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Reign of George I page 29

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That unfortunate princess was unknown to the English public. She was said to be divorced before George came to the English throne, and therefore was politically dead to England- Dead as she was to England, she was alive to her own sorrows, having been confined in the solitary castle of Ahlen, on the river Aller, for nearly thirty-two years, and died only on the 13th of November, 1726, seven months before her husband, the king of England.

The story of this unfortunate princess constituted a melancholy episode in the life of George of Hanover, and presents features of cruelty and injustice in him which must falsify the praises for uprightness and benevolence which some historians have heaped upon him. The princess Sophia of Zell was married to George when she was young, accomplished, and beautiful; but she had the misfortune to excite the envy of the mistress of the old elector, her husband's father, who, whilst the prince himself was absent with the army, contrived and accomplished her destruction. Count Philip Christopher Königsmark, the brother of count Charles John Königsmark, who had some years before murdered Mr. Thynne in the Hay market in London – was on a visit to the court of Hanover, where he was much distinguished by the beauty of his person, and as the member of an eminent family in Sweden. He paid marked attention to the young princess, which was more than the prince himself was wont to do, having already, like all his race, one or two ugly mistresses. The old elector ordered him to quit the kingdom, but it would appear that one of the mistresses did not mean to let him escape thus. The countess of Platen, using the princess's name, but without her knowledge, summoned Königsmark at a late hour of the night to the princess's apartment, under pretence of the princess bidding him adieu. When the princess saw him, she was incensed at his intrusion; but the malicious mistress had contrived to bring the old elector to witness his exit from the chamber, who immediately ordered him to be assassinated. The body was buried under the floor of the princess's dressing-room, where it was discovered during some alterations made in the palace by George II. "The discovery," says Horace Walpole, "was hushed up. George II. intrusted the secret to his wife, queen Caroline, who told it to my father; but the king was too tender of the honour of his mother to utter it to his mistress; nor did lady Suffolk ever hear of it till I informed her of it several years afterwards." The spot is still shown where the murder was committed.

The princess herself was placed in confinement on a charge ©f infidelity, and soon after George, her husband, is said to have obtained from the consistory a sentence of divorce from her. Of the reality of this, however, there appear to be no proofs. All that is known is, that she was separated from her husband and shut up in a solitary castle. If the divorce had really taken place, there could be no plea for this sever« and perpetual confinement. But George kept her continually in his power; and whilst he was scandalising the morals of England by his train of mistresses, and lavishing its wealth and honours on them, he was keeping his wife a miserable captive for more than thirty years for the alleged crime of being not a hundredth part as unfaithful to him as he was to her - a crime of which on all occasions, to the day of her death, she solemnly protested her innocence. During her imprisonment she used to receive the sacrament every week, and constantly on that occasion reiterated her innocence in the sight of God. Such hardihood in a woman who was truly guilty, through thirty years of solitary imprisonment, it is impossible to conceive. But nothing moved the cold and sullen heart of Hanoverian George. On one occasion, when the French army approached her dungeon, he sent her home to her father and mother, the duke and duchess of Zell, who received her with transport, and prayed that they might still have the keeping of her. She had the happiness of remaining there a year, but on the removal of the French, George, inexorable to the entreaties of her parents, remanded her to her dungeon, and kept her there till she died.

Horace Walpole doubts both the crime of the princess and the divorce; yet the duchess of Kendal gave out that she herself was privately married to the king, and by her assiduous attendance at Lutheran chapels several times on every Sunday sought to impress the public with an idea of her being a legalised wife. "After the death of George I.," adds Walpole, "many persons of credit at Hanover expressed their belief that the imputation cast upon the princess was false and unjust. It was also reported that her husband, having once made some proposals for a reconciliation, Sophia Dorothea gave this noble answer: - 'If what I am accused of be true, I am unworthy of his bed; and if the accusation be false, he is unworthy of me. I will not accept his offer.'"

Lockhart of Carnwath relates an extraordinary story, which was widely circulated in Germany regarding the cause of the king's death: - "The circumstances of king Georges death are terrible, and worth the knowledge of all our friends. They are kept concealed as much as possible, even in Germany, so, probably, will be a secret both in England and France. What was told me lately by a person of superior rank and great esteem in these parts I had heard imperfectly before from a lady of quality. It seems, when the late electress was dangerously ill of her last sickness, she delivered to a faithful friend a letter to her husband, upon promise that it should be given into his own hands. It contained a protestation of her innocence, a reproach for her hard usage and unjust treatment, and concluded with a summons or citation to her husband to appear within the year and day at the divine tribunal, and there to answer for the long and many injuries she had received from him. As this letter could not with safety to the bearer be delivered in England or Hanover, it was given to him in his coach on the road. He opened it immediately, supposing it to come from Hanover. He was so struck at its unexpected contents, and his fatal citation, that his convulsions and apoplexy came fast on him. After being blooded his mouth turned awry, and they then proposed to drive off to a nearer place than Osnaburg, but he signed twice or thrice with his hand to go on, and that was the only mark of sense he showed. This is no secret among the catholics in Germany, but the protestants hush it up as much as they can."

George I. died on Sunday, the 11th of June, in his sixty- eighth year. As sovereigns go, he may be said to have been respectable; as a man, by no means so. He chose able ministers, and adapted himself to a limited monarchy far better than any of the Stuarts had done, Mary and Anne excepted. But he did not so entirely, however, refrain from breaking through constitutional restraints, as has been represented. He quickly annulled the act of parliament which made it requisite for the monarch to obtain the sanction of the legislature before quitting the kingdom, and under him the triennial term of parliament was again extended to seven years. George deserves great praise, too, for clemency. The mild treatment of the rebels of 1715 contrasts finely with the butcheries of 1745. He was regarded as a mild, good-natured man, and he had considerable claims to these qualities; but they were not incompatible with much cruelty and great want of natural affection. The same man who spared rebels did not spate his own wife. His treatment of her shows what merciless obduracy can live in the same bosom which can tolerate, if it does not originate, political mercy. His hatred and jealousy of his own son, and his desire to cut off his Hanoverian dominions and limit his prerogative in England, demonstrate a nature rather selfish than generous, and destitute of real warmth of heart. The evil example which he set by shutting up a wife who protested to the last day of her existence, in the very act of receiving the holy sacrament, her innocence, and who was credited by all those who had the best means öf knowing, whilst he allowed his fat and lean German mistresses to flaunt before the English public, to plunder his people, and corrupt his administration, did much towards degrading public morals. They were not the merits of George I., but the necessity of maintaining the protestant succession, which made this dull, heavy, cold-hearted foreigner tolerable to the English people.

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