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Princess Irene of Hesse and by Rhine (Irene Luise Marie Anne, Princess of Hesse and by Rhine, July 11, 1866 – November 11, 1953) was the third child and third daughter of Princess Alice of the United Kingdom and Ludwig IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine.

Princess Irene of Hesse and by Rhine

Her maternal grandparents were Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Her paternal grandparents were Prince Charles of Hesse and by Rhine and Princess Elisabeth of Prussia, the second daughter of Prince Wilhelm of Prussia and Landgravine Marie-Anna of Hesse-Homburg and a granddaughter of Friedrich-Wilhelm II of Prussia.

Princess Irene’s siblings included Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine, wife of Prince Louis of Battenberg (the maternal grandmother of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and mother-in-law of king Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden), Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna of Russia, wife of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia, Ernst-Ludwig, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine, and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia, wife of Empress Nicholas II of Russia. Like her younger sister, the Russian Empress, Irene was a carrier of the hemophilia gene, and Irene would lose her sisters Alix and Elisabeth in Russia to the Bolsheviks.

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. Her mother, Princess Alice, considered Irene an unattractive child and once wrote to her sister Victoria that Irene was “not pretty.” Though not as pretty as her sister Elizabeth, Irene did have a pleasant, even disposition.

I personally disagree with her mothers assessment. As seen in these pictures below, I think Princess Irene was very pretty.


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.

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. 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.

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 December 14, 1878.

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. With her sister Alix, Irene was a bridesmaid at the 1885 wedding of their maternal aunt, Princess Beatrice, to Prince Henry of Battenberg.


Irene married Prince Heinrich of Prussia, the third child and second son of Friedrich III, German Emperor and Victoria, Princess Royal on May 24 1888 at the chapel of the Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin. As their mothers were sisters, Irene and Heinrich were first cousins.

Irene and Heinrich

Their marriage displeased Queen Victoria because she had not been told about the courtship until they had already decided to marry. 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 Emperor Wilhelm II.

Heinrich’s mother, 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. 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.