A sad but true story, not unconnected to British history

This week I thought I’d tell a sad little story that I think could be more widely known. Most of what follows is collated from Wikipedia.

It’s the story of Sophia Dorothea of Celle. She was born in 1666, daughter of the Duke of Brunswick-Luneberg by his mistress Eleonore, whom he later married. A marriage was arranged for her with her first cousin George Louis, after two previous engagements were cancelled for the convenience of the family. Neither party wanted to marry each other (she called him a pig snout), but the wedding was sweetened for George and his mother by a financial settlement that gave him a large additional income. Anyway, they were married in 1682, and had two children, George and Sophia.

George senior openly neglected his wife in favour of his mistress Melusine. Sophia Dorothea protested to no avail. She eventually (almost certainly) started a love affair with a Swedish count, Philip Christoph von Konigsmark.

There was open animosity between husband and wife, each complaining about the other’s infidelity, and including physical violence against her by him.

Konigsmark may have been trying to help her escape. He disappeared in 1694, apparently killed on the orders of George’s family, probably with George’s agreement. There were deathbed confessions many years later.

(Allen Andrews’ “Kings and Queens of England and Scotland” says “A certain conspiracy was hatched. The count was given a false assignation with Sophia, from which he never returned: but his bones were found under her dressing-room floor 20 years later.” Wikipedia’s various articles on George, Sophia, and Konigsmarck differ as to whether George was definitely or probably or possibly involved in the murder, but do say that these bones were later discovered to be from five different skeletons, and some from animals.)

In the meantime, the marriage was dissolved, on the grounds of the desertion, which she hadn’t managed to accomplish.

Sophia Dorothea was imprisoned by her ex-husband in the Castle of Ahlden. She was allowed out sometimes, accompanied in a carriage. She probably never saw her children again, causing a rift between father and son.

In the meantime, George had become Elector of Hanover in 1708, and when Queen Anne died in 1714, he became King of Britain. Presumably it’s because the marriage was dissolved that I have never heard Sophia Dorothea referred to as a Queen of Britain. (The correct answer to the quiz question, Which Queen of England never lived here? is Berengaria of Navarre, the wife of Richard I.)

Sophia Dorothea remained imprisoned until her death in 1726, a total of 32 years.

When she died, her daughter, who was the Queen of Prussia, put her court in Berlin into mourning, greatly annoying George I.

Who is the worst king of England, Scotland or Britain? I don’t think many people, if asked, would name George I, but on this tale I think he’s certainly one of the nastiest.

Apparently there was a film made about this story in 1948, called Saraband for Dead Lovers. I wonder if it’s available on DVD?

Love from the PPI Blogger

  • Clint Redwood

    11th May 2018 at 5:03 pm Reply

    Funny that Horrible Histories have never mentioned this. I wonder if it’s too unpalatable, as we’re still technically under the Hanoverians, whatever posh southern town they renamed themselves as.

  • Judith Leader

    11th May 2018 at 8:35 pm Reply

    That is a sad story, what is even sadder is that all these years later men still control and abuse their wives/partners and yet funding for women’s aid and the like has been reduced dramatically.

  • Stephen Sheridan

    11th May 2018 at 8:41 pm Reply

    An very interesting, although depressing, story; but perhaps a good plot opening for one of your books. Definitely one of gender inequality, which would be interesting to see played out in the world you have created. The George of your world would have to use more cunning, since the automatic male supremacy of our world at that period would be lacking.

    At the risk of being too nerdy there is no such thing as the title of King or Queen of Britain, except possibly for the Saxon title Bretwalda, pertaining to the most powerful ruler on the island in the Dark Ages. There is the title of King or Queen of the United Kingdom post the Act of Union between England and Scotland and titles pertaining to Ireland come in separately. Wales was effectively unified with England in the Middle Ages, hence Prince of Wales as the heir to the throne to knock out separation. My own half origin of Cornwall (or Kernow as we Celts say it) never gets a mention except as a Duchy, since its independence was extinguished by the Saxon unifier and first proper King of England, Athelstan (also regarded as Bretwalda as he took submission from Scotland, Wales and Viking Ireland).

    Using the other half of my ancestry (Polish), I was interested that one of your kingdoms has an elected monarch. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had this from the Middle Ages until its partition at the end of the Eighteenth Century. The election was by the nobility, which was a larger group than in Western Europe being 10% of the population and based on military service. The upside was it limited the monarch’s powers and created a constitution with rights, albeit only for this nobility. The downside, was it resulted in weak central authority liable to the corruption of the “nobility” by foreign powers. This was not great when for a country with no natural defences, surrounded by militant hostile neighbours.

    Anyway thanks as always for your insights – they are always interesting and stimulating. I posted a review of your first book on Amazon and I really hope it gathers strength – it would be fabulous if it were optioned as a mini-series by one of the US subscription TV outlets. If done well, it would be a game-changer for fantasy and would be incredibly popular with the young generation, while also having a strong moral story. I am looking forward to reading your new book.

    All the best

  • Matthew Perry

    11th May 2018 at 9:23 pm Reply

    I think William IV has a good claim to being the worst monarch, but it is a tough decision. Better a president one can vote out!

  • Penelope Wallace

    12th May 2018 at 4:47 pm Reply

    Thank you Stephen for your very kind review, and your comments both about the book and the post! I do remember a History teacher long ago mentioning in passing that Poland paid the price for being too democratic for its time.
    I play around with various types of government on Ragaris: Jaryar normally has a fairly traditional monarchy, but the storyline in “Tenth Province” gives it an election as a one-off event. (I’m aware that elections were not unknown in medieval times.) Haymon has Consuls, elected by the nobility. Ricossa, which I’m writing about now, is really I suppose an oligarchy, with two monarchs selected out of a pool of the leading families. They do not pass on the crown to their children.
    I can’t really imagine WDNKC on TV, flattering though that is. I’d settle for more readers!

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