Sophie began her long, sometimes chaotic life just two days before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the precursor to World War I. She was the youngest of four daughters of Prince Andrew of Greece, the son of King George I of the Hellenes, and Alice of Battenberg, a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Sophie was born on Corfu, at the family’s villa at Mons Repos, and was named for her aunt, a former Prussian princess, Queen Sophie of Greece. Baby Sophie’s older sisters were Margarita, Theodora and Cecile; she also had a younger brother, the current Duke of Edinburgh. Her nickname from childhood was tiny, despite the fact that she grew into a rather tall adult.
Sophie’s grandfather George was assassinated a year before her birth. This began a tumultuous time in the Greek royal family, one that involved multiple periods of exile and frequent moves around Europe. Sophie later said that her first memory was hiding in the cellar of the family’s Athens home while the French bombed the city.
Sophie’s parents began living apart in the late 1920s, when Alice began to suffer bouts of mental illness. Andrew escaped to Monaco to live with his mistress, while the children generally stayed with relatives. It was likely this somewhat transient existence that prompted Sophie to marry very early. In December 1930 at the age of 16, she married Prince Christoph of Hesse, a distant cousin thirteen years her senior. The marriage lasted nearly thirteen years and produced five children.
Though the couple initially lived a peaceful life in Berlin, the following years were often not easy ones for Sophie. Her sister Cecile and two nephews were killed in a plane crash in Ostend, Belgium in November 1937. Cecile’s only surviving child Johanna (who was not on the plane with her family) died 18 months later of meningitis. The tragedy did bring Sophie and her surviving siblings closer to their mother, whose illness had subsided in the years since the exile and war.
The outbreak of World War II a few years later brought new hardships to Sophie and her family. In October 1943, Christoph, a reserve officer in the Luftwaffe, died in an airplane crash in Italy. Sophie was living with her mother-in-law at the time at Schloss Friedrichshof near Frankfurt. Besides her own children, Sophie had also taken into her care the four children of her brother-in-law and sister-in-law Philip and Mafalda of Hesse. The family later moved to Darmstadt living on very reduced circumstances.
Sophie married a second time in April 1946 to George William of Hanover, another distant cousin and the brother of Queen Frederika of Greece. Due to the aftermath of the war, George VI withheld his permission for the couple to marry (obtaining permission was customary among descendants of George II), the only known case of a couple being denied permission to marry under the Royal Marriages Acot of 1772. George William served as the headmaster of Schule Schloss Salem, a boarding school in Salem, Germany. Sophie and George William had three further children – two daughters and a son.
Although Sophie and her surviving sisters were not invited to Philip’s wedding to the future Queen Elizabeth II in 1947 (all had German spouses), all three sisters attended in coronation six years later. Sophie, the closest in age to Philip, began visiting Britain with her family with regularity. She served as godmother to Prince Edward in 1964, and often attended the Royal Windsor Horse Show. Sophie was close to Philip’s children, particularly Prince Charles.
Sophie died in Munich in 2001. She was survived by George William, by seven of her eight children (son Welf had died of a brain aneurysm in 1981), and by her brother Philip.