SOPHIA DOROTHEA – THE IMPRISONED PRINCESS
Posted November 19, 2013on:
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There is a popular saying these days which goes “karma is a bitch”, meaning be careful what you say or do as it will come back to you. Was this what happened (eventually) to King George I of England? Did he die because his ex-wife cursed him from her deathbed? Many would say she had good reason to. In recent years we have become used to royal marriages going awry, but the one between King George and Sophia Dorothea of Brunswick seems to have been particularly grotesque and gothic.
Sophia Dorothea of Brunswick-Luneberg was born on 15 September 1666, the daughter of the Duke of Brunswick and his mistress Eleanore d’Esmier d’Olbreuse. Marriages between the aristocracy in those days were very much business transactions, you weren’t meant to like it, a fact which Sophia Dorothea didn’t seem to take on board. When she was told she was going to marry George, who was then Prince of Hanover, her reaction was to call him a “pigs snout” and to throw his portrait across the room. Things didn’t get much better when the happy couple met in the flesh. On being presented to him Sophia Dorothea promptly fainted, and we get the impression it wasn’t exactly because she was bowled over by him.
The wedding took place on 22 November 1682. It wasn’t a happy occasion, perhaps summed up by the fact that the bride’s mother sobbed all through the ceremony. Sophia was an attractive woman, voluptuous, dark-haired and striking, but in spite of her physical charms and feisty nature, there doesn’t seem to have been a single moment of joy in the marriage at all. George was ridiculously formal with his bride at all times, and her in-laws looked down on her with withering disdain. In spite of this they had two children, a boy and girl. The boy would later become King George II of England, and her daughter, named after her, would in turn become the mother of Frederick the Great.
Perhaps not terribly surprisingly, considering the state of her home-life, the high-spirited Sophia fell in love with a Swedish count, Philip Christoph von Konigsmarck. Their liaison went on for a good many years, and the couple exchanged saucy love letters (“kiss that little place which has given me so much pleasure” ran one of the Count’s missives).
George sent Konigsmarck off to fight against King Louis XIV and refused to allow him to come back on leave. Konigsmarck took the situation into his own hands. He deserted his post and rode back to Hanover. He was officially exiled for his pains, and was later to “disappear”. Many years later a spate of deathbed confessions from members of George’s household revealed that Countess Platen, one of Sophia’s attendants, and several guards, had all conspired to do away with the Count.
George’s fury with his wife knew no bounds. On one occasion he tried to strangle her, and horrified attendants had to pull him off. He divorced Sophia, but had her put under house-arrest at the Castle of Ahlden. Her children were forbidden to see her. Sophia was to stay there for over 30 years. In August 1726, Sophia Dorothea, now 60, became ill. On her deathbed she said she would curse George – who became King George I of England on the death of Queen Anne – from beyond the grave. As an added gothic touch, her coffin was to stay in her bedchamber for 2 months, as the ground was too waterlogged to bury her.
King George’s spite hadn’t lessened with the years. He was a miserable monarch, who couldn’t be bothered to learn English, and was ridiculed by his new people for keeping ugly mistresses. He refused to let anyone mourn Sophia, and was said to be furious when he heard that some people at the Berlin court were wearing black in her memory. Melusine, one of George’s mistresses, said she had seen Sophia’s spirit flitting around, reincarnated as a little bird. She was soon to say the same about her royal lover.
Apparently a fortune-teller had predicted, decades earlier, that if George was responsible in any way for Sophia’s death then he would die too. The King was to die barely 4 weeks after his estranged wife’s deathbed curse. No one in England, (apart from perhaps Melusine who was said to knit little vests for a crow she befriended), missed him terribly much.