Authors: Claudia Gold
THE KING’S MISTRESS
The True and Scandalous
Story of the Woman Who Stole
the Heart of George I
First published in Great Britain in 2012 by
55 Baker Street
7th Floor, South Block
Copyright © 2012 Claudia Gold
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Print ISBN 978 1 84916 411 5
eBook 978 1 78087 550 7
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Family Trees © Rich Carr Studios
For my sister Tanya
An astonishing number of contemporary women were called Sophia, or had Sophia as a prefix to their name. To add to the confusion, George’s illegitimate half-sister and his only legitimate sister shared the same name, Sophia Charlotte. George’s youngest and favourite brother shared their father’s name, Ernst August. Below is a list of some of the main characters who appear in
The King’s Mistress
, in the hope that it will help to illuminate and distinguish them.
Caroline of Ansbach
, Georg August’s wife, later Queen of England.
, Elector of Hanover. George’s father.
, prince-bishop of Osnabrück, later Duke of York. George’s youngest and favourite brother.
, see Sophia Charlotte
, George’s eldest son, later King George II.
Maximilian Wilhelm (Max)
, George’s most troublesome brother.
, see Ehrengard Melusine von der Schulenburg
, princess of the Palatinate and Electress of Hanover. George’s mother. Proud and haughty, she was descended from King James I of England.
Sophia Charlotte (Figuelotte)
, later Queen of Prussia. George’s only sister.
Sophia Dorothea of Celle
, George’s wife and first cousin, and Melusine’s rival.
, see Margarethe Gertrud von Oeynhausen
Young Sophia Dorothea
, George and Sophia Dorothea’s legitimate daughter.
Margarethe Gertrud von Oeynhausen (Trudchen)
, Melusine and George’s youngest daughter. She married Albrecht Wolfgang of Schaumburg-Lippe.
Sophie Juliane von Oeynhausen
, Melusine’s younger sister. She and her husband accepted Trudchen as their daughter.
, Sophia Charlotte’s mother.
Mâitresse en titre
of Ernst August, Elector of Hanover.
Sophia Charlotte von Platen
(later Sophia Charlotte von Kielmansegg by her marriage, and Countess of Darlington), George’s illegitimate half-sister.
Sophie Karoline von Platen
, married to Sophia Charlotte’s brother, Ernst August von Platen, and a leader of the anti-Melusine faction at the Hanoverian court.
George Augustus of Schaumburg-Lippe
, Trudchen’s elder son.
Joanne Sophie, Countess of Schaumburg-Lippe
. A courtier in both Hanover and England, she was Melusine’s closest friend, and Trudchen’s mother-in-law.
William of Schaumburg-Lippe
, later Count of Schaumburg-Lippe. Trudchen’s younger son.
Anna Louise von der Schulenburg
, later Countess Delitz (Louise). Melusine and George’s eldest daughter.
Ehrengard Melusine von der Schulenburg
, later Duchess of Kendal (Melusine). The mistress of George, Electoral Prince of Hanover, later King George I of Britain.
Frederick William von der Schulenburg
, Melusine’s half-brother, gentleman of the bedchamber, friend and confidant of George.
Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg
. Melusine’s eldest brother, an internationally renowned field marshal and diplomat.
Margarete Gertrud von der Schulenburg
. Melusine’s eldest sister, she and her husband accepted Louise and young Melusine as their daughters.
Petronella Melusine von der Schulenburg
, later Countess of Walsingham, and by her marriage, Lady Chesterfield (young Melusine). Melusine and George’s middle daughter.
‘As much Queen of England as any ever was; . . . he [George I] did everything by her.’
– Robert Walpole on Melusine, recorded
in Mary Countess Cowper,
On a spring day in 2011, in the storeroom of a provincial museum in Celle, northern Germany, I saw the face of Ehrengard Melusine von der Schulenburg. I had first become aware of her in 2006 while I was researching a book about queens and courtesans. She fascinated me.
She was the mistress and possibly the secret wife of George I, Elector of Hanover and later king of Great Britain. Yet her reputation is appalling. I read that she gleefully purloined Queen Anne’s property, particularly her jewels. Several historians have gone so far as to imagine Melusine and her lover George I’s half-sister, Sophia Charlotte, nightly plundering Anne’s diamonds in the candlelit vaults of St James’s Palace. One claims that she was so meticulous in her looting that Caroline of Ansbach, George II’s queen, had only one strand of pearls at her disposal for her coronation and was crowned in borrowed jewels.
Few could understand George’s infatuation. By contemporary standards Melusine was not a great beauty. Eighteenth-century men preferred their women plump, and ‘la Schulenburg’ was slim. Her nickname amongst the English, who loathed her, was ‘the Maypole’.
Others sources twittered that she was old; she was hideous; she was excessive in her greed; she had no love for George and would have ‘sold him to the highest bidder’; she was dim-witted; she was dull; she stood by passively as George pursued younger and more attractive mistresses; she condoned incest, willingly sharing George’s affections and his bed with his half-sister, Sophia Charlotte.
Yet this seemingly grasping and unattractive woman managed to wrest George from his beautiful and tempestuous wife, Sophia
Dorothea of Celle, and bind him to her for almost forty years. In doing so she rose from the ranks of minor courtier to become one of the most powerful women in Europe. Her influence led Louis XV of France to write to his ambassador to the Court of St James’s, Count Broglio: ‘You will neglect nothing to acquire a share of her confidence, from a conviction that nothing can be more conducive to my interest.’
She became the conduit between the king and his ministers and she traded in court places and titles. She was a prime mover in the South Sea Bubble, that unedifying spectacle of greed, deception, stupidity and finally blind panic that resulted in misery and economic ruination. Melusine’s part in the scandal would seal her notoriety.
Melusine, a clever woman in a position of power, was one of Thomas Carlyle’s notorious ‘harlots’. She was not in the tradition of those glorious, vibrant courtesans who for centuries have held sway over kings. But she was extremely powerful. The king’s ministers did little without her say-so and she used her position to accumulate fabulous wealth. As I investigated the sources, it became clear that George I was devoted to her.