Melusine – The possible wife of George I

(public domain)

George I’s family life was often such a disaster that the fact he kept mistresses was hardly seen as a scandal. Before ascending the throne of Great Britain and Ireland, George I’s marriage had fallen apart. George had divorced and imprisoned his wife Sophia Dorothea after she had an affair. The tale worsened when Philip Christoph von Königsmarck, Sophia’s lover, went missing and was presumably murdered with George’s knowledge. When George moved to England as King, his ex-wife remained imprisoned in Ahlden Castle where she stayed until her death. George I also had a terrible relationship with his son and heir, which caused rifts within the royal family. Melusine, George’s maîtresse-en-titre simply blended into the background as these events caught the attention of the public.

Melusine was born as Ehrengard Melusine von der Schulenberg in December 1667 to a family of old nobility in Magdeburg in modern-day Germany. She served at the court of Sophia of Hanover as Lady-in-Waiting. Melusine became George’s mistress when he was the Electoral Prince of Hanover and was with him through his transition to Duke of Hanover in 1698 and was still by his side upon his accession to the English throne in 1714. George could always trust Melusine as she had been with him since his youth and was not like many women who would aim to be a royal mistress to gain power for themselves.

Melusine went to England to be with George and was awarded with a plethora of titles upon her move. In 1716, she was created the Countess of Dungannon, Duchess of Munster and Baroness Dundalk. These were followed by a further three titles in 1719 including the Duchess of Kendal title which Melusine is mostly remembered by. In 1723, she was awarded another title by Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor which gives evidence to the idea that Melusine and George had taken part in a secret morganatic marriage. The Emperor bestowed upon Melusine the title of Princess of Eberstein. The idea that the pair were married has been widely debated; remarriage was not allowed in England at the time if the former partner was still living. As George’s ex-wife Sophia Dorothea was alive until 1726 and George died in mid-1727, there was not much time for this marriage to have taken place and there is no evidence for it, other than a portrait of Melusine wearing the royal ermine.

George I
King George I (public domain)

Whether the couple were ever married or not, we may never know, but we do know that they had a happy relationship which resulted in three children. Anna Luise Sophia was born in 1692, Petronilla Melusine born in 1693 and Margarethe Gertrud born in 1701. The three girls were officially known as children of Melusine’s sisters in order to prevent a scandal. The youngest sadly died of tuberculosis in 1726 in the same year that King George’s ex-wife died whilst under house arrest.

Melusine was popular within certain circles in England, being called ‘as much the queen of England as anyone was’. However, she was also often taunted about her appearance or was the butt of xenophobic jokes which were common as the English struggled to come to terms with having a new German king. The Jacobite supporters were some of Melusine’s biggest critics as they believed George to be an imposter king, they often called Melusine ‘goose’ or ‘the maypole’ because of the way she looked. Overall, George and Melusine were at least appreciated by many English people for keeping the country safe from Catholicism even if groups of the population disliked them.

In June 1727, George I was on a trip home to his native Hanover when he was suddenly fell ill. The King suffered a stroke and died on the journey and was subsequently buried in Hanover, his mistress of over three decades was not with him when he died and later decided to remain in England when George’s son ascended the throne as George II.

After the death of her lover King George, Melusine lived a comfortable life in London. She purchased a beautiful home in Mayfair and spent a lot of time with her daughters. Melusine became a patron of the arts and spent her days watching operas and plays. She died at the age of 75 in 1743 and was buried without a fuss at Grosvenor chapel near her home.

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