The excellently named Sophia Dorothea was born in 1666 the only child of the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, who ruled the Celle portion of the Duchy of Brunswick. Sophia’s mother was the Dukes long standing mistress,Éléonore Marie d’Esmier d’Olbreuse.
Though Sophia’s parents were eventually married, in a morganatic marriage (meaning that due to her lower social rank, Eleonore would receive none of her husbands title or wealth- which seems totally fair) it was a scandalous start to a life that would be full of royalty, affairs, imprisonment and eventually murder.
By the time Sophia reached marrying age she was something of a certified beauty, skilled at a whole host of ‘womanly pursuits’ (so music and sewing…) not to mention flirtatious and witty.
Basically, girl was a catch, something very good to be when a woman’s entire future and potential happiness rested on who she would marry!
Sadly for Sophia the husband that her parents had in mind for her was her first cousin (always a good sign) George Ludwig.
George was heir to Hanover- and a marriage between George and Sophia would mean that George’s family would rule both Hanover and Celle; something George’s parents were huge fans of (even though they despised Sophia and her mother – due to their ‘low’ birth)
George was no prize. Nicknamed The Pig Snout he wasn’t a looker. He was however, rude, loud, aggressive, vindictive and not all too bright. Basically the stuff of ‘having to marry your first cousin’ dreams. As you can imagine 16 year old Sophia was not thrilled about marrying George, and when told of their engagement , she threw his portrait across the room in anger.
The marriage unsurprisingly did not get off to a good start. Sophia did not like her new life at court; her new Mother in Law spent her days bitching about Sophia and calling her out for not fitting in.
Sophia’s new husband was not any better (like you were expecting him to be…) he was stand off-ish and spent very little time with his new wife, going away whenever he could. He also created a network of spies so he could know what Sophia was doing at all times – which is super normal and healthy.
Somehow the pair had not one but two babies, with George (one day to be King George ll of England) both in 1683 and Sophia (one day Queen of Prussia) in 1687. With an heir and a spare in the bag, George saw his job as over.
So George started having very public affairs, notably with two women nicknamed The Beanpole and The Elephant. To add to this dickery, George was physically abusive towards Sophia, often striking her in public and on one occasion nearly strangling her in a room of people. We can’t know what went on behind closed doors, but we can imagine.
Neglected and isolated, Sophia struck up a renewed friendship with Swedish Count Philipp Christoph von Königsmark (try saying that 5 times fast). The pair had had met in Sophia’s homeland when she was 16. Phillip had gone on to be a favourite in the court of Charles ll and had created something of a Casanova like persona – bedding countless countesses (and the odd Duchess).
5 years after their first meeting bumped into Sophia again. The rekindled friendship visibly cheered Sophia – which meant that everyone at court was very for it.
But then Philipp and Sophia became more than friends. They were spotted writing each other love messages on the palace windows, and exchanging romantic letters; one notable line from Philipp is:
“I embrace your knees”
By 1690 things had gotten pretty serious- with the couple spending as much time together as possible, and using codes and confidantes to communicate when apart.
In 1692 George’s Dad, the King of Hanover, was shown the couples love letters; he promptly sent Philipp away to fight with the Hanoverian army – with any leave request turned down. But Philipp was not that easily deterred; he abandoned the army and rode to be with Sophia.
On finding out about his wife affair George was not happy. He confronted her and a shouting match ensued; which quickly escalated into violence, Sophia only survived thanks to servants who pulled George off her
The next part is fuzzy. It appears that following this terrifying meeting with her husband, Sophia and Philipp hatched a plan to escape Hanover together, and to elope.
This scheme was quickly foiled – word got round to George and his Dad and the lovers plans were put to an abrupt stop.
Philipp was ambushed, either on his way to see Sophia at The Liene Castle or exiting her rooms in the castle after paying her one last visit. He was then attacked and killed.
Several court insiders would admit on their deathbeds to being involved in the death, but none would say how Philipp died or where his body lay. Popular legend said Philipp’s body was covered in quicklime and buried under the still bloody floorboards of the castle
Now here’s why it gets all modern and sciencey
A skeleton has been found under the floorboards of Leine Castle- and it looks like it might be Philipp! Currently the skeleton is being tested for DNA using Philipps surviving ancestors.
Thats right folks it looks like hundreds of years on we might be able to find out how Philipp died, and maybe even who killed him!!! Yup we will have an answer to a 17th century murder mystery – thank you science!
But sadly for Sophia science couldn’t help her – because lets face it, if modern science had been around the 17th century would have been a massively less shitty time and an especially less massively shitty time to be a woman – Sophia’s lover was dead. Hysterical, she was held in her rooms under house arrest.
George managed to procure a divorce from Sophia, and in the divorce hearing Sophia was found to be guilty of ‘malicious desertion’. George ordered that his wife be taken away from court and locked in the Castle Ahlden.
He also cut off any contact with her children, and allowed her only visitor to be her mother. Sophia would stay captive in Castle Ahlden for 30 years until her death.
And George? Well George went on and became King of Great Britain and Ireland- King George l, the first of the Hanoverian line.
When he arrived in England he turned up speaking very little English and with his two loyal mistresses in tow- The Beanpole and The Elephant; but with rumors of his ill fated wife still rife- rumors which would remain until his dying day.