King George I and a Murder Mystery

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The discovery of a skeleton beneath Leine Palace in Hanover has led to an investigation which may provide significant proof that the future King George I of Great Britain and Ireland was party to a murder. The story dates back to the last decade of the seventeenth century when George’s future as British monarch was unknown and he was heir to the Duchy of Hanover (Brunswick-Lüneburg). George had married his first cousin Sophia Dorothea of Celle in 1682, but it was for purely dynastic reasons and there was no love between them. Two children resulted from the marriage – who would later become George II of Great Britain and Sophia Dorothea, Queen Consort in Prussia.

Having fulfilled his dynastic duty, George returned to his mistress Melusine von der Schulenburg, by whom he had two daughters in 1692 and 1693 respectively. Sophia Dorothea meanwhile embarked on a romance of her own with the Swedish Count Philip Christoph von Königsmarck. Königsmarck, a soldier and adventurer, was a dashing figure who entered George’s father’s (Ernest Augustus Elector of Hanover) service in 1688. With plenty of female admirers at court, Königsmarck soon became the lover of Clara, Countess von Platen (an ambitious nobleman and also the lover of Ernest Augustus). But Clara was a particularly jealous and possessive character and Königsmarck seized the first opportunity to end the affair – a military expedition that took him away from Hanover.

Leine Palace in Hanover where human remains that could be of (inset) Count Philip Königsmarck of Sweden were unearthed. (Top left) King George I by Sir Gottfried Kneller (1646-1723). (Top right) Sophia Dorothea of Celle with her two children, George and Sophia Dorothea.

(Above) Leine Palace in Hanover where human remains that could be of (inset) Count Philip Königsmarck of Sweden were unearthed. (Top left) King George I by Sir Gottfried Kneller (1646-1723). (Top right) Sophia Dorothea of Celle with her two children, George and Sophia Dorothea.

Sophia Dorothea’s affair

In Hanover Königsmarck had formed a close relationship with Sophia Dorothea and, during his absence, they both realised the strength of their feelings for each other. Upon his return they began an affair in earnest. They tried to keep it secret, communicating through intermediaries and secret signals, but Clara found out and her jealousy enraged her. At the same time marital relations between George and Sophia Dorothea had also deteriorated badly. The court was shocked when, during a public row, George tried to throttle Sophia Dorothea. She decided to flee Hanover and the lovers shared a series of secret meetings as they planned their escape.

But they never left as, during July 1694, Königsmarck disappeared and was never heard of again. Rumours soon started that Königsmarck had been done away with but his fate remained a mystery. Some whispered that George and his family had him murdered, others that Clara had taken revenge on her former lover. For Sophia Dorothea it was not just a personal tragedy. It proved to be the opportunity her husband and in-laws had waited for, to banish her from court. In December 1694 the marriage was dissolved on the grounds that she had abandoned her husband and Sophia Dorothea was taken to Ahlden House in nearby Celle. She had not yet turned thirty but would remain a prisoner, albeit in genteel circumstances, until her death in 1726. George sought to purge her memory from history and his children were forbidden from mentioning their mother.

The harsh treatment of Sophia Dorothea in fact had a negative impact on George’s relationship with his son. Meanwhile Sophia Dorothea’s family were heartbroken. Although she was visited by her mother, French born Éléonore Desmier d’Olbreuse, she never saw her father George William again. In 1705, with his health failing, he tried to have a final meeting but it was not allowed.

The mystery reopened

Now the mystery of Count Königsmarck’s disappearance has been reopened by German authorities after workers renovating Leine Palace in Hanover came across human remains. Thomas Blade, spokesman for the Hanover prosecutor’s office, said: “The body lay around eight meters deep under the foundations.” An exact cause of death however has not yet been determined but, according to Mr.Blade science, may yet solve the mystery through “comparision of DNA with the comparison of still living descendants of Count Königsmarck. If there is a match, then we could still prove that it was murder.”