When human bones were found during construction work in the Leineschloss in Hanover in the summer of 2016, the news spread like wildfire. Even Swedish and English newspapers reported on the find at the time. It is hoped that this could finally solve a mystery that has been stirring people’s minds for more than three centuries: the disappearance of Philipp Christoph Graf von Königsmarck on July 11, 1694.
On the summer night in question, he was on his way to the palace to see the married electoral princess and mother of two, Sophie Dorothea von Braunschweig-Lüneburg, with whom he had been in a relationship for many years. Schiller saw the mysterious events as material for a tragedy full of love and misfortune. However, he did not get beyond drafts. Fontane mentions the story in his “Wanderungen durch die Mark Brandenburg”. Details are also found there: “Four halberds confronted him in a corridor (…) and in the fight against these hired men he fell. His corpse was buried in a canal running vertically through the entire height of the castle and walled up. “
But how credible are Fontane’s statements? doubts are warranted. At least she had liaison dangereuse between the high-ranking officer and handsome gallant and the no less attractive princess has already found its way into the folklore – “Who goes to court so late/ Since everything has long been asleep?/ The maid keeps watch in the anteroom/ The handsome count is already approaching.”
Or, to paraphrase the Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie: “The charm of the mystery wrapped this catastrophe (…) so completely in a dense network of novelistic interpretations and obscene fictions that it is hardly possible to extract the historical core.” The unfortunate affair leaves many questions unanswered to this day. Not only after the whereabouts of the 29-year-old count, whose body is said to have been weighed down with stones and sunk in the leash, walled in or burned in an oven. But above all, after the client of the deadly attack. Or was it a client?
“It seems to me that my tenderness is growing with every moment,” she enthuses
Sophie Dorothea was born in Celle in 1666 as the daughter of Duke Georg Wilhelm and Eléonore d’Olbreuse, who came from the lower nobility. Her lover Philipp Christoph was slightly older. He was born in Stade in 1665 as a descendant of an old noble family from the Brandenburg region. Both knew each other as children, when he spent his days as a page at the Celle court.
Sophie Dorothea had a happy childhood that came to an abrupt end at the age of 16. Against her will, she had to marry her cousin Georg Ludwig, the son of Duke Ernst August and Duchess Sophie of Hanover, out of power calculations. Here the pretty, fun-loving Sophie Dorothea, there the stiff, sober Georg Ludwig, who later became King George I of Great Britain. From the start, the couple had nothing to say to each other. A portrait created around 1690 shows her with her children Georg August and Sophie Dorothea the Younger as an almond-eyed, brunette beauty. One understands why Königsmarck fell in love with her.
When exactly the affair between the frustrated wife and the coveted heartthrob began is uncertain. Over the years they have written around 600 letters to each other, almost 300 have survived. The first dates back to 1690. “It seems to me that my tenderness is growing with every passing moment,” she enthuses. He enthuses: “All of this is very much like a novel…” But in a sentence from the autumn of 1693, the worry resonates: “Without heaven’s help, neither of us will ever be happy together.”
It shouldn’t be unfounded. It is true that Sophie Dorothea had little to fear from her husband. He had been having fun with his mistress Ehrengard Melusine Countess von der Schulenburg for a long time, just as reserved as he and his great love. But despite all the precautionary measures, his wife’s dangerous love affair could no longer be concealed and increasingly became a topic of conversation. Even an escape was no longer ruled out.
Sophie Dorothea was banished to Ahlden Castle
But the court in Hanover really couldn’t afford a real scandal. If only because Duke Ernst August had only received the electorate from Emperor Leopold I in 1692 and had to be particularly concerned about the reputation of the house. Therefore, to this day there are still voices that suspect the elector and his wife to be behind Königsmarck’s disappearance.
Others, including Fontane, see Ernst August’s powerful mistress, Clara Elisabeth Countess von Platen, as the actual puppet master. Her motive: revenge. When Königsmarck joined the Hanoverian military, he is said to have had a fling with the Countess. In addition, he turned down the offer to marry her daughter because he was already in love with Sophie Dorothea. For the Platen an affront that demanded atonement.
Which version is the correct one will probably remain a mystery forever. Georg Ludwig and Sophie Dorothea divorced and she was banished to Ahlden Castle, where she had to remain until her death in 1726. She was denied a reunion with her children for the rest of her life. Count von Konigsmarck, on the other hand, has not been seen since that unfortunate night.
When the eagerly awaited results of the investigations were presented at the end of 2016, the disappointment was great. The bones found were not the remains of the tragic lover, but of five other people. Before the Leine Castle was built, there was a church, a monastery and two hospitals on this site.