by Scott Mehl
Princess Sophie of Greece and Denmark, Princess of Hesse, Princess of Hanover
Princess Sophie of Greece and Denmark was the third daughter of Prince Andreas of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg. Known in the family as “Tiny”, she was born on March 25, 1915 at Mon Repos on the isle of Corfu, Greece. She had four siblings:
- Princess Margarita (1905) – married Gottfried, Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, had issue
- Princess Theodora (1906) – married Berthold, Margrave of Baden, had issue
- Princess Cecilie (1911) – married Georg Donatus, Hereditary Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine, had issue
- Prince Philippos (1921) – married Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, had issue
Because of the unstable political situation in Greece, Sophie spent several years living in Switzerland, and later settled in France in the early 1920s. However, the family was soon pulled apart. Her mother suffered a nervous breakdown and was institutionalized in 1930, and her father had basically given up on his marriage and spent most of his time with a mistress on the French Riviera. So it was no surprise when Sophie, at just 16 years old, became engaged to be married. She would be the first of the sisters to marry, but the others followed within the following year. On December 15, 1930 at Schloss Friedrichshof in Kronberg, Sophie married Prince Christoph of Hesse, in both Orthodox and Lutheran ceremonies. He was the son of Prince Friedrich Karl of Hesse and Princess Margarete of Prussia. Sophie and Christoph were second cousins once removed through their mutual descent from Queen Victoria. They had five children:
- Princess Christina of Hesse (1933) – married (1) Prince Andrej of Yugoslavia, had issue; (2) Robert van Eyck, had issue
- Princess Dorothea of Hesse (1934) – married Prince Friedrich Karl of Windisch-Grätz, had issue
- Prince Karl of Hesse (1937) – married Countess Yvonne Szapáry von Muraszombath, Széchysziget and Szapár, had issue
- Prince Rainer of Hesse (1939) – unmarried
- Princess Clarissa of Hesse (1944) – married Jean-Claude Derrin (div), had issue
Sophie and Christoph lived in Berlin, where he worked in an insurance company, as well as serving as a reserve officer in the Luftwaffe. At the outbreak of World War II, Christoph entered active service, serving as a navigator in a bomb squadron, and later transferred to a fighter squadron in Tunisia and Sicily. In October 1943, Hitler recalled all the German princes from active service. Christoph was en route back to Germany when his plane crashed on October 7 and he was killed.
Sophie, meanwhile, had been living with her mother-in-law at Schloss Friedrichshof, with her five children. She was also raising the four children of her brother-in-law, Prince Philip of Hesse, who had been imprisoned in 1943. Forced to leave Friedrichshof when the American troops arrived, Sophie and her family moved to Schloss Wolfsgarten, the family home of the former Grand Dukes of Hesse and by Rhine.
Sophie married a second time on April 23, 1946, in Salem, Baden. Her husband was Prince Georg Wilhelm of Hanover, the son of Ernst August III, Duke of Brunswick and Princess Viktoria Luise of Prussia. Sophie and Georg Wilhelm were second cousins. This marriage is the only known case where the British sovereign withheld permission to marry, under the Royal Marriages Act of 1772. Although Germany and Britain were at war, the groom’s father still requested consent from King George VI. The King wished to let them know that it would be inappropriate to give his consent due to the war, but the British government would not allow it. Therefore, the request went unanswered, meaning that the marriage was not recognized under British law. Sophie and Georg had three children:
- Prince Welf Ernst of Hanover (1947) – married Wibke van Gunsteren, had issue
- Prince Georg of Hanover (1949) – married Victoria Bee, had issue
- Princess Friederike of Hanover (1954) – married Jerry Cyr, had issue
Throughout her life, Sophie was very close with her brother, The Duke of Edinburgh. Although not invited to Philip’s wedding because of her German ties, Sophie and her husband paid a private visit shortly after the wedding, spending time with Philip and Elizabeth at Birkhall. Six years later, Sophie and her surviving sisters, and their families, were all in attendance for Elizabeth’s coronation. The families visited often, and Sophie was a regular guest at the Windsor Royal Horse Show each year, as well as most private family events. In 1964, she was named as one of the godparents for Philip’s youngest son, Prince Edward. In 1994, Sophie and Philip traveled to Jerusalem, where their mother was posthumously honored as Righteous Among the Nations for her efforts to help Jewish families during the war.
In her later years, Sophie lived in Schliersee, near Munich, with her husband. She also regularly visited Princess Margaret of Hesse and by Rhine (the wife of Prince Ludwig) who was among her closest friends. In the summer of 2001, with her health failing, Sophie moved to a nursing home in Munich, where she later died on November 24, 2001. She was buried in the cemetery in Schliersee, and a memorial service was held two months later at Schloss Wolfsgarten, attended by The Duke of Edinburgh.