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The Monstrous Regiment of Women: Sophia Dorothea of Celle, A …

Sophia Dorothea of Celle, princess of Hanover (born 15 September 1666)

Sophia Dorothea of Celle’s life is a tragic one–and her story is like that of many other inconvenient royal and aristocratic women, who were judged to be “immoral,” “crazy,” “barren,” or otherwise “dangerous” to the powerful men (and, to be fair, women) in their lives. Sophia Dorothea was married at age sixteen much against her will. The marriage was arranged between her father, George William, duke of Brunswick-L neburg-Celle, and his sister-in-law, Sophia of the Palatinate, electress of Hanover and, under the settlement act of 1701, heir presumptive to the English throne (she was a daughter of Elizabeth Stuart, who herself was the daughter of King James I of England)–for the English succession, German Hanoverian Protestants who had never lived in England were preferred to any English Stuart heirs suspected of being Catholic or of having Catholic sympathies. For Sophia of Hanover, the motivations for her son’s marriage were financial–according to Sophia Dorothea’s biographer, the young woman was “the richest heiress in Germany.”

But, even as she maneuvered to arrange the marriage of her son, George Louis, to Sophia Dorothea, the princess palatinate despised her brother-in-law George William, his wife (Eleonore d’Esmier d’Olbreuse, an exiled French Protestant aristocrat, who had been George William’s mistress before she became his wife, ten years after Sophia Dorothea’s birth), and her son’s bride-to-be, Sophia Dorothea.

As for Sophia Dorothea herself, on hearing the announcement of the planned match, she “shouted, sobbed, stormed, smashed to smithereens the portrait of George Louis, set in in diamonds, that her future mother-in-law had brought for her” and insisted that she would not marry him, professing that she would never leave her mother and would prefer dying at Celle than marrying her father’s choice. When first introduced to Sophia of Hanover, Sophia Dorothea is reported to have fainted. For his part, George Louis was impressed by what his mother called “a tidy sum to pocket,” if not the bride herself. By the terms of the marriage contract, Sophia Dorothea’s wealth became his. (All of this offering one more great example of traditional marriage.) The two were married on 21 November 1682. Sophia Dorothea produced the requisite children–a son, George Augustus (who would become King George II of England), and a daughter, Sophia Dorothea (the younger Sophia Dorothea became queen of Prussia, but her marriage to Frederick William, king of Prussia, was also very unhappy). While George Louis had a long-time mistress, Ehrengard von der Schulenburg, one of his mother’s ladies-in-waiting (this relationship produced two daughters), the mere rumor in 1692 that Sophia Dorothea had a lover (the Swedish count Philip Christoph von K nigsmarck) resulted in her banishment and imprisonment. (K nigsmarck disappeared in 1694, his death probably arranged by George Louis.) George Louis divorced his wife as well–or, rather, he had his marriage “dissolved” on the basis that his wife had abandoned him. From 1694 until her death on 13 November 1726, thirty-three years later, Sophia Dorothea was held captive, imprisoned in Ahlden House, on the L neburg Heath in Lower Saxony, Germany. Although George Louis became king of Great Britain and Ireland on 1 August 1714, his British subjects did not know his wife was alive. Ehrengard von der Schulenburg moved to England with George Louis, now George I. There she was heaped with titles: on 18 July 1716 she was created duchess of Munster, marchioness of Dungannon, countess of Dungannon, and baroness Dundalk (Irish titles). On 19 March 1719 she was created duchess of Kendal, countess of Feversham, and baroness Glastonbury (English titles). In 1723, the Holy Roman Emperor created her princess of Eberstein, which some historians have regarded as evidence that she and King George had married in secret. (His relationship with Ehrengard did not keep George I from having other mistresses, however.) I began this post by referring to other royal or aristocratic women who became “inconvenient” and were simply removed from the scene. Here are just a few:

  • Eleanor of Aquitaine, queen of England (c. 1122-1203): imprisoned by King Henry II of England between 1173 and 1189, though, unlike most of the women on this list, she made it out alive;
  • Joan of England, queen of Sicily (1165-1195): Eleanor of Aquitaine’s daughter, she was imprisoned after her husband’s death in 1189 by his successor, Tancred, but ultimately freed by her brother, King Richard, who took time off during his trip to the Holy Land to secure her release in 1190;
  • Isabel, countess of Gloucester (c. 1173-1217): discarded after ten years’ of marriage by her husband John shortly after he became king of England, she was deprived of title and possessions and closely held in Winchester and then Sherborn for fourteen years, until 1213, when John, needing money, sold her off to a new “husband” for what historian Dan Jones calls an “astronomical” sum;
  • Elizabeth de Burgh, queen of Scotland (c. 1284-1327): the second wife of Robert the Bruce, king of Scotland, she was imprisoned after her husband’s defeat at the battle of Methven in 1306, sent to Edward II, king of England, and imprisoned in a variety of locations from October 1306 until 1314, when she was finally returned to Scotland;
  • Christina Bruce (c. 1278-1357): Robert the Bruce’s sister, she was sent to the convent of Sixhills after her brother’s defeat at the battle of Methven, but released, marrying in 1326;
  • Mary Bruce (c. 1282-1323): Robert the Bruce’s sister, she was betrayed after her brother’s 1306 defeat, imprisoned in a stone and iron cage, and then hung out of doors for public display at Roxborough Castle; her imprisonment in these harsh outdoor cages lasted from 1306 until 1310 when she was moved to a different confinement, her release coming after the battle of Bannockburn in 1314;
  • Isabella MacDuff, countess of Buchan (d. c. 1313?): supporter of Robert the Bruce, she was imprisoned in a stone and iron cage and then hung out of doors for public display at Berwick Castle from 1306 until 1310, then transferred to a different confinement, and transferred again in 1313, after which her fate is unknown;
  • Marjorie Bruce (c. 1296-1316): Robert the Bruce’s daughter, she was transferred to Watton Priory after her father’s defeat at the battle of Methven in 1306 and held in solitary confinement until 1314, after the battle of Bannockburn–King Edward I had originally planned to build a cage for Marjorie, like the ones in which he imprisoned her aunts, and display her at the Tower of London, but he ultimately decided on the convent instead
    (Note: for all of these women, their imprisonments outlasted Edward I, who died in 1307, and were continued by his son, Edward II);
  • Maria of Portugal (c. 1310-1350s): abandoned and imprisoned by her husband Alfonso XI of Castile;
  • Blanche of Bourbon (1338-1361): repudiated by Pedro of Castile in 1352, the day after their marriage, and imprisoned until her death;
  • Eleanor Telles (c. 1350s-1386): wife of Ferdinand I of Portugal, regent for her daughter, Beatrice, but overthrown, exiled to Castile, and imprisoned;
  • Beatrice of Castile (1353-1368): the eldest daughter of Pedro I of Castile, forced out of her claim to the throne of Castile and into a convent;
  • Blanche of Navarre (1424-64): repudiated by her husband, Enrique of Castile after thirteen years of marriage and send back to Navarre, where she was imprisoned and deprived of her claim to the throne;
  • Jeanne d’Harcourt (c. 1451-1488): repudiated by her husband Ren II of Anjou after fourteen years of marriage because of her “sterility,” returned to her father’s chateau at Tancarville where she lived under guard;
  • Enrique of Castile’s daughter Juana of Castile (1462-1530), la Beltraneja: her legitimacy disputed, her title of queen of Castile lost (she lost it to Isabella of Castile), and consigned to a convent from 1480 until her death;
  • Juana I of Castile and Aragon, Isabella’s daughter, la Loca: who inherited the titles of her mother and father, but whose husband, father, and son decided she was crazy and who was imprisoned for nearly fifty years, from 1507 until her death in 1555;
  • Jeanne of France (1464-1505): the younger sister of Anne of France, repudiated by her husband, Louis XI after twenty-two years of marriage on the grounds, he claimed, of non-consummation, but really so he could marry Anne of Brittany (Jeanne entered into a convent and ultimately became a saint);
  • Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536): repudiated by Henry VIII after more than twenty years of marriage, and banished after 1531;
  • Margaret Douglas (1515-78): the daughter of Henry VIII’s older sister, Margaret Tudor, she was imprisoned in the Tower from 1536 until 1537 by Henry VIII for having engaged herself secretly to Thomas Howard and branded as “illegitimate,” then imprisoned again by Henry in 1540 and by Queen Elizabeth in 1566 and again in 1576;
  • Mary, queen of Scots (1542-1587): imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth of England from 1568 until she was executed in 1587;
  • Catherine Grey (1540-68): imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth from 1561 until 1563 after a clandestine marriage, her marriage annulled, her children declared illegitimate, and forcibly removed to a series of confinements, dying in Suffolk at the age of twenty-seven;
  • Mary Grey (c. 1545-1578): imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth from 1565 until 1572, after a clandestine marriage, and while ultimately released and “rehabilitated,” she died in 1578 at the age of thirty-three;
  • Arbella Stuart (1575-1615): to all intents and purposes imprisoned by her grandmother, Bess of Hardwick, to keep her safe and prepare her to inherit the English throne after Queen Elizabeth’s death, then imprisoned by King James I from 1610 to 1615 after a clandestine marriage and labelled as insane, dying in the Tower while imprisoned, probably from refusing to eat;
  • Charlotte of Hesse-Kassel (1627-1686): divorced unilaterally by her husband, Charles Louis of the Palatinate, who bigamously married his mistress but maintained control of his “ex” wife in his palace; after nine years, she was allowed to return to her home in Hesse-Kassel;
  • Caroline Matilda of Great Britain (1751-75): arrested in 1772 by her husband, King Christian II of Denmark and Norway, interrogated and pressured to admit an affair, her marriage dissolved and then deported to Celle, where she was imprisoned and died at the age of twenty-three.

And these are just the names that come immediately to mind . . .

Paul Morand’s Sophia Dorothea of Celle: The Captive Princess[1] is the only biography I know of–it’s a very bad English translation of Morand’s French original, but used copies are very cheap.

References

  1. ^ Sophia Dorothea of Celle: The Captive Princess (www.amazon.com)

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