The historic family ties that prompted the Queen to invite German royalty to Prince Philip's funeral

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Eleanor Doughty
·6 min read
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Queen Elizabeth II And Prince Philip visit West Germany 1965 - Knoote/Daily Mail/Shutterstock 
Queen Elizabeth II And Prince Philip visit West Germany 1965 - Knoote/Daily Mail/Shutterstock

The guest list for the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral today is revealing. With a large family and only 30 people allowed to attend, every name on the list has to count. And many of them are as expected, with his children and grandchildren figuring prominently. But three did stand out: Bernhard, Hereditary Prince of Baden; Prince Donatus, Landgrave of Hesse; and Prince Philipp of Hohenlohe-Langenburg.

For some it would be surprising that Germany, a republic, even has princes, and why were these three deemed so important to the Queen’s consort that they were invited when so many, with apparently closer ties, were not.

But Prince Philip, whose relations figure in many of the royal palaces of Europe, had many links to the upper echelons of German society. His mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, though born in Windsor, was the granddaughter of Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse.

Prince Philip visits his mother Alice Von Battenberg - Alamy Stock Photo 
Prince Philip visits his mother Alice Von Battenberg - Alamy Stock Photo

Prince Philip was born in 1921, the youngest of five, with four sisters – Princesses Margarita (1905-1981), Theodora (1906-1969), Cecilie (1911-1937), and Sophie (1914-2001). In the early 1930s, they were each married off to members of other European royal families. And it is these sisters who explain the presence of noblemen with apparently Ruritanian titles - Landgraves and Hereditary Princes - on the list.

Princess Margarita of Greece (1905 - 1981), the sister of Prince Philip - Getty / Hulton Archive
Princess Margarita of Greece (1905 - 1981), the sister of Prince Philip - Getty / Hulton Archive

In December 1930, Princess Sophie married Prince Christoph of Hesse, son of Prince Frederick of Hesse and Princess Margaret of Prussia, Kaiser Wilhelm II’s sister. Prince Christoph and his bride had five children before he was killed in an air crash in Italy in 1943. Princess Sophie went on to marry Prince George of Hanover, son of Ernest Augustus III, Duke of Brunswick, and Princess Viktoria of Prussia, the only daughter of the Kaiser.

Prince Philip arriving with Prince Charles in Germany - Alamy Stock Photo 
Prince Philip arriving with Prince Charles in Germany - Alamy Stock Photo

Next down the aisle, in February 1931, was Princess Cecilie, who also married a Hessian (from the German state of Hesse-Cassel). Georg Donatus was the son of the last Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine. Georg’s aunt, Alix, became Alexandra Feodorovna, the last Tsarina of Russia.

The Duchess of Cambridge with Prince Donatus, Landgrave of Hesse - Getty Images 
The Duchess of Cambridge with Prince Donatus, Landgrave of Hesse - Getty Images

It was at the Hesse family’s Neues Palais in Darmstadt, southwest Germany, that Prince Philip’s cousins Lady Pamela Hicks and the late Countess Mountbatten of Burma, stayed before the Second World War. “Uncle Ernie,” wrote Lady Pamela in her 2012 memoir “Daughter of Empire”, “had created an artists’ colony at Darmstadt, attracting leading architects and artists from all over the world.” In 1937, tragedy struck when Georg Donatus, Cecilie, and their two young sons, were killed in a plane crash in Belgium.

The Hesse family’s Neues Palais in Darmstadt
The Hesse family’s Neues Palais in Darmstadt

At today’s funeral, the Hessians will be represented by Donatus, Prince and Landgrave of Hesse, 54, a cousin of the Duke of Edinburgh. Donatus, often a guest at Windsor Castle for the Royal Windsor Horse Show, founded the Hessische Hausstiftung – Foundation of the House of Hesse.

This is intended to preserve the history of the 757-year-old House of Hesse. He also runs Prinz von Hessen, a 100-acre vineyard in Rheingau, near Frankfurt. In 2003, he married his sixth cousin Countess Floria von Faber-Castell, of the notable pen company family.

Prince Charles and Prince Philipp of Hohenlohe-Langenburg - Alamy Stock Photo 
Prince Charles and Prince Philipp of Hohenlohe-Langenburg - Alamy Stock Photo

51-year-old Philipp, Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenberg is a grandson of Princess Margarita, Prince Philip’s oldest sister. He is a father of three and lives with his wife Saskia Binder, daughter of a Deutsche Bank director, at Langenburg Castle, west of Nuremberg.

A godson of Princess Anne, in 2013 he invited the Prince of Wales to speak at the Langenburg Forum for Sustainability. Being included in the plans for the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral, said Philipp this week, “is an incredible honour”. After all, “Prince Philip was a true gentleman with a great sense of humour… the world is losing a great personality.”

Langenburg Castle - Alamy Stock Photo 
Langenburg Castle - Alamy Stock Photo

The third of Prince Philip’s German relations in attendance today is 50-year-old Bernhard, Hereditary Prince of Baden. In August 1931, Princess Theodora, the last of Prince Philip’s sisters to be married, wed Berthold, Margave of Baden. Their son Max, now 87, the head of the Grand-Ducal House of Baden, is represented at the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral by his eldest son.

Bernhard, hereditary Prince of Baden and his wife Stephanie Anne Kaul - Marc Piasecki /WireImage 
Bernhard, hereditary Prince of Baden and his wife Stephanie Anne Kaul - Marc Piasecki /WireImage

Bernhard, says a royal insider, “was a great favourite of Philip. He often went over there to shoot with Max, and his younger brother Ludvig.” A lawyer, Bernhard now manages the family estates, including Staufenberg Castle near Baden-Baden. In 2001 he married Stephanie Kaul, with whom he has three sons, Princes Leopold, Friedrich, and Karl-Wilhelm of Baden.

Princess Cecile of Greece and Denmark - FT
Princess Cecile of Greece and Denmark - FT

The Germans attending today’s funeral appear to have extremely grand titles indeed. But these, explains the Telegraph’s Berlin correspondent Justin Huggler, mean nothing in modern Germany. “There is no continuing aristocracy in post-war Germany. They are the descendants of an aristocracy with real power, but there’s an awful lot of them, and they don’t have much cachet.”

Alexandra Feodorovna, the last Tsarina of Russia - Alamy Stock Photo 
Alexandra Feodorovna, the last Tsarina of Russia - Alamy Stock Photo

It’s really no surprise that there are so many former royals and aristocrats dotted across Europe. “Germany had an awful lot of people with royal blood,” adds Huggler. “It was a massive resource of princesses to be married off to young royals.”

The current Duchess of Wellington is more properly addressed as Princess Antonia of Prussia, Duchess of Wellington, since her father, Prince Frederick of Prussia (later known as Friedrich von Preussen), is a grandson of Wilhelm II.

The Queen alongside Countess Mountbatten - Getty
The Queen alongside Countess Mountbatten - Getty

The von Preussens have spread further across the peerage: in 2014 the Duchess of Wellington’s niece Florence von Preussen married Prince William’s schoolfriend the Hon. James Tollemache, son of the 5th Lord Tollemache. And in 2017, Princess Nora of Oettigen-Spielberg, daughter of Albrecht, Prince of Oettingen-Spielberg, married Lord Max Percy, younger son of the 12th Duke of Northumberland.

At his funeral, the Duke of Edinburgh won’t have his sisters whom he outlived – but he’ll have the next best thing, their families.

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