I read about AURORA von Königsmarck (1662-1728) (Ger., Eng.), and somewhere in the back of my balding head a little bell was ringing. AURORA is one of the many lovers of FRIEDRICH AUGUST I. of Saxony (1670-1733) (Ger., Eng.) (called “The Strong”, der Starke) ; she even became his official maitresse, and gave birth to the Saxonian duke’s (and as AUGUSTUS II. Polish-Lithuanian king’s) illegal son MORITZ (1696-1750) (Ger., Eng.), who later became Maréchal Général des Camps et Armées du Roi, Marshal General of France.
As I read AURORA seemingly felt real affection to the crowned Lothario, and she even could build a relationship with FRIEDRICH AUGUST’s conniving wife CHRISTIANE EBERHARDINE of Brandenburg-Bayreuth (1671-1727) (Ger., Eng.). AURORA tactfully choose to move to Goslar (whc) and give birth there (MORITZ was born on the 28th of October 1696), while CHRISTIANE brought the only legal son of her husband to the world on the 17th of October 1696 in Dresden. When AURORA came back to Dresden she already had been replaced as the rambling ruler’s favourite. She received a position as abbess of Quedlinburg Abbey (Ger., Eng.). She used her remaining life to take care for said abbey, and had to see about the family inheritance matter that resulted from her brother’s disappearance.
And with this brother we finally approach the Interesting Woman of this post, SOPHIE DOROTHEA von Braunschweig und Lüneburg (1666-1726) (Ger., Eng.).
SOPHIE was the only daughter of the duke of Braunschweig-Lüneburg, and – and this was something unusual for the time – she came from a loving family. Her parents were devoted to each other, loved her only daughter, there was a real family life. SOPHIE received a good education, was open-minded, teachable – she grew up in a carefree environment in Celle castle.
PHILIPP CHRISTOPH von Königsmarck (1665-1694) (Ger., Eng.), AURORA’s younger brother, spent his childhood at the court of Celle (Ger., Eng.), and knew SOPHIE since their childhood days. He went to Oxford to study, finally choose a military career. After wandering & fighting through Europe he returned to Hanover in 1688, serving as colonel in the house guard of duke ERNST AUGUST of Hanover-Lüneburg, as Oberst der Leibgarde. This duke had a son called GEORG LUDWIG (1660-1727) (Ger., Eng.), who later was known as GEORGE I. of Great Britain, and who was, since 1682, married to our lovely SOPHIE.
SOPHIE did not want this marriage, the whole thing was a political & dynastic arrangement. In the beginning it seemed to shape up reasonably well, dutifully the pair produced two heirs (son GEORG AUGUST (1683-1760), later GEORGE II. of Great Britain, husband of this Interesting Woman, and a daughter SOPHIE DOROTHEA (1687-1757)). But after the birth of the second child the couple drifted apart.
GEORG LUDWIG openly favoured his maitresse MELUSINE von der Schulenburg, while SOPHIE rediscovered her inclination towards PHILIPP CHRISTOPH. This seemingly went unnoticed since 1691, became a serious liason in spring 1692, and finally resulted in a stout martial row : After a heated dispute with her husband, in spring 1694, SOPHIE grabbed some things and went back to her parents, back to Celle.
They sent her back. For political reasons, they needed Hanover’s help in an actual war against Denmark, so her father – again – put the interest of the “state” over the interest of his only daughter.
In summer 1694 SOPHIE and PHILIPP plotted an escape, they wanted to flee either to Wolfenbüttel or to Saxony. But, of course, the plan was disclosed to the court : The traitor was CLARA ELISABETH von Platen (an ancestor of our AUGUST), who had tried to convince PHILIPP CHRISTOPH that it would be a good idea to marry her daughter : PHILIPP refused, and CLARA ELISABETH took her revenge.
PHILIPP vanished on the 2nd of July 1694, after he had met SOPHIE for a last time in the old Leineschloß (Ger., Eng.). This is all what is known for sure about his fate. It is very likely that he was murdered, either on command of ERNST AUGUST or his son GEORGE LUDWIG. SOPHIE would never know what happened to her lover. Some years ago bones were found in the Leine castle, but DNA testing could establish that these are not PHILIPP’s remains.
SOPHIE had to take all the blame. She was divorced from her husband, and kept in a small castle in Ahlden (Ger., Eng.), effectively in solitary confinement, for the rest of her life – from 1694 to 1726, 32 years.
She spent the first years in a kind of apathy, only later she tried actively to change, to better, her situation, with no result. Visitors were basically not allowed, with the exception of her mother. After the latter’s death in 1722 SOPHIE was alone. The military detachment consisted of forty men, their only task was to guard one woman. In the beginning she was only allowed to move inside the castle, later she was allowed, of course under heavy guard, to walk in the grounds. After some years even riding in a coach was allowed. It is possible that they all became a little … strange there, over the years.
In early 1726 she suffered a stroke. Without regular exercise and movement she had become fat, but eating was seemingly her last joy. She had feverish colds, colics, and finally she went to bed in August 1726, and would not get up again. She refused any food consumption, any medical help, effectively starving herself to death. She died on the 13th of November 1726 at the age of sixty.
The autopsy provided evidence of gallstones and a liver failure. GEORGE forbid any public display of mourning in Hanover and London, and was furious when he heard that the court in Berlin wore black. The guards had no instructions for a burial, so they put her corpse in a lead coffin, put the thing in the cellar, and waited for orders.
These came in January 1727, and said basically “Heck, bury her in the yard without any fuss !” This was not possible for some weeks because of heavy rain, so the casket came back into the cellar and was covered with sand.
In May 1727, clandestinely, in the night, SOPHIE DOROTHEA, princess of Ahlden, was buried in St. Marien (Ger.) in Celle.
What a life.