Sophia, Electress of Hanover

I’m hoping one of our British Dopers can help me out here.

Who, exactly, was Sophia, the Electress of Hanover, and why must all British monarchs descend from her?

Zev Steinhardt

Here is what the UK gubbermint says about her.

Here is a list of about, oh, 4000 of her descendents, all of which appear to be at least semi-important.

Well, it’s a bit complicated.

The short answer, as to who she was, is that Sophia was the daughter of Princess Elizabeth, and granddaughter of James I (VI of Scotland). As to why British monarchs have to be descended from her: she was Protestant, not Roman Catholic.

By the late 17th century, England was very firmly Protestant, and the English considered that one of the sure guarantees of the Protestant religion was that the monarch had to be Protestant. When James II (VII of Scotland) left, the convention Parliament declared that he had abdicated, and offered the throne to his daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange, who was also James’ nephew. They reigned as joint monarchs, but did not have any children.

Mary died first, then William. He was succeeded by James VI’s other sister, Anne, who died in 1714 without leaving any children. (She had something like 12 miscarriages, stillbirths, and children dying in infancy.)

Several years before Anne died, when it looked pretty clear that she would not leave an heir of her body, the government turned its mind to the succession. James VI’s son was alive in France, but he was firmly Roman Catholic. There were other members of the Stuart family around, but most were also Roman Catholic. They had to trace back to Sophia, skipping over several descendants of Charles I, before they found a good Protestant. Fortunately, she also had children and grandchildren, which offered some security of succession.

Eventually, Parliament passed the Act of Settlement, which provided that if Anne died without children, the throne would pass to Sophia, and upon her death, to the heirs of her body. Sophia died shortly before Anne did, so Anne was succeeded by Sophia’s son George, Elector of Hanover, who became George I of the U.K. All of the British monarchs since that time have been descended from Sophia.

One estimate I read suggested that by 1715, the year of Anne’s death, the number of potential claimants passed over by the Act of Settlement was around 100.

Which brings up another interesting point: George I was King of England AND of Hanover. The kings of England, until William IV were jointly of Hanover and England. But when William died, the throne passed to his niece, Victoria. Hanover had the Salic Law, so a female couldn’t become sovereign of Hanover by then. (Don’t know what the deal was with Sophia, or when this changed.) So, the throne passed to William’s next brother, Ernst-August, Duke of Cumberland (whom everyone hated.)

Hanover ceased to exist as a kingdom after the 1870s, when the King of Prussia became German Emperor. It’s interesting then to see that Kaiser Wilhelm II’s only daughter, Princess Viktorya Luise married Ernst of Cumberland, who would have been Crown Prince of Hanover, had Viktorya’s great-grandfather not been German Emperor.
(Or something to that effect).

Sophia wasn’t Electress of Hanover in her own right. She married the Elector of Hanover (whose name escapes me at the moment), so the Salic Law issue didn’t arise. Her father was the “Winter King” of Bohemia, who lost his throne around the time of the Defenstration of Prague. If I remember correctly, Prince Rupert of the Rhine was her brother.

[quibble]George I was King of the United Kingdom. William III was the last King of England.[/quibble]

Y’know, I never could figure out how they managed to throw a whole city out of that window.


Wasn’t it because everyone was smaller back then? so the city of Prague would be smaller too, right?

Sophia was born in 1630. In 1658, she married Ernest Augustus, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, who later became the Elector of Hanover. (BTW, that’s were the “Brunswick” in “New Brunswick” comes from.) Hence, no Salic Law problems.

Prince Rupert of the Rhine was her older brother, born 1619. That’s who “Rupertsland” in northern Canada was named after: all the land draining into Hudson’s Bay.

Thanks for the help, everyone.

jti, I understand that there must be a Protestant on the British throne. I was wondering, however,why Sophia? Why not any Protestant descendant of James I (VI) (who was an actual reigning monarch)?

BTW, what is Salic Law?

Zev Steinhardt

[quibble] George I was never ‘King of the United Kingdom’ but King of Great Britain. [/quibble]

[further quibble] George I was never King of Hannover, which did not become a kingdom until 1814. [/quibble]

[yet another quibble] Queen Anne was not ‘James VI’s other sister’ - she was the daughter of James II and VII and the only surviving full sister of Mary II. Similarly, the Jacobite claimant in 1714 was not ‘James VI’s son’, but James II’s son, James Francis Edward Stuart. [/quibble]

[final quibble] The Act of Settlement was passed in 1701 when both James II and William III and II were still alive. [/quibble]

Sophia was a descendant of James I. Indeed, she was the most senior surviving non-Catholic descendant after Queen Anne.

The Salic Law was the rule which barred succession through female lines. This applied in certain European states, most notably in France but also in parts of the Holy Roman Empire, including Hannover.

And if you’re ever in Fredericksburg, VA you can visit Sophia Street, along with Princess Anne Street, Amelia Street, Williams Street, Charles Street, and streets named after every other of the Hanoverian royals of the time.

APB, you’re quite right! I was confusing the 1701 Act with the one in the next century, which brought in Ireland. The bit about James VI was a typo - meant to say James VII.

No, he’s not. You were right, George was king of the United Kingdom (of Great Britain).

Queen Anne lost 17 children.

Well, the opening sentence of the Act of Union is ambiguous on the name of the new state. It reads:

Both the name “Great Britain” and “United Kingdom” are used.

However, I’ve found the proclamation that the Privy Council directed to be read publicly by the heralds upon Anne’s death.

From the proclamation, it looks like George I was styled as the King of Great Britain, not the King of the United Kingdom.

Before 1707, England, Scotland, and Ireland shared a single monarch, but had three separate parliaments and three separate governments.

In 1707, England and Scotland united to form Great Britain. Ireland still had its own parliament. Anne, Queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland, now became Anne, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland. The “united kingdom” was a descriptive term, not an official name.

In 1801, after a rebellion in Ireland, the Irish parliament was dissolved, and the United Kingdom was created. George III, King of (Great Britain) and (Ireland), now became George III, King of the United Kingdom of (Great Britain and Ireland)(my parentheses).

As mbh says, ‘United Kingdom’ was a descriptive term, albeit one used in the Act of Union. Otherwise it was almost never used before 1801. George I’s usual official style was ‘King of Great Britain, France and Ireland’.