© Residenzmuseum im Celler Schloss. Foto: Fotostudio Loeper, Celle

Royal Celle

The Guelphs in the Royal Residence in Celle

Duke Georg Wilhelm
© Residenzmuseum im Celler Schloss. Foto: Fotostudio Loeper, Celle

Celle is one of the most important Royal Residence towns in Lower Saxony. For almost three centuries, Celle was the permanent residence of the Dukes of Braunschweig-Lüneburg and thus the seat of government of the most important Guelph principality.

The Palace, nestling within the idyllic half-timbered town, still shows traces today from its time as a medieval mansion and as a baroque residence until 1705. After the death of the last Duke George William, Celle was ruled from Hanover.

From 1772-1775 Celle Palace was the place of exile of the Danish ex-Queen, Caroline Mathilde.

 Following the end of the Hanoverian-British Personal Union in 1837, the Palace served as a secondary residence and summer residence for the kings of Hanover in the 19th century. Once again, it was architecturally greatly upgraded - including the construction of an impressive staircase on the courtyard side of the east wing by George Friedrich Laves, the master builder to the Kings of Hanover. 

Over the centuries the Guelphs, as a powerful aristocratic family, have shaped the many changing developments of the lands between the Elbe and Weser rivers. Between 1714 and 1837, the Hanoverian Guelphs simultaneously also ruled the British Empire from London.

During a visit to the Residence Museum, you can learn more about the history of the Guelphs in Celle.

From Castle to Royal Residential Palace

Taking Celle as an example, you can follow the typical development of a Royal Residence and how a late medieval ceremonial hall comes to life.
The baroque room sequences of the last Duke of Celle, George William, form an architectural highlight, complete with magnificent stucco work.

The "Königssaal" (the ‘King’s Hall’) attracts visitors with its imposing pictures and selected treasures from the time of the Hanoverian-British Personal Union and the Kingdom of Hanover in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Caroline Mathilde Rooms in the Residence Museum
© Residenzmuseum im Celler Schloss. Foto: Fotostudio Loeper, Celle

Moving Tales of the Fates of Royal Women

Would you have known?

Princess Sophie Dorothea
© Residenzmuseum im Celler Schloss. Foto: Fotostudio Loeper, Celle

The last Duchess of Celle, the Huguenot "Eléonore d'Olbreuse", is the original ancestor of several European royal families.
She brought French vivacity to northern Germany in the 17th century and thus enriched court and town life in Celle.
Her daughter Sophie Dorothea suffered a tragic fate. After her divorce from Elector Georg Ludwig, who later became King George I of Britain, she had to spend the rest of her life at Ahlden Castle. She never met her grandson, Fredrick the Great.

A similar lot befell the Danish Queen Caroline Mathilde, great-granddaughter of Sophie Dorothea.
The divorced sister of King George III, after the Struensee ‘affair’, she spent the last three years of her life in Celle Palace, where she died in 1775.


The Joys and Sorrows in Love

of the Celle Royal Guelph Women

  • Éléonore Desmier d’Olbreuse
    Duchess Eléonore d'Olbreuse © Residenzmuseum im Celler Schloss. Foto: Fotostudio Loeper, Celle

    Celle’s last Duchess

    A particularly colourful personality was the last Duchess of Celle, Éléonore Desmier d’Olbreuse. She was born in January 1639 in a castle near Usseau, about 50 kilometers from La Rochelle. The noble, well-respected but not particularly wealthy family had belonged to the Reformed French religious community, the Huguenots, for generations.

    In the winter of 1663 she travelled to Kassel. Here she met the Guelph ruler George William (1624-1705) for the first time, 15 years older and who ruled in an absolutist manner based on the French model. Until then he had been considered a firm bachelor. When the Duke of Celle, George William, met the lovely Eléonore, he was hooked.  However, for a man from the highest European imperial nobility, this young lady was not considered as quite befitting of his position.

    In addition, George William was supposed to marry Sophie, Princess of the Palatinate, the daughter of the Bohemian "Winter King", Elector Friedrich V of the Palatinate - and a descendant of the Stuarts. But the Guelph heir merely clicked his fingers at convention and ceded his intended bride to his younger brother. This so-called bridal exchange wrote European history and went down in the Guelph annals. She had to wait ten long years for a proper marriage. During that time she gave birth to her daughter Sophie Dorothea. The marriage was considered extremely happy.

    The "exchanged bride" meanwhile,  in Hanover, had now advanced to First Lady in the Principality of Braunschweig-Lüneburg and proceeded to make Éléonore's life hell; however being more at the side of her husband, she could only exert influence in Celle where the opportunity existed.

    As early as 1686, the Duchess founded a French Reformed parish in Celle. She also contributed to the building of the rectory and to the pastor's wages. Many of the peasantry also found a new home in Celle. Under the aegis of the Ducal couple, the Celle Palace was redesigned: the old four-wing complex was expanded into a contemporary baroque Royal Residence, given new facades, a gable wreath made up of dormer windows and domed towers.

    Particularly noteworthy is the construction of the baroque theatre. The court theatre was built from 1670 to 1675 on the site of the former keep on the north wing. Éléonore and George William had their own court orchestra and engaged numerous actors. The castle become a cultural highlight - the charisma of which can be felt to this day. At Éléonore’s instigation and as early as 1670, a garden area was converted into a baroque pleasure and kitchen garden, based on the French model. Under her direction, an area was designed in the manner of a traditional garden at court - with geometrically laid out beds, paths, watercourses and an orangery built in 1677.

    In 1722, 17 years after the death of  George William, the last Duchess of Celle died. Éléonore was buried in the Ducal crypt in the church of St. Mary in Celle and an avenue of trees is named after her.

  • Sophie Dorothea
    Princess Sophie Dorothea with her two children © Residenzmuseum im Celler Schloss. Foto: Fotostudio Loeper, Celle

    The banished Princess from Ahlden

    A marriage arranged for political reasons, the loss of a lover and lifelong exile - these are the three great dramas in the life of Sophie Dorothea, the only child of the last Duke and Duchess of Celle, George William and Éléonore d’Olbreuse.  During the baroque period, the Celle Princess was considered one of the prettiest marriage candidates in the country - and was one of the best matches in Europe. The young nobility formed a queue in front of the Palace.  However, through a bridal ‘arrangement’, negotiated by her father Duke George William and her uncle, the Hanoverian Elector Ernst August, years earlier, she was forced into an unhappy marriage with her cousin Georg Ludwig, who would later ascend the English throne as George I. The young Princess, however, submitted to her fate - a marriage that would guarantee the House of Hanover properties in Celle, after her father's death.

    After a few years, Sophie Dorothea dutifully gave birth to two children, including the heir to the throne, but not long thereafter, fell in love with Count Philipp Christoph von Königsmarck, an officer in the service of the Prince of Hanover. After two years of secrecy, the lovers planned to escape, but were thwarted. The count was killed; he is officially missing to this day and his disappearance still poses unsolved mysteries. Sophie Dorothea was divorced through a humiliating divorce proceeding, alone, culpable and responsible.  The guilty verdict was: exile. Ex-husband George Ludwig confiscated her entire fortune, her name was removed from all official documents and her titles were revoked.

    From then on she lived strictly imprisoned in Ahlden - a half-timbered building that was rather hastily cleaned up and representative of a castle, remote and very lonely – and guarded around the clock. Her mail was checked. Excursions were only allowed up to a distance of two kilometers. Occasionally she was allowed to see her mother. But she was never allowed to see her children again, Sophie Dorothea and Georg August, who were only seven and eleven years old at the time of the divorce.

    Sophie Dorothea, the exiled "Princess of Ahlden", as she was later called, lived for 32 years and died on November 13, 1726. There was a lot of infighting over her funeral: she did not find her final resting place until May 1727 – when, secretly and at night, Sophie Dorothea, like her mother, was buried in the Guelph crypt in Celle.

  • Caroline Mathilde
    The Danish Queen Caroline Mathilde © Residenzmuseum im Celler Schloss. Foto: Fotostudio Loeper, Celle

    The Danish Queen in Exile in Celle

    The young English Princess Caroline Mathilde of Denmark (1751-1775) was married to the Danish king when she was only 15 years old. Her future husband, Christian VII of Denmark, was her cousin. But from an early age, the Dane showed signs of mental illness, which would now be interpreted in various ways, from autism to schizophrenia. But Denmark was far away, what could they know about it in England? Therefore the marriage was decided "per procurationem" in London and the wedding was celebrated in Denmark in November.

    Far from family and home, Caroline was now the wife of a man who largely ignored and scorned her. Nevertheless, 2 years after the marriage, she gave birth to the longed-for heir to the throne, Frederick the VI. Not long afterwards, returning from his travels, the king brought with him  Johann Friedrich Struensee, a doctor for the poor from Altona, in whom he had developed a particular trust and had chosen to be his personal physician. But not only the king - Caroline was also fascinated by the man and he with her! They fell in love, a ménage à trois (three way relationship) began - incidentally with the blessing of the king – and who from then on, under Struensee's influence, was a little more affectionate towards his wife. In July 1771, Caroline gave birth to her daughter Louise Augusta, whose father, it is rumored today, was still more than a personal physician.

    Struensee was appointed minister by the king and used his influence (and incidentally, also led Denmark into the Enlightenment) – which was an immense threat to the nobility. Plots were forged that weighed heavily upon him and Caroline was used as the pawn of his opponents. In March 1772 she admitted to the affair that had long been a thorn in the courtiers’ side.

    Struensee was placed under arrest, but only then was the warrant presented to the king for signature and with the recommendation to have the doctor from Altona executed - and swiftly. Said and done. The execution took place in April 1772. The young Queen Caroline Mathilde, not even twenty-one years old, was exiled to Celle. Here she lived miserably and only hoped that she would soon see her children again. She ate a lot, read a lot, took care of the needy and enjoyed socialising with the citizens of Celle on walks in the town. Only three years later she died of a fever and was buried in the Royal crypt in Celle.  Today, a monument to Queen Caroline can be discovered in the French garden in Celle, a street also bears her name as does an hotel.

Duke Georg Wilhelm
© Residenzmuseum im Celler Schloss. Foto: Fotostudio Loeper, Celle

Sources: The Town of Celle,Cosima Bellersen Quirini, http://www.welfen.de/Georg-Wilhelm.htm

Duke Georg Wilhelm

The last Duke (1624-1705)

He was the second son of George, Duke of Calenberg (1583-1641).
George William went on educational trips and enjoyed spending time in the Netherlands, Italy and above all in Venice. When his older brother Christian Ludwig succeeded the Principality of Lüneburg (Celle), George William inherited the Principality of Calenberg (Hanover) in 1648. With the death of his older brother Christian Ludwig in 1665, George William moved to Celle, in the coveted principality of Lüneburg.

In Hanover, his younger brother Johann Friedrich inherited the Principality of Calenberg. In 1663, George William, the confirmed bachelor met the French Huguenot Éléonore Desmier d’Olbreuse - and that was it. For this reason he ceded his intended fiancée, Sophie (1630-1714) Princess of the Palatinate, to his younger brother Ernst August (1629-1698).   However, this bridal exchange, meant he also renounced any future succession for his descendants.

As a result, after the death of George William in 1705, Celle lost its function  as a Ducal residence and from then on, was ruled from Hanover.

The last Ducal Couple

and their Descendents

Do you know

why the Royals came from Hanover?

The Electress Sophie of Hanover is considered the "Mother" of the Personal Union: the wife of Ernst August, Duke of Brunswick and Lüneburg, was appointed heir-designate to the throne by the British Parliament in 1701, as the last surviving Protestant granddaughter of the Stuart King James I (Act of Settlement).

After her death on June 8, 1714, her hereditary title passed to her son Georg Ludwig, who ascended the English throne as George I a few weeks later, following the death of Queen Anne.

With the coronation of the Hanoverian Elector as King of Great Britain on the 20th October, 1714 in Westminster Abbey, the Personal Union became legally binding, which subsequently passed to George's legal heirs, the Kings George II, George III, George IV and William IV.

The British Kingdom and the Electorate of Hanover remained legally separate for 123 years until the end of the Personal Union and were only linked through the Monarch.

It was not until Queen Victoria ascended the Throne in Great Britain in 1837 that the Personal Union was dissolved, as the rules of succession in Hanover did not recognise a female successor to the throne.

Who has lived at Celle Palace?

A look back through History

  • 1266-1330
    Otto the Strict © Residenzmuseum im Celler Schloss. Foto: Fotostudio Loeper, Celle

    Duke Otto the Strict

    Founder of the town of Celle. He and his wife Mechthild Mathilde of  Bavaria were the first residents of Celle Palace, which at the time was still a medieval castle.

  • 1439-1471
    [Translate to Englisch:] Das Hufeisen auf der Stechbahn

    Duke Otto V, the victorious

    According to legend, he died during a horse tournament on the Celle Stechbahn. A horseshoe set into the pavement serves as a reminder of him today.

  • 1441-1513
    Interior of the Celle Palace Chapel © Residenzmuseum im Celler Schloss. Foto: Fotostudio Loeper, Celle

    Duchess Anna of Nassau

    The Duchess initiated the construction and furnishing of the Gothic castle chapel, which was consecrated on the 26th May, 1485 by the Bishop of Hildesheim.

  • 1520-1546
    Ernst the Confessor © Residenzmuseum im Celler Schloss. Foto: Fotostudio Loeper, Celle

    Duke Ernst

    He implemented the Reformation in Celle and because of this, was later nicknamed "the Confessor".

  • 1535-1592
    Duke Wilhelm the Younger © Residenzmuseum im Celler Schloss. Foto: Fotostudio Loeper, Celle

    Duke William the Younger

    with his wife Dorothea of Denmark (1546-1617). She was temporarily appointed as interim Regent due to Duke William suffering a mental illness. Together, they redesigned the Palace Chapel.

  • 1582-1641
    Duke of Calenberg © Residenzmuseum im Celler Schloss. Foto: Fotostudio Loeper, Celle

    Duke George of Braunschweig and Lüneburg Calenberg

    He was one of fifteen children born to Duke William and Dorothea and is considered the original ancestor of the Guelph line that still exists today.

  • 1622-1665
    Duke Christian Ludwig © Residenzmuseum im Celler Schloss. Foto: Fotostudio Loeper, Celle

    Duke Christian Ludwig

    He was the eldest son of Duke George of Braunschweig and Lüneburg-Calenberg and lived with Dorothea von Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg in the Guelph Palace in Celle.

  • 1624-1705
    Duke Georg Wilhelm © Residenzmuseum im Celler Schloss. Foto: Fotostudio Loeper, Celle

    Duke George William

    The second son of Duke George of  Braunschweig and Lüneburg-Calenberg. He ceded his intended bride to one of his brothers and this bridal exchange eventually led to the end of Celle as a Ducal residence.

  • 1639-1722
    Duchess Eléonore d'Olbreuse © Residenzmuseum im Celler Schloss. Foto: Fotostudio Loeper, Celle

    Éléonore Desmier d’Olbreuse

    She was the last Duchess of Celle. Initiated by Éléonore, as early as 1670, a garden was converted into a baroque pleasure and kitchen garden based on the French model and which is now known as the "French garden".

  • 1666-1726
    Princess Sophie Dorothea © Residenzmuseum im Celler Schloss. Foto: Fotostudio Loeper, Celle

    Princess Sophie Dorothea

    The Princess was the only child of the last Ducal couple.
    Known as an uncrowned British queen, she was exiled near Celle for 31 years.

  • 1751-1775
    The Danish Queen Caroline Mathilde © Residenzmuseum im Celler Schloss. Foto: Fotostudio Loeper, Celle

    The Danish Queen Caroline Mathilde

     came to Celle as an English Princess and became Queen of Denmark through her marriage to Christian VII. However, after her adultery, she returned to Celle in exile.