“I will not marry the pig snout." - The sad Tale of Sophia Dorothea, Duchess of Brunswick and Luneburg

15 September 1666, Sophia Dorothea, Duchess of Brunswick and Luneburg, “uncrowned queen“ of England, mother of George II and grandmother of Frederick the Great, was born in Celle.

“I will not marry the pig snout.” (King George I)

A painting by an unknown artist, probably Jacques Vaillant from around 1690, 
showing Sophia Dorothea as Duchess of Brunswick and Luneburg with her two children.

Friedrich Schiller saw the life of the Princess of Ahlden, as usually, as the conflict between bourgeois virtues and the snake pit of courtly intrigue and self-seeking and was about to transform the curious fate of Sophia Dorothea into another beacon of grace under pressure, a misunderstood noble heart and the general failure of decency. The play remained fragmentary. The fate of the woman, who almost had become Queen of England and went to rack and ruin in the game of ducal, electorial and royal thrones during the turmoil of the final establishment of Protestantism as state religion in Northwestern Europe during the late 17th century, was, at least, eventful – up to a point. Married by her father George William, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, to the son of his brother Ernest August, then Prince of Calenberg-Göttingen, as a gesture of honouring a family agreement that his line of succession as head of House Hanover would not be threatened by the Brunswick-Lüneburg-line and potential husbands from other principalities or even Sweden, Sophia Dorothea went to Hanover in a union that nobody wanted except the princely fathers.

King George I with his family (sans pig snout and goose) by James Thornhill (c 1720)

Against all expectations, the first years of the marriage between Sophia Dorothea and George of Hanover proceeded quite harmoniously for an arranged marriage, she bore two children, her husband was away in the wars, but they got along. George always preferred his mistress, though, one Melusine von der Schulenburg, and that relationship finally exploded into a scene of domestic violence and the Duke of Hanover had to be bodily dragged away by his courtiers lest he beat her to death. That did it for Sophia Dorothea. She tried to elope with a dashing cavalry colonel, Philipp Christoph von Königsmarck in 1694, the couple was betrayed by a confidante, one Countess von Platen, Königsmarck vanished into thin air, probably murdered, and Sophia Augusta was divorced, for neglecting her husband, according to the case record, and went to a lifelong confinement at Ahlden House near Celle in the middle of the Lüneburg Heath.

The “Countess of Ahlden” received a princely compensation but was not allowed to leave the premises of Ahlden House, not even to visit her father on his deathbed for a final reconciliation, nor to see her children again. She lived under these conditions for the last 30 years of her life, became obese and finally starved herself to death, suffering from gallstones, at the age of 60. Her ex-husband, after the Act of Settlement of 1701 the successor of Queen Anne and now King George I of Great Britain and Ireland, forbade every kind of mourning and since no specific order came from England about what to do with her corpse, her coffin was covered with sand in the cellar of Ahlden House and lay there for almost a year until somebody took pity and arranged a burial at her family’s crypt in Celle. Melusine von der Schulenburg accompanied George to England, became the royal mistress, the Duchess of Kendal, and, even if Prime Minister Walpole said she was the Queen of England as much as anyone was, became the target of every imaginable mockery from the Jacobites. After George’s death, she died on her estates, alone with her raven, still believing the king was returning to her.

Ehrengard Melusine von der Schulenburg, 
Duchess of Kendal and mistress of King George I of Great Britain – in short: The Goose