Sophia of Hanover was born on 14 October 1630 in The Hague, the Netherlands, where her exiled parents, Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James VI and I and Anne of Denmark and Frederick V, Elector Palatine, lived. She was christened on 30 January 1631 in the Kloosterkerk in The Hague, where only three days earlier her elder sister Princess Charlotte had been laid to rest. Afterwards, she was taken to Leiden to be raised because, in Sophia’s own words, her mother “preferred the sight of her monkeys to us.” [ref] Duggan, J. N., Sophia of Hanover, From Winter Princess to Heiress of Great Britain p. 31 [/ref]
Sophia describes her youth at Leiden for us: “I rose at seven in the morning and every day I had to go en déshabille to Mlle Marie de Quadt, one of the daughters (of Madame de Plessen) who made me say my prayers and read the bible. Then she taught me the Quatrains of Pibrac while she used the time to clean her teeth, which always had need of it, and rinse her mouth, the grimaces of which have remained in my imagination far better than all she tried to teach me.” [ref] Duggan, J. N., Sophia of Hanover, From Winter Princess to Heiress of Great Britain p. 33 [/ref]
At the age of ten, her education at Leiden ended, and she returned to join her mother and sisters in The Hague. By 1650, only Sophia and her sister Louise were living with their mother. That same year, she was invited by her brother, who had been restored to the Rhine Palatinate, to come to Heidelberg. Sophia sailed up the Rhine with two of her ladies. They couldn’t stay at the castle in Heidelberg as it had been damaged in the war. They were lodged in a house in town. While at Heidelberg, she became ill with smallpox. “That year (1650) I had an attack of smallpox which made a great breach in my beauty. ” [ref] Duggan, J. N., Sophia of Hanover, From Winter Princess to Heiress of Great Britain p. 51 [/ref]
In 1652, her future husband, Duke Ernst August of Brunswick-Lüneburg passed through Heidelberg. They had met once before when he was very young. “He was even handsomer than before,” Sophia wrote about him. [ref] Duggan, J. N., Sophia of Hanover, From Winter Princess to Heiress of Great Britain p. 51 [/ref] It wasn’t until 17 October 1658 that they finally married. It was three days after Sophia’s 28th birthday. She wore a wedding dress “a l’Allemagne” of silver brocade. She wore her hair in loose curls and wore a “great tiara of diamonds, which belonged to the family.” Her train was carried by four maids of honour. [ref] Duggan, J. N., Sophia of Hanover, From Winter Princess to Heiress of Great Britain p. 60 [/ref] She was “determined to love him.” [ref] Duggan, J. N., Sophia of Hanover, From Winter Princess to Heiress of Great Britain p. 61 [/ref] Her mother was not present for the wedding.
The couple went to live in Hanover, and they were welcomed by her mother-in-law at the Leine Schloss. Sophia soon became pregnant with her first child. She went into labour at the end of May and the labour lasted an agonising three days and nights, and neither mother nor child were expected to survive. Finally, on 28 May 1660, Sophia gave birth to the future King George I of Great Britain. One day later, Sophia’s cousin Charles II of England made his triumphal entry into London as King. Sophia would spend the next six weeks in bed. [ref] Duggan, J. N., Sophia of Hanover, From Winter Princess to Heiress of Great Britain p. 68-69 [/ref]
Sophia gave birth to her second son, Frederick August, on 3 October 1661. In 1664, she suffered a miscarriage of twins. She suffered another miscarriage in 1665. Sophia gave birth to twins on 13 December 1666, but only one baby survived. He was christened Maximilian William. She wrote of him, “I keep him in my room to divert me after all my pains.” [ref] Duggan, J. N., Sophia of Hanover, From Winter Princess to Heiress of Great Britain p. 87 [/ref] She gave birth to a daughter named Sophia Charlotte on 2 October 1668 followed by a son named Charles Philip on 9 October 1669, another son named Christian Henry on 29 September 1671 and a final son on 17 September 1674 named Ernst August.
She was not at all amused by the suggestion of a marriage between her brother-in-law’s illegitimate child, Sophia Dorothea of Celle and her eldest son, but the girl was a wealthy heiress, and another husband may try to lay claim to the duchy that Sophia’s son was set to inherit. Nevertheless, the wedding was celebrated on 22 November 1682. She became a grandmother on 10 November 1683 with the birth of George August. Her only daughter married on 8 October 1684 to the future King of Prussia.
In 1689, William of Orange and his wife Mary, now King William III and Mary II, replaced James II on the English throne and the Bill of Rights was passed stating that the monarch must not be a Catholic or be married to one. At this early stage, it was already clear to Sophia that she or her son may one day inherit the English throne. She wrote to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, “The Princess of Denmark (Princess Anne) is, however, about to give birth to her seventh child, all the others having inherited the Kingdom of Heaven in order to bring me nearer to the throne unless this last infant survives to inherit the English throne.” [ref] Duggan, J. N., Sophia of Hanover, From Winter Princess to Heiress of Great Britain p.135 [/ref] Despite being the youngest surviving child of Elizabeth Stuart, Sophia was Protestant, and she was born in the Netherlands and could speak to William III in his native tongue.
From 1694 until 1698, Sophia devoted her time to nursing her husband. The possibility of her or her son succeeding to the English throne was not known to many people at the time. On the night of 2/3 February 1698 Sophia’s husband passed away. “One does not die of grief, or I would have done so long ago, as my sorrows have already lasted for a long time since the late Elector was so ill for a long time”, Sophia wrote. [ref] Duggan, J. N., Sophia of Hanover, From Winter Princess to Heiress of Great Britain p. 155 [/ref]
On 30 July 1700, Princess Anne’s only surviving child died at the age of 11, clearing the path for Sophia or her son. By then, Sophia was 69 years old. The succession was settled in Sophia’s favour in 1701. William III died in February 1702, and Princess Anne became Queen. They didn’t get along. Sophia wrote, “There is little likelihood that I will ever go to England, The Queen doesn’t want me, and she may well live longer than I. Creaking wagons travel far, says the Hollander, and the healthy, as God be praised and thanked I am, often die first. Everything is in God’s hands. I keep myself calm as I can, which preserves my health.” [ref] Duggan, J. N., Sophia of Hanover, From Winter Princess to Heiress of Great Britain p. 165 [/ref]
In the end, Queen Anne outlived Sophia by just two months. Sophia died on 8 June 1714 after collapsing the gardens of Herrenhausen. Queen Anne died on 1 August 1714 and was succeeded by Sophia’s son.