The future Queen Sophie of Greece was born as Princess Sophie Dorothea Ulrike Alice on 14 June 1870 in the Neues Palais in Potsdam. She was the seventh child and third daughter of Crown Prince Frederick and Crown Princess Victoria (née Victoria, Princess Royal or “Vicky”). Sophie was one of the many grandchildren of Queen Victoria (Crown Princess Victoria was Queen Victoria’s eldest child). She was known as Sossy to her family.
Despite the on-going struggles between her parents and her paternal grandparents, Emperor Wilhelm I and Empress Augusta, Sophie had a relatively decent childhood. She spent a lot of time with her parents and siblings who were not directly under Wilhelm and Augusta’s thumb. Sophie visited England several times along with her mother and sisters Princess Victoria “Moretta” and Princess Margaret “Mossy”. Vicky wanted her younger daughters to be an Anglophiles like her (which the girls became eventually) despite the objections from the Prussian royal family and the German chancellor Count Otto von Bismarck.
From an early age, Sophie was known to have a regal look about her. Her sister Moretta remembers Sophie always having a dignified pose. Her youngest daughter Katherine also remembers Sophie having a dignified bearing, but also recalls her having a quiet, but pleasant personality. Even her nurse predicted with great confidence that “Sophie will be a Queen one day” when she was a baby. That prediction turned out to be eerily accurate.
Sophie married Crown Prince Constantine (known as Tino to friends and family) of Greece on 27 October 1889 in Athens. They went on to have six children:
- George (later King George II of Greece) in 1890.
- Alexander (later King Alexander I of Greece) in 1893.
- Helen (later Queen Helen of Romania) in 1896.
- Paul (later Paul I of Greece) in 1901.
- Irene in 1904.
- Katherine in 1913.
Aside from the fact that her brother, the new Kaiser Wilhelm II, and his wife Empress Augusta Viktoria threw a fit when she converted to the Greek Orthodox Church religion, Sophie and Constantine’s first several years of marriage went smoothly. Remarkably, the new Crown Princess of Greece was able to master Greek completely within a few years. Her youngest daughter Katherine remembers her mother speaking the language beautifully.
Sophie’s blissful life in her adopted country came to a screeching halt when Greece declared war on the Ottoman Empire in 1897. It was this conflict, the First Balkan War, that Sophie received her first experience in nursing. Along with her mother-in-law Queen Olga, Sophie attended classes (that were organised by the Union of Greek Women) under the instruction of Dr Kalopothates, an American woman who was mostly trained in Paris. Both royal women learned about the anatomy of the human body, how to make bandages, and basic hygiene. They also participated in the final exams and were the first to be called upon. A fellow classmate, Harriet Boyd, said it was “a nerve-wracking experience”. After the final exams, it didn’t take long for Sophie to become involved in nursing duties, the administration of nursing, and raising funds for supplies.
Regardless of the Queen and the Crown Princess’s involvement of caring for the sick and injured Greek and even Turkish soldiers, the Greek royal family’s reputation was dwindling due to the war not going well for the Greeks. Crown Prince Constantine was unable to lead his army. Sophie’s German background didn’t help either. Even the ending of the First Balkan War in late 1897 didn’t help the family to restore its formal glory. It took a botched attempt on King George’s life in February 1898 for the Greek royal to get its popularity back.
Greece was in a constant state of political and economic instability throughout the 1900s. The year 1909 was a breaking point for the Greek people. Dealing with high unemployment, scarcity of money, and increased taxes, they turned their anger towards the Greek royal family yet again. It wasn’t just the common people who were fed up. Disgruntled military officials demanded the removal of Crown Prince Constantine (despite his efforts in reorganising the military) and his brothers from their posts. It was getting so bad that King George made preparations for him and his family to leave the country if necessary. However, the Crown Prince, the Crown Princess, and their children did flee Greece until things cooled down some.
When the Second Balkan War broke out in 1912, Sophie put her nursing skills to use as she went from hospital to hospital, caring for the sick and injured. It was also around this time that Sophie and Constantine’s marriage was going through a rough patch. Like his father, Constantine had a wandering eye for attractive women. He had a fling with a divorcee by the name of Paola, Countess von Ostheim. It also has been rumoured that Constantine had flings with many women. Like the majority of women of her social status, Sophie looked the other way.
The next several years were very chaotic for Sophie and her family. She and Constantine found themselves the new King and Queen of Greece when King George I was assassinated in 1913. A year later, World War I was at their doorstep. Both Sophie and Constantine were not very popular with the Greek populace (again), and Sophie’s German background (and being Kaiser Wilhelm II’s sister) didn’t help to improve the turmoil surrounding them. There was one malicious rumour going around that claimed Sophie stabbed Constantine in the chest for not joining her brother’s side in the conflict.
As the war progressed, the Greek royal family’s political situation became more unstable. Due to his refusal in to join the Allies (with his Prime Minister’s instant urging), the Greek royal family, with the exception of Prince Alexander and his wife, was forced to leave the country and they lived in exile in Switzerland for the time being. Crown Prince George was forced to flee because of his German military training. In 1917, Prince Alexander reluctantly became King Alexander I of Greece (after his father abdicated) and was used as a political puppet by the new Greek government headed by the Prime Minister. Alexander was not allowed to contact his family often during his brief and troubled reign.
Alexander died due to complications from a monkey bite in October 1920, and the couple was restored to the throne two months later. However, their time on the Greek throne didn’t last due to more political instability and nationalistic fervour surrounding them. In 1922, Constantine abdicated for the second (and last) time, and Crown Prince George succeeded his father (by becoming King George II of Greece). Constantine and Sophie lived in exile in Italy where Constantine died a broken man on 11 January 1923.
Sophie was never permitted to return to Greece. She wrote to her sister Margaret frequently and turned to the Christian faith for comfort during her last years. Despite the fact she and Constantine were given the cold shoulder by the English during the war a decade earlier (for not joining the Allies), Sophie visited England throughout the 1920s. Unfortunately, Sophie and her brother, the former Kaiser Wilhelm II, weren’t brought any closer during this time.
Sophie, the former Queen of Greece, died on 13 January 1932 at the age of sixty-one in Frankfurt. The diagnosis was cancer, but Sophie was never told she had the ailment. She is buried in the Royal Cemetery, Tatoi Palace, in Greece.
While she has a solemn appearance in many photos of her, Sophie was not known to be a melancholic person. When she passed away, her surviving relatives wrote and said that they would miss her tremendous sense of humour.1