Sophia Dorothea of Celle was born on 15 September 1666 as the daughter of George William, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg and his mistress, Eleonore d’Esmier d’Olbreuse. Her parents officially married in 1676.
On 22 November 1682, she married her cousin, George, Electoral Prince of Hanover, after reportedly shouting, “I will not marry the pig snout!” The marriage was off to a bad start, and they were particularly unhappy. Sophie was despised by her family-in-law, and the only reason they married was for financial reasons. Her mother-in-law wrote, “One hundred thousand thalers a year is a goodly sum to pocket, without speaking of a pretty wife, who will find a match in my son George Louis, the most pigheaded, stubborn boy who ever lived, who has round his brains such a thick crust that I defy any man or woman ever to discover what is in them. He does not care much for the match itself, but one hundred thousand thalers a year have tempted him as they would have tempted anybody else.”
Despite their problems, the couple had two children, George Augustus (born 1683) and Sophia Dorothea (born 1686). George took up with a mistress, Melusine von der Schulenburg and neglected his wife. Sophia responded by taking a lover of her own, Count Philip Christoph von Königsmarck. George ended up physically attacking his wife over her affair and was eventually pulled off by her attendants. Von Königsmarck disappeared in 1694 and was presumably murdered or killed while trying to escape with Sophia.
By the grace of God, Sophia Dorothea,
Since our illustrious husband, George Lewis, Crown Prince of Hanover, has caused to be delivered to the matrimonial court in Hanover constituted to try this case by our father and father-in-law, a complaint of desertion against us, and has requested a complete separation of marriage between our husband and us, as we have learned from this complaint, and a communication from the court that made it known to us; and since our lord and father has sent to us his president and grand marshal of the court, von Bulow, at this place, that we might make known what we thought best, according to our comprehension respecting such complaint of desertion, and that we should instruct for that purpose the counsellor of the court, Rudolph Thies, in order to convey our declaration to the said matrimonial court for its information, leaving the circumstances mentioned by the attorney of our lord and husband undisturbed. We declare, for the rest, as we well understand our intention, and in accordance with the contents of the aforesaid complaint, have well and freely considered it, that we still adhere to our oft-repeated resolution never to cohabit matrimonially with our husband, and that we desire nothing so much as that separation of marriage requested by our husband may take place.
And thereupon we herewith empower and command our solicitor, the counsellor of the court Thies, to present this our declaration in answer to the letter of the 20th of September, 1694, sent to us by the aforesaid court.
In witness whereof we have signed this with
our hand, and fixed to it our seal.
(Signed) SOPHIA DOROTHEA.
Lauenau, September 26, 1694.
Their divorce became final later that same year. She was then imprisoned by her husband in the Castle of Ahlden, where she would remain for the rest of her life.
Her father wrote,
Since it is my intention that my daughter should remain at Ahlden, and have no communication, either by- letter or other means, with any one whatsoever until she returns to her duties with the Electoral Prince, her consort, the Seigneur de la Fortiere will make himself acquainted with these wishes of mine and what I have ordered, as I do by this present. He is not to convey, nor permit to be conveyed by others to my daughter, any letters except such as come with an order signed by my hand ; and in like manner he is not to dispatch, nor allow to be dispatched, any letter of my daughter’s except with express permission from me.
In conformity with this order, the Seigneur de la Fortiere will instruct the women, valets, and other domestics in attendance on my daughter and all who enter the castle, that these who have, or receive, letters for any one whatsoever in, or out of, the castle must place them in the hands of the Seigneur de la Fortiere on pain of death.
All letters which come for any of the servants, or which are sent by any on their business, will likewise be given to the Seigneur de la Fortiere, and read by him, before being allowed to pass ; and those which are allowed to go must be stamped with his seal. If the Seigneur de la Fortiere finds the slightest cause for suspicion in them, he will send them direct to me.
The Seigneur de la Fortiere can have all persons searched by the officer or soldiers of the guard who give him the slightest cause to suspect them of being implicated in bringing forbidden messages or letters.
Except those at Ahlden in attendance on my daughter, no one else will enter the castle without my express permission ; and the above-mentioned servants are to have no conversation with any strangers —that is to say, with any others but those of the household and people of Ahlden—except in the presence of the Seigneur de la Fortiere or of some one commissioned by him for that purpose ; and the Seigneur de la Fortiere will give orders that as soon as strangers arrive in the said Ahlden he shall be immediately informed of the fact.
The women and other attendants on my daughter will not go out of the castle without the Seigneur de la Fortiere’s permission, and the remainder of the servants will only enter the castle at fixed hours to perform their duties, and will go away again as soon as they are done.
My daughter will only leave the castle to take a walk, if she wishes, in the garden between the two moats, and then she must be accompanied by the Seigneur de la Fortiere.
If my daughter wishes to take her meals in the salon outside her rooms, she will have permission to do so, and the persons whose business it is to be in waiting, and the footmen will attend at these meals ; but the Seigneur de la Fortiere will always be present, and, after rising from table, everybody will leave my daughter except the lady-in-waiting and her chamber attendants.
The Seigneur de la Fortiere will have the power to require the officer of the guard, in virtue of the orders 1 have given him for that purpose, to adopt strong measures to ensure the exact execution and observance of the above, as far as such may be necessary.
While she may not have been put in an actual dungeon, the conditions would certainly be stifling. After four years of lonely captivity, she wrote to her former husband and her former mother-in-law,
Ahlden, January 29, 1698.
To the Elector George Louis.
MONSIOUR,—I have the honour to write to Your Highness to assure you that I take a real share in your grief at the death of the Elector your father, and I pray God that He may console you, that He may bless your reign with His most precious favours, and that He may console Your Highness with every form of prosperity. These are prayers that I shall make every day of my life for you, and I shall always regret having displeased you. I beg you to grant me pardon for my past faults, as I still entreat you herewith on my knees with all my heart. My sorrow for them is so keen and so bitter that I cannot express it. The sincerity of my repentance should obtain pardon from Your Highness ; and if to crown your favour you would permit me to see and embrace our children, my gratitude for such longed-for favours would be infinite, as I desire nothing so earnestly as this, and I should be content to die afterwards. I send a thousand prayers for your preservation and good health, and am,
Submissively and respectfully, Monsieur, Your Highness’s most humble and obedient servant,
Ahlden, January 29, 1698.
To the Electress-Dowager.
MADAME,—It is my duty as well as my pleasure to assure Your Highness that there is no one who takes more share than I do in your grief at the death of the Elector your consort. I pray God with all my heart, Madame, that He will console you and keep you for many years to come in all prosperity and good health. I beg of you once again to pardon me for everything that I have done to incur your displeasure and to take some interest in me with the Elector your son. I implore you to grant me the pardon that I so earnestly long for and to permit me to embrace my children. And I long also to kiss Your Highness’s hands before I die. If you would grant me this favour I should be filled with gratitude. I beg you to do me the honour to believe that nothing equals the infinite respect with which I remain, Madame,
Your Highness’s most humble and obedient servant, Sophie Dorothea.
There was no response from either of them, but at last, she was allowed a visitor in the form of her mother. She also became known as the Duchess of Ahlden. The eventual accession of her husband as King George I of Great Britain made no difference to her fate. She poignantly pointed out,
If I am guilty, I am not worthy of him ; if I am innocent, he is not worthy of me.
After her daughter became Queen of Prussia, they finally managed to have contact again, although it was all kept secret. Sophia lost her mother in 1722 and with that, a frequent visitor who managed to cheer her so much. In the autumn of 1725, her daughter was visiting Hanover, and Sophia wished for nothing more than to see her. The visit never came as her daughter’s husband forbade it and so the two women had lost their last chance of ever seeing one another again.
One of the last letters from Ahlden to the Count of Bar reads,
Ahlden, August 19, 1726, 3 o’clock in the morning.
I must confess that the news that has come from beyond the sea occupies my mind. God grant there may be no obstacle to delay what I have at heart more than I can express ! You are not ignorant, sir, what that is : all my sentiments are known to you. I picture myself becoming a monster losing its sight, but I have hardly thought about it. I doubt whether Heaven, in exchange, will be pleased to open certain eyes. I am entirely ignorant of what is passing in the world except what I learn from the ordinary political news. I am guarded, and more pains than ever are taken to prevent my learning anything.
After this she wrote one more letter, to be delivered after her death. It apparently does not survive in full, but it was sent to her former husband whom she cursed from beyond the grave. She died on 13 November 1726 after being imprisoned for 33 years.1