Princess Irene of the Netherlands

Princess Irene
Duchess of Parma
Spouse Carlos Hugo, Duke of Parma (1964-1981)
Carlos, Prince of Piacenza
Princess Margarita, Countess of Colorno
Prince Jaime, Count of Bardi
Princess Carolina, Marchioness of Sala
Full name
Irene Emma Elisabeth
Father Prince Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld
Mother Juliana of the Netherlands
Born 5 August 1939 (1939-08-05) (age 70)
Soestdijk Palace

Dutch Royal Family
Coat of arms of the Netherlands.svg

HM the Queen *

Princess Irene of the Netherlands (Irene Emma Elisabeth; born 5 August 1939), Princess of Orange-Nassau, Princess of Lippe-Biesterfeld, is the second child of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands and Prince Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld.

Childhood and ancestry

She was born in Soestdijk Palace. Her older sister is the current Queen of the Netherlands, Beatrix. Among her godparents was Queen Elizabeth, who was Queen consort of King George VI of the United Kingdom at the time of her birth.

Princess Irene is a descendant of Sophia, Electress of Hanover via her great-granddaughter Anne, Princess Royal and Princess of Orange.

Because of the invasion of the Netherlands by Nazi Germany during World War II the Dutch Royal family chose to live in exile in Canada, where Irene attended Rockcliffe Park Public School, in Ottawa. As a teenager, she was dubbed by the Dutch press as "the glamorous Princess of the Netherlands." During the war, the Royal Dutch Brigade (the formation of Free Dutch soldiers that fought alongside the Allies) was named for Princess Irene. This was continued after the war as the Regiment Prinses Irene.

Princess Irene studied at the University of Utrecht, then went to Madrid to learn the Spanish language.

Marriage controversy


As the (currently divorced) wife of HRH Prince Carlos Hugo of Bourbon-Parma, she is the only one of her sisters to marry a man of princely status.

In Madrid, she met Carlos Hugo of Bourbon-Parma, eldest son of Carlist pretender to the throne of Spain Xavier, Duke of Parma. In the summer of 1963, Princess Irene secretly converted from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism. The first the public or the Royal Family knew about the conversion was when a photograph appeared on the front page of an Amsterdam newspaper showing the Princess kneeling at a Mass in the Roman Catholic Church of the Geronimites (Los Jerónimos) in Madrid. News leaked out that she was engaged to Prince Carlos Hugo (b.1930), provoking a Protestant outcry and a constitutional crisis.

Although it was a constitutional tradition and not a law that forbade a Catholic to reign over The Netherlands, it was a practice predicated upon a history of the Protestant-dominated Dutch Parliament (States-General) born out of the 16th century war with Spain. Fears of Catholic domination had increased over the centuries through difficulties and wars over the policies of many neighboring Catholic European countries and the precedent created by the ascension of a member of the House of Orange to the throne of the Kingdom of England solely because he was Protestant. By the middle of the 20th century religious attitudes had begun to change, but only very slowly. While members of the Roman Catholic Church accounted for approximately 34% of the Dutch population, and Catholic political parties had been in coalition governments since 1918, the high fertility rate of the Catholics was a matter of some concern for all non-Catholics.

Amplifying the crisis over a Royal conversion to Catholicism and a marriage without approval of the Dutch States-General (which the Princess, then second-in-line to the throne, knew she would never get), were the still very fresh memories of General Franco's support for Nazi Germany. For the second in line to the throne not merely to convert to Roman Catholicism but associate with an alleged leader of Franco's party, caused shock and consternation in The Netherlands.

Queen Juliana attempted to stop the marriage, first by sending a member of her staff to Madrid to persuade the Princess not to go ahead with a marriage that was a political disaster for the monarchy in the Netherlands. It seemed to work and the Queen went on Dutch radio to tell the citizens that Princess Irene had agreed to cancel her engagement and was returning to the Netherlands. However, when the airplane arrived at Schiphol Airport, the Princess was not on it, and Queen Juliana and her husband, Prince Bernhard were supplied with a Dutch military plane to go to Spain to retrieve their daughter. However, a message was delivered to the Queen from the Dutch government warning that it would resign en masse if she set foot in Spain. Given the ramifications and the fact that a monarch from the House of Orange had never visited Spain, the Queen had no choice but to turn back.

It was suggested that Princess Irene was a pawn of General Francisco Franco who tried to maximize the event to his benefit. In early 1964 Princess Irene flew home in the company of Carlos Hugo where an immediate meeting took place with the couple, the Queen, Prime Minister Marijnen, and three top cabinet ministers. In an attempt to gain public favour for her proposed marriage, Princess Irene publicly stated that her marriage was intended to help end religious intolerance. This caused a division in public opinion, as less than 40% of the country ruled by the Protestant House of Orange was Roman Catholic. Over the ensuing weeks, things deteriorated further when Pope Paul VI granted an Audience requested by the couple in Rome. The Queen at first denied such a meeting had taken place, but it was later verified. Irene alienated herself from most every Dutch citizen when a photo appeared in a Dutch paper showing Irene at a Carlist rally in Spain and she declared that she supported her fiancé's politics.


No one from the Dutch Royal family or any Dutch diplomatic representative attended the marriage of Princess Irene and Prince Carlos Hugo in the Borghese Chapel at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, Italy, on 29 April 1964. Because she had failed to obtain the approval of the States-General to marry, Irene lost her right of succession to the Dutch throne. She agreed that she would live outside of the Netherlands.

After the wedding, Irene was very active in her husband's right-wing political cause, but over time they drifted away from right wing extremism to left wing sympathies and became a part of the international jet-set crowd. The prince, head of the Royal House of Bourbon-Parma, became a naturalized Spanish citizen in 1979. The couple had four children, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1981.

Since divorce

Irene returned to live in the Netherlands with her children and became involved in various personal development workshops, trying to "find herself". Her connection with nature, that she says she had felt since childhood, intensified, and in 1995 she published her book Dialogue with Nature. The book outlined her philosophy that human beings are alienated from the natural world, but the Dutch media seized upon passages that recounted conversations she said she had with the trees and dolphins.

In 1999 Princess Irene purchased a farm near Nieu-Bethesda in South Africa, turning it into a sanctuary. In 2001, she helped establish the NatuurCollege in the Netherlands. The Princess is an honourable member of the Club of Budapest.

Styles of
Princess Irene of the Netherlands
NL - COA.png
Reference style Her Royal Highness
Spoken style Your Royal Highness
Alternative style Ma'am


Carlos Hugo and Princess Irene had four children:

Titles and styles

  • 5 August 1939 – 29 April 1964: Her Royal Highness Princess Irene of the Netherlands, Princess of Orange-Nassau, Princess of Lippe-Biesterfeld
  • 29 April 1964 – 7 May 1977: Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Madrid
  • 7 May 1977 - 1981: Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Parma
  • 1981 - present: Her Royal Highness Princess Irene of the Netherlands, Princess of Orange-Nassau, Princess of Lippe-Biesterfeld


Patrilineal descent

Irene's patriline is the line from which she is descended father to son.

Patrilineal descent is the principle behind membership in royal houses, as it can be traced back through the generations - which means that her historically accurate house name would be Lippe, as all her male-line ancestors have been of that house.

House of Lippe (claimed descent from Saxon kings)

  1. Hermann I of Lippe, 1071 - 1126
  2. Hermann II of Lippe, 1119 - 1160
  3. Bernhard II of Lippe, 1151 - 1224
  4. Hermann III of Lippe, 1175 - 1229
  5. Bernhard III of Lippe, 1197 - 1265
  6. Bernhard IV of Lippe, 1240 - 1275
  7. Simon I of Lippe, d. 1344
  8. Otto of Lippe, d. 1360
  9. Simon III of Lippe, d. 1410
  10. Bernhard VI of Lippe, 1366 - 1415
  11. Simon IV of Lippe, 1404 - 1429
  12. Bernhard VII of Lippe, 1429 - 1511
  13. Simon V, Count of Lippe, 1471 - 1536
  14. Bernhard VIII, Count of Lippe, 1527 - 1563
  15. Simon VI, Count of Lippe, 1554 - 1613
  16. Simon VII, Count of Lippe-Detmold, 1587 - 1627
  17. Jobst Herman, Count of Lippe-Sternberg, 1625 - 1678
  18. Rudolf Ferdinand, Count of Lippe-Sternberg, 1671 - 1726
  19. Friedrich, Count of Lippe-Biesterfeld, 1705 - 1781
  20. Karl of Lippe-Biesterfeld, 1735 - 1810
  21. (Wilhelm) Ernst of Lippe-Biesterfeld, 1777 - 1840
  22. Julius Peter, Count of Lippe-Biesterfeld, 1812 - 1884
  23. Count Ernst of Lippe-Biesterfeld, 1842 - 1904
  24. Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld, 1872 - 1934
  25. Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld, 1911 - 2004
  26. Princess Irene of the Netherlands, 1938 -
Titles in pretence
Preceded by
Madeleine de Bourbon-Busset
Duchess consort of Parma
Reason for succession failure:
Annexed by Kingdom of Sardinia
Queen consort of Etruria
Queen consort of Spain
Carlist claimant to the consort throne of Spain


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