Princess Sophie of Greece and Denmark (June 26, 1914 – November 24, 2001) was the fourth child and youngest daughter of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg. The Duke of Edinburgh is her younger brother. Sophie was born at the villa Mon Repos on the island of Corfu in Greece.
Prince and Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark
Family and youth
Sophie’s father was the fourth son of King George I of Greece and Grand Duchess Olga Konstantinovna of Russia. Through King George, she was a great-granddaughter of King Christian IX of Denmark (hence her subsidiary title, Princess of Denmark). Through Queen Olga, she was a great-great-granddaughter of Emperor Nicholas I of Russia.
Sophie was also a great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, through descent from Victoria’s second daughter, Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse.
Sophie was the closest sister in age to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the consort of Elizabeth II. Her three sisters were Margarita (1905–1981), she married Prince Gottfried of Hohenlohe-Langenburg. Theodora (1906-1969), married her paternal second cousin Berthold, Margrave of Baden. Cecile (1911-1937) and she married Georg-Donatus, Hereditary Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine.
Sophie of Greece and Denmark
In 1913 Sophie’s grandfather, King George I of Greece was assassinated and in 1917 most of the Greek royal family went into exile when her uncle, King Constantine I, was deposed in favour of his younger son, King Alexander I. The family returned to Greece upon the brief restoration of Constantine to the throne when Alexander died in 1920, but left again when he abdicated in 1922, inaugurating the even briefer reign of Constantine’s eldest son, George II.
Banished with King George II in 1924, the Greek monarchy was reinstated in 1935, by which time Sophie had married and was raising a family in Germany.
During these periods of exile Sophie, her parents, and siblings lived abroad in reduced, though never uncomfortable, circumstances, sometimes in hotels and sometimes with relatives in France, England or Germany. In the late 1920s, her mother, Alice, became increasingly mentally unstable and was committed to a series of sanitariums in Germany by her mother, Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine, Marchioness of Milford Haven. Eventually released, Alice wandered Europe until, following the death in a plane crash of Sophie’s sister, Cecilie, in November 1937, she resumed contact with her children and took up a life dedicated to religious charity in Athens.
Meanwhile, Sophie’s father remained in contact with his children, but lived apart from them, settling in Monaco. Sophie and her sisters lived under the care and at the expense of relatives, all four princesses marrying German princes between December 1930 and August 1931. Their brother Philip, not yet 10 years old, was sent to various boarding schools and, later, to a British naval academy.
Although the youngest of four sisters, Sophie was the first to wed, marrying her second cousin-once-removed Prince Christoph of Hesse (1901–1943) on December 15, 1930 in Kronberg, Hesse; she was 16. Christoph of Hesse was a younger son of Prince Friedich-Charles of Hesse and Princess Margaret of Prussia, Christoph was a great-grandson of Queen Victoria through her eldest daughter Victoria, Princess Royal, wife of Friedrich III, German Emperor. A director in the Third Reich’s Ministry of Air Forces and a commander in the German Air Reserves, Christoph held the rank of Oberführer in the Nazi SS. On October 7, 1943, he was killed in an airplane accident in a war zone of the Apennine mountains near Forlì, Italy. His body was found two days later.
Sophie’s second marriage was to Prince Georg-Wilhelm of Hanover (her second cousin through Christian IX and third cousin through Victoria, having also been a first cousin once removed of Sophie’s first husband, Christoph, in descent from Victoria, Princess Royal) on April 23, 1946 in Salem, Baden. Georg-Wilhelm was a younger son of Ernst-August III, Duke of Brunswick, who lost his duchy in 1918, and his consort, Princess Viktoria-Luise of Prussia, the only daughter of Wilhelm II, German Emperor.
Prince Georg-Wilhelm of Hanover
Monarch’s consent to marriage withheld
Sophie’s marriage to Georg-Wilhelm constitutes the only known case of permission to marry being withheld by the British sovereign from a descendant of King George II of Great Britain who had been obliged by the Royal Marriages Act 1772 to apply for royal consent to marry.
Although permission to marry had been granted by King George VI in 1937 to Georg-Wilhelm’s sister, Frederica of Hanover, future Queen of the Hellenes. When Sophie became engaged to Georg-Wilhelm, a German citizen, in 1945, the United Kingdom was at war with Germany.
When Georg-Wilhelm’s father, Ernst-August III, Duke of Brunswick and Head of the House of Hanover, submitted the request to marry on his son’s behalf—a formality his branch of George III’s descendants had continued to observe even after obtaining the German crowns of the Kingdom of Hanover (in 1837) and the Duchy of Brunswick (in 1913). Even though the dynastic titles and peerages of the Hanovers had been suspended since 1919, no British monarch had withheld marital authorisation from any kinsman or kinswoman who sought it.
Although there was apparently no question of officially denying the request, the British government advised the king that it would be of dubious “propriety” to give royal assent to his cousin’s application. George VI then unsuccessfully sought to have the Hanovers informally advised that the exigencies of war, rather than personal disapproval, prevented him from approving the marriage to Sophie (whose brother, Philip, became informally engaged to the King’s elder daughter, after years of courtship, a few months later).
Thus, no reply was made to the Duke of Brunswick’s correspondence, the couple wed without George VI’s consent, and after the war the practice of British monarchs receiving and acquiescing to requests to marry from the Hanovers resumed. At the time British officials reviewing the matter considered that the marriage and its issue would not be legitimate in the United Kingdom, having failed to obtain the prior consent of the King in Council.
The repeal of the Royal Marriage Act as part of implementation of the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 does not specifically address the unique position of the descendants of Sophie and Georg-Wilhelm’s marriage (deemed legal in Germany). The 2013 Act does not confer legitimacy upon the children of a marriage which formerly required approval under the Royal Marriage Act, if such approval was sought but not obtained. Nor does it confer succession rights upon a descendant of any marriage which has already transpired, if such rights were not already extant.
Later years and death
Until her death on November 24, 2001 in Munich, Sophie was a frequent visitor to her brother, Prince Philip and her sister-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II. She was a godmother to their son, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex. Sophie was often seen at events such as the annual Windsor Horse Show in the presence of her brother and his family. She was survived by her second husband, seven of her eight children and her younger brother, Prince Philip.