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From the Emperor’s Desk: In this entry I will only cover her birth until marriage.

Princess Irene Luise Marie Anne 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. 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 Elizabeth of Prussia. She was the wife of Prince Heinrich of Prussia, a younger brother of Wilhelm II, German Emperor and her first cousin. The SS Prinzessin Irene, a liner of the North German Lloyd was named after her.

Her siblings included Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine, wife of Prince Louis of Battenberg, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna of Russia, wife of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia, Ernst Ludwig, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine, and (Alix) Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia, wife of Emperor Nicholas II of Russia. Like her younger sister, the 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. Alice considered Irene an unattractive child and once wrote to her sister Victoria that Irene was “not pretty.” She would never be considered a great beauty like her sisters Elisabeth and Alix, but she did have a pleasant, even disposition. Princess Alice brought up her daughters simply.

Despite her mother’s assertion Princess Irene was not attractive, as the author of this blog, Liam, I wholeheartedly disagree and from the pictures I have posted I think HRH was very pretty.

Princess Irene of Hesse and by Rhine, kneeling at left, with her grandmother Queen Victoria and, from left to right, her sister Elisabeth, brother Ernest Louis, sister Victoria and, sitting, her sister Alix in February 1879, two months after the deaths of her mother and sister Marie.

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.

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.

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 Friedrich III, was dying of throat cancer, and less than a month after the ceremony, Irene’s cousin and brother-in-law ascended the throne as German Emperor Wilhelm II.

Prince Heinrich of Prussia and Princess Irene of Hesse and by Rhine

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.