Some of the most well-known or noteworthy princesses of Europe have left their mark on the history books due to their unique personal stories. Others have become famous because of their place within legendary royal dynasties and their regal or imperial heritage. Yet others become prominent players on the world stage by virtue of their close family members or their powerful marriages. 

One family of recent history could boast a group of sisters who were famous royal princesses that could lay claim to all of the above routes to infamy and legend. 

This prestigious royal sisterhood was the famous Hesse sisters – the four Princesses of Hesse and by Rhine of the late 19th and early 20th century. 

Who Were The Hesse Sisters? 

The famous Hesse Princesses were well-known even from their earliest years, as they became known as the favourites of their legendary grandmother, Queen Victoria of England. 

The sisters were the offspring of Queen Victoria’s daughter Alice, and so they were closely connected to the British Royal Family through their mother’s heritage. Yet they also held prominent positions within German royalty as a result of their paternal roots.

The father of the Hesse sisters was Louis IV, the Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine, which was an eminent grand duchy in the western German territories, also known as Hesse-Darmstadt. 

As royal princesses and members of two prominent European royal families, the sisters were relatively well-known within their home nations and royal circles. 

Yet it would be the choices and events of their later years that would establish this singular group of sisters among the most famous princesses of Europe. 

Royal Marriages And European Dynasties

Even though the Hesse sisters began their lives in positions of social elevation and prominence within European royalty, even greater ranks and roles would await the young royal princesses

Being the beloved granddaughters of one of history’s most iconic queens, Queen Victoria of England, ensured that these popular sisters would enjoy a secure and privileged place within the royal circles of Europe. 

Yet through their marriages, this captivating group of English-German siblings would go on to take centre stage among the most momentous world events during the early 20th century. 

Here are the stories of the royal marriages and European dynasties that saw the Hesse sisters rise to fame, power and influence. 

Princess Victoria Of Hesse And By Rhine

The eldest of the famous Hesse sisters was Victoria, named after her legendary grandmother. Her story and choice of husband took the Hesse family line in a more British direction and resulted in one of the most well-known English dynasties of modern times. 

Princess Victoria Of Hesse And By Rhine / Victoria Mountbatten, Marchioness of Milford Haven – Не известно, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Princess Victoria married Prince Louis of Battenberg, yet the couple would later change their surname to a more anglicised version during the tense wartime years, adopting the new styling of the House of Mountbatten. 

The name of Mountbatten is now synonymous with the British Royal Family as the heritage of the late Prince Philip, Royal Consort of the late Queen Elizabeth II of England, as well as her son and heir to the British throne, King Charles III. It is also witnessing a revival in its usage as the chosen surname of the famous royal couple, Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, who have christened their children with the styling Mountbatten-Windsor. 

Princess Elisabeth Of Hesse And By Rhine

Princess Elisabeth, known as Ella, would also secure a notable royal marriage – one that would begin a new phase of integration between the German Grand Duchy of Hesse and the famous Romanov line – the imperial family of Russia. 

Princess Ella left her relatively quiet and simple life as a German princess to become the wife of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia, the son of the Russian Tsar, Alexander II. 

Throughout her life, Princess Ella of Hesse was known for her deep devotion to duty and charitable works, and she continued this role in her new life within the Russian Imperial Family. 

The good works of this humble princess would come to contrast with the increasing brutality and cruelty of her husband, who played a high-ranking and influential role in the imperialist politics of Russia. 

Ultimately, the actions of her husband would seal his fate and he was assassinated by terrorists during the Russian Revolution of the early 20th century. 

The young widow, Princess Ella, would continue her commitment to altruism following her husband’s death as she left behind the life of a prominent member of the Russian Imperial Family to adopt the quieter role of becoming a nun. Sadly, the story of Princess Ella would also end in tragedy as a result of the Russian political climate, and she was also killed by Russian Revolutionaries.  

Princess Irene Of Hesse And By Rhine

Princess Irene is perhaps one of the less well-known of the famous Hesse sisters, though it’s widely believed that her life away from the limelight and the momentous events of Europe was preferable for her quiet and unassuming nature. 

Despite an aversion to high-profile publicity, Princess Irene joined the Hesse family line to another of the great European dynasties of the late 19th and early 20th century when she married Prince Henry of Prussia in 1888. 

Prince Henry was the younger brother of the infamous German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, King of Prussia. The infamy of Kaiser Wilhelm would end in failure and abdication, after the actions of the German Emperor during the First World War. 

Despite their proximity to the disgraced German Emperor, Princess Irene and her husband remained in Germany after the end of the war, although she remained close to her British family, especially after the tragic events that resulted in the death of two of her sisters. 

Princess Alix Of Hesse And By Rhine

Princess Alix was the youngest of the famous four Hesse sisters, yet her story would perhaps be the most infamous of all. 

Following in the footsteps of her older sister Princess Ella, Princess Alix also married into the Russian Imperial Family through her union with Emperor Nicholas II. 

Rising from German princess to Russian Empress itself makes for a captivating tale, yet her tragic role as the last Tsarina guaranteed her enduring place in the history of the period. 

The four princesses known as the Hesse sisters each embarked on their unique paths within the modern history of Europe. Yet their connection and their closeness as sisters ensure that their story became a fascinating tale of dynastic unions, historic royal heritage and shocking tragedy, securing their legacy as some of the most famous princesses of Europe.