Sunday, June 8, 2014

Two Sophias of Hanover

Sophia of Hanover, Electress of the Palatinate and heiress to the throne of the Kingdom of Great Britain since 1707 (named heiress to Queen Anne--who detested her--by Act of Parliament in 1701), died on June 8, 1714. She was 83 years old and had been in very good health, unlike poor Anne, who was only 49 when she died on August 1 the same year. Sophia was one of the daughters of Frederick V, Elector Palatine and Elizabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen and daughter of King James VI and I. She had married Ernest Augustus of Brunswick in 1658, and while he was not faithful to her, she did love him. Parliament selected her as successor in 1701 because she was the closest non-Catholic legitimate relative of Anne.

Sophia's son George Louis thus became King George I when Anne died. Although he reigned as absolute monarch in Hanover, Parliamentary rule had developed so far in England that Robert Walpole, his de facto Prime Minister was really in charge. George I had no Queen Consort to reign with him, because he had dissolved his marriage to his wife, Sophia Dorothea of Celle.

He was unfaithful to Sophia Dorothea, having married her for her money--she brought a dowry of one hundred thousand thaler a year. They did have two children, the future George II of England, and another Sophia Dorothea, who married Frederick William of Prussia, and thus was the mother of Frederick the Great. But then George Louis began to flaunt his mistress and treat his wife badly. She sought solace with her Swedish friend Philip Christoph von Königsmarck, whom she had met in Celle when he was sixteen. It's not clear whether or not they were lovers, but George Louis used the letters they'd exchanged as evidence of Sophia Dorothea's unfaithfulness to him and divorced her. Königsmarck disappeared, and was presumably killed by agents of the Elector--who then imprisoned Sophia in the Castle of Ahlden, where she remained under close guard from 1694 to 1726. Her son George thought his father had treated her badly and that contributed to the animosity between father and son--her daughter put on mourning for her mother at the Court in Prussia and that enraged George I, who died just a month later.

The story of Sophia Dorothea and Christoph von Königsmarck was made into an excellent historical film, Saraband for Dead Lovers. has several scenes from the movie, made in 1948 at Ealing Studios. Joan Greenwood and Stewart Granger play the dead lovers, while Peter Bull is the brutal husband and Flora Robson the scheming mistress. Francoise Rosay plays the Electress Sophia, who detested her daughter-in-law, in spite of her one hundred thousand thaler a year.

The accession of George Louis of Hanover as George I of Great Britain means that 2014 is the tercentenary of the Hanoverian dynasty. Historian Lucy Worsley hosted a BBC series The First Georgians: The German Kings Who Made Britain and argued in the May issue of BBC History Magazine that the Georgians/Hanoverians should get more attention than they do since "George I and George II were just as excitingly dysfunctional as Henry VIII. Theirs truly was a dynasty, with plenty of children, giving us enough characters to fill out a whole soap opera."

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