It was the quintessential love story: seventeenth-century boy falls in love with seventeenth-century girl. Then the boy, 29-years old at the time, goes missing, presumably murdered by the girl’s husband. Said husband then divorces the girl and sends her to prison for the rest of her life. So goes the story of Philip Christoph Königsmarck, a Swedish count; Sophia Dorothea of Celle, a German princess; and her husband, who would later become King George I of Britain.
Now, more than 322 years after disappearing from Germany’s Leineschloss Castle, it’s possible that Königsmarck’s body may have been found. Last seen while visiting his mistress at the castle in July 1694, their scheme to escape her unhappy marriage and elope is well-documented in the 300 love letters Sophia and Philip exchanged over a two-year period, which are now kept at Sweden’s Lund University.
Multiple men admitted to killing Philip for his affair with the future British king’s wife, so there’s little doubt about Königsmarck fate. Some reports however, suggest his body had been disposed of outside the castle grounds or thrown in a river. These reports were thrust into the spotlight when construction workers renovating part of the castle unearthed a human skeleton believed by many to be Sophia’s ill-fated lover.
George I was King of Great Britain and Ireland from 1714 until his death in 1727. He ascended the British throne as the first monarch of the House of Hanover at the age of 54, following the death of Queen Anne of Great Britain. Although more than 50 other relatives had closer blood relationships to Anne, Catholics were prohibited from inheriting the British throne by the Act of Settlement 1701; George was Queen Anne’s closest living Protestant relative.
An initial examination confirmed the remains are probably centuries old, and researchers with the University of Göttingen are now working to compare DNA extracted from the bones with samples taken from Königsmarck’s living relatives. Thomas Schwark, from the Historical Museum of Hanover, told the German newspaper Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung. “If it really is the bones of Königsmarck, [it] would be a sensation.”
Philip and Sophia’s love story has inspired a number of films and books, largely due to the surviving cache of love letters. Sophia is typically seen as a sympathetic figure despite her infidelities because her husband was such an awful person, not just to his wife but to everyone. George was also unfaithful, physically abusive, and he enjoyed openly snubbing her in favor of his mistress: Melusine von der Schulenburg.
According to Eleanor Herman’s book “Sex with the Queen”, George’s own mother referred to him as “the most pigheaded, stubborn boy who ever lived, who has round his brains such a thick crust that I defy any man or woman ever to discover what is in them.”
Sophia spent the remainder of her life, 32 years, locked up at Castle Ahlden in Saxony. She was buried there, but later transferred and interned next to her parents in Celle, where she remains today.
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