ half sister.

Aggrieved, lonely, and unhappy Sophia Dorothea found a friend in the Swedish count Philip Christoph von Königsmarck, (1665-1694) who was a soldier in the Hanoverian army. Philip was a year older than Sophia Dorothea and the antithesis of her ugly, boorish husband.

Sophia Dorothea was no saint. She was quick-tempered and rarely discrete and her choice of Von Königsmarck as lover was not the best. Königsmarck was a dashing handsome gigolo and the former lover of her father-in-law’s mistress, the
Countess of Platen and the Countess had a jealous nature.

Königsmarck and Sophia Dorothea began a love affair of clandestine trysts, physical love, and coded correspondence facilitated by a trusted go-between but their love affair was uncovered in 1692 when the Duchess of Platen presented a collection of their correspondence to her lover, Sophia Dorothea’s father-in-law the Elector of Hanover.

Countess Platen

Countess of Platen

Von Königsmarck was banished from the Hanoverian court but soon found a position in the neighbouring court of Saxony where one night when he was deep in his cups he let slip the state of affairs in the bedchambers of the royal house of Hanover. George Louis got wind of what had been said and on the morning of 2 July 1694, after a meeting with Sophia at Leine Palace, Königsmark was seized.

Dorothea never saw her lover again. George Louis divorced her in December and early the following year she was confined her to Schloss Ahlden a stately home on the Lüneburg Heath in Lower Saxony. She stayed there for the rest of her life. Her children were taken away from her and she was forced to live alone.

Sophia Dorothea in 1686. Philip Christoph von Königsmarck 5

Philip Christoph von Königsmarck (1665-1694)

When Sophia Dorothea died in 1726 she had spent 33 years in her prison. Before she died she wrote a letter to her husband, cursing him for his treatment of her. A furious George forbade any mourning of her in Hanover and London. George I died shortly after her exonerated from any involvement in Von Königsmark’s death by the death bed confessions of two of Countess Platen’s henchmen. However, his son George II never forgave his father for his treatment of his mother.


Notorious Royal Marriages: A Juicy Journey Through Nine Centuries of Dynasty By Leslie Carroll
The Georgian Princesses By John Van der Kiste