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Divorce and Imprisonment

Königsmarck was eliminated, but that was not enough to restore the Electoral Prince’s honor. He demanded a legal separation from his wife, with her as the only responsible part. Sophia Dorothea is transferred to Lauenau Castle in late 1694 and placed there under house arrest during the divorce proceedings. On 28 December 1694 the dissolutionSeptember 15, 1666: Birth of Sophia Dorothea of Brunswick-Lüneburg-Celle. Part I. of the marriage was officially pronounced with the Electoral Princess as the sole guilty party for “maliciously leaving her husband” (desertion). The fact that her husband, Georg Ludwig, had a long term mistress was not mentioned.


Sophia Dorothea was forbidden to remarry or seeing her children again; her name was removed from all official documents, she was no longer mentioned in the prayers and the title of Electoral Princess was stripped of her. After the verdict, she was sent to the remote Ahlden House, a stately home on the Lüneburg Heath, which served as a prison appropriate to her status. Although the sentence says nothing about continued imprisonment, she should never regain her freedom.

At the behest of her former husband and with the consent of her own father, Sophia Dorothea was imprisoned for life. He confiscated her assets brought into the marriage and gave her an annual maintenance. She initially received 8,000 thalers for herself and her court, later raised to 28,000 thalers (her father and former father-in-law had committed to this in equal parts). She was quartered in the north wing of the castle, a two-story half-timbered building. A guard of 40 men was deployed for Sophia Dorothea, five to ten of whom guarded the castle 24 hours. All her mail and visitis were strictly controlled; however, there was never any attempt at liberation or escape.

Initially, Sophia Dorothea was only allowed to walk unaccompanied inside the mansion courtyard, later also under guard in the outdoor facilities. After two years in prison, she was allowed to take supervised trips only within 2 kilometers outside the residence. Her stay in Ahlden was interrupted several times due to war events or renovation work on the residence. During these times she was housed in Celle Castle or in Essel. Her mother had unlimited visits. Her court included two ladies-in-waiting, several chambermaids and other household and kitchen staff. These had all been selected for their loyalty to Hanover.

Sophia Dorothea was allowed to call herself “Princess of Ahlden” after her new place of residence. In the first few years she was extremely apathetic and resigned to her fate, later she tried to obtain her release. When her former father-in-law died in 1698, she sent a humble letter of condolence to her former husband, assuring him that “she prayed for him every day and begged him on her knees to forgive her mistakes. She will be eternally grateful to him if he allows her to see her two children”. She also wrote to Electress Sophia in a letter of condolence that she wanted nothing more than “to kiss your Highness’ s hands before I die”. Their requests were in vain.

When Sophia Dorothea’s father was on his deathbed in 1705, he wanted to see his daughter one last time to reconcile with her, but his Prime Minister, Count Bernstorff, objected and claimed that a meeting would lead to diplomatic problems with Hanover; Georg Wilhelm no longer had the strength to assert himself against him.

After the devastating local fire of Ahlden in 1715, Sophia Dorothea contributed with considerable sums of money to the reconstruction.

Death and Burial

The death of her mother —the only one who until the end fight for her release— in 1722 leave Sophia Dorothea completely alone and surrounded only by enemies, with the lasting hope of seeing her children again. Her daughter Sophia Dorothea of Hanover the Queen of Prussia (husband of Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia) came to Hanover in 1725 to meet her father (who is now King of Great Britain since 1714); Sophia Dorothea, who dressed even more carefully than usual, waited every day at the window of her residence in vain for her visit, which never came.

In the end she only seems to have found pleasure in eating. Her defenses waned and became overweight due to the lack of exercise. Increasingly she suffered from febrile colds and indigestion. In early 1726 she suffered a stroke, and in August of that year she went to bed with severe colic, which she never left. She refused medical help and refused to eat.

Within a few weeks she grew emaciated. Sophia Dorothea died shortly before midnight on November 13, 1726 aged 60; her autopsy revealed a liver failure and gall bladder occlusion due to 60 gallstones. Her former husband placed an announcement in The London Gazette to the effect that the “Duchess of Ahlden” had died, but would not allow the wearing of mourning in London or Hanover. He was furious when he heard that his daughter’s court in Berlin wore black.

Sophia Dorothea’s funeral turned into a farce. Because the guards had no instructions in this case, her remains were placed in a lead coffin and deposited in the cellar. In January 1727 the order came from London to bury her without any ceremonies in the cemetery of Ahlden, which was impossible due to weeks of heavy rain. So the coffin came back into the cellar and was covered with sand. It wasn’t until May 1727 that Sophia Dorothea was secretly buried at night beside her parents in the Stadtkirche in Celle. Her former husband Georg Ludwig (now King George I of Great Britain), died four weeks later while visiting Hanover.


Sophia Dorothea’s parents must have secretly believed to the last that their daughter would one day be released from prison. In any case, in January 1705, shortly before her father’s death, he and his wife drew up a joint will, according to which their daughter receive the estates of Ahlden, Rethem and Walsrode, extensive estates in France and Celle, the great fortune of her father and the legendary jewelry collection of her mother. Her father appointed Count Heinrich Sigismund von Bar as the administrator of Sophia Dorothea’s fortune. He was twelve years older than the princess, a handsome, highly educated and sensitive gentleman, whom Sophia Dorothea showed deep affection for, which didn’t go unrequited. She named him as one of the main beneficiaries of her will, but unfortunately he died six years before her.


Sophia Dorothea’s great-granddaughter Caroline Matilda of Great Britain, Queen consort of Denmark and Norway (1751–1775) shared her same fate. The youngest and posthumous daughter of Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales, by Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, Caroline Matilda was raised in a secluded family atmosphere away from the royal court. At the age of fifteen, she was married to her first cousin, King Christian VII of Denmark and Norway, who suffered from a mental illness and was cold to his wife throughout the marriage. She had two children: the future Frederik VI and Louise Augusta, whose biological father may have been the German physician Johann Friedrich Struensee.

After the Struensee affair in 1772, she was divorced from her husband, separated from her children and sent to Celle Castle, where she died three years later. In the crypt of the Stadtkirche St. Marien, both women are united in death.