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Sophia Dorothea of Hanover

Sophia Dorothea of Hanover

Prussian royal consort
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro Prussian royal consort
Gender female
Birth 16 March 1687 (Hanover, Hanover region, Lower Saxony, Germany)
Death 28 June 1757 (Monbijou Palace, Berlin, Germany)
Mother: Sophia Dorothea of Celle
Father: George I of Great Britain
Siblings: Melusina von der SchulenburgCountess of Walsingham
Spouse: Frederick William I of Prussia
Children: Prince Augustus Ferdinand of PrussiaPrince Henry of PrussiaPrince Augustus William of PrussiaAnna AmaliaAbbess of QuedlinburgLouisa Ulrika of PrussiaPrincess Sophia Dorothea of PrussiaPrincess Philippine Charlotte of PrussiaPrincess Friederike Luise of PrussiaFrederick II of PrussiaWilhelmine of PrussiaMargravine of Brandenburg-Bayreuth
Sophia Dorothea of Hanover
The details

Sophia Dorothea of Hanover (26 March [O.S. 16 March] 1687 – 28 June 1757) was a Queen consort in Prussia as spouse of Frederick William I. She was the sister of George II, King of Great Britain and the mother of Frederick II, King of Prussia.


Sophia Dorothea was born on 16 March 1687 (O.S.), in Hanover. She was the only daughter of George Louis of Hanover, later King George I of Great Britain, and Sophia Dorothea of Celle. She was detested by her elder brother, King George II of Great Britain.

After the divorce and imprisonment of her mother, she was raised in Hanover under the supervision of her paternal grandmother, and educated by her Huguenot teacher Madame de Sacetot.


Sophia Dorothea married her cousin, Crown Prince Frederick William of Prussia, heir apparent to the Prussian throne, on 28 November 1706. They had met as children when Frederick William had spent some time in Hanover under the care of their grandmother, Sophia of Hanover, and though Sophia Dorothea disliked him, Frederick William had reportedly early felt an attraction to her.

When a marriage was to be arranged for Frederick William, he was given the choice of Princess Ulrika Eleonora of Sweden, the Princess of Orange, and Sophia Dorothea of Hanover. The Swedish match was preferred by his father who wished to form a matrimonial alliance with Sweden, and the official Finck was sent to Stockholm under the pretext of an adjustment of the disputes regarding Pomerania, but in reality to observe the princess before issuing formal negotiations: Frederick William, however, preferred Sophia Dorothea and successfully tasked Finck to make such a deterring report of Ulrika Eleonora to his father that Frederick William would encounter less opposition when he informed his father of his choice. A marriage alliance between Prussia and Hanover was regarded as a noncontroversial choice by both courts and the negotiations was swiftly conducted. In order for Sophia Dorothea to make such a good impression as possible in Berlin, Electress Sophia commissioned her niece Elizabeth Charlotte, Princess of the Palatinate to procure her trousseau in Paris, and her bridal paraphernalia attracted great attention and was referred to as the greatest of any German Princess yet.

Sophia Dorothea as crown princess

The wedding by proxy took place in Hanover on 28 November 1706, and she arrived in Berlin on 27 November, were she was welcomed by her groom and his family outside of the city gates and before making her entrance in to the capital, followed by the second wedding the stately torch-dance and six weeks of banquets and balls.

Crown Princess in Prussia

Sophia Dorothea was described as tall, with a beautiful slender figure, grace and dignity and big blue eyes, and though not regarded strictly beautiful, she was seen as quite attractive at the time of her marriage, and described as charming in her manners, and she made a good impression in Berlin. Frederick William often called her "Fiekchen".

Sophia Dorothea and Frederick William differed from each other in every aspect and the marriage suffered as a result. Sophia Dorothea was interested in art, science, literature and fashion, while Frederick William was described as an unpolished, uneducated and spartan military man with rough manners, and though he was never unfaithful to her, he was unable to win her affection. One of the most important differences between them was that Sophia Dorothea, unlike her husband, loved entertainment, something he regarded to be frivolous. Frederick William contemplated to divorce her the same year they married, and judging by the letters of Sophia Dorothea, he accused her of not wanting to be married to him. According to Morgenstern, "He had none of that astonishing complaisance by which lovers, whether husbands or friends, seek to win the favor of the beloved object. As far as can be gathered from the words he occasionally let drop, the crossing of his first love might have been the innocent cause of this; and as the object of this passion, by the directions of her mother and grandmother, treated him with harshness, where, then, could he learn to make love?"

The birth of her firstborn son in 1707 was celebrated greatly in Prussia, and Sophia Dorothea successfully asked the king to liberate the imprisoned minister Danckelmann. In 1708, after the death of her firstborn son, the physicians declared that Sophia Dorothea was not likely to conceive again, which was a cause of the remarriage of her father-in-law. However, she gave birth to several children the following years, and finally to a son who survived in 1712.

Queen in Prussia

In 1713, her father-in-law Frederick I died and was succeeded by her spouse Frederick William I, making her queen.

At the time of the accession, Prussia was in war with Sweden, and Sophia Dorothea accompanied Frederick William during the campaign of 1715, though she soon returned to Berlin to give birth to her daughter. During the war, the king left directions to his ministers to consult her and take no action without her approval in the case of emergency. In 1717, she hosted Peter the Great on his visit to Berlin, on the king's wish, at her own palace Monbijou, which was vandalized as a result. Sophia Dorothea's first favorite was her maid of honour von Wagnitz, who was dismissed after an intrigue in which Kreutz and her mother tried to make her the king's mistress, as well as being a spy of the French ambassador Rothenburg.

Queen Sophia Dorothea was admired for her gracious manners and nicknamed "Olympia" for her regal bearing, but scarred by smallpox and overweight with time, she was not called a beauty; she was known as extremely haughty, proud and ambitious, but Frederick William greatly disliked her interference in politics, as it was his belief that women should be kept only for breeding, and that they should be kept submissive as they would otherwise dominate their husbands. The king was known for his dislike toward idleness and his parsimony to such a degree that he could beat people in the street as well as in the palace whom he viewed as lacy, and the queen complained about the "horrible avarice" he pressed upon the household: according to Pollnitz, the queen's table was often so sparingly supplied that he had often given her money so that she could be able to have an omelette for supper. Frederick William viewed her interests in theater, dancing, jewelry and music as frivolous and resented any sign of her living a life independently from his authority: he particularly disliked her interest in gambling, and it is reported that she and her partners had coffee beans ready on the table during gambling, so that if the king was to appear, they could pretend to be playing about them rather than money. On one occasion, the queen took to opportunity of the king's illness to host a ball at Monbijou with dancing and music, where she herself gambled wearing her diamond set. When the king suddenly arrived, the dancing and the music immediately stopped, and the queen unclasped and hid her jewels in her pocket. His manner toward her was described as rough and so noted that the opposite was seen as a surprise. In 1726 Sophia Dorothea inherited a sum of three million from her mother, and it attracted attention that Frederick William suddenly treated her very well: the Imperial ambassador reported that this was merely because he wanted her money, and when she never received it (as her brother refused to release the sum), Frederick William resumed his usual manner toward her. Sophia Dorothea did not have a high opinion of the king's military interest or skill, and at one occasion, when he spoke disparagingly of the English commanders retorted: "No doubt they must wish to give you the command of their army."

Sophia Dorothea of Hanover in center during the visit of King Augustus II of Poland to Berlin.

Upon the illness of the king in Brandenburg during the campaign of 1719, Sophia Dorothea was sent for, and he handed her the will in which she was named regent during the minority of his son with the Emperor and the King of England guardians to the crown Prince and entrusted her with the document with caution of secrecy. The king's favorites Grumbkow and Anhalt offered the queen's favorite Madame de Blaspiel a bribe if she procured them with information and influenced the queen in their favor; she informed the queen, who informed the king, and summoned them and told them to return to Berlin. They then tasked Madame de Blaspiel's lover Count de Manteufel to acquire the document or at least find out its meaning: the queen did give her the document and its content was revealed to Grumbkow and Anhalt. Grumbkow and Anhalt wished to lessen the queen's influence after they had been made aware of the will appointing her regent, and they unsuccessfully tried to accuse her before the king of having borrowed money and pawned a pair of earrings given to her by the king to pay her gambling debts, which the queen countered by accusing Grumbkow before the king to plot against her. In parallel to this the Clement Affair took place, in which the Hungarian alleged nobleman Clement gained access to the king by use of false letters and convinced him of a plot orchestrated by the courts of Vienna and Dresden with the purpose of deposing him in favor of the crown prince who was to be raised a Catholic under the guardianship of the Emperor, the queen, as well as Anhalt and Grumbkow, were all accused of having been implicated before Clement was exposed as a con artist and executed; one of those implicated was M. de Troschke, in whose possession was found a letter from Madame de Blaspiel expressing anger at the king's imprisonment of the suspected accomplice Kamecke. Grumbkow, who suspected the queen's favorite to have exposed his plot against the queen, delivered the letter to the king, who had Blaspiel arrested, imprisoned for a year at Spandau and banished. Her arrest forced the queen to remove the will of 1719 from the possession of Blaspiel before it was discovered there, to which end her chaplain procured it from the officer commissioned to seal up de Blaspiel's room. After this the queen replaced her as confidant with her daughter princess Wilhelmine.

Sophia Dorothea lifelong ambition was to arrange a double marriage alliance between Prussia and Great Britain by having her eldest son crown prince Frederick marry Princess Amelia of Great Britain, and her eldest daughter Wilhelmine marry Frederick, Prince of Wales, a project which had been raised during the infancy of the children. Her plan was opposed by the king's favorites Grumbkow and Anhalt, who wished to arrange a marriage between Wilhelmine and Anhalt's nephew the Margrave of Schwedt, who stood in line to inherit the throne after the crown prince, whose health was delicate, in which case Anhalt and Grumbkow hoped to come in a position of power.

In 1723, the queen managed to convince the king to give his consent to the Prussian-British marriage alliance. In October of that year, they hosted a visit by George I in Berlin, who inspected Wilhelmine and agreed to consent to the double marriage alliance if approved by Parliament. Frederick William visited George I in Goehr unaccompanied by Sophia Dorothea, who had just given birth unexpectedly before she was due to depart with him to Goehr. The fact that she had been unaware of her pregnancy caused a rumor that she had in fact tried to hide it, which caused Frederick William to suspect her for adultery, and upon his return had to be prevented to beat her by her chief lady-in-waiting Sophie de Kameke, who held his arm and told him "if he had only come there to kill his wife, he had better have kept away." The king questioned the physician Stahl, his regimental surgeon Holzendorf and Sophie de Kameke about the queen's suspected adultery, upon which de Kameke told him that "if he were not her king she would strangle him on the spot" for his accusation, which resulted in him making an apology to the queen and dismissing the affair. The double marriage alliance was promised by George I to be formally agreed upon in connection to the Treaty of Hanover (1725). Sophia Dorothea accompanied Frederick William to George I in Hanover to discuss the matter, and was left there to handle the negotiations when he returned to Berlin, but she failed to accomplish anything as the matter was avoided by both George I and his ministers. When she returned to Berlin, Frederick William was so discontent with her failure that he had the passage between their apartments to be walled up (it remained so for six weeks). The Prince of Wales asked her through his messenger La Motte whether she would consent to a secret visit by him to his intended bride Wilhelmine: the queen agreed, but made the mistake of telling so to the English ambassador Dubourguai, which obliged him to inform George II, who had the Prince of Wales recalled to England, La Motte arrested and imprisoned and the visit prevented, which damaged the queen and the project of the marriage alliance in the eyes of the king and caused a great row between the king and queen.

Sophia Dorothea of Hanover

From 1726 until 1735, Friedrich Heinrich von Seckendorff was the Austrian ambassador in Berlin and the king's favorite, and came to be the main opponent of the queen caused by his opposition to the British-Prussian marriage alliance. The animosity between the queen and Seckendorff was well known and commented by the king: "My wife and the whole world are against him; the Prince of Anhalt and my Fritz hate him like the pest, but he is a brave fellow, and loves me."

Sophia Dorothea had a very close relationship to her eldest son crown prince Frederick, who was harshly treated by Frederick William who perceived him as effeminate. According to her daughter Wilhelmine, the queen widened the riff between the king and the crown prince by demonstrating that she viewed the king's demand unfair: "Whatever my father ordered my brother to do, my mother commanded him to do the very reverse." Frederick William accused her of having damaged his relationship to their children, and therefore banned them from seeing her without his presence. When the king banned the queen from communicating with her son, she corresponded with him through her daughter Wilhelmine. When he refused her to see her eldest children, she invited them to her rooms in secrecy, and on at least one occasion, Frederick and Wilhelmine was forced to have to hide in the furniture in her rooms when Frederick William came to her room unexpectedly when they were there.. In parallel, the queen's favorite, Madame de Ramen, acted as a spy for the king, causing their relationship to deteriorate sharply. Her children were terrorized and frequently beaten by Frederick William, who may have suffered from porphyria. During the latter years of the king's life, he was often seized by fits of violence during which he hit people with his cane and threw things upon his children, which was a difficult situation for his family, as he often forced them to attend him and refused them to leave his between nine o'clock in the morning until bedtime.

In 1729, the negotiations of the Prusso-British marriage alliance was disturbed by Frederick William's Prussian recruiters, who kidnapped tall recruits from others parts of Germany including British Hannover, which caused diplomatic incidents and Frederick William to interrupt all negotiations, after which the queen renewed them again. When her independent negotiations was revealed to the king by Grumbkow, he stated to her that he would marry Wilhelmine to either a prince of Schwedt or Weissenfels and that she could consent or be imprisoned for life. She was advised by Borck to suggest the prince of Bayreuth as an alternative, which she did, after which she in agreed with her son and daughter to write to the queen of Great Britain and then simulate illness until reply. The reply was unsatisfactory, and the king was informed that she was simulating. After having beaten Wilhelmine in her presence, the queen consented to give up the marriage alliance with Great Britain providing that Wilhelmine was married to the prince of Bayreuth rather then to the Duke of Saxe Weissenfels. Falling genuinely ill short afterward, she successfully asked him to reconcile with their eldest son and daughter, and after that, he only beat them in her absence. Matters changed when the English ambassador Hotham arrived and officially suggested marriage between Wilhelmine and the Prince of Wales, providing the king agreed to marriage between crown prince Frederick and Amelia of Great Britain, and the dismissal of his favorite, the anti-British Grumbkow, whom they accused of treason against him. The king agreed to the terms if proof be offered on Grumbkow's guilt, and his son appointed governor of Hanover. Grumbkow allied with Seckendorff to prevent the marriage alliance ant thus his own fall, and the latter informed the king that the British suggestion was a result of the queen's intrigues with the purpose of deposing him in favor of his son and make Prussia a de facto British province through "the vain and haughty English daughter-in-law", whose extravagance would ruin the state. When ambassador Hotham returned with the proof of Grumbkow's guilt, he reportedly flew in to a rage and beat the ambassador. The queen had the crown prince write to Hotham and unsuccessfully ask him to reconcile with the king; before departing Prussia, however, he deposed the proof of Grumbkow's guilt with the queen.

Sophia Dorothea spent many days talking to her eldest son in the library, and was informed of his plans to escape from his father's custody. In August 1730, during a tour he made with his father through the provinces, crown prince Frederick made his unsuccessful attempt of escape from Prussia, and was brought back from the trip a prisoner. The king informed the queen of the event through Sophie de Kamecke before their arrival. Prior to their return, the queen and princess Wilhelmine burned compromising letters by them kept in the portefeuille belonging to the crown prince, which was forwarded to them by a friend after the arrest of the crown prince's accomplice Katte, and replaced them with fabricated and uncompromising ones. However, "as there were near fifteen hundred of the originals, although we worked very hard, not more than six hundred or seven hundred could be completed in the time", the portefeuille was also filled with ornamental articles. When the portefeuille was later opened, the crown prince did not recognize its content, and Grumbkow immediately suspected what had occurred and stated: "These cursed women have outwitted us!"

Georg Wenzelaus von Knobelsdorff; Queen Sophia Dorothea von Preussen

When the king returned, he told the queen that her son was dead. She replied: "What! Have you murdered your son?", and when given the reply: "He was not my son, he was only a miserable deserter", she became hysterical and screamed repeatedly: "Mon Dieu, mon fils! mon Dieu, mon fils!" The king then started to beat Wilhelmine and would possibly have killed her, had not her siblings and ladies-in-waiting intervened, and not the arrival of the crown prince's accomplice Katt been announced, which caused the king to beat him instead. When the crown prince was imprisoned at Küstrin Fortress, Grumbkow took the task to act as mediator between the crown princes and his parents, managing to reconcile them.

The imprisonment was followed by a continuous conflict between the king and the queen about the marriage of princess Wilhelmine. While the king pressed for a marriage to Schwedt or Weissenfels, the queen exchanged secret messages with her daughter and urged her not to accept any other groom than the Prince of Wales. This conflict caused the king to threaten to beat the queen and have Mademoiselle Sonsfeld publicly whipped. Finally, Wilhelmine was formally offered the choice between the Margrave of Schwedt, the Duke of Weissenfels and the Prince of Bayreuth, and she chose to marry the latter (as she had not seen him but had seen and disliked the other two), on condition that her father free her brother. Her decision was made against the will of her mother, who threatened to disown her for what she considered to be her daughter's lack of courage and ordered her not to speak to her future groom when he arrived. The king was furious at the cold demeanor of the queen during the following visit of the Prince of Bayreuth. After the betrothal of Wilhelmine and the Prince of Bayreuth, a message arrived in which George II consented that Wilhelmine marry the Prince of Wales without her brother marrying his daughter Amelia. This message made the queen convinced that there was still a possibility of concluding a Prussian-British marriage alliance, and she therefore made a point to demonstratively harass the Prince of Bayreuth to stop the wedding. Even upon the day of the wedding itself on 20 November 1731, Sophia Dorothea tried to delay the ceremony by disarranging her daughter's hair every time it had been dressed, saying she was not satisfied with the effect, in the hope that an English courier might arrive in time to stop the ceremony.

When the crown prince was liberated after the wedding of his sister, Sophia Dorothea resumed negotiations with Great Britain to marry him to Princess Amelia, and her next daughter Philippine Charlotte to the Prince of Wales, thus still completing her life project of an Prussian-British marriage alliance. these plans was crushed in 1733, when Frederick William instead conducted a marriage alliance with Brunswick by marrying crown prince Frederick to Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Bevern and Philippine Charlotte to Prince Charles of Brunswick-Bevern. She then continued her life ambition of a Prussian-British marriage alliance, and by that accomplishing a "reconciliation between the houses of England and Prussia negotiated by the Queen", this time between the Prince of Wales and her daughter Louisa Ulrika: "La Herwein has conveyed the portrait of Ulrica to the Prince of Wales, and entertained Olympia (the Queen) with false hopes." Her life ambition was finnally crushed upon the marriage of the Prince of Wales in 1736.

Sophia Dorothea favored the French side in the War of the Polish Succession of 1733-36, and disliked the king's participation in the war on the Austrian side and openly declared her view when the king swore loyalty to Austria: "I shall live to make you, who are so incredulous, believe, and prove to you how you are deceived."

During the last year's of the king's life, he was afflicted with fits of illnesses which often forced him to use a wheelchair, and Sophia Dorothea was ordered to attend to him almost nonstop. On the day of his death, Frederick William ordered himself to be taken to the queen's apartment and told her: "Rise, I have but a few hours to live, and I would at least have the satisfaction of dying in your arms."

Queen Dowager

On 31 May 1740, Frederick William died and was succeeded by her son, king Frederick the Great.

Sophia Dorothea had a very good relationship with her son the king. When she addressed him as "Your Majesty" after the funeral of his father, he interrupted her and told her: "Always call me your son, that title is dearer to me than the royal dignity." Frederick was known for his devotion to her, expressed his gratitude for having raised him and never blamed her for the his traumatic childhood, which he instead blamed on his father, and never allowed anyone to criticize her.

Sophia Dorothea lost no importance as a queen dowager: vary of the great respect the king afforded his mother and his neglect of his wife, the foreign envoys and other supplicants considered attending the audience chamber and receptions as of the queen dowager as even more important than that of the queen. Until her death, he honored her as the first lady of his court and placed her before that of his wife the queen. It was to his mother chamber the king paid the first visit on his return from campaigns, summoning the queen to meet him there; he regularly invited his mother to his personal residence at Potsdam, where his wife was never invited, and while he seldom visited his wife, he regularly attended his mother at Monbijou, were he took of his hat and remained standing until she gave him permission to sit. Sophia Dorothea presided at the wedding of her son prince William in 1742, and her daughter Louisa Ulrika in 1744.

The relationship between Sophia Dorothea and her daughter-in-law queen Elisabeth Christine was not good during the first years of her son's reign, as she resented her daughter-in-law's precedence in rank, though her son assured it to be merely formal, but their relationship improved during the last years of her life. Sophia Dorothea saw her son the last time after his first campaign in January 1757 during the Seven Years' War. At that point she was well, but soon after his departure, her health rapidly declined, and she died on 28 January. Her death was reportedly a great sorrow to Frederick the Great.



Notes and sources

  • Thea Leitner: Skandal bei Hof, Ueberreuter, 1993, ISBN 3-8000-3492-1
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