Schulenburg, Ehrengard Melusina von der (1667–1743)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

Schulenburg, Ehrengard Melusina von der (1667–1743)

Duchess of Kendal and influential paramour of George I. Name variations: Ehrengard Melusine von der Schulemburg; Ermengarde Melusina von der Schulenburg, baroness Schulenburg; duchess of Munster; known as Melusine. Born in 1667; died in 1743 (some sources cite 1746); daughter of Gustavus Adolphus, Baron Schulenburg; had liaison (maîtresse en titre) with George I, king of England; children: (with George I) three daughters: Anna Louise (b. 1682); Petronilla Melusina , baroness of Aldborough (b. around 1693); Margaret Gertrude of Schulenburg (b. 1703).

Ehrengard Melusina von der Schulenburg, known as Melusine, came to Great Britain in 1714 as the paramour of its newly crowned king, George I, the first in a succession of Hanoverian monarchs who would rule England after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Described by wits of the day as "the maypole" because she was tall and slim, Schulenburg was notoriously unpopular with the British public, who despised her quest for titles and money. Despite being an object of ridicule to courtiers vying for power and influence in early 18th-century England, she was also a necessary and useful ally to those hoping to curry favor with the king.

George I had many mistresses, but Schulenburg is generally considered to have been his favorite. They had three daughters together, though George could never acknowledge their paternity without jeopardizing the terms of his divorce from his wife Sophia Dorothea of Brunswick-Celle , who remained a virtual captive in Hanover. Even Sir Robert Walpole, later England's first prime minister, regarded Schulenburg as the unofficial queen. While providing George with the stability of a domestic life, Schulenburg still managed to look out for her own future and that of her daughters by parlaying her influence with the king into titles. Her position as the king's mistress made her a formidable presence in England's royal court: she damaged Secretary of State Charles Townsend's authority as well as that of his ally Walpole when, in response to her request for a title, they could muster only an Irish peerage, making her duchess of Munster. On the other hand, she granted their political rivals Charles Spencer and Lord James Stanhope important access to the king as a reward for their successful scheme to make her duchess of Kendal—a much more prominent and noble title.

The fortunes of the British court in the early 18th century were hardly stable, however, and after Schulenburg became involved in the failed speculations of the South Sea Company, she quickly learned to work with those who could save her reputation. The South Sea scandal erased Spencer's and Stanhope's influence in court, so Schulenburg switched her allegiance to Townsend and Walpole. Their efforts to minimize her role in the company's demise earned them her gratitude, and she worked on their behalf to establish a stable administration. Towards the end of George's reign, Schulenburg's position in the royal court was so ingrained that she was not threatened by his dalliance with the much younger Anne Brent , who posed no risk to her standing. George's death on June 11, 1727, brought on a period of intense grieving for Schulenburg. According to one account, she thought that George returned to her as a bird she tamed with crumbs. Ehrengard Melusina von der Schulenburg remained in England until her death in 1743.

sources:

Carlton, Charles. Royal Mistresses. London: Routledge, 1990.

Bonnie Burns , Ph.D., Cambridge, Massachusetts