Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, Elector of Hanover, Ernst August of Hanover, King George I of Great Britain, King William III of England, Queen Anne of Great Britain, Sophia Dorothea of Brunswick-Celle, Sophia of the Rhine (Electress Sophia)
Though George has his mistress Sophia-Dorothea had her own romance with the Swedish Count Philip-Christoph von Königsmarck. Threatened with the scandal of an elopement, the Hanoverian court, including George’s brothers and mother, urged the lovers to desist, but to no avail. According to diplomatic sources from Hanover’s enemies, in July 1694 the Swedish count was killed, possibly with George’s connivance, and his body thrown into the river Leine weighted with stones.
George I of Great Britain
The murder was claimed to have been committed by four of Ernst-August’s courtiers, one of whom, Don Nicolò Montalbano, was paid the enormous sum of 150,000 thalers, about one hundred times the annual salary of the highest-paid minister. Later rumours supposed that Königsmarck was hacked to pieces and buried beneath the Hanover palace floorboards. However, sources in Hanover itself, including Sophia, denied any knowledge of Königsmarck’s whereabouts.
George’s marriage to Sophia-Dorothea was dissolved, not on the grounds that either of them had committed adultery, but on the grounds that Sophia-Dorothea had abandoned her husband. With her own father’s agreement, George had Sophia-Dorothea imprisoned in Ahlden House in her native Celle, where she stayed until she died more than thirty years later.
Sophia-Dorothea was denied access to her children and father, forbidden to remarry and only allowed to walk unaccompanied within the mansion courtyard. She was, however, endowed with an income, establishment, and servants, and allowed to ride in a carriage outside her castle under supervision. Melusine von der Schulenburg acted as George’s hostess openly from 1698 until his death, and they had three daughters together, born in 1692, 1693 and 1701.
Sophia-Dorothea of Brunswick-Celle
Elector Ernst-August died on January 23, 1698, leaving all of his territories to George with the exception of the Prince-Bishopric of Osnabrück, an office he had held since 1661. George thus became Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg as well as Archbannerbearer and a Prince-Elector of Hanover within the Holy Roman Empire. His court in Hanover was graced by many cultural icons such as the mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Leibniz and the composers George Frideric Händel and Agostino Steffani.
Shortly after George’s accession to his paternal duchy, Prince William, Duke of Gloucester, son of Queen Anne, who was second-in-line to the English and Scottish thrones, died. By the terms of the English Act of Settlement 1701, George’s mother, Sophia, was designated as the heir to the English throne if the then reigning monarch, William III, and his sister-in-law, Anne, died without surviving issue.
The succession was so designed because Sophia was the closest Protestant relative of the British royal family. Fifty-six Catholics with superior hereditary claims were bypassed. The likelihood of any of them converting to Protestantism for the sake of the succession was remote; some had already refused.
Ernst-August, Elector of Hanover and Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg
In August 1701 George was invested with the Order of the Garter and, within six weeks, the nearest Catholic claimant to the thrones, the former King James II-VII died. William III died the following March and was succeeded by Anne. Sophia became heiress presumptive to the new Queen of England. Sophia was in her seventy-first year, thirty-five years older than Anne, but she was very fit and healthy and invested time and energy in securing the succession either for herself or for her son.
However, it was George who understood the complexities of English politics and constitutional law, which required further acts in 1705 to naturalise Sophia and her heirs as English subjects, and to detail arrangements for the transfer of power through a Regency Council. In the same year, George’s surviving uncle died and he inherited further German dominions: the Principality of Lüneburg-Grubenhagen, centred at Celle.