Prince Heinrich of Prussia was Grand Admiral of the German Imperial Navy, brother of Wilhelm II, German Emperor, and a grandson of Queen Victoria. Heinrich (Albert Wilhelm Heinrich) was born on August 14, 1862 at the Kronprinzenpalais (Crown Prince’s Palace) in Berlin, Kingdom of Prussia (now Germany). He was the third of the eight children of Friedrich III, German Emperor and King of Prussia and Victoria, Princess Royal, the eldest child of Queen Victoria. Heinrich had seven siblings:
- Wilhelm II, German Emperor (1859 –1941) married (1) Princess Auguste Viktoria of Schleswig-Holstein, had issue (2) Princess Hermine Reuss of Greiz, no issue
- Charlotte (1860 –1919) married Bernhard III, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen, had issue
- Sigismund (1864 – 1866) died of meningitis at 21 months
- Victoria (1866 – 1929) married (1) Prince Adolf of Schaumburg-Lippe, no issue (2) Alexander Zoubkov, no issue
- Waldemar (1868 – 1879) died of diphtheria at age 11
- Sophie (1870 – 1932) married King Constantine I of Greece, had issue
- Margaret (1872 –1954) married Prince Frederick Charles of Hesse, had issue
As a baby Heinrich was fretful and as a toddler, he was unsteady on his legs, crying to be carried around, or just plain crying. When Heinrich was 3 1/2 years old, his mother sent him off to England to spend the winter with his grandmother Queen Victoria and sent this warning, “You do not know how much trouble we have had with Henry…He never spoke the truth, roared by hours together if the least thing was refused him…bit, kicked and scratched the maids if they did not instantly do what he chose…” Heinrich started on his lessons at the age of five with Georg Hinzpeter, who was already the tutor of Heinrich’s elder brother Wilhelm. Hinzpeter complained that Heinrich was “very backward and slow.” When Heinrich was eleven year old, his mother wrote to Queen Victoria, ” Henry is so awfully backward in every thing…is hopelessly lazy, drole, and idle about his lessons – but such a good natured boy – everyone likes him…” Eventually it was decided that the best thing for Heinrich was to put him into the navy.
In 1877, at the age of 15, Heinrich entered the German Imperial Navy. His training included a two-year voyage around the world (1878 to 1880), the naval officer examination (Seeoffizierhauptprüfung) in October 1880, and attendance at German Imperial Naval Academy (1884 to 1886). Thereafter, Heinrich held various commands:
- 1887: a torpedo boat and the First Torpedo Boat Division
- 1888: Imperial Yacht SMY Hohenzollern
- 1889 – 1890: the cruiser SMS Irene, the armored coastal defense ship SMS Beowulf, and the ironclad SMS Sachsen and the battleship SMS Wörth
In 1899, Heinrich became Commander of the East Asia Squadron and in 1903, he returned to Germany as the Commander of the Baltic Sea Naval Station. From 1906 to 1909, Henry was Commander of the High Seas Fleet. He was promoted to Grand Admiral (Großadmiral) in 1909, the highest rank in the German Imperial Navy.
On May 24, 1888, Heinrich married his first cousin, Princess Irene of Hesse and by Rhine at the chapel in Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin. Irene’s mother Princess Alice was the sister of Heinrich’s mother Victoria, Princess Royal. At the time of the wedding, Heinrich’s father and Irene’s uncle by marriage, Friedrich III, German Emperor (known as Fritz), was suffering from cancer of the larynx and would die in less than a month. To honor his son, Fritz wore one of his full-dress uniforms with the Hessian Order and the Order of the Garter Star, entered the chapel leaning heavily on a cane, and although pale and thin, looked quite dignified. He can be seen in the photo below next to his wife who is to the right of the minister. Among other guests were the Prince of Wales (future King Edward VII) who was the uncle of both the bride and groom, Grand Duke Serge Alexandrovich of Russia and his wife Grand Duchess Elisabeth Feodorovna (born Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine, sister of the bride), and Prince and Princess Louis of Battenberg (the princess was born Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine, sister of the bride).
Unfortunately, Irene was a hemophilia carrier having inherited the gene from her mother Princess Alice who had inherited it from her mother Queen Victoria. Nine of Queen Victoria’s descendants were afflicted with hemophilia and two of them were Heinrich and Irene’s sons.
Unofficial Royalty: Hemophilia in Queen Victoria’s Descendants
- Prince Waldemar (1889 – 1945) married Princess Calixta of Lippe-Biesterfeld, no issue; a hemophiliac, died at age 56 due to lack of blood transfusion facilities as the Russians and Americans advanced on Germany at the very end of World War II in Tutzing, Bavaria, Germany
- Prince Sigismund (1896 – 1978) married Princess Charlotte of Saxe-Altenburg, had one son and one daughter
- Prince Heinrich (1900 – 1904), hemophiliac, died at age 4 from a brain hemorrhage due to a fall
At the beginning of World War I, Heinrich was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Baltic Fleet. He was charged with preventing the Russian Navy from attacking the German coast, and was successful. At the end of World War I, and with the abdication of his brother Wilhelm as German Emperor and King of Prussia, Heinrich left the navy.
After the dissolution of the German monarchies, Heinrich and his family lived at Hemmelmark, an estate in Eckernförde in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. Heinrich had bought the estate in 1894 as it was near his residence in the naval port city of Kiel. He continued participating in motor sports and sailing, and was successful in sailing regattas even in his old age. Heinrich popularized the Prinz-Heinrich-Mütze (“Prince Henry cap”), which is still worn by some sailors.
Prince Heinrich died of throat cancer at the age of 66, at his home Hemmelmark on April 20, 1929. He was buried in a Russian style chapel surrounded by trees, built on a field at Hemmelmark. Princess Irene died in 1953 at the age 87 and was interred with her husband.