Irene of Greece (left), with her sister Helen. Photo credit: National Portrait Gallery
Wikipedia: Irene of Greece, Duchess of Aosta
Born in Athens in February 1904, Irene was the fifth child and second daughter of the future Constantine I of Greece and Sophie of Prussia. Irene may have been named as such due to the so-called Macedonian Struggle, a period of violent skirmishes, guerilla warfare, and political assassinations in the Balkans that began the year of her birth. Irene’s siblings included three Greek kings (George II, Alexander, and Paul) and Helen, a future Romanian queen. Irene remained the youngest child in her family for over nine years until the birth of her younger sister Katherine in 1913. Irene was very close to Helen throughout their lives.
The Greek royal family spent a significant amount of time in exile during Irene’s childhood. After her father’s death in 1922, Irene moved with her mother and younger sister permanently to Italy. Irene lived in Florence with her mother and younger sister in a somewhat ordinary villa. During Irene’s time in Florence, she trained as a nurse in a local hospital. She was also seen out at local dance halls and cafes, and generally living the life of a typical young adult of the time. She was fond of the Scottish Highlands, regularly taking trips there with Helen. In late 1926, Irene and Katherine simultaneously came down with appendicitis, but both made quick recoveries.
Irene was linked for some time to Boris III of Bulgaria. Following her sister Helen’s disastrous experience as the wife of Carol II of Romania, Irene was said to have declared that she would not marry a Balkan royal. Irene was engaged to Christian of Schaumburg-Lippe, her distant cousin, in October 1927. The engagement was broken off reportedly due to Irene’s dislike of Germany.
Irene and her sister Katherine served as bridesmaids for their cousin Marina when she married George, Duke of Kent in 1934. As royal weddings tend to encourage gossip about other possible couples, talk of a future husband for Irene began to simmer again. She was mentioned as being linked to Nicholas of Romania, a family with whom her own already had two links (her sister Helen and brother George both married into the Romanian royal family). In the late 1930s, Irene was named as a possible bride to the widowed Leopold III of Belgium. Neither of these prospective marriages progressed beyond talks.
Irene was also instrumental in encouraging “Green Week” in Athens, a time when a large amount of trees were planted on the streets of the city to encourage natural beauty and shade. Her brother George II liked the idea and appealed to ambassadors of several different countries for donations of trees.
Irene again became engaged in May 1939 to Aimone, Duke of Spoleto (later Apulia). Aimone was the son of Emanuele Filiberto, Duke of Aosta and Hélène of Orléans, once a bridal candidate for both Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Nicholas II of Russia. Aimone was descended from Ferdinand VII of Spain, Louis-Philippe of France, and Victor Emmanuel II of Italy, and was at one time thought to marry Infanta Beatriz of Spain. The engagement between Irene and Aimone was considered to be “a love match without political significance,” although there was some speculation that the marriage was arranged to ease tension over Italian troops being stationed near the Greek border. The two had known one another for some time, as the Greeks in exile in Italy had become close with the Savoy family.
The couple married in Florence at the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore on July 1, 1939, in the company of numerous other royals. The ceremony was said to have been gorgeous, with the streets filled with flowers and scores of spectators. Aimone’s and Irene’s wedding was one of the last royal weddings before the outbreak of World War II in Europe.
Aimone was named King of Croatia in 1941; Croatia had been established as a puppet monarchy in control of Italy and Greece. He intended to rule under the name Tomislav II, but Aimone accepted the throne mostly out of duty. The region was unstable due to border disputes and the war in Europe; the theoretical monarch of Croatia also held little power as the Ustaše fascist organization controlled the country.
At the beginning of World War II, Irene began serving with the International Red Cross in the Soviet Union. She ended her tenure there when she became pregnant.
The couple’s only child, Amadeo, was born in September 1943 in Florence. Amadeo’s birth occurred shortly after Italy’s armistice with the Allied powers during World War II and his father’s abdication of the Croatian throne. As a result of Aimone’s ties to Croatia, Amadeo received the Croat name of Zvonimir as one of his given names.
Early in 1944, Irene and several other Italian royals were arrested and sent to concentration camps. This was done Irene and Amadeo were dispatched first to Sartirana, near Pavía, and then later to Austria, Germany, and Poland. The two were liberated in May 1945 at the end of the war in Europe.
After the fall of the Italian monarchy in 1946, Irene and Amadeo escaped to Switzerland while Aimone fled to Argentina. The couple was effectively separated after this time, having spent little time together during the preceding years. Aimone died in Buenos Aires in 1948.
Following her husband’s death, Irene established herself in Villa Domenico (Fiesole), near her sister Helena, who lived in Villa Sparta. Irene died on April 15, 1974, at her home in Fiesole, Italy. She is buried at the Basilica of Superga in Turin.