80th Anniversary of Queen Sophie’s Death

  January 13, 2012 at 12:00 am by

Her Majesty Queen Sophie of the Hellenes passed away eighty years ago today, on January 13th, 1932.

The three youngest Prussian sisters, 1887

Born on June 14th, 1870 in Potsdam, as Her Royal Highness Princess Sophie Dorothea Ulrika Alice of Prussia, she was the second youngest child of Their Majesties Emperor Frederick III and Empress Victoria of Germany. Sophie had seven siblings: Prince Wilhelm (later His Majesty Kaiser Wilhelm II), Princess Charlotte (later Duchess of Saxe-Meiningen), Prince Heinrich, Prince Sigismund (who died before Sophie was born), Princess Viktoria (later Princess Adolf of Schaumburg-Lippe), Prince Waldemar and Princess Margaret (later Princess Frederick-Charles of Hesse).

Princess Sophie grew up in the Kronprinzenpalais and the Neues Palais with her parents and siblings. The three youngest children – Viktoria, Sophie and Margaret – were raised in a largely English fashion by their mother, herself the eldest daughter of Her Majesty Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. The trio spent much time in England with their grandmother. It was in England, in 1887, that Princess Sophie first met her future husband.

In March 1888, the Princess’s paternal grandfather, His Majesty Emperor Wilhelm I, passed away and the German throne passed to her father, Frederick. However, by this stage, Emperor Frederick was gravely ill with throat cancer. He himself passed away just over three months later, on June 15th – the day after Sophie’s 18th birthday.

Crown Princess Sophie of Greece

The following year, Sophie married His Royal Highness Crown Prince Constantine of Greece on October 27th, 1889. The Greek Orthodox ceremony was held in Athens, and created a rift between Sophie and her eldest brother, the German Kaiser. Kaiser Wilhelm was not pleased that, two years after her marriage, Crown Princess Sophie had decided to convert to Orthodoxy. He even went as far as banning her from Germany and proclaiming that if something was to happen to the infant his wife was carrying, it would be her fault. Nonetheless, Princess Sophie declared the matter none of their business, and joined the Greek Orthodox Church.

Sophie and Constantine lived at Tatoi in Athens, and were soon joined by their first child, Prince George, in July 1890. Prince Alexander was born in August 1893, Princess Helen in May 1896, Prince Paul in December 1901, Princess Irene in February 1904 and Princess Katherine in May 1913. All three of the couple’s sons would become King of the Hellenes in the future.

The Crown Princess quickly mastered the Greek language and during the many wars that Greece was part of during her marriage, Sophie worked diligently with the hospitals and Red Cross to provide medical aid to the wounded. These efforts did not help with her popularity though, as being raised in the stiff, formal Prussian court with British characteristics left Princess Sophie very distant and formal herself, which did not sit well with the Greek people, who much preferred the friendly, informal mannerisms of Queen Olga.

When Crown Prince Constantine succeeded to the throne in March 1913 following the death of his father, His Majesty King George I, the Greek people felt jubilation alongside their mourning – for when Constantine and Sophia reigned, Constantinople would fall at the hands of the Greeks and Greece would return to greatness, according to an old prophecy. Much expectation was placed on King Constantine’s reign to be glorious and fulfilling of the prophecy.

Instead, the outbreak of World War I in 1914 began the downward spiral of his reign. The displeasure of some of the Greek population with the King’s policy of neutrality was first made blatantly obvious when the Tatoi estate was set on fire in 1916 – Queen Sophie had to run over a mile carrying three-year-old Princess Katherine to escape the flames. This neutrality, plus the belief that Constantine was pro-German – Queen Sophie’s background as a German Princess did not help matters (she was accused of relaying messages to the Kaiser, even though she was pro-British) – forced the King to abdicate in June 1917, in favour of their second son Alexander. The family left Greece for exile in Switzerland amid dramatic scenes where the Greek people refused to allow their King and Queen to leave.

The Crown Princely Family, ca. 1908-9

They were to return in 1920 following a plebiscite which favoured the return of King Constantine. This was two months after the death of King Alexander. Neither Sophie nor Constantine were allowed by the Greek government to return to Greece to see their dying son, and the Queen Dowager Olga did was delayed by rough seas. According to both Queen Sophie’s sister Margaret and her youngest daughter Katherine, the Queen never got over the death of her favourite son, and never forgave the Greek government for disallowing her request to return to her son’s deathbed.

The Royal Family’s return to Greece was celebrated with cheering crowds and waving banners, but the celebrations soon turned bleak, as once again, the prophecy of Constantine and Sophia failed to become true in another Greco-Turk war. The King and Queen were once again forced into exile following the King’s abdication, this time in favour of eldest son George, and headed to Italy. Queen Sophie mourned the death of her husband on January 11th, 1923.

Queen Sophie was never allowed back to Greece following the second abdication, and spent the last years of her life in Italy and then Germany. She, like her mother and father before her, was diagnosed with cancer and succumbed to her illness in Frankfurt in 1932. The Queen was initially buried in the crypt of the Russian Orthodox Church in Florence, alongside her husband and mother-in-law, before both she and King Constantine were re-buried at the Tatoi Royal Burial Ground in 1936.

The marriage between Queen Sophie and King Constantine produced six children, seven grandchildren and nineteen great-grandchildren:

Following her marriage, the Princess was often referred to in the Greek form of her name – Sophia. This name was passed on to her granddaughter, Her Royal Highness Princess Sophia of Greece (now Her Majesty Queen Sofia of Spain) and also to her great-great-granddaughter, Her Royal Highness Infanta Sofia of Spain. Her great-granddaughter, Her Royal Highness Princess Sofia of Romania, also shares the name; while her great-granddaughter, Miss Sophie Brandram, has the original form of the name.

Click here to read more about Queen Sophie.

Filed under Germany, Greece, Historical Royals
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