A New Arrival

Just as Count Georg Philipp von Meysenburg had taken his daughters first to Versailles and then to Hanover in search of opportunities, so too did Gustavus Adolphus, Baron von der Schulenberg, tread a similar path. He had no need of French favour though, for he already enjoyed the patronage of the Elector of Brandenburg and with such patronage came wealth, influence and a name that meant something. For Ernest Augustus, there could be no better recommendation. His only daughter, Sophia Charlotte, had married the elector12 in 1688, and he had enthusiastically championed his Hanoverian father-in-law’s efforts to raise his duchy to the status of an electorate ever since. Any friend of Brandenburg could count themselves a friend of Hanover too and it was amongst these friends, especially the most rich and powerful of their number, that Gustavus Adolphus hoped that he might find a husband for his as yet unmarried daughter.

Melusine arrived at a time when marital relations between George Louis and Sophia Dorothea were in steep decline. With their heir and spare safely delivered the ill-matched husband and wife had grown more distant than ever, and the lonely Sophia Dorothea had renewed her acquaintance with a childhood friend, Count Philip Christoph von Königsmarck. George Louis was brooding and bad-tempered, and he was concerned with little beyond the military and his future prospects. Sophia Dorothea was bored, spoilt and desperate for romance. It was hardly a surprise when the couple fell apart.

Clara von Platen, meanwhile, was still sitting pretty at the side of Ernest Augustus. She rued the removal of her sister from the court not because she missed her company, but because she resented the fact that she had lost her hold over the son of the house. For that she blamed Sophia Dorothea13, and she fully intended to restore her influence by bringing Catherine Marie back into the fold. When Catherine Marie was widowed it looked like fate had dropped the perfect opportunity into Clara’s lap, but George Louis no longer had any interest in his former mistress. What had seduced him as a young and single man held no excitement for the married and worldly soldier he had become.

When Melusine and her father arrived in Hanover, they were keen to make their presence felt on the social scene. How better to make a splash than by lodging at Monplaisir, the opulent residence of the socially dominant von Platens? Monplaiser glittered even more than the palaces of Hanover and the festivities that Clara hosted there were as lavish as anything Duchess Sophia could achieve and twice as notorious too. She revelled in her position as mistress, even if she was forced to be subservient to Sophia to achieve it, but the duchess was as stately and disinterested as the mistress was shrewd and ambitious. It was only a matter of time before Clara von Platen wove her web around Melusine.

It was Clara who introduced Melusine to Sophia and recommended her as a lady-in-waiting. Mindful of Melusine’s connections to her daughter’s Brandenburg court and her excellent pedigree, Sophia agreed, and the strikingly tall and thin, blue-eyed young lady joined the inner circle of the electress-in-waiting. Whilst it’s possible that Melusine was complicit in Clara’s scheme to install her as the mistress of George Louis, it’s unlikely. She had not come to Hanover looking for a lover, but for a stable future, and for a woman of Melusine’s background marriage was a far more wholesome prospect. Should she become a mistress her future marriage prospects would be indelibly dented. For now at least, she was the virginal incomer from an unremarkable if pretty town. She was just 22 years old and boasted a well-connected family, so Melusine’s chances of making an excellent match were high. Instead, she took a different path.

How it happened is a mystery but Melusine and George Louis were lovers within months of her arrival and nobody was more surprised than his mother. Taciturn, undemonstrative, and frankly rather short, George Louis made a somewhat comical sight at the side of his tall, unfashionably skinny companion. Clara doubtless played a part in introducing the couple, but there was really nothing that unusual in a lady-in-waiting taking the dual role of mistress. Sophia wasn’t impressed. During a ball she turned to Henrietta Howard, the second subject of this book, and crowed, “Look at that tall mawkin and think of her being my son’s passion!”. Not only that, but now Sophia had a double embarrassment to contend with on a day-to-day basis. It wasn’t only her husband who had a mistress amongst her ladies-in-waiting, but her son too.

Socially things had fallen out of balance, but George Louis and Melusine were well-suited despite the obvious physical differences. Sophia Dorothea was emotional and quick to lose her temper, whereas Melusine was placid and patient and soon learned that discretion was the way to a happy life with her lover. She and George Louis were far more suited in personality and interests than the warring husband and wife ever were. Melusine and George Louis loved to ride out and hunt, whilst Sophia Dorothea far preferred the glitz of a ball or gala. Her pampered childhood had taught her that she should always be number one, yet somehow Melusine had effectively supplanted her in the affections of her husband and everybody at court knew it. It was humiliating.

Though often portrayed by her detractors as a dull, pliant creature, Melusine was far from it. She was certainly not “little above an idiot,”14 as her own son-in-law would have us believe. George Louis’ granddaughter, Wilhelmine, was a little kinder to her grandfather’s amour and wrote that, “The Duchess of Kendal was a good woman. She had no great faults or great virtues,” 15 which is certainly a rather more balanced character appraisal than those of some of her detractors. In fact, Melusine was intelligent, thoughtful, and quietly influential. In the battle between Melusine and Sophia Dorothea, she was simply the more suitable candidate to partner the electoral prince.

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