Queen Sophia Charlotte of Charlottenburg

Sophia Charlotte of Charlottenburg

Queen Sophia Charlotte of Charlottenburg

Sophia Charlotte of Hanover (1668 – 1705) was the Queen consort of Prussia as wife of Frederick I of Prussia. She was the daughter of Ernst August, Elector of Hanover, and Sophia of the Palatinate. Her eldest brother George Louis succeeded to the British throne in 1714 as King George I. I’ve included her because she was from Charlottenburg, she built a beautiful palace, and she hung out with nerds like Leibnitz.

As a girl, Sophia Charlotte visited France with her mother in hopes of marrying Louis of France, the “Grand Dauphin”, heir to the throne of France. He later married Maria Anne Victoria of Bavaria instead, but Sophia Charlotte was also proposed as a possible bride for Louis’s father, King Louis XIV, after he lost his wife in 1683. Nothing came of this plan either. A marriage to Frederick, the heir of the Electorate of Brandenburg and Duchy of Prussia, was therefore arranged. By marrying Frederick, she became Electress of Brandenburg in 1688, and after the elevation of Brandenburg-Prussia to a kingdom in 1701, she became the first Queen in Prussia. Her only child to reach maturity became King Frederick William I of Prussia. Her husband was so much in love with her that while he had an official mistress at his palace—in imitation of Louis XIV—he never made use of her services.

Sophia Charlotte is mainly remembered for her friendship and correspondence with her mother’s good friend and tutor Gottfried Leibniz, whose avowed disciple she became. He came to live at the court in addition to pursuing his correspondence and studies.


Sophie Charlotte and Leibniz

Queen Sophie Charlotte in conversation with Leibniz, strolling in front of the Charlottenburg Palace

From Leibnitia:  On the approval of the plan to begin the Society (later, Academy) of Sciences in Berlin, Leibniz was invited to Berlin to stay as a guest in Sophie Charlotte’s palace at Lützenburg (later, Charlottenburg). Early in June, Leibniz sent to Sophie Charlotte, by way of her lady-in-waiting, Henriette Charlotte von Pöllnitz (1670-1722), a document concerning the real distinction between mind and body. Leibniz confided to Fräulein von Pöllnitz that the last section of the document he had sent to her, which contained a mathematical analogy, might not be appropriate for the electress Sophie Charlotte. [Later, at the beginning of 1702, and having just returned from a visit to Hanover accompanied by Leibniz, the then queen of Prussia would urgently request his visit at Easter, on the ground that Fräulein Pöllnitz had acquired a book on mathematics which the queen could not decipher without Leibniz’s help.]

In the brief time allowed them after that, Leibniz and Sophie Charlotte continued to meet as they could—he with her when on visits to Berlin, and she with him when on visits to Hanover; and all along they continued their correspondence. But they last met on 11 January 1705, at Lützenburg, just before the Queen departed for the Carnival in Hanover. While in Hanover the queen became deathly ill; she died tragically of pneumonia on 1 February 1705 at the too-young age of 37. Receiving the news of the queen’s death in Berlin on 2 February, Leibniz was broken and consoled himself by writing a long poem in German to the memory of the queen. For her part, the queen remembered Leibniz (and her husband!) in a wonderfully optimistic and light-hearted note written on her deathbed:

Don’t grieve for me, for I am about to satisfy my curiosity about things that even Leibniz was never able to explain—space, the infinite, being, and nothingness—and for my husband, the king, I am about to provide a funeral-spectacle that will give him a new opportunity to display his pomposity and splendor! [as quoted in Mates, pp. 26-27]


In 1696, she had the Charlottenburg Palace (originally Lützenburg Palace) constructed at Lützow by Arnold Nehring: here, she lived independently from her spouse and had her own court. Her spouse was only allowed there by invitation, such as in 1699, when she hosted a birthday party for him there. From 1700, she regularly lived there in the summer months. She surrounded herself with philosophers and scientists and inspired the foundation of the Prussian Science academy. She was interested in music, sang and played the cembalo, had an Italian opera theater constructed, and employed the musicians Attilio Ariosti and Giovanni Battista Bononcini. The composer Arcangelo Corelli did her the honor of dedicating to her his Op. 5 sonatas for solo violin (Rome, 1700). The latter was one of the most significant and influential publications of compositions for violin in the history of Western music. Nonetheless, the nature of her relationship with Corelli remains obscure.

454px-Kolm_Wachsporträt_Sophie_CharlotteSophia Charlotte was such a formidable personage that when Peter the Great first met her and her mother on his Great Embassy in 1697, he was so overwhelmed and intimidated that he could not speak. Both women put him at ease, and he reciprocated with his natural humor and trunks full of brocade and furs.

Sophia Charlotte died of pneumonia on 21 January 1705, when she was 36 years of age. Charlottenburg, the Charlottensee, and the Sophie-Charlotte-Oberschule in Berlin are all named after her.

Of his grandmother the queen, Frederick the Great of Prussia (1712-1786) wrote:

This princess had the genius of a great man and the knowledge of a savant; she did not deem it unworthy of a queen to admire a philosopher; the philosopher was Leibniz, and she bestowed her friendship on him with the thought that those to whom Heaven has given noble minds are the equivalent of kings.

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6 Responses to Queen Sophia Charlotte of Charlottenburg

  1. katie says:

    Charlotte, I want to be just like her. What a great tale.

  2. vaterrell says:

    Wow, great reading! Thanks for sharing, I’m enjoying getting to know all the Charlotte’s!

  3. Bonnie Gean says:

    Where does one gather all the information needed to write such a lovely and lengthy piece, I wonder?

    You must have been a real pickle in English class! 🙂 How many people came to you to write their book reports?