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Sophia of Hanover

Sophia of the Palatinate
Electress of Hanover
Tenure 1692–1698
Spouse Ernest Augustus, Elector of Hanover
George I of Great Britain
Maximilian William
Sophia Charlotte, Queen in Prussia
Ernest Augustus, Duke of York
House House of Wittelsbach-Simmern
House of Hanover
Father Frederick V, Elector Palatine
Mother Elizabeth of Scotland
Born (1630-10-14)14 October 1630
The Hague, Netherlands
Died 8 June 1714(1714-06-08) (aged 83)
Herrenhausen, Hanover
Burial 9 June 1714[1]
Leine Castle, Hanover

Sophia of the Palatinate (commonly referred to as Sophia of Hanover; 14 October 1630 – 8 June 1714[2]) was the Electress of Hanover from 1692 to 1698. She became heiress presumptive to crowns of the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Ireland under the Act of Settlement 1701. After the Act of Union, 1707 unified the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland, she became heiress to the throne of Kingdom of Great Britain.

Sophia, a granddaughter of (Old Style).

Born to Frederick V, Elector Palatine, and Elizabeth Stuart, in 1630, Sophia grew up in the Dutch Republic, where her family had sought refuge after the sequestration of their Electorate during the Thirty Years' War. Sophia's brother Charles Louis was restored to the Palatinate as part of the Peace of Westphalia. Sophia married Ernest Augustus of Brunswick-Lüneburg in 1658. Despite his jealous temper and frequent absences, Sophia loved him, and bore him seven children who survived to adulthood. Initially a landless cadet, Ernest Augustus succeeded in having the House of Hanover raised to electoral dignity in 1692. Therefore, Sophia became Electress of Hanover, the title by which she is best remembered. A patron of the arts, Sophia commissioned the palace and gardens of Herrenhausen and sponsored philosophers, such as Gottfried Leibniz and John Toland.


  • Early life 1
  • Marriage 2
    • Issue 2.1
  • Heiress of the crowns 3
  • Death and legacy 4
    • Ancestry 4.1
  • Titles and styles 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8

Early life

Sophia, dressed as an Indian. Painted by her sister (circa 1644), Louise Hollandine of the Palatinate

A daughter of Frederick V, Elector Palatine, and Elizabeth Stuart, also known as the "Winter King and Queen of Bohemia" for their short rule in that country, Sophia was born in The Wassenaer Hof, The Hague, Dutch Republic, where her parents fled into exile after the Battle of White Mountain. Through her mother, she was the granddaughter of James VI and I, king of Scotland and England.[3] At birth, Sophia was granted an annuity of 40 thalers by the Estates of Friesland. Sophia was courted by her first cousin, Charles II of England, but she rebuffed his advances as she thought he was using her in order to get money from her mother's supporter, Lord William Craven. (cf. Dirk Van der Cruysse: Sophie de Hanovre, Memoires et Lettres de Voyage, Fayard Paris, 1990; also Sophia of Hanover: From Winter Princess to Heiress of Great Britain, J.N. Duggan, Peter Owen, London 2010)


Sophia, Princess Palatine, and Electress of Brunswick-Lüneburg

Before her marriage, Sophia, as the daughter of Frederick V, Elector Palatine of the Rhine, was referred to as Sophie, Princess Palatine of the Rhine, or as Sophia of the Palatinate. The Electors of the Palatinate were the Calvinist senior branch of House of Wittelsbach, whose Catholic branch ruled the Electorate of Bavaria.

On 30 September 1658, she married Ernest Augustus, Elector of Brunswick-Lüneburg, at Heidelberg, who in 1692 became the first Elector of Hanover. Ernst August was a second cousin of Sophia's mother Elizabeth Stuart, as they were both great-grandchildren of Christian III of Denmark.

Sophia became a friend and admirer of Gottfried Leibniz while he was librarian at the Court of Hanover. Their friendship lasted from 1676 until her death in 1714. This friendship resulted in a substantial correspondence, first published in the nineteenth century (Klopp 1973), that reveals Sophia to have been a woman of exceptional intellectual ability and curiosity. She was well-read in the works of René Descartes and Baruch Spinoza. Together with Ernst Augustus, she greatly improved the Summer Palace of Herrenhausen and she was the guiding spirit in the creation of the gardens (which still exist) surrounding the palace, where she died.


Sophia had several children. Those who reached adulthood were:

Electress Sophia and her daughter

Sophia was absent for almost a year, 1664–5, during a long holiday with Ernest Augustus in Italy, but she corresponded regularly with her sons' governess and took a great interest in her sons' upbringing, even more so on her return.[4][5] After Sophia's tour, she bore Ernest Augustus another four sons and a daughter. In her letters, Sophia describes her son as a responsible, conscientious child who set an example to his younger brothers and sisters.[6]

Sophia was, at first, against the marriage of her son and Sophia Dorothea of Celle, looking down on Sophia Dorothea's mother (who was not of Royal birth) and concerned by Sophia Dorothea's legitimated status, but was eventually won over by the advantages inherent in the marriage.[7]

Heiress of the crowns

Sophia as dowager Electress of Hanover, around the time she was proclaimed heiress presumptive of the British crown.

In September 1700, Sophia met her cousin, King William III of England and II of Scotland, at Loo. Just two months before their meeting, Prince William, Duke of Gloucester, King William III's nephew and son of the future Queen Anne, died. Given the ailing William III's reluctance to remarry, the inclusion of Sophia in the line of succession was becoming more likely.[8]

A year later, the Parliament of England passed the Act of Settlement 1701 declaring that, in the default of legitimate issue from Anne or William III, the crowns were to settle upon "the most excellent princess Sophia, electress and duchess-dowager of Hanover" and "the heirs of her body, being Protestant". The key excerpt from the Settlement, naming Sophia as heiress presumptive reads:

Sophia was made heiress presumptive for the purpose of cutting off any claim by the Roman Catholic James Francis Edward Stuart, who would otherwise have become James III & VIII, as well as denying the throne to many other Roman Catholics and spouses of Roman Catholics who held a claim. The act restricts the British throne to the "Protestant heirs" of Sophia of Hanover who have never been Roman Catholic and who have never married a Roman Catholic. Some British politicians attempted several times to bring Sophia to England in order to enable her to immediately assume the government in the event of Anne's death. It was also argued that such a course was necessary to ensure Sophia's succession, for Anne's Roman Catholic half-brother was significantly closer to London than Sophia. The electress was eager to move to London,[9] but the proposal was denied, as such action would mortally offend Anne who was strongly opposed to a rival court in her kingdom. Anne might have been aware that Sophia, who was active and lively despite her old age, could cut a better figure than herself.[10] Sophia was completely uncertain of what would happen after Anne's death, saying: "What Parliament does one day, it undoes the next."[11]

When the law was passed in mid-1701, Sophia (age 70), five of her children (ages 35 to 41), and three legitimate grandchildren (ages 14 to 18) were alive. Although Sophia was in her seventy-first year, older than Anne by thirty-five years, she was very fit and healthy, and invested time and energy in securing the succession either for herself or her son.[12] Currently, there are more than 5,000 legitimate descendants of Sophia, although not all are in the line of succession. The Sophia Naturalization Act 1705 granted the right of British nationality to Sophia's non-Roman Catholic descendants;[13][14] those who had obtained the right to British citizenship via this Act at any time before its repeal by the British Nationality Act 1948 retain this lawful right today.

Death and legacy

Summer Palace of Herrenhausen and the Great Garden, ca 1708

Although considerably older than Queen Anne, Sophia enjoyed much better health. According to the Countess of Bückeburg in a letter to Sophia's niece, the Raugravine Luise,[15] on the 5th of June 1714 Sophia felt ill after receiving an angry letter from Queen Anne. Two days later she was walking in the gardens of Herrenhausen when she ran to shelter from a sudden downpour of rain and collapsed and died, aged 83—a very advanced age for the era.[16] Just over a month later, in August, Queen Anne died at the age of 49. Had Anne died before June 1714, Sophia would have been the oldest person to ascend the British throne.

Upon Sophia's death, her eldest son Sophia Charlotte of Hanover (1668–1705) married Frederick I of Prussia, from whom the later Prussian kings descend.


Titles and styles

  • 14 October 1630 – 30 September 1658: Her Serene Highness Countess Palatine Sophia of the Rhine
  • 30 September 1658 – 18 December 1679: Her Serene Highness Duchess Sophia of Brunswick-Lüneburg
  • 18 December 1679 - October 1692: Her Serene Highness The Duchess of Brunswick-Lüneburg
  • October 1692 - 23 January 1698: Her Most Serene Highness The Electress of Hanover
  • 23 January 1698 – 1701: Her Most Serene Highness The Dowager Electress of Hanover
  • 1701 – 8 June 1714: Her Royal Highness The Crown Princess of Great Britain, Dowager Electress of Hanover


  1. ^ Sam Sloan's Big Combined Family Trees, page 749
  2. ^ Or 28 May in the Old Style Calendar.
  3. ^ Uglow, p 20.
  4. ^ Dirk van der Cruysse; Sophie de Hanovre: Memoirs et Lettres de Voyage
  5. ^  
  6. ^ Hatton, p.29
  7. ^ Hatton, pp.36, 42
  8. ^ Horwitz, Henry (1977). Parliament, policy, and politics in the reign of William III. Manchester University Press ND. p. 276.  
  9. ^ Sharpe, Kevin (1998). Refiguring revolutions: aesthetics and politics from the English revolution to the Romantic revolution. University of California Press. p. 59.  
  10. ^ Sachse, William Lewis (1975). Lord Somers: a political portrait. Manchester University Press ND. p. 236.  
  11. ^ Sachse, p.309
  12. ^ Hatton, pp.75–76
  13. ^ Picknett, Lynn, Prince, Clive, Prior, Stephen & Brydon, Robert (2002). War of the Windsors: A Century of Unconstitutional Monarchy, p. 206. Mainstream Publishing. ISBN 1-84018-631-3.
  14. ^ Hanover case 1955-57; legal arguments online
  15. ^ J. N. Duggan, Chapter 13
  16. ^ [1] The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography


Further reading

  • Klopp, Onno, ed., (1864-1875). Correspondance de Leibnitz avec l'électrice Sophie. Hanover (French)
  • J. N. Duggan. Sophia of Hanover, From Winter Princess to Heiress of Great Britain; London: Peter Owen, 2010
  • Van der Cruysse, Dirk; Sophie de Hanovre, Memoires et Lettres de Voyage; Paris: Fayard, 1990
German nobility
Preceded by
Benedicta Henrietta of the Palatinate
Duchess consort of Brunswick-Lüneburg
Served alongside: Éléonore Desmier d'Olbreuse
Title next held by
Caroline of Ansbach
New title Electress consort of Hanover
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