Duke of Brunswick-Calenberg Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, Elector Ernst-August of Hanover, Elector of Hanover, Holy Roman Empire, King George I of Great Britain and Ireland
George I (George Louis; German: Georg Ludwig; May 28, 1660 – June 11, 1727) was King of Great Britain and Ireland from August 1, 1714 and ruler of the Duchy and Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Hanover) within the Holy Roman Empire from January 23, 1698 until his death in 1727. He was the first British monarch of the House of Hanover.
George was born in the city of Hanover in the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg in the Holy Roman Empire. He was the eldest son of Ernst August, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, and his wife, Sophia of the Palatinate. Sophia was the granddaughter of King James I-VI of England, Scotland and Ireland through her mother, Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia.
For the first year of his life, George was the only heir to the German territories of his father and three childless uncles. George’s brother, Friedrich August, was born in 1661, and the two boys (known as Görgen and Gustchen by the family) were brought up together. Sophia bore Ernst August another four sons and a daughter. In her letters, Sophia describes George as a responsible, conscientious child who set an example to his younger brothers and sisters.
By 1675 George’s eldest uncle, Christian Ludwig, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, died without issue, but his remaining two uncles had married, putting George’s inheritance in jeopardy as his uncles’ estates might pass to their own sons, should they have had any, instead of to George. George’s father took him hunting and riding, and introduced him to military matters; mindful of his uncertain future, Ernst August took the fifteen-year-old George on campaign in the Franco-Dutch War with the deliberate purpose of testing and training his son in battle.
In 1679 George’s uncle, Johann Friedrich of Brunswick-Lüneburg died unexpectedly without sons, and Ernst August became reigning Duke of Calenberg-Göttingen, with his capital at Hanover. George’s surviving uncle, Georg Wilhelm of Celle, had married his mistress in order to legitimise his only daughter, Sophia Dorothea, but looked unlikely to have any further children.
Under Salic law, where inheritance of territory was restricted to the male line, the succession of George and his brothers to the territories of their father and uncle now seemed secure. In 1682, the family agreed to adopt the principle of primogeniture, meaning George would inherit all the territory and not have to share it with his brothers.
The same year, George married his first cousin, Sophia Dorothea of Celle, daughter of Georg Wilhelm of Celle and his mistress and later wife, Éléonore Desmier d’Olbreuse thereby securing additional incomes that would have been outside Salic laws. The marriage of state was arranged primarily as it ensured a healthy annual income and assisted the eventual unification of Hanover and Celle.
His mother at first opposed the marriage because she looked down on Sophia Dorothea’s mother, Eleonore (who came from lower nobility), and because she was concerned by Sophia Dorothea’s legitimated status. She was eventually won over by the advantages inherent in the marriage.
In 1683 George and his brother Friedrich August served in the Great Turkish War at the Battle of Vienna, and Sophia Dorothea bore George a son, George Augustus. The following year, Friedrich August was informed of the adoption of primogeniture, meaning he would no longer receive part of his father’s territory as he had expected.
This led to a breach between Friedrich August and his father, Ernst August, and between the brothers, that lasted until his death in battle in 1690. With the imminent formation of a single Hanoverian state, and the Hanoverians’ continuing contributions to the Empire’s wars, Ernst August was made an Imperial Elector of the Holy Roman Empire in 1692. George’s prospects were now better than ever as the sole heir to his father’s electorate and his uncle’s duchy.
Sophia Dorothea had a second child, a daughter named after her, in 1687, but there were no other pregnancies. The couple became estranged—George preferred the company of his mistress, Melusine von der Schulenburg, and 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. 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 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.