When Queen Anne died in 1714, her throne should have passed to her younger brother, James (son of James II of England & VII of Scotland and Mary of Modena). But since James was a Catholic and the Act of Settlement of 1701 (during the reign of William III) cut all Catholics out of the line of succession, the throne passed to Anne’s German cousins: the Hanoverians. Sophia of the Palatinate was the daughter of the ‘Winter King and Queen’ Frederick V and Elizabeth Stuart (a daughter of King James I of England/VI of Scotland and his wife, Anna of Denmark). For more context, Sophia was a sister to Rupert of the Rhine. Sophia died only a short time before Anne, so when Anne died, Sophia’s son George became the king.
The new King George I, known as the first Hanoverian king of Britain, had an early life in Germany full of drama, scandal, and violence. His oft-forgotten wife, Sophia Dorothea of Celle, had one of the most tragic lives I’ve come across. When George arrived in England with his mistresses, his long-estranged wife Sophia Dorothea remained under house arrest back in Germany (a situation she endured for over three decades). In The Imprisoned Princess: the Scandalous Life of Sophia Dorothea of Celle, published in 2020 by Pen & Sword History, historian Catherine Curzon sheds light upon this woman’s tragic life. Although I have previously purchased a few of Curzon’s books, including Life in the Georgian Court and Sophia – Mother of Kings: The Finest Queen Britain Never Had, this is the first one I have read in its entirety and I found it an absorbing read.
Sophia Dorothea was a pampered and loved daughter with a sizable fortune and was married off to her cousin, George, in an arranged marriage she didn’t want. Philip Christoph von Königsmarck was the dashing Swedish soldier who entered into an extremely passionate (and ultimately fatal) romance with young Sophia Dorothea, who was by then in an unhappy marriage with an unfaithful, sometimes violent, usually cold and often ill-tempered husband, George.
Although I have done a little bit of research and written about some of these historical figures in my own works, it was great to read a whole work devoted to their stories and I learned quite a lot. The two main figures, Philip and Sophia Dorothea, come across as very immature and Philip, in particular, seems to have been quite a dramatic sort of fellow. The story was quite a social drama, with jealousy and courtly intrigues swirling about, and there was also plenty of gruesome horror when it came to Königsmarck’s tale (which is downright shocking).
A note on the style: whilst the book is readable and engaging, it is very casual, chatty, and laid-back: it felt like I was listening to a friend talk over several cups of coffee. I can see why some readers may think it too casual, especially those who prefer works that are much more serious in tone, but I enjoyed it (having employed a similar style in my own books). The book includes illustrations, an introduction, an acknowledgements section, two appendices, endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. I wouldn’t be surprised if this story was made into a new miniseries or film because it has all the ingredients: star-crossed lovers, warfare, political turmoil, sexual indiscretions, and more.
An engrossing, gossipy read.