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Georg Wilhelm (January 26, 1624 – August 28, 1705) was the first Welf Duke of Lauenburg after its occupation in 1689. From 1648 to 1665, he was the ruler of the Principality of Calenberg as an appanage from his eldest brother, Christian Ludwig, Prince of Luneburg. When he inherited Luneburg on the latter’s death in 1665, he gave Calenberg to his younger brother, Johann Friedrich.

Nevertheless, he only kept the sub-division of Celle, giving the rest of Luneburg to their youngest brother Ernst August, whose son, George Ludwig (future King of Great Britain), inherited Saxe-Lauenburg and Celle from Georg Wilhelm. His only daughter, Sophia Dorothea of Celle, was George Ludwig’s wife.

Georg Wilhelm of Brunswick-Luneburg

Georg Wilhelm was born in Herzberg am Harz, the second son of Georg, Prince of Calenberg and Anne Eleonore of Hesse-Darmstadt, daughter of Ludwig V, Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt and Magdalene of Brandenburg

Georg Wilhelm had an elder brother, two younger brothers, and several sisters, including Queen Sophia Amalie of Denmark and Norway, consort of the King Frederik III of Denmark and Norway.

Succession

In 1648, when Georg Wilhelm’s elder brother, Christian Ludwig, Prince of Calenberg, inherited the Principality of Lüneburg from their paternal uncle, Friedrich IV, he gave Calenberg to Georg Wilhelm in appanage.

Seventeen years later, in 1665, Christian Ludwig himself died childless, and Georg Wilhelm inherited Luneburg as well. He then gave Calenberg to his next brother, Johann Friedrich.

The renunciation of claim to Luneburg had in fact happened seven years previously, in 1658. In exchange for being freed from the obligation to marry Princess Sophia of the Palatinate, Georg Wilhelm ceded his claim on inheriting Lüneburg to his youngest brother Ernst August, settling for the smaller duchy of Celle and promising to remain unmarried so that he would produce no legitimate heir who might pose a challenge to his brother’s claim to Luneburg.

The absence of heirs would also mean that Celle would lapse back into Luneburg; Celle was only supposed to give Georg Wilhelm an income for his lifetime. After reaching this agreement, Georg Wilhelm’s youngest brother, Ernst August, married Sophia of the Palatinate
and became the Duke of Hanover.

Sophia of the Palatinate was the daughter of Elector Friedrich V of the Palatinate, a member of the House of Wittelsbach, and Elizabeth (Stuart) of England and Scotland, daughter of King James I-VI of England and Scotland.

Marriage and issue

This renunciation left Georg Wilhelm free to marry whoever he wished, and indulge his desires to travel and socialize, without being encumbered by considerations of state.

In 1665, Georg Wilhelm entered into a morganatic marriage with his long-time mistress, Eleanor, Countess of Wilhelmsburg. In 1666, their only child and daughter, Sophia Dorothea, was born.

By 1676, it had become quite clear that among the four brothers (Georg Wilhelm and three others), only the youngest, Ernst August had produced any heirs male, and that the entire duchy of Luneburg was likely to be united under Ernst August’s eldest son Georg Ludwig.

Georg Wilhelm therefore wanted Georg Ludwig to marry his daughter Sophia, whose marriage prospects were otherwise not bright, given the circumstances of her birth. To Georg Wilhelm’s annoyance, Georg Ludwig and his parents refused the proposal on the grounds of status.

Sophia of the Palatinate

At this point (in 1676), to improve the status of Eleonore and their daughter, and in open violation of his promise, Georg Wilhelm legitimized his daughter and declared that his marriage to Eleonore, Countess of Wilhelmsburg was not morganatic but valid to both church and state.

This development greatly alarmed his relatives, as it threatened to hinder the contemplated union of the Lüneburg territories. Indeed, if Georg Wilhelm had had a son, a serious succession crisis could have arisen.

No son however was born, and in 1682, Georg Ludwig’s parents finally agreed to the proposed marriage as a way of avoiding uncertainty and dispute. Sophia Dorothea married Georg Ludwig in 1682. They had a son and heir the following year, named Georg August after his father and maternal grandfather: the future George II of Great Britain.

Duke of Saxe-Lauenburg

In 1689, Julius Franz, Duke of Saxe-Lauenburg, died leaving no son and no accepted heir male, but only two daughters, Anna Maria and Sibylle. The duchy had followed the Salic law since time immemorial, but Duke Julius Franz decided to nominate his elder daughter as his heir and proclaimed laws permitting female succession in his duchy. This self-serving innovation was not accepted by senior members of his dynasty (the other potential successors) and a succession crisis ensued.

Georg Wilhelm was one of the nearest and senior-most male-line claimants to the succession. Shortly after the death of the duke, Georg Wilhelm invaded the duchy with his troops and occupied it. The other claimants included the five Ascanian-ruled Principalities of Anhalt, Saxony, Saxe-Wittenberg, Sweden and Brandenburg, and also the neighbouring Mecklenburg-Schwerin and the Danish duchy of Holstein, whose ruler was the King Christian V of Denmark.

However, only Georg Wilhelm and Christian V of Denmark (whose mother, Sophie Amalie of Brunswick-Calenberg, was Georg Wilhelm’s own sister) engaged militarily on this question. An accord was soon reached between them, and on 9 October 1693 they agreed (in the Hamburg Comparison, or Hamburger Vergleich) that Georg Wilhelm – who now de facto held most of Saxe-Lauenburg – would retain the duchy in a personal union.

Meanwhile, the Emperor Leopold I, who had no direct claim on the duchy, occupied the Land of Hadeln, a Saxe-Lauenburgian exclave, and held it in imperial custody. Apart from that, Leopold did not attempt to use force in Saxe-Lauenburg.

In 1728, his son the Emperor Charles VI finally legitimised the de facto takeover and enfeoffed Georg Wilhelm’s grandson and second successor, George II of Great Britain (who was also Elector of Hanover) with the duchy of Saxe-Lauenburg, but Hadeln remained in imperial custody until 1731, when it was also ceded to Georg II August. Georg Wilhelm died in Wienhausen, aged 81.

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