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A Dangerous Liaison: The Murder of Count Philip Christoph von Königsmarck

A Scandalous Family


The Dashing Philip Christoph von Königsmarck. Residenzmuseum Celle 20160708.

The Swedish Count Philip Christoph von Königsmarck was born on the 4 March 1665. The Königsmarcks were of Brandenburgian extraction with an intriguing history of their own. Philip’s grandfather was Field Marshal Hans Christoff von Königsmarck who is best remembered for the part he played in the unsuccessful Battle of Prague in 1648[1]; his elder sister Maria Aurora later became the mistress to Augustus II the Strong of Poland; his other sister Amalia Wilhelmina was a ‘noted dilettante painter’[2], amateur actress and poet and; his brother Karl Johann became notorious as the architect behind the assassination of Thomas Thynn, the husband of his alleged lover Lady Elizabeth Percy in 1682.

At the court of Charles II

Evidence from the period reveals that by the age of 16 Philip Christoph was well-established at the court of Charles II. The court of Charles II infamous as a centre of hedonism, decadence and promiscuity, a place where “court life…often turned on the intrigues of lovers and the machinations of mistresses” and “favour depended more on a ready jest and brazen effrontery than on talent or political ability[3] must have been a fascinating place to grow up in. Philip who was described as dashing, charming and handsome would have fitted in perfectly and it is easy to surmise that he must have been extremely popular with the ladies of the court. His acceptance into the inner court circles meant that he had gained the favour of the king and would be one of the first to hear any pertinent gossip and political news.

Hieronymus Janssens, Charles II Dancing at a Ball at Court, c. 1660, RCIN 00525.

Charles II Dancing at a Ball at Court, c. 1660, Hieronymus Janssens, RCIN 00525.

The assassination of Mr Thynn

On the 12 February 1682 Thomas Thynn was killed whilst riding in his carriage along Pall Mall. His assailants Christopher Vratz, John Stern and Charles George Borosky were soon after arrested along with Karl Johann von Königsmarck who was believed to have orchestrated the murder. Königsmarck was assumed to be the lover of the wealthy heiress Lady Elizabeth (Bette) Percy who had been forced by her family into marrying Thynn – a man she considered odious. At the time of the murder Lady Bette had escaped to Holland and was living in The Hague. It was generally believed that Königsmarck was seeking to free Bette from her marriage and then claim her for his wife.

Thomas Thynne. Image source unknown.

Thomas Thynne. Image source unknown.

The evidence suggests that Philip must have been aware of his brother’s intentions. The two shared a friend and aide in Frederick Hanson who also acted as Philip’s guardian whilst he was in England. Hanson ran errands for Karl including checking daily for news about the ship on which Borosky was travelling, purchasing a sword for Borosky and even finding out for the Count about the legal implications of killing Thynn in a dual[4]. At his brother’s trial Philip confessed that Karl had returned secretly to London ten days before the murder as well as confirming that a bill of exchange for one thousand pistols had been sent to England. Although when questioned he supported his brother’s claim that the money was for the purchase of horses for the siege of Strasburg he also admitted that only one had been bought so far[5]. It will never be clear if Philip played any active role in Thynn’s murder but it is also really hard to believe that he was not covering for his brother.

A fateful meeting

Sophie Dorothea, Princess of Hannover by Henry Gascard

The beautiful Sophie Dorothea, Princess of Hannover by Henry Gascard.  Image source Wikipedia.

The scandal of the murder, trial and subsequent suspicious disappearance of his brother might have been the reason behind Philip leaving England shortly afterwards. It may have been that feelings were running high against the Königsmarck brothers and it was advised that Philip would be better off out of harm’s way. In any event Thynn’s murder was a turning point in Philip’s life leading to his first meeting with the 16-year-old Sophia Dorothea of Celle.

It is not surprising that they were attracted to each other, Philip was handsome and Sophia was beautiful with thick dark hair, an ivory complexion, an attractive figure and a flirtatious, charming and vivacious manner[6]. They had little reason to believe that their brief and innocent flirtation would have such far-reaching consequences for both their futures.

A tempestuous marriage

George I, Elector of Hanover

George I, Elector of Hanover. Image source Wikipedia.

About five years later, Philip and Sophia were reunited. In the interim Philip had made a name for himself as a soldier and Sophia had married her cousin George Louis, heir to the Principality of Lüneburg.

Sophia’s marriage was extremely unhappy. On being told whom she was going to marry she reportedly screamed “I will not marry a pig snout”[7], threw his miniature across the room and fainted. He was equally unimpressed by his future bride. He considered it an insult to marry a woman who had been born out-of-wedlock. Sophia’s background was complicated.

Her father, George William had fallen in love with his mistress the beautiful Eleonore d’Esmier d’Olbreuse despite being promised in marriage to Princess Sophia, daughter of the Palatine King of Bohemia. Determined not to marry Princess Sophia and refusing to give up Eleonore he agreed to renounce his claim to the Duchy of Hanover and hand it over to his ambitious younger brother Ernest Augustus. In return George William promised never to marry, meaning that any children he had would be illegitimate and would therefore have no claim to the Duchy. For a time, George William adhered to the agreement but in the end increasingly concerned about his daughter, Sophia’s legal status he decided to try to remedy the situation and in 1666 (a year after Sophia’s birth) he declared that his morganatic marriage to Eleonore was in fact legal and recognised by the church and law of the land. This announcement alarmed the rest of his family but as no male offspring was forthcoming, the marriage and Sophia’s legitimisation were accepted[8].

Eléonore d'Olbreuse,

The Glamorous Eléonore d’Olbreuse, Image source Residenzmuseum Celle.

The situation was further complicated by the fact that Princess Sophia had been in love with George William. The anger she felt at being thrown over affected her feelings and behaviour towards her niece, Sophia Dorothea, despite the fact that she did not actually like her own son. She famously said about him “George Ludwig, the most pigheaded, stubborn boy who ever lived, and who has round his brains such a thick crust that I defy any man or woman ever to discover what is in them.”[9] George Louis seemed to go out-of-the-way to make Sophia Dorothea’s life miserable. He constantly berated her for her lack of etiquette and breeding, was physically abusive and flaunted his extremely ugly mistress, Melusine von der Schulenburg in her face.

It was in this hostile environment that a lonely and unhappy Sophia Dorothea was reunited with her former admirer Philip Christoph von Königsmarck on the 1 March 1688.

A love affair

The Meeting. JH Fragonard. Frick Collection NY.

The Meeting. Jean-Honore Fragonard. Frick Collection NY.

The renewal of the relationship seems at first to have been facilitated by Sophia’s brothers-in-law who appear unlike their brother to be fond of their sister-in-law. They saw that Philip’s visits cheered her up and so helped to arrange their meetings.

It was only in 1690 after Philip returned from fighting in the Peloponnese in the service of Ernest Augustus, Elector of Hanover that the relationship seems to have intensified. In order to separate them, Philip was sent to join the Hanoverian Army in their war against Louis XIV, probably on the orders of Sophia’s father-in-law. Any request for leave was constantly turned down leaving no opportunity for Philip to return and see Sophia. In the end in desperation Philip left without permission and made his way to Hanover. He was absent for six days and on his return he was punished and exiled[10].

On hearing of his wife’s supposed affair, alleged indecent behaviour and the forbidden visit of Philip, George Louis flew into a violent frenzy. Confronting her they argued with Sophia retaliating by insulting him over his mistress. Seething with anger he grabbed at Sophia hitting her until she was covered in bruises and tearing at her hair pulling it out by the roots. She only survived because their servants finally managed to drag him off her.

‘Hell has no fury like a woman scorned’-William Congreve

With Philip banished, Sophia’s position became even more precarious. Treated as a prisoner, she was constantly watched, probably by her lady-in-waiting, the scheming, petty and unpleasant Countess Clara von Platen who was at the time the mistress of Elector Ernest Augustus. Unfortunately Clara had also had a brief affair with Philip and was deeply jealous of Sophia[11].


The vindictive Countess Clara von Platen. Image source Wikimedia.

In June 1694, Philip received a message to come and meet with Sophia at Leineschloss Castle. The note Philip assumed had come from Sophia but it could just as well have been written by Clara on behalf of the Elector and George Louis.

What happened over the night of the 1/2 July 1694 is not known but one version is that Philip was prevented from leaving, trapped and attacked after having seen Sophia. Despite being outnumbered and fighting valiantly he was inevitably overpowered. As he lay dying Clara got her chance for one last act of humiliation and revenge by grinding her heel into his mouth[12]. She then arranged for his body to be deposed of. His final resting place is unknown to this day; his body could have been thrown into the River Leine[13] or as some claim hidden in either the palace latrines or under the corridor floorboards and then covered in lime.


Assassins. Image Source: The Draftsman’s Contract. 1982. Dir Peter Greenaway.

On discovering that her brother was missing his sister Maria Aurora asked Elector Frederick Augustus I to help find Philip and if dead to help with any inheritance issues[14]. She sounds a bit cold and no records remain to indicate that she kicked up much of a fuss. Maybe she found out what had happened and decided it was in her best interest to stay quiet. There is an unlikely rumour that George Louis boasted about the murder as well as the more plausible rumour that two of the murderers eventually confessed to their crime.

The Princess of Ahlden

 Ahlden Castle in Celle . Image source Wikimedia.

Ahlden Castle in Celle (c1654). Image source Wikimedia.

The day after the murder, George Louis accused Sophia of malicious desertion – giving credence to the argument that she had intended to leave with Philip. Whether or not she had planned to leave is unknown. If the note Philip received was from her then it is possibly that Sophia had asked him for his help; if the note was from Clara then any decision to leave would have been made by Sophia on the spur of the moment but it is also equally likely that Sophia was never going to leave and that the letter had been forged in order to give legitimacy to George Louis next move.

Sophie Dorothea and her children. Image source Wikimedia.

Sophie Dorothea and her children. Image source Wikimedia.

Sophia was sent to Ahlden Castle in Celle where she remained a prisoner for the next thirty years. Forbidden from seeing her two children and her father and with her marriage dissolved she spent the rest of life in isolation until her death on the 13 November 1726. All traces of her were removed from Hanover. It was as if George Louis was trying to erase Sophia from existence. On her death George refused to allow any sign of mourning, appropriated all her property which she had left to her children and kept her body for six months in a casket in the cellar of Ahlden refusing to allow her to be buried[15].

She did get a sort of posthumous revenge. While she lay dying, bedridden and in extreme pain she sent a letter to George, now George I of England cursing him. Terrified, he remembered a warning given to him by a gypsy i.e. that he would die within a year if he did anything to cause the death of his wife. Strangely enough he did die seven months later during a trip back to his beloved Hanover, four weeks after he had finally agreed to Sophia being buried at Stadtkirche alongside her parents.

A platonic relationship or torrid affair?

The Lovers. Image source Prometheus Art dealers.

The Lovers. Image source Antiques Atlas website.

The numerous love letters held now in the archive at the University of Lund have often been cited as being definitive proof of the passionate love affair of Philip and Sophia. The authenticity of this collection of letters is now being questioned with some experts believing they were forged in order to blacken Sophia’s name[16]. If the letters are fakes then a shadow of doubt could be cast on the question of the nature of their relationship. Were they lovers or did they share a deep and close platonic friendship? Did Sophia commit adultery or did their relationship remain unconsummated? Sophia, herself was surprisingly evasive on the subject. When given the chance to be reinstated as the wife of George I of England (as he later became) she answered “If what I am accused of is true, I am unworthy of his bed, and if it is false he is unworthy of mine”[17].

History’s great romance

Nobody who knows me would ever accuse me of being a romantic but I do hope that Sophia did have a loving relationship with Philip as she deserved some happiness after being married to George I. As Philip’s remains have never been discovered, the last few moments of his life will always be shrouded in mystery. Whether true or not the relationship between Philip and Sophia is seen as one of history’s great love stories with Count Philip Christoph von Königsmarck memory living on in folklore as a tragic romantic figure who risked everything for love.


Tragic lover, Sophia Dorothea. Image source The Peerage website.


Tragic lover, Philip. Image source The Peerage website.


[1] Hans Christoff von Königsmarck:

[2] Amalia Königsmarck:

[3] Lord Rochester and the Court of Charles II:

[4] Nigel Pickford: Lady Bette and the Murder of Mr Thynn, 170

[5] Ibid, 223

[6] Sophia Dorothea

[7] Sophia Dorothea of Celle:

[8] George William, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg:,_Duke_of_Brunswick-L%C3%BCneburg

[9] Sophia Dorothea

[10] Sophia Dorothea of Celle:

[11] Who Murdered Konigsmarck?:

[12] ibid

[13] Philip Christoph von Königsmarck:

[14] Maria Aurora von Königsmarck: Königsmarck

[15] Sophia Dorothea (1666-1726):

[16] Philip Christoph von Königsmarck:

[17] Sophia Dorothea (1666-1726):


Philipp Christoph, Count Of Konigsmark:

Clara Elisabeth von Platen:

Sophia Dorothea (1666-1726):

Hans Christoff von Königsmarck:

Amalia Königsmarck:

Lord Rochester and the Court of Charles II:

George William, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg:,_Duke_of_Brunswick-L%C3%BCneburg

Sophia Dorothea

Maria Aurora von Königsmarck:

Sophia Dorothea of Celle:

Nigel Pickford: Lady Bette and the Murder of Mr Thynn, 2014

#imprisonment #CountPhilipChristophvonKönigsmarck #Georgian #LadyBette #GeorgeI #Murder #assasination #MrThynn #SophiaDorotheaofCelle #Hanover

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