The Queen Who Never Was

Royal marriages before modern times were often made for dynastic or strategic purposes, rather than love. It should come as no surprise, then, that many of these unions were incredibly unhappy. The marriage of George I of England and Sophia Dorothea of Celle was one such miserable marriage.

Sophia’s birth was the result of a love match between her father, Georg Wilhelm, a German duke, and Eleanore d’Olbreuse, his mistress and eventual wife. By all accounts, she had a happy life until her parents arranged her marriage to her own first cousin, George, who was heir to the Elector of Hanover. She vowed that she would not marry her “pig-nosed” cousin, and she fainted the first time she met him. The feeling was apparently mutual, as both George and his mother remarked that he was only marrying Sophia for her large dowry. This was not an auspicious start for a marriage.

Nevertheless, the pair were wed in Celle Castle in 1682. They even managed to have two children, a son and a daughter. But things were not happy between them. George became violent towards his wife and ignored her in favor of his mistress, Melusine von der Schulenburg.

Sophia, the neglected wife, also began an affair at this time with Count Philip Christoph von Konigsmarck of Sweden. Their liaison was so passionate that they carved their names together on palace windows and exchanged numerous love letters. They even contemplated running away from Hanover together.

However, this was not to be. George found out about the affair, and decided to do something about it. After a rendezvous with Sophia at Leineschloss Castle in 1694, von Konigsmarck was arrested by her father-in-law’s guards. He then disappeared, never to be seen again. It is believed that the guards killed him and buried his remains under the palace floorboards.

George divorced Sophia later that year on the grounds of malicious desertion. Sophia was reportedly happy to be rid of him, but her life was about to get much worse. She was moved to the Castle of Ahlden in Celle, where she was made a prisoner. Since she was the guilty party in the divorce, she would never be able to remarry or she her children again. To keep her imprisoned, soldiers guarded the castle around the clock. She was given a small household staff, but they were all staunchly loyal to her husband’s family.

George’s life, however, took a turn in the opposite direction. When the last Stuart monarch of Great Britain, Queen Anne, failed to produce a living heir, George’s mother became heiress presumptive to the throne of Britain. She died a few months before Queen Anne died, and so it was George who succeeded to the British throne in 1714. Sophia, since she was divorced from George, never became Queen.

Sophia spent 32 years imprisoned at Ahlden. Her mother sometimes visited her, but her father refused to see her. She often begged to be able to see her children, but her requests were refused. On one occasion, when she knew her daughter was going to be nearby, she dressed up and waited by a window every day for weeks for a visit from that never came.

Without much else to do or look forward to, Sophia turned to food for comfort and became obese. This led to a multitude of health problems, and in August of 1726 she had a stroke that left her bedridden. For two months she lay in bed, refusing all medical help and barely eating, finally dying in November.

Even more indignities were heaped on her after her death. Her ex-husband did not allow a period of mourning for her, and her remains were stored in the castle cellar for six months. She was finally buried next to her parents in the middle of the night with no ceremony and no family present. George would follow her to the grave four weeks later. Her son succeeded to the throne as George II.

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