On 5 August 1939, Crown Princess Juliana of the Netherlands gave birth to her second daughter at Soestdijk Palace. Crown Princess Juliana had married Prince Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld in 1937. The little princess was named Irene Emma Elisabeth, and at her birth she was third in the line of succession to the Dutch throne after her mother and her elder sister Princess Beatrix (b.1938). Irene was joined by two younger sisters, Princess Margriet (b.1943) and Princess Christina (b.1947).
During the Second World War, the Dutch Royal Family, with Irene’s maternal grandmother Queen Wilhelmina at the forefront, was compelled to leave their country for the United Kingdom in the face of Nazi occupation. Princess Irene was christened at Buckingham Palace, where one of her godmothers was Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother. As the London Blitz began to take place, it was decided that the Dutch royals would be safer in the Americas, and they duly took up residence in Canada. After the end of the war, the Royal Family returned to The Netherlands.
Princess Irene went on to attend the University of Utrecht. Thereafter, she moved to Madrid to study Spanish. The princess became proficient enough in the language to become an interpreter. It was during her studies in Madrid that Irene met her future husband, Prince Carlos Hugo of Bourbon-Parma. In 1963, Irene left the Dutch Reformed Church and became a Roman Catholic. In February 1964, the engagement between the princess and Carlos Hugo of Bourbon-Parma became known. The match was heavily opposed by the bride’s parents and the Dutch government. Concerned about the situation, Queen Juliana did her utmost to deter the union from taking place; however, the queen’s efforts were not successful. Irene gave up her right of succession to the throne of The Netherlands before her marriage.
On 29 April 1964, Princess Irene of the Netherlands married Prince Carlos Hugo of Bourbon-Parma at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. No member of Irene’s family attended the ceremony, although they did watch the event at the home of Princess Irene’s paternal grandmother Armgard – a power outage in the country prevented the Dutch royals from seeing the end of the service.
The baptism of Prince Carlos, the first child of Prince Carlos Hugo and Princess Irene
Carlos Hugo and Irene of Bourbon-Parma with their four children
Princess Irene of Bourbon-Parma
Carlos Hugo and Irene would eventually have four children: Prince Carlos (b.1970), the twins Prince Jaime and Princess Margarita (b.1972), and Princess Carolina (b.1974). Irene and Carlos Hugo became intensely involved in the Carlist movement in Spain; however, once Franco died in 1975 and Juan Carlos became King, the movement rather fractured and so did the couple’s married. They divorced in 1981.