George I of Great Britain and Sophia Dorothea
In centuries past, there was undoubtedly one rule for men and another for women. And nothing quite shows this than the story of George I and his very unhappy marriage to Sophia Dorothea of Celle. What at first looked like it could be an ideal union or two very-well-bred young people, turned into something far nastier, ending in abuse, imprisonment and possibly ever royally-sanctioned murder.
It was in 1682 that the first cousins married. They had known each other as children and never really got along, and this didn’t change with the marriage of political convenience. While it was a success insofar as it produced two children (the desired ‘heir and a spare’) it was a dysfunctional relationship to say the least. By 1687, George had given up pretending to even enjoy the company of Sophia Dorothea. Instead, he spent increasing amounts of time with his favourite mistress. Sophia Dorothea, meanwhile, met Count Philip Christopher von Konigsmarck, a Swedish colonel in the Hanoverian army, in 1790. The two became lovers.
Much to the annoyance of George, news of his wife’s extramarital affair got out and soon it was pretty common knowledge. His advisors had warned him against pursuing liaisons of his own lest it bring the royal house into disrepute. Her advisors had similarly warned her against seeing the dashing Swede. But still, the two carried on with their dalliances, antagonizing one another until, by the summer of 1694, George could stand it no more. While he, as a man, was allowed his extra fun, Sophia Dorothea was expected to remain faithful. He had to act.
Whether or not George gave the order remains a subject of fierce debate to this day. But what is known is that on one day in July 1694, Count von Konigsmarck, his wife’s lover, was brutally murdered by four hired killers and his body thrown into a river. The other man out of the way, George then moved to punish his wife. Their marriage was dissolved, not due to their mutual infidelities but because she had ‘abandoned’ her husband. George had Sophia Dorothea imprisoned in Ahlden House, a mansion in Lower Saxony, Germany. What’s more, her own father agreed to the arrangement. She was out of his life for good.
Sophia Dorothea would end up under house arrest for more than 30 years. She was even forbidden from seeing her own children, even if the castle was comfortable and all her needs were met. George, meanwhile, shamelessly carried on seeing his favourite mistress, and they even had three children together. He ascended to the throne and ruled as King of Great Britain and Ireland from 1714 until his death in 1727.