Sophia Hedwig von Braunschweig-Wolffenbüttel
As the eldest daughter of the duke of Braunschweig, a granddaughter of Frederik II, and a cousin of Christian IV (these latter two were both kings of Denmark), Sophia was raised at the ducal court in Wolffenbüttel. In 1607 she married count Ernst Casimir (1573–1632), who was eighteen years her senior and who had just inherited the county of Nassau-Dietz from his father Johan, a son of William the Silent. When in 1620 Ernst Casimir succeeded his brother Willem Lodewijk as stadtholder of Friesland (including the provinces of Drenthe and Groningen), Sophia and her husband settled with their family at the Nassauhof in Leeuwarden. Of her nine children, only two sons — Hendrik Casimir (1612–1640) and Willem Frederik (1613–1664) — reached maturity. With Ernst Casimir engaged in military conflict for much of his rule, Sophia Hedwig assumed responsibility for their children’s education.
It was through Sophia Hedwig that the Frisian court received a more prominent and international status. Following the death of her husband in 1632, and again after the death of her son Hendrik Casimir in 1640, Sophia Hedwig accepted regency over the family estates. During the Thirty Years’ War she displayed impressive managerial qualities in addition to significant diplomatic skills. She organized personally the armament of the local population, and she offered food and safe haven at Nassau Castle. As an expression of their gratitude for her services, her sons signed a declaration in 1634 in which they handed over formal government powers of the county of Nassau-Dietz to their mother.
As a result of the marriage of her son Willem Frederik to Albertine van Oranje-Nassau, Sophia Hedwig may be considered the matriarch of the current Oranje-Nassau dynasty, the members of the present Dutch royal family being the direct descendants of this union.
- W. Bergsma, ed., ‘Het hof van de Friese Nassaus (1584–1747)’, It Beaken, 60, no 3/4 (1998).
- M. Bruggeman and A. P. van Nienes, eds, Archieven van de Friese stadhouders. Inventarissen van de archieven van de Friese stadhouders van Willem Lodewijk tot en met Willem V, 1584–1795 (Hilversum, 2002).
- S. Groenveld, ‘Nassau contra Oranje in de 17e eeuwse Republiek’, Jaarboek Oranje-Nassau Museum (1997), pp. 10–53.
- S. Groenveld, ed., Nassau uit de schaduw van Oranje (Franeker, 2003).
- R. Heck, Die Regentschaft der Grafin Sophie Hedwig von Nassau-Dietz 1632–1642 (Dietz, 1923).
- M. Klatter, ‘Een vergeten stammoeder van de Oranjes. Sophia Hedwig, gravin van Nassau-Dietz’, in E. Kloek, ed., Markante vrouwen, themanummer Spiegel Historiael, 40, no. 7/8 (2005).
- L. Kooijmans, Liefde in opdracht. Het hofleven van Willem Frederik van Nassau (Amsterdam, 2000).
- J. J. Poelhekke, Frederik Hendrik prins van Oranje. Een biografisch drieluik (Zutphen, 1978).
- J. Steur, ‘Sophie Hedwig. Hertogin van Brunswijk-Luneburg, 1592–1642’, in E. van Beusekom, et al. eds, Moeders uit ons vorstenhuis (Amsterdam, 1938), pp. 99–118.
- J. Visser, ed., Gloria Parendi, Dagboeken van Willem Frederik, stadhouder van Friesland, Groningen en Drenthe, 1643–1649, 1651–1654 (The Hague, 1995).