Walt Disney must have visited Marienburg Castle or seen it in his dreams. It’s the epitome of a fairytale palace, all pointy turrets and rounded towers, set high on a hill amidst forested countryside in the heart of Lower Saxony, not far from Hanover (Hannover). Its story is a fairytale romance, though maybe more in the tradition of the Grimm brothers than Disney …
It was built for Marie Alexandrine Wilhelmine Katherine Charlotte Theresa Henrietta Luise Pauline Elisabeth Friederike Georgine of Saxe-Altenburg … She was the queen-consort of George V of Hanover (Hannover) in northern Germany. He gave her ‘Rehberg Hill‘ in 1857 and had the castle built for her 40th birthday. Theirs was a love-match, unusual for royal families of the 19th century, who usually had to make dynastic marriages, often to one of Queen Victoria’s relatives. King George was one of those relatives.
He was the grandson of George III of the United Kingdom and nephew of William IV. Blinded in a tragic accident in the gardens of Kew Palace in London when he was only 13 years old, Prince George of Cumberland went on to become the last King of Hanover, dying in exile in Paris and buried in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. I recently visited Marienburg Castle to discover the poignant story of this proud, romantic king and his loving queen.
If you are lucky enough to visit the castle before the end of 2016, you will be also able to see the excellent exhibition, Path to the Crown. Historical furniture, paintings and rarities of art history from the collection of the Royal House of Hannover are on display. The Hannoverian crown, along with the sceptre and bridal crown are on show for the first time since the end of the Kingdom of Hanover to mark the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the Personal Union between Hanover and Great Britain from 1714 to 1801.
I was shown round by Andre Mertens, who explained how the castle had been designed as a summer residence and the Gothic/ Neo-Gothic appearance was designed to reflect ‘the true essence of Germany to be found in the Middle Ages.’ Royal family friend Major Eduard Witte proposed the first design, then architect Conrad Wilhelm Hase followed by Edwin Oppler created more detailed plans, with continuous input from the George and Marie. No wonder it took more than 10 years to build. The courtyard reflects the ornate, nostalgic vision of all involved.
By the time the castle was finished, Marie was besotted. She wrote in a letter, “Oh you cannot know how lovely it is here. It cannot be described, the most beautiful place on Earth,” and said it was her ‘little Eldorado’. Unfortunately, during the last year of building, Hannover entered into a futile war with Prussia, were defeated in 1866 and King George fled Germany. Marie moved into Marienburg Castle with her daughter Mary; she had only stayed there briefly before. A year later she too had to flee and join her husband in exile; the calender above her bureau still shows the date 23rd July 1867, the day she left. Above it is a portrait of the queen aged 85 years old.
The castle is a charming mix of romantic styles with ‘modern for its time’ furniture and fittings. The octagonal entrance hall sets the tone with its star arches, impressive columns and a large model of the castle. It has an absolutely glorious blue and gold ceiling with eight allegorical personifications of the Arts.
One of the most impressive rooms is the Rittersaal (The Knights Hall), which was unfinished at the time of the royal exile but has been fitted out with some magnificent paintings and the splendid Augsburg silver furniture, once owned by George II of Great Britain and Hannover. The Speisesaal (Dining Hall) has a fine sedan chair and elaborate uniforms that are still worn by servants in the British Royal household.
There are many fascinating rooms to explore, including the Queen’s Parlour with ornate carving, wooden ceiling and detailed ornamentation. The Princesses’ Room has wall paintings depicting scenes from popular fairy stories including Snow White (supposedly set near here) and the Sleeping Beauty. The corridor onto which this room opens is reminiscent of the cloisters of a monastery, with curved archways and dainty lanterns. The Chapel, now used for weddings, has a marble statue of Christ, a beautiful organ and modern stained glass windows; the originals were shattered during WWII. My favourite room is the Queen’s Library. Under a gothic dome painted in similar style to the entrance hall, are book-laden shelves and busts of famous literary and musical figures admired by the queen. It is perfect in every detail and a work of art in itself.
Although George never lived in Marienburg Castle and Marie was only there for a year, it retains an air of romance and mystery. Still owned by the Guelph family, Prince Ernst August of Hanover takes a lively interest in the ongoing refurbishment, development and daily life of this magical place.
Marienburg Castle – ‘Path to the Crown’ video
I visited Marienburg Castle courtesy of the German National Tourist Office and the Lower Saxony Tourist Board on a trip to discover more about the British Royal Family in and around Hannover. My thanks to Andre Mertens and everyone in Lower Saxony who helped make this such a memorable trip.