Princess Irene of Hesse and by Rhine

Princess Irene
Princess Henry of Prussia

Princess Irene of Hesse and by Rhine during her youth
Born (1866-07-11)11 July 1866
New Palace, Darmstadt, Grand Duchy of Hesse
Died 11 November 1953(1953-11-11) (aged 87)
Schloss Hemmelmark, Barkelsby, Schleswig-Holstein, West Germany
Burial House Hemmelmark, Barkelsby, Schleswig-Holstein, West Germany
Spouse Prince Henry of Prussia (m. 1888)
Issue Prince Waldemar of Prussia
Prince Sigismund of Prussia
Prince Henry of Prussia
Full name
Irene Louise Marie Anne
House Hesse-Darmstadt
Father Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine
Mother Princess Alice of the United Kingdom
Grand Ducal Family of
Hesse and by Rhine
Louis IV
Victoria, Marchioness of Milford Haven
Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feodorovna of Russia
Irene, Princess Heinrich of Prussia
Ernest Louis
Prince Friedrich
Alexandra Fyodorovna, Empress of Russia
Princess Marie

Princess Irene of Hesse and by Rhine (Irene Louise Marie Anne, Princess of Hesse and by Rhine, 11 July 1866 – 11 November 1953) was the third child and third daughter of Princess Alice of the United Kingdom and Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine. Her maternal grandparents were Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Her paternal grandparents were Prince Charles of Hesse and by Rhine and Princess Elizabeth of Prussia. She was the wife of Prince Henry of Prussia, a younger brother of Wilhelm II, German Emperor and her first cousin. The SS Prinzessin Irene, a liner of the North German Lloyd was named after her.

Her siblings included Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine, wife of Prince Louis of Battenberg, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna of Russia, wife of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia, Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine, and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia, wife of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. Like her younger sister, the empress, Irene was a carrier of the hemophilia gene, and Irene would lose her sisters Alix and Elisabeth in Russia to the Bolsheviks.

Early life

Princesses Irene, Victoria, Elisabeth and Alix of Hesse in 1885.

She received her first name, which was taken from the Greek word for "peace," because she was born at the end of the Austro-Prussian War.[1] Alice considered Irene an unattractive child and once wrote to her sister Victoria that Irene was "not pretty."[2] Though not as pretty as her sister Elizabeth, Irene did have a pleasant, even disposition. Princess Alice brought up her daughters simply. An English nanny presided over the nursery and the children ate plain meals of rice puddings and baked apples and wore plain dresses. Her daughters were taught how to do housework, such as baking cakes, making their own beds, laying fires and sweeping and dusting their rooms. Princess Alice also emphasized the need to give to the poor and often took her daughters on visits to hospitals and charities.[3]

The family was devastated in 1873 when Irene's haemophiliac younger brother Friedrich, nicknamed "Frittie," fell through an open window, struck his head on the balustrade and died hours later of a brain hemorrhage.[4] In the months following the toddler's death, Alice frequently took her children to his grave to pray and was melancholy on anniversaries associated with him.[5] In the autumn of 1878 Irene, her siblings (except for Elizabeth) and her father became ill with diphtheria. Her younger sister Princess Marie, nicknamed "May," died of the disease. Her mother, exhausted from nursing the children, also became infected. Knowing she was in danger of dying, Princess Alice dictated her will, including instructions about how to bring up her daughters and how to run the household. She died of diphtheria on 14 December 1878.[6]

Princess Irene of Hesse and by Rhine, far left, with her grandmother Queen Victoria and, from left to right, her sister Elisabeth, brother Ernest Louis, sister Victoria and, kneeling, her sister Alix in February 1879, two months after the death of her mother.

Following Alice's death, Queen Victoria resolved to act as a mother to her Hessian grandchildren. Princess Irene and her surviving siblings spent annual holidays in England and their grandmother sent instructions to their governess regarding their education and approving the pattern of their dresses.[7] With her sister Alix, Irene was a bridesmaid at the 1885 wedding of their maternal aunt, Princess Beatrice to Prince Henry of Battenberg.[8]


Irene married Prince Henry of Prussia, the third child and second son of Frederick III, German Emperor and Victoria, Princess Royal on May 24, 1888 at the chapel of the Charlottenberg Palace in Berlin. As their mothers were sisters, Irene and Henry were first cousins.[9] Their marriage displeased Queen Victoria because she had not been told about the courtship until they had already decided to marry.[10] At the time of the ceremony, Irene's uncle and father-in-law, the German emperor, was dying of throat cancer, and less than a month after the ceremony, Irene's cousin and brother-in-law, ascended the throne as Kaiser Wilhelm II. Heinrich's mother, Victoria, Empress Victoria, was fond of Irene. However, Empress Victoria was shocked because Irene did not wear a shawl or scarf to disguise her pregnancy when she was pregnant with her first son, the haemophiliac Prince Waldemar, in 1889. Empress Victoria, who was fascinated by politics and current events, also couldn't understand why Heinrich and Irene never read a newspaper.[11] However, the couple were happily married and they were known as "The Very Amiables" by their relatives because of their pleasant natures. The marriage produced three sons.


Name Birth Death
Prince Waldemar Wilhelm Ludwig Friedrich Viktor Heinrich of Prussia 20 March 1889 2 May 1945
Prince Wilhelm Viktor Karl August Heinrich Sigismund of Prussia 27 November 1896 14 November 1978
Prince Heinrich Viktor Ludwig Friedrich of Prussia 9 January 1900 26 February 1904

Their descendants also include two grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and six great-great grandchildren.[12]

Family relationships

Princess Irene of Prussia ca. 1902.

Irene transmitted the haemophilia gene to her eldest and youngest sons, Waldemar and Heinrich. Waldemar's health worried her from early childhood.[13] She was later devastated when the youngest child, four-year-old Heinrich, died after he fell and bumped his head in February 1904.[14] Six months after little Heinrich's death, Irene became an aunt to Tsarevich Alexei of Russia, son of her youngest sister, Tsarina Alexandra, who also had hemophilia. Two of her first cousins, Queen Victoria Eugenia of Spain and Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, would also give birth to hemophiliac sons.

Irene, raised to believe in a proper Victorian code of behaviour, was easily shocked by what she saw as immorality.[15] In 1884, the same year that her elder sister Victoria married Prince Louis of Battenberg, another sister, Elizabeth, married Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia, and when Elizabeth converted from Lutheranism to Russian Orthodoxy, in 1891, Irene was deeply upset. She wrote to her father that she "cried terribly" over Elizabeth's decision.[16] In 1892, Irene's father, Grand Duke Louis IV, died, and her brother, Ernest, succeeded him as Grand Duke of Hesse, and two years later, in May 1894, Ernest Louis was married off by Queen Victoria to a first cousin, Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. It was amidst the wedding festivities that Irene's youngest surviving sister, Alix, accepted the marriage proposal of Tsarevich Nicholas, a second cousin, and when Nicholas' father died prematurely in November 1894, Irene and her husband traveled to St. Petersburg, to be present at both the funeral and the wedding of Alix, who had taken the name Alexandra Feodorovna upon her conversion to Orthodoxy, to the new tsar, Nicholas II. Despite the disagreement that she had over the conversion of two of her sisters to Russian Orthodoxy, she remained close with all of her siblings. In 1907, Irene helped arrange what later turned out to be a disastrous marriage between Elizabeth's ward, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia, to Prince Vilhelm, Duke of Södermanland.[17] Wilhelm's mother, the Queen of Sweden, was an old friend of both Irene and Elizabeth.[17] Grand Duchess Maria later wrote that Irene pressured her to go through with the marriage when she had doubts. She told Maria that ending the engagement would "kill" Elizabeth.[18] In 1912, Irene was a source of support to her sister Alix when Alexei nearly died of complications of haemophilia at the Imperial Family's hunting lodge in Poland.[19]

Later life

Prince Henry and Princess Irene of Prussia.

Irene's ties to her sisters were disrupted by the advent of World War I, which put them on opposing sides of the war. When the war ended, she received word that Alix, her husband and children and her sister Elizabeth had been killed by the Bolsheviks. Following the war and the abdication of the Kaiser, Germany was no longer ruled by the Prussian Royal Family, but Irene and her husband retained their estate, Hemmelmark, in northern Germany.

When Anna Anderson surfaced in Berlin in the early 1920s, claiming to be the surviving Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, Irene visited the woman, but decided that Anderson could not be the niece she had last seen in 1913.[20] Princess Irene was not impressed.

I saw immediately that she could not be one of my nieces. Even though I had not seen them for nine years, the fundamental facial characteristics could not have altered to that degree, in particular the position of the eyes, the ear, etc. .. At first sight one could perhaps detect a resemblance to Grand Duchess Tatiana.”[21]

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, sister of the murdered tsar, commented on the visit of Princess Irene,

It was an unsatisfactory meeting, but the woman's supporters said that Princess Irene had not known her niece very well and all the rest of it."[22]
Princess Irene with her husband Prince Heinrich of Prussia and their two surviving sons, Prince Sigismund, left, and Prince Waldemar.

Irene's husband, Heinrich, said that the mention of Anderson upset Irene too much and ordered that no one was to discuss Anderson in his presence.[23] Heinrich died in 1929. Anna Anderson biographer Peter Kurth wrote that several years later, Irene's son (Prince Sigismund) posed questions to Anderson through an intermediary about their shared childhood and declared that her answers were all accurate.[24] Irene later adopted Sigismund's daughter, Barbara, born in 1920, as her heir after Sigismund left Germany to live in Costa Rica during the 1930s. Sigismund declined to return to Germany to live after World War II.[25] Irene grieved terribly when her haemophiliac eldest son, Waldemar, became ill in 1945 and died due to the lack of blood for a transfusion. Irene herself died in 1953, leaving her estate to her granddaughter. At her death, she was the last surviving child of Princess Alice and Ludwig IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine.

Titles, styles, honours and arms





  1. Mager (1998), p. 27
  2. Pakula (1995), p. 322
  3. Mager (1998), pp. 28–29
  4. Mager (1998), p. 45
  5. Mager (1998), pp. 45–46
  6. Mager (1998), p. 56
  7. Mager (1998), p. 57
  8. [NPG: Prince and Princess Henry of Battenberg with their bridesmaids and others on their wedding day]
  9. Mager (1998), p. 111
  10. Queen Victoria (1975)
  11. Pakula (1995), p. 513
  12. Paul Theroff (2007). "Mecklenburg". An Online Gotha. Retrieved 27 March 2007.
  13. Pakula (1995), p. 537
  14. Maylunas and Mironenko (1997), pp. 239–240
  15. Massie (1995), p. 165
  16. Mager (1998), p. 135.
  17. 1 2 Mager (1998), p. 228
  18. Grand Duchess Marie (1930)
  19. Maylunas and Mironenko (1997), p. 355
  20. Kurth (1983), p. 51
  22. Vorres, I., The Last Grand Duchess p.175
  23. Peter Kurth
  24. Kurth (1983), p. 272
  25. Kurth (1983), p. 428
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