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The King's Mistress
on 12 November 2014
This book tells the life of Ehrengard Melusine von der Schulenburg, a woman who lived with, loved, and was loved by George, Elector of Hanover and first Hanoverian King of England. All that I have ever read that has mentioned Melusine (as she was known) in any kind of detail implies that she was loathed by the English (who indeed nicknamed her ‘the Maypole’). Anything else about this woman seems to have remained in the shadows. The author has attempted to bring Melusine herself into the light and explain her in the context of her own times.
She was born in Emden, just two miles from the North Sea, on Christmas Day in 1667, the daughter ofCount Gustav Adolph and his first wife, Petronilla Ottilia. Her family were minor aristocrats whose ennoblement dated from the thirteenth century. Melusine’s father entered the service of the Elector of Brandenburg, where he was successful in forging a career. His daughter Melusine was therefore a good candidate when Sophia, the wife of the Elector of Hanover, was looking for women to serve her daughter-in-law Sophia Dorothea, wife of George, the eldest son of Elector Ernst August. Not that Hanover was an Electorate until 1692, so it was paramount to those ruling there that that exalted status be maintained, and if possible, bettered. Sophia’s potential to succeed Queen Anne in England on her childless death meant that she had lineage; and the Hanoverian dynasty was determined to succeed politically as well.
The author writes well of Melusine; almost immediately upon her arrival at the court of Hanover in 1690 she appears to have become involved in a relationship with George. There is little to suggest how they might actually have felt about each other; they carefully did not write private or intimate matters down, to ensure that such things should not fall into the wrong hands. This is a pity, as there is little to explain how their relationship actually developed. It seems to have been a fait accompli very quickly, and lasted until George’s death, King of Great Britain, in 1727. Melusine lived until 1743. Melusine and George had three daughters together, and the relationship was so entrenched (although never publicly acknowledged) that Melusine went with the Court to England on the Hanoverian succession in 1714. There, she was quickly noticed as a powerful influence, and built strong and profitable relationships with those in political and cultural power. She was clearly a remarkable woman; loyal and steadfast, discreet, affectionate and learned enough to be sought out by some of the most powerful men of the age, including Walpole. While she was never really appreciated by the English population at large, who ridiculed her appearance and lampooned her relationship with their often less-than-beloved King, she appears to have been a woman who inspired trust and affection, and loyal support from those who worked with her. She was staunchly family-oriented and stood by her daughters, as well as her siblings.
This is a wonderful read; the author has succeeded admirably in placing Melusine, a shadowy figure, in her times, and affording us a viewing of her life as part of an important era in both German and British aspects of European history. Well worth reading for anyone seeking to understand more of George of Hanover, and his Melusine.