, , , , , ,

Sophia Dorothea of Brunswick-Lüneburg-Celle (September 15, 1666 – November 16, 1726), was the repudiated wife of future King George I of Great Britain, and mother of George II. The union with her first cousin was an arranged marriage of state, instigated by the machinations of his mother, Electress Sophia of Hanover. She is best remembered for her alleged affair with Philip Christoph von Königsmarck that led to her being imprisoned in the Castle of Ahlden for the last thirty years of her life.

Early years

Born in Celle on September 15, 1666, Sophia Dorothea of Harburg was the only surviving daughter of Georg Wilhelm Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg-Celle by his morganatic wife, Éléonore Desmier d’Olbreuse (1639–1722), Lady of Harburg, a Huguenot French noblewoman.


She grew up carefree in a loving environment: her parents were (in a rather exception among the married noble or royal couples of that time) deeply in love with each other and also gave warmth and affection to their bright and talented daughter.

Because Sophia Dorothea was the product of a morganatic union and without any rights as a member of the House of Brunswick, her father wanted to secured her future and transferred large assets to her over time, and this wealth made her an interesting marriage candidate.

Candidates for her hand included August Friedrich, Hereditary Prince of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, Friedrich Charles, Duke of Württemberg-Winnental, Maximilian II Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria and even King Carl XI of Sweden.

Sophia Dorothea’s status became enhanced when by Imperial order dated July 22, 1674 and in recognition to the military assistance given by her father to Emperor Leopold I, she and her mother received the higher title of “Countess of Harburg and Wilhelmsburg” (Gräfin von Harburg und Wilhelmsburg) with the allodial rights over that domains.

At first, her parents agreed to the marriage between Sophia Dorothea and the Hereditary Prince of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, eldest son of their distant relative Anthon Ulrich, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel and whom since the beginning supported the love affair of Georg Wilhelm and Éléonore. The official betrothal was signed on December 20, 1675, but unfortunately the groom was mortally wounded at the siege of Philippsburg on August 9, 1676.

Elevation of birth status and marriage

After the death of his daughter’s fiancé, Georg Wilhelm wanted to make an agreement with his brothers about the inheritance of the Duchy of Lüneburg and approached his younger brother Ernst August with talks about a marriage between Sophia Dorothea and Ernsr August’s eldest son Georg Ludwig; however, both his brother and sister-in-law, Sophia of the Palatinate, had misgivings about the proposed match due to the circumstances of Sophia Dorothea’s birth.

After the rebuffal of his daughter, Georg Wilhelm decided to improve once for all the status of Sophia Dorothea and her mother: by contract signed on August 22, 1675 and in open violation of his previous promise to never marry, Georg Wilhelm declared that Éléonore was his lawful wife in both church and state, with a second wedding ceremony being held at Celle on April 2, 1676.

Ernst August and specially his wife demonstratively stayed away from this second wedding. Twenty-two days later, on April 24, Éléonore was officially addressed as Duchess of Brunswick and Sophia Dorothea became legitimate.

This development of events greatly alarmed Georg Wilhelm’s relatives: now legitimated by the official marriage of her parents, Sophia Dorothea could threaten the contemplated union of the Lüneburg territories. Finally, by family agreement signed on July 13, 1680, Éléonore was finally recognized as Duchess of Brunswick and, most importantly, Sophia Dorothea was declared Princess of Brunswick-Lüneburg-Celle with all apertaining rights of birth. Also, Georg Ludwig’s parents finally agreed to the previously proposed marriage. To the horror of both Sophia Dorothea and her mother, Georg Wilhelm consented to the union.

The wedding took place on November 21, 1682 but since the beginning the union was a complete failure: the feelings of hatred and contempt that Sophia of the Palatinate had over her daughter-in-law were soon shared by her son Georg Ludwig, who was oddly formal to his wife.

Sophia Dorothea was frequently scolded for her lack of etiquette, and the two had loud and bitter arguments. Nevertless, they managed to had two children in quick succession: Georg August (born October 30, 1683 and future King George II of Great Britain) and Sophia Dorothea (born March 16, 1687 and by marriage Queen consort in Prussia and Electress consort of Brandenburg) as spouse of King Friedrich Wilhelm I in Prussia. She was the mother of Friedrich II, King of Prussia.