Gregory Brown
513 Agnes Arnold Hall
Department of Philosophy
University of Houston
Houston, TX 77204-3004

Sophie (Sophia) Dorothea

Princess of Brunswick - Lüneburg - Celle
Princess Consort of Brunswick - Lüneburg - Calenberg (1682)
Electoral Princess Consort of Brunswick - Lüneburg - Calenberg (1692-1694)

Born on 15 September 1666, Sophie Dorothea was the only child surviving infancy of Duke Georg Wilhelm (1624-1705) of Brunswick - Lüneburg - Celle and Eléonore Desmiers d'Olbreuse (1639-1722), a woman of French Huguenot extraction.

In an effort to make the prospects of his youngest brother, Ernst August (1629-1698), more attractive to the latter's prospective bride, Princess Sophie (1630-1714) of the Palatinate, Georg Wilhelm and Ernst August had signed a convention on 11/21 April 1658 in which Georg Wilhelm agreed never to marry, thus eliminating the possibility of legitimate heirs with claims on Georg Wilhelm's estates that could compete with those of Ernst August.  Still Georg Wilhelm wanted to ease the social stigma for his mistress, whom he genuinely loved, and make her acceptable to her own relatives.  Thus he persuaded Ernst August, who in turn persuaded Sophie, to invite Eléonore to Osnabrück (where at the time Ernst August was prince-bishop) as a lady-in-waiting.  In this office she accompanied Ernst August and Sophie to Celle where she entered into a "marriage of conscience" with Georg Wilhelm, after the 1658 agreement had been amended to make it clear that no son of their union could ever inherit Lüneburg - Celle.  Eléonore was thereafter known as Mme. de Harburg, after one of the two estates that Georg Wilhelm had provided for her.  When Sophie Dorothea was born in 1666, both her parents were distressed by her illegitimacy.  As a girl child, Sophie Dorothea posed no immediate threat to the prospects of Sophie and Ernst August. However, they now worried by  Eléonore's hope for a legal marriage and by rumors that Georg Wilhelm had promised here one in the event that she presented him with a son.  Upon questioning by Sophie, this rumor was denied by Georg Wilhelm in writing.  But Sophie continued to worry that the convention of 1658 might be overturned, if not by Georg Wilhelm himself, then possibly on his death by a son-in-law should Sophie Dorothea marry.  This worry probably increased when, in 1671, Georg Wilhelm prevailed upon emperor Leopold I. (1640-1705) to make Eléonore a Reichsgräfin and to agree that Sophie Dorothea would be permitted to display the arms of the house of Brunswick-Lüneburg without the bend sinister (indicating illegitimacy) if she were to marry  into the family of a ruling prince.  It undoubtedly increased more when, in April 1675, Georg Wilhelm and Eléonore were married in a church ceremony with the blessing of the Emperor.  This marriage removed the stigma of illegitimacy from Sophie Dorothea and would render legitimate any future sons she might have.  Ernst August and Sophie were alarmed, but in May Georg Wilhelm once again confirmed the 1658 convention—although he simultaneously also announced the engagement of Sophie Dorothea to the son and heir of duke Anton Ulrich (1633-1714) of Brunswick - Wolfenbüttel, Friedrich August (1657-1676), an announcement that tended to undermine any confidence that Ernst August and Sophie might have placed in Georg Wilhelm's reaffirmation of the 1658 convention.  This threat was soon eliminated when Friedrich August died the following year in the siege of Philippsburg.  But the continuing threat of some future marriage of Sophie Dorothea that would undermine his position determined Ernst August to find terms upon which she could be married to her first cousin, and his eldest son, Georg Ludwig (1660-1727).  This union eventually came about in 1682, from which there were two children, Georg August (1683-1760) and Sophie Dorothea (1687-1757).  But the marriage was not a happy one. After the Sophie Dorothea had brought a son and a daughter into the world, she was estranged from her husband.  Georg Ludwig preferred his mistress of many years, Countess Melusine von der Schulenburg (1667-1743), and since 1690 Sophie Dorothea had a love connection to Count Phillip Christoph von Königsmarck (1665-1694).

Once their love interest had been discovered, the threat of a scandalous elopement involving Sophie Dorothea and Königsmarck became a serious concern to the Hanoverian court.  Both Sophie Dorothea and Königsmarck  had been warned to break off the affair, but the lovers lied about their involvement, which they continued despite the warnings.  During the night of 1/l July 1694 Königsmarck was seen to enter the palace in Hanover and make his way toward Sophie Dorothea's apartments.  Whether he reached them is unknown, but it is certain that he was killed that night.  According to information gathered by duke Anton Ulrich of Brunswick - Wolfenbüttel, the murder was the work of four courtiers from the court of Hanover.  One of these, named Montalban, was identified as having struck the fatal blow.  It has been discovered that shortly after 1/11 July  Don Nicolò Montalbano, an Italian who had endeared himself to Ernst August's family during work on the new palace at Osnabrück,  was paid 150,000 talers from Ernst August's coffers.  At the time, Montalban's annual salary was merely 200 talers and that of the highest-paid electoral minister just 1,500 talers.  So a reward of 150,000 talers was an extraordinary sum, leading to the not unreasonable suggestion that it was for Montalban's part in the assassination of  Königsmarck.  According to Anton Ulrich's information, Königsmarck's body was sunk in the Leine river in a sack weighted with stones. Matters moved apace in the aftermath of Königsmarck's disappearance.  The marriage between Georg Ludwig and Sophie Dorothea was finally dissolved on 28 December 1694 (OS).  As part of the agreement between her father Georg Wilhelm and Ernst August, Sophie Dorothea was banished for life to the family castle at Ahlden (Celle), completely separated from her children and her father1and denied the right to remarry.  Although endowed with a generous income and a court of her own, she was allowed to drive her carriage only under observation and only for a given distance; she was not allowed to walk on foot outside the courtyard at Ahlden.


1Georg Ludwig did sanction visits to Ahlden by Duke Georg Wilhelm, which were denied by the agreement of 1694. However, no visits took place for reasons unconnected with Georg Ludwig.  Georg Ludwig also permitted Georg Wilhelm's widow to move from her dower-house in Lüneburg to the castle of Celle in order to make her frequent trips to visit her daughter less strenuous.


  • The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 13th edition. New York: The Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1926.
  • Hatton, Ragnhild Marie. George I: Elector and King. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978.