Celle is advertised online as the most beautiful town in northern Germany. As I have only seen a handful of other northern German towns I cannot argue against it – and nor do I wish to. It is certainly the most beautiful city I have seen to this date. Home to Germany’s only pre-war synagogue, Celle escaped the Second World War fairly intact. I can only imagine how beautiful Hamburg would be, had it been spared the Allied bombardments. Celle offers the tourist a view of pre-war Germany, with beautiful houses dating to the 14th century. Center of this small artisans’ city is Schloss Celle, with a respectable age of nearly 700 years Celle’s oldest building. It is now a museum, that tells the story of some of its most famous inhabitants. Chief among them were Sophie Dorothea von Braunschweig-Lüneburg, Great Britain’s uncrowned Queen, and Queen Caroline Mathilde of Denmark and Norway.
Sophie Dorothea (1666-1726) was the only daughter of the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg and one of Europe’s most wealthy heiresses in her time. The King of Denmark was considered among others, but she finally married her cousin Georg Ludwig for dynastical reasons. It was a largely unhappy marriage, as he preferred to spend time with his mistress than with his wife. Lonely, she turned to the Swedish Count Philip Christoph von Königsmarck. Their love affair was discovered when the couples’ love letters were found. And since men could have affairs but not women she paid a heavy price. Her husband’s fury led to the disappearance and murder of her lover and the imprisonment of Sophie Dorothea for the last thirty years of her life. Georg Ludwig became the first King of the House of Hanover in 1714, as the closest protestant relative of Queen Anne, who had died without issue. She could have been Queen of Great Britain, instead she spent the remainder of her days on charity work.
Her great-granddaughter Princess Caroline Mathilde of England (1751-1775) became Queen of Denmark when she married her cousin King Christian VII of Denmark in 1766. Like her great-grandmother Sophia Dorothea’s husband, Caroline Mathilde’s spouse preferred the company of other women to that of his legal wife. So history repeated itself: neglected by her mentally ill husband, Caroline Mathilde started an affair with the court physician, Johann Friedrich Struensee, who ultimately rose to be the most influential man in the kingdom. Their triumph only lasted for a brief while though, and the lovers were arrested in January 1772. By May Christian VII had divorced his wife and deported her to Celle, where she died in 1775 – only 23 years old. Her story is told in A Royal Affair (2012), one of the finer non-BBC costume movies of the past few years.
Two high-born women from the same family, their lives are remarkably similar. Four generations apart they go through exactly the same problems: unhappy in an arranged marriage and neglected by their husbands the two start affairs of their own, that ultimately leads to their downfall. Divorced, they are imprisoned far away from their husbands. It was unlikely that either saw her children again. And walking through Schloss Celle and admiring the portraits of these two beautiful women, one cannot help feeling sad for them. They must have aroused a great deal of jealousy in their times, as they seemed to have it all: beauty, money and status. But there was certainly more than met the eye: no matter how much contemporaries envied them, they must have led pretty miserable and unhappy lives.