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Sophia of the Palatinate (commonly referred to as Sophia of Hanover; 14 October 1630 – 8 June 1714) was the youngest daughter of Frederick V, Elector Palatine, of the House of Wittelsbach, the "Winter King" of Bohemia, and Elizabeth Stuart. She is frequently referred to as the Duchess Sophia, particularly when the text also is discussing her niece and future daughter-in-law, who is referred to as Princess Sophia.

Through the Act of Settlement 1701, an Act of the Westminster Parliamentmarker which changed the normal laws of inheritance to the English and Irish thrones, Sophia was declared the heiress presumptive to her first cousin once removed, Queen Anne of England and Ireland (later Queen of Great Britain and Ireland). Sophia was never declared heiress presumptive to Scotland. She would have acceded to Anne's crown, had she not died a few weeks before Anne did. Upon Sophia's death, her son George Louis, Elector of Hanovermarker and Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, became heir presumptive. Upon Queen Anne's death, he became George I.

Early life

Sophia was born in The Haguemarker, where her parents were in exile after being defeated at the Battle of White Mountainmarker. She was the youngest of the five daughters of Frederick V, Elector Palatine, and Elizabeth of Scotland and England. She was brought up in Leidenmarker until moving back to her parents' court at The Hague in 1641. Her mother later suggested she marry their neighbour, the exiled Charles II, but Sophia was not interested in marrying her first cousin, and went to live with her brother, Charles I Louis (the new Elector Palatine, who had recently been restored to his lands) in Herrenhausenmarker in 1650.

In 1657 Sophia's niece Elizabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate came to live with Sophia. Sophia was Elizabeth Charlotte's youngest aunt; the young Elizabeth Charlotte married the only brother of Louis XIV of France in 1671; Elizabeth Charlotte, later known as Madame at court, would write long letters to her aunt describing the court of Louis XIV.


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 Rhinemarker, or as Sophia of the Palatinate.

On 30 September 1658, Sophia married Ernest Augustus, at Heidelbergmarker, who in 1692 became the first Elector of Brunswick-Lüneburg. 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 a courtier to the House of Brunswick, from 1676 until his death in 1716, and a librarian at Hanover. 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 Rene Descartes and Baruch Spinoza. She encouraged her husband, brother and sons to read Spinoza and popularized his works at court.4

Sophia commissioned significant work on the Herrenhausen Gardensmarker surrounding the palace at Herrenhausenmarker, where she died.


Sophia had several children. Those who reached adulthood were:

Sophia was absent for almost a year, 1664–5, during a long and convalescent holiday 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. 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.

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.

Heiress of the crowns

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

A year later, in 1701, it was declared 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 Catholic James Francis Edward Stuart, who would otherwise have become James III & VIII, as well as denying the throne to many other Catholics and spouses of Catholics who held a claim. The act restricts the British throne to the "Protestant heirs" of Sophia of Hanover who have never been Catholic and who have never married a 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 Londonmarker , 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. Sophia was completely uncertain of what would happen after Anne's death, saying: "What Parliament does one day, it undoes the next."

When the law was passed in 1701, Sophia (age 71), 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. 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-Catholic descendants; the Act was repealed by the British Nationality Act 1948.

Death and legacy

Although considerably older than Queen Anne, Sophia enjoyed much better health. In June 1714, Sophia was walking in the gardens of Herrenhausenmarker when she ran to shelter from a sudden downpour of rain and collapsed and died, aged 83. Just a few weeks later, Anne died at the age of forty-nine, so Sophia came near to inheriting the British throne; and if she had done so, she would have become the oldest person to be crowned British monarch. In fact, no British monarch has yet attained this age, though Elizabeth II will on 7 February 2010, if she is still Queen.

Upon Sophia's death, her eldest son Elector Georg Ludwig of Hanover (1660–1727) became heir presumptive in her place, and weeks later, succeeded Queen Anne as George I. Sophia's daughter Sophia Charlotte of Hanover (1668-1705) married Frederick I of Prussia, from whom the later Prussian kings and German emperors descend. The connection between the German emperors and the British royal family, which was renewed by several marriages in future generations, would become an issue during World War I.


Sophia of Hanover's ancestors in three generations
Sophia, Electress of Hanover Father:

Frederick V, Elector Palatine
Paternal Grandfather:

Frederick IV, Elector Palatine
Paternal Great-grandfather:

Louis VI, Elector Palatine
Paternal Great-grandmother:

Elisabeth of Hesse
Paternal Grandmother:

Louise Juliana of Nassau
Paternal Great-grandfather:

William the Silent
Paternal Great-grandmother:

Charlotte of Bourbon-Montpensier

Elizabeth Stuart
Maternal Grandfather:

James I of England
Maternal Great-grandfather:

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley
Maternal Great-grandmother:

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland
Maternal Grandmother:

Anne of Denmark
Maternal Great-grandfather:

Frederick II of Denmark
Maternal Great-grandmother:

Sophie of Mecklenburg-Güstrow

Titles and styles

  • 14 October 1630 – 30 September 1658: Her Serene Highness Princess Sophia of the Palatine
  • 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 – 8 June 1714: Her Most Serene Highness The Dowager Electress of Hanover



Further reading

  • Klopp, Onno, ed., 1973 (1873). Correspondenz von Leibniz mit der Prinzessin Sophie. Hildesheim: Georg Olms.

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