Sunday, May 8, 2016
Birthday of Greece's Princess Irene
May 11 marks the birthday of HRH Princess Irene of Greece and Denmark.
The princess' early life began interestingly enough. She was born on May 11, 1942 in South Africa, where the Greek royal family were living in exile during the German occupation of Greece in World War II. She was the third and youngest child of Crown Prince Paul of Greece and the former Princess Frederica of Hanover; her elder sister was Princess Sophia and her brother Prince Constantine. Princess Irene was named for her father's sister, Princess Irene, Duchess of Aosta, and her godfather was the South African prime minister Jan Smuts.Irene returned to her homeland in 1946 after the end of the Nazi occupation. When her brother Constantine ascended the Greek throne in 1964, Irene was heiress presumptive to the crown. She held this status until the birth of her niece, Princess Alexia, in 1965, who in turn was heiress to the throne until the birth of her brother, Pavlos, in 1967.
Princess Irene was an accomplished pianist, and studied under the tutelage of the famous Greek concert pianist Gina Bachauer. As a young woman, she was romantically linked with Prince Michel d'Orleans, and unsubstantiated rumors abounded that a possible engagement was to be arranged between her and Crown Prince Harald (now King Harald V) of Norway. Neither of these romances flourished and Princess Irene has remained unmarried.
In 1967, her brother King Constantine attempted to overthrow a colonels' regime that had seized power in Greece earlier that year. When the counter-coup failed, Irene fled Greece into exile with her mother, Queen Frederica, her brother, his wife and their children. The royal family arrived in Rome and remained there until the early 1970s.
Irene and her mother spent much time abroad in India, where they studied Eastern mysticism. After Queen Frederica's death in 1981, Princess Irene went to live in Madrid with her sister, Sophia, who is now the Queen consort of King Juan Carlos of Spain. Irene continues to reside at the Zarzuela Palace with her sister's family and is reportedly very close to her nieces and nephews in the Spanish and Greek royal families.
Since 1986, Princess Irene has been president of the World In Harmony organization, aimed at providing humanitarian aid. She appears with her brother and sister at various royal functions. In 1993, she joined King Constantine's family on a sailing trip to Greece, the first time they had visited the country since 1981, when they were permitted to spend just a few hours there to bury their mother, Queen Frederica. Since then, Irene has returned to Greece on occasional visits but retains her principal residence at the palace in Madrid.
Princess Irene (right) with her sister, Queen Sofia of Spain and their first cousin, King Michael of Romania.