Born just before the outbreak of the Second World War in the Netherlands, this Dutch Princess received the name Irene for the Greek goddess of peace. Princess Irene of the Netherlands was born on 5 August 1939 as the second daughter of the future Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard. Her eldest sister was the future Queen Beatrix and her two younger sisters are Princesses Margriet and Christina. Princess Irene is thus the aunt of the current King Willem-Alexander.
Princess Irene was not yet one year old when the family was forced to flee to the United Kingdom and her christening took place in the private chapel of Buckingham Palace. Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother was one of her godparents. While Irene’s grandmother – the reigning Queen Wilhelmina – took charge of her government in exile in London, Irene’s family travelled to Canada for their safety. Her sister Margriet was born in Canada. Irene attended the Rockcliffe Park Public School before returning to the Netherlands in August 1945.
In 1948, Queen Wilhelmina abdicated and Irene’s mother Juliana became the new reigning Queen. Irene continued her education and eventually attended the University of Utrecht and in 1963, she became proficient enough in the Spanish language to become an official interpreter. While studying in Madrid, Irene met Carlos Hugo, Duke of Parma, who was the eldest son of the Carlist pretender to the Spanish throne. In the summer of 1963, Irene secretly converted from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism. Her subsequent engagement to Carlos Hugo caused a constitutional crisis as she was second in line to the throne. Her mother tried to stop the marriage but it was to no avail. On 9 February 1964, it was announced that Irene would give up her succession rights to marry Carlos Hugo and that Princess Irene would not be asking for official consent.
On 29 April 1964, Princess Irene and Prince Carlos Hugo were married in Rome. They went on to have four children together: Carlos, Duke of Parma (born 1970), Princess Margarita, Countess of Colorno (born 1972), Prince Jaime, Count of Bardi (born 1972, twin of Margarita) and Princess Carolina, Marchioness of Sala (born 1974). Their marriage ended in divorce in 1981. Irene and her children returned to the Netherlands and her children became part of the Dutch Nobility.
Princess Irene helped establish the NatuurCollege in the Netherlands and she is the founder of NatureWise. She currently lives in Switzerland.