The Family

Whilst George Louis and Melusine were getting closer, his relationship with Sophia Dorothea was falling apart. For Clara, who was delighted that her favoured candidate had filled the vacancy for a mistress left by her sister, things couldn’t have gone better. All that was left was to seal the deal.

Catherine Marie returned to Hanover to celebrate her marriage to a Hanoverian general with a party hosted by her sister, Clara. Upon learning that George Louis and Melusine intended to attend the party as a couple, Clara invited Sophia Dorothea along too, revelling in the knowledge that the crown princess would be utterly humiliated to arrive alone and witness her husband and his mistress leading the dancing. In the event and much to Clara’s chagrin, Sophia Dorothea was taken ill and couldn’t attend. For the rest of the gossip-hungry court the dance between the couple served as confirmation that George Louis and La Schulenberg were very much official. Among those courtiers was Sophia Dorothea’s confidante, Eleonore von dem Knesebeck, who passed word of the relationship on to her devastated friend. As a final nail in the coffin, whenever George Louis visited the Leineschloss he made his home not in his marital apartments, but in those occupied by Melusine. She was already edging Sophia Dorothea out of the picture, simply by her presence.

It’s worth mentioning here Sophia Charlotte von Platen, another important woman in the life of George Louis. Sophia Charlotte was George’s half-sister via Ernest Augustus’ extra-marital liaison with Clara von Platen and she had inherited her mother’s penchant for making trouble. Just as Melusine would one day be mocked as the Maypole, Sophia Charlotte would come to be known in England by the unflattering moniker of the Elephant, thanks to her enormous bulk. Years later, the splendidly waspish Horace Walpole remembered her thus:

“[Sophia Charlotte], whom I saw at my mother’s in my infancy, and whom I remember by being terrified at her enormous figure, was as corpulent and ample as the Duchess [Melusine] was long and emaciated. Two fierce black eyes, large and rolling beneath two lofty arched eye-brows, two acres of cheeks spread with crimson, an ocean of neck that overflowed and was not distinguished from the lower part of her body, and no part restrained by stays – no wonder that a child dreaded such an ogress, and that the mob of London were highly diverted at the importation of so uncommon a seraglio!”16

Court rumour had it that Sophia Charlotte was George Louis’ mistress either just before Melusine came on the scene or at the same time. Since she also happened to be his half-sister, the rumours of intimacy were more than simply scandalous. Gossip about her supposed incestuous intrigue with George Louis grew so widespread at the Hanoverian court that the mortified Electress Sophia stepped in and put a stop to it once and for all. Despite those scurrilous whispers amongst courtiers, George Louis and Sophia Charlotte remained friends throughout their lives. She married in 1701 and her husband, Johann Adolf von Kielmansegg, was immediately welcomed into the elector’s inner circle, a state of affairs that left Melusine ruffled. Alongside her sister-in-law, Sophie Karoline von Platen, Sophia Charlotte was one of the sharpest thorns in Melusine’s side for many years and she was as blunt as her rival was diplomatic. When George Louis travelled to England, the battle between Melusine and Sophia Charlotte to be the first woman to join him was to cause even more trouble for the mistress. George Louis’ granddaughter, Wilhelmine, echoed the thoughts of many when she decided that Sophia Charlotte was “very clever, but used her cleverness to no good purpose, and was a slave to evil ways.”17 In those ways, one might say that she was her mother’s scheming daughter.

Though it was virtually a given that royal men would take a mistress, they were expected to do so on the understanding that such an arrangement would cause their wives no embarrassment. By dancing and cavorting with Melusine at a public occasion such as Catherine Marie’s party, George Louis had flouted the one rule he was expected to obey. The mawkin was now more of a companion to George Louis than Sophia Dorothea had been for years and the crown princess was determined to avenge her errant husband. She did so by taking as her lover the dashing adventurer, Count Philip Christoph von Königsmarck, but she reckoned without his love of the spotlight. When Königsmarck regaled high-ranking friends at the court of Dresden with tales of “a prince [who would] destroy the life and happiness of his good and beautiful wife by neglecting her for an impudent and worthless mistress”, gossip soon spread across the Empire about the trouble at the heart of Hanover. Inevitably, word of the count’s pointed comments reached Melusine and George Louis. Königsmarck had crossed the line.

The result was catastrophic. George and Sophia Dorothea argued like never before and when Sophia Dorothea challenged him about his relationship with Melusine, George Louis attacked her. He threw her to the floor and would have choked her were he not physically dragged away by Sophia Dorothea’s attendants. Duchess Sophia spirited Sophia Dorothea off for a restorative break, whilst George Louis remained in Hanover where Melusine could soothe his troubled brow. Though Clara von Platen would spend the next years scheming against Sophia Dorothea and Königsmarck, who had once been her lover and had thrown her aside for the unhappy crown princess, Melusine had no such ambition and certainly none of the jealousy that drove Clara. Melusine had come to Hanover seeking security and though the position of a mistress was sometimes precarious, it was still better than nothing. George Louis’ favour gave her protection, prestige, and an easy life, and unlike Clara she had no ambitions to influence the electoral court’s future and no political axe to grind. Perhaps most important of all, Melusine certainly had no personal dislike for Sophia Dorothea, the woman whose husband she now accompanied everywhere. Instead she had simply seen an opportunity for advancement and had taken it. Such was life in Hanover.

After the birth of Sophia Dorothea of Hanover in 1686, there were to be no more children for the crown prince and princess. Truth be told, as relations between them deteriorated to the point of violence, there was probably precious little intimacy too. The same certainly couldn’t be said for Melusine and George Louis.

Tragedy struck in October 1691 when Melusine’s father, the very man who had brought her to Hanover and decided her future, died. The family had always been close, and his loss hit Melusine hard. Though she was an adult by the time she was orphaned, the security offered by George Louis now became more important than ever. Melusine was still grieving for the late Gustavus Adolphus when she gave birth to her first child the following January. In the cries of the newborn infant no doubt she took some comfort and joy after the long, hard winter. All Melusine and George Louis’ children were girls and the parents named their firstborn Anna Luise Sophie, known as Luise. Unlike George Louis’ other illegitimate child, this time the mother wouldn’t be paid off and asked to leave Hanover for good.

Melusine had not been present when the unfortunate undergoverness and child were banished from court and it’s highly likely that she knew nothing of it. Though courtiers loved to gossip, to spread rumours about the heir to his adored mistress would not have been a wise move. Perhaps Melusine even expected that her lover would acknowledge their daughter, and all would proceed as normal. If that was the case, she was to be sorely disappointed.

When Sophia Dorothea learned of the little girl’s birth she was humiliated and angry. She confronted her husband about the baby and once again, things turned violent. George Louis rounded on Sophia Dorothea and attempted to strangle her. Unsurprisingly, their relationship would not recover from this second brutal assault. From that point on, George Louis concentrated on Melusine.

Ernest Augustus had had two illegitimate children of his own with Clara von Platen, but her husband had happily claimed paternity of them in exchange for favours and promotion, despite the fact they never had any biological children of their own. This might seem extraordinary, but it was simply the way things were done, so it will come as no surprise to learn that George Louis once again followed his father’s example and declined to acknowledge Luise as his own. It was Melusine’s first brief brush with the kind of public humiliation to which George Louis had treated Sophia Dorothea, and she was entirely unequipped to deal with it. The court of Hanover was her whole world and she had gone from the crown prince’s acknowledged favourite to the unenviable position of an unmarried lady-in-waiting with a baby. It didn’t matter that the father was the heir to the electorate, to be an unwed mother could still spell social death for Melusine. Something must be done to save her reputation.

Yet Melusine was not the scheming and wrathful Clara, nor was she Sophia Dorothea, who felt so abandoned in her marriage. What she had that neither of those women did was a large, loving and close-knit family, and it was they who offered Melusine a helping hand in her most dire hour of need. It was so close-knit, in fact, that when George Louis was looking for two trusted men to join his household, he chose Melusine’s brothers, Friedrich Wilhelm and Johann Mattias. Both went on to enjoy highly celebrated military careers thanks to their sister’s court connections. The family looked after its own and it would look after the newborn baby girl too.

Though little Luise continued to live in Hanover with Melusine, she was officially acknowledged as the child of Melusine’s elder sister, Margarete Gertrude, and her husband. It set a precedent and in time, all three children of Melusine and George Louis would be formally acknowledged as the offspring of Melusine’s siblings. When a second daughter, Petronella Melusina, was born the following year, she too was acknowledged as the daughter of Margarete Gertrude. Melusine’s youngest sister, Sophie Julianne, would acknowledge Melusine and George Louis’ third and final child, Margarethe Gertrud, as her own in 1701. The von der Schulenbergs knew how to close ranks when they had to.

This was the best possible outcome for everyone. It was especially fortuitous in the case of the first two children, who came along at a time when George Louis’ marriage was in crisis and the House of Hanover was in the process of celebrating its elevation to an electorate. Although George Louis didn’t acknowledge paternity, he didn’t intend to ignore his children either. The arrangement with the von der Schulenberg siblings meant that he was able to see his second family freely without embarrassing Hanover at the moment of its greatest triumph. It was the perfect solution.

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