The accession of her father as King of Great Britain in 1714 led to her entertaining the thought of a marriage between her eldest daughter Friedrike Wilhelmine and Prince Frederick – later Prince of Wales and the father of King George III. This marriage never happened after rumours were spread that the young Princess was deformed and had epilepsy. In 1719, her husband was seriously ill, and Sophia Dorothea was granted the regency in case of his death. Luckily, he survived his illness. The education of their eldest son was a sore point between the parents, and Friedrike Wilhelmine later wrote, “Whatever my father ordered my brother to do, my mother commanded him to do the very reverse.” In 1729, the Crown Prince was placed under the care of new governors, as his father hoped to reform his ways – he had recently become friends with two men with different ideas. When he tried to escape his new governors, he was captured and brought back as a prisoner. Sophia Dorothea was implicated in having facilitated his escape. Frederick William cruelly told his wife that their son was dead, and she screamed, “What! Have you murdered your son? Mon Dieu, mon fils! (My god, my son!)” He also happened upon his eldest daughter Friedrike Wilhelmine during his rage and nearly beat her to death.
Frederica Louise was the first of her children to marry. On 30 May 1729 in Berlin, she married Karl Wilhelm Friedrich, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach. After the awful scene with her father, Friedrike Wilhelmine was given the choice of three husbands, and she picked the future Frederick, Margrave of Brandenburg-Bayreuth, on the condition that her brother would be released. They were married on 20 November 1731, and the crown prince was set free after the wedding. Sophia Dorothea believed her daughter to be weak and acted coldly to her future son-in-law. She wrote that she would “never forgive her.”
Wedding would follow wedding in the coming years. The crown prince married Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel-Bevern on 12 June 1733, followed by Philippine Charlotte’s wedding to the future Charles I of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel on 2 July 1733, Sophia Dorothea junior married Frederick William, Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt on 10 November 1734, Augustus William married Luise of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel on 6 January 1742, Louisa Ulrika married the future Adolf Frederick, King of Sweden on 17 July 1744, Henry married Wilhelmina of Hesse-Kassel on 25 June 1752 and Augustus Ferdinand married Elisabeth Louise of Brandenburg-Schwedt on 27 September 1755.
Shortly after the crown prince’s marriage, Frederick William’s health had begun to decline more steeply than before. His health had been bad for years. Sophia Dorothea nursed him dutifully during his year of ill-health. During these years, he often used a wheelchair to get around. As death approached, he made his own funeral arrangements and ordered a postmortem to be done. He also had his coffin brought to him for inspection. In his last hours, he said to Sophia Dorothea, “I have but a few hours to live, and I would at least have the satisfaction of dying in your arms.” In the end, he died on 31 May 1740 in his eldest son’s arms as Sophia Dorothea was being led from the death bed. Despite his often harsh treatment of her, Sophia Dorothea was deeply affected by her husband’s death.
When she later addressed her son as “Your Majesty,” he interrupted her and said, “Always call me your son; that title is dearer to me than the royal dignity.” In addition, he also remained standing until she requested him to sit. They remained close over the next years, and he often came to see her first when he returned from a campaign. From 1756 onwards, her health began to decline. Shortly before her death, she wrote to her daughter Philippine Charlotte, “My health remains much in the same state. I suffer always from great weakness, although I do all I can to recover my strength; nevertheless, I remain very feeble. I see that I must arm myself with much patience.” The letter arrived on 28 June 1757, and Sophia Dorothea died on that day.
Her son – in the midst of battle – shut himself up in his tent when he received the news. He would see no one. He wrote to his sister Friedrike Wilhelmine, “A new sorrow that depresses us! We do not have a mother anymore. This loss puts the crown on my pain!”1
Memoirs of the queens of Prussia by Emma Willsher Atkinson