Sophia, Electress consort of Hanover, died on 8 June 1714, less than two months before she would have become Queen of Great Britain and Ireland at the death of Queen Anne.
Sophia was a granddaughter of James VI of Scotland, who ascended the throne in 1603 as James I Stuart. Sophia was the twelveth and longest-living child of James’s daughter Elizabeth and Frederick V, Elector Palatine. The Electors of the Palatinate were the Calvinist senior branch of the House of Wittelsbach, whose Catholic branch ruled the Electorate of Bavaria.
Born in The Hague on 14 October 1630, where her parents had fled into exile after one of the early battles in the Thirty Years’ War, Sophia married Ernest-Augustus, Elector of Brunswick-Lüneburg in 1658. They went on to have several children, seven of which reached adulthood.
Sophia met her cousin, King William III of England, in September 1700. Her inclusion in the line of succession to the British throne appeared by then highly likely. William III was a widower and had no children. The heir apparent was his cousin, and the younger sister of his late wife Queen Mary, Anne. Anne’s final pregnancy had ended in January 1700, when she miscarried a stillborn son. She had been pregnant at least 17 times over as many years, and had miscarried or given birth to stillborn children at least 12 times. Anne’s sole surviving child, William, Duke of Gloucester, died at the age of eleven on 30 July 1700.
With a childless king and no surviving children of her own, Anne remained the only individual in the line of succession established by the Bill of Rights 1689. It was therefore imperative to secure the line of succession to the British throne and avoid a constitutional crisis and the prospect of a Catholic restoration.
To do so, Parliament enacted the Act of Settlement 1701, which provided that, failing the issue of Anne and of William III by any future marriage, the Crowns of England and Ireland were to settle upon “the most excellent princess Sophia, electress and duchess-dowager of Hanover” and “the heirs of her body, being Protestant”. It is interesting to note that the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 maintains the ban on non-Protestants heirs.
Some British politicians attempted several times to bring Sophia to England in order to enable her to immediately assume power in the event of Anne’s death, but the Queen was strongly opposed to a rival court in her kingdom, so the plan was never put into action.
Despite being 35 years older than Anne, contemporary reports agree that Sophia enjoyed much better health than the younger Queen, and was very fit for her age. However, she fell ill on 5 June 1714, apparently after receiving an angry letter from Queen Anne. Two days later she was walking in the gardens of her summer palace at Herrenhausen near Hanover when she ran to shelter from a sudden downpour of rain and collapsed and died, aged 83. Queen Anne died just over a month later, in August that year – had Anne predeceased Sophia, Sophia would have been the oldest person to ascend the British throne.
Queen Anne was succeded by Sophia’s eldest son, Elector George Louis of Brunswick-Lüneburg, who was the first of the Hanoverian dinasty and became king with the name of George I.