Could a 300-Year-Old Murder Mystery Finally Be Solved?
A skeleton was found during construction work at Leine castle in Niedersachsen, Germany in the summer of 2016. This is where Swedish count Philip Christoph Königsmarck disappeared 322 years ago – could it be him? Lund University in Sweden follows the dangerous love story between Philip Königsmarck and Georg Ludwig’s wife Sophia Dorothea through the love letters they wrote to each other, currently preserved at the University Library.
Leine Castle, otherwise known as Leineschloss (public domain)
More than 300 love letters are kept at Lund University.
“The letters were donated by Pontus de la Gardie, a diligent collector of archive material from Swedish noble families. This is not an extraordinary number of letters as in the 17th century people wrote letters all the time, often several times a day. Also, mail was delivered several times a day”, says Håkan Håkansson, Associate Professor of the History of Ideas and Sciences.
Watch video on the love story
The 29-year-old count disappeared after a nocturnal visit to Princess Sophia Dorothea, his childhood friend and lover. Unfortunately, she was already married to Georg Ludwig, Prince Elector of Hannover who later became George I, King of England. Sophia Dorotea married Georg Ludwig for political reasons at age 16. This was an unhappy marriage and Georg Ludwig and his parents were cold to Sophia Dorothea. In the summer of 1694, Sophia Dorothea and Philip Königsmarck planned to elope. But their love affair was exposed, probably by a friend of theirs, countess Clara Elisabeth von Platen. The scandal was a fact and Philip Königsmarck disappeared. People suspected that Georg Ludwig had the count murdered, but the body was never found.
Philip Königsmarck and Sophia Dorothea (Lund University)
Their letters to each other were sometimes written in cipher.
“I suppose they needed a secret language to hide all sensitive information. They must have had someone they trusted to deliver the letters. After all, it was an illicit love affair and it ended very badly”, says Håkan Håkansson.
Sophia Dorothea was sent away and had to spend the rest of her life in exile at the castle of Ahlden in Lüneburg.
Schloss Ahlden with moat, where Sophia lived in exile (public domain)
The bones and tissue that were found have been examined by physicians, but the cause of death could not be determined. However, the DNA from the bones can now be compared to DNA of living relatives of Philip Königsmarck. A 300-year old murder mystery may finally be solved.
The love story between Sophia Dorothea and Philip Königsmarck has been documented in books and films.