Thursday 8 June 2017

Sophia of Hanover (1630-1714): a woman for all times and all seasons

Kurfuerstin Sophie
Sophia as dowager Electress of Hanover,
around the time she was proclaimed heir
presumptive of the British crown.
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
On a day that electors across Great Britain and Northern Ireland go to the polls in what may well prove to be an historic plebiscite for the UK, another event is recalled, which marked a significant milestone in the history and evolution of that United Kingdom.

Sophia of the Palatinate (commonly referred to as Sophia of Hanover – she was Electress of Hanover from 1692 to 1698) died on this day (June 8) in 1714, less than two months before she would have ascended to the throne of the Kingdom of Great Britain, to which she became heir presumptive under the Act of Settlement 1701.

In her biography, Sophia of Hanover: Winter Princess (2010), author, J.N. Duggan suggests that Sophia deserves greater recognition than has hitherto been accorded to her: as a certain link in the lineage of the British Crown. She was, in fact, "an exceptional woman in her own right, remarkable both for her open-minded and down-to-earth character and for her writings, which have been sadly neglected."

"She occupied a ringside seat at the cockpit of continental politics." She was also a gifted chronicler, corresponding with many influential and/or well-placed people of her day. Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716) and John Toland (1670-1722) were among the writers and philosophers whom she sponsored.

Fortunately, much of this correspondence has survived to provide "a wonderful glimpse of life as it was for the ruling classes of her time". In addition to her "insider's view of many of the main military and political events of her time", she also paints a picture that people today would find uncomfortable – freezing castles and smoking chimneys, rickety carriages and muddy roads and "harshest of all, the demands of etiquette, which kept her standing for over an hour, listening to her brother, the Elector, while she was in labour with her fourth son."

Upon Sophia's death, her eldest son, Elector George Louis of Brunswick-Lüneburg (1660-1727), became heir presumptive to the British throne and succeeded Queen Anne (1665-1714), who died within a few short weeks of Sophia's passing. His descendants have occupied the throne down to the present time.

Sophia of Hanover: Winter Princess by J.N. Duggan is published by Peter Owen Publishers and available to buy online in print and e-book editions. Further information available from the author's website.

Milestones and Anniversaries