Princess Sophie of Greece and Denmark was born on 2 November 1938 as the daughter of the future King Paul of Greece and Frederica of Hanover. According to her mother’s memoirs, she was born in the sitting room of a small house in Psychico, given to them by the government. Sophie’s younger brother, the future King Constantine II of Greece, would be born in the same sitting room in 1940.1 She would have been named Olga, but after her birth had been announced, crowds had started chanting “Sophie!” and so it was decided to name the infant Sophie, after Sophie of Prussia.
Sophie was just two years old when the Greek Royal Family had to be evacuated due to the Second World War. Her mother wrote, “Sophie, just two years old, sat on my lap. I held my hands tightly over her ears so that she could not hear the exploding bombs and at the same time expected her to hear me sing, rather desperately, ‘Baa, baa, black sheep’, for her comfort!”2 In their exile, the family settled in South Africa where a third sibling – Princess Irene – was born on 11 May 1942. They moved to Egypt in February 1944. During this time, her mother wrote of Sophie, “Sophie is a real clown, as you can see from the picture. She has a very strong will, but she has also a very motherly disposition, and protects her little brother and sister.”3 The 1946 Greek Referendum restored Sophie’s uncle George to the throne. The family was at last able to return home.
Sophie attended the Schloss Salem boarding school in Germany, which had been taken over by her uncle Prince George of Hanover. Her mother wrote of their parting, “I shall never forget the moment when Sophie and I had to part. My sister-in-law took her to Salem. Sophie was already sitting in the car when she opened the door and ran into my arms, crying, ‘Mama, mama, I don’t want to go.’ We had to be physically separated as we were hanging round each other neck’s, crying our eyes out.”4 While there, she was known to correct the Greek teacher in his pronunciation to the point where he requested that she drop his class. She, and later also Irene, joined the choir as well. Once back in Greece, she attended a school for nurses and became a fully trained children’s nurse. She worked in a home for babies for a time.
Sophie and her brother Constantine attended the wedding of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Katharine Worsley in 1961, where she became reacquainted with Juan Carlos of Spain. Constantine phoned his parents to say Juan Carlos had paid quite a bit of attention to Sophie and that they shouldn’t be surprised. Sophie and Juan Carlos grew closer as he spent the summer in Corfu with his parents. On 14 May 1962, Juan Carlos and Sophia were married in a grand wedding. Sophie converted to Catholicism and relinquished her rights to the Greek throne. Her mother wrote, “It was a brilliant day; Sophie looked beautiful. Her dress was a dream of lace and over it, falling from her hair down to the ground, she wore my wedding veil, also of lace. A long train was carried by six bridesmaids among whom were his sister Irene, Juanito’s (Juan Carlos) sister, the Infanta Pilar, Princess Irene of Holland, Princess Alexandra of Kent and my children’s best friend, Princess Tatiana Radziwill. Six young men held the crowns over the young couple’s heads. My husband stood behind Sophie and Juanito and, at a certain moment in the ceremony, he held up both crowns and crossed them three times over their heads. It was a moving sight.”5
Sophie, now known as Sofía, and Juan Carlos went on to have three children, Elena (born 20 December 1963), Cristina (born 13 June 1965), and Felipe (born 30 January 1968).
During this time, Spain lived under the dictatorial regime of Francisco Franco, who had come to power during the Spanish Civil War. As he grew older, demands were made to restore the monarchy. At the time, the heir to the throne was Infante Juan, Count of Barcelona, Juan Carlos’ father, the third son of the late King Alfonso XIII of Spain and Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg. However, Franco was suspicious of him, and ultimately he decided to skip a generation, and he named Juan Carlos as his personal successor. In 1969, Juan Carlos was officially designated heir-apparent and given the title of Prince of Spain – making Sofía the Princess of Spain. On 22 November 1975, two days after Franco’s death, the Cortes Españolas proclaimed Juan Carlos King of Spain, making Sofía Queen.
As Queen of Spain, Sofía accompanied her husband on official visits. She also supported several charities and is the president of the Queen Sofía Foundation, honorary president of the Royal Board on Education and Care of Handicapped Persons of Spain, the Spanish Foundation for Aid for Drug Addicts and she is the patron of the Queen Sofía Spanish Institute. She has received honorary doctorates from several national and international universities.
Sofía and Juan Carlos’ marriage did not last, but they have never divorced – choosing instead to lead separate lives. Juan Carlos was seen with another woman, reportedly a German Princess, during a hunting trip to Botswana where he broke his hip. They were reportedly in a relationship for several years, though she has denied it. Sofía kept her composure throughout, even presenting awards as the scandal broke.
In 2014, Juan Carlos abdicated the Spanish throne in favour of his son, who became King Felipe VI of Spain. Sofía has kept largely out of the public eye, dividing her time between La Zarzuela and Palma de Mallorca. Through her three children, she has eight grandchildren. She is the longest-serving Spanish Queen consort to date.