Monday, June 6, 2016

Princess Alice of the U.K. - Grand Duchess of Hesse and by Rhine

Princess Alice, born Alice Maud Mary, was the third child and second daughter of Queen Victoria and Albert, Prince Consort. She was born on April 25, 1843 at Buckingham Palace and the public viewed her birth quite somberly, as the British people longed for a second prince (Alice’s arrival came on the heels of her older brother’s, the future Edward VII). Alice was considered to be the most beautiful of the Queen’s daughters and was well-known for her extreme kindness and compassion towards others. She treated all with an equal amount of respect, no matter their status or occupation. Alice was often found visiting the laborers on the royal estates, an act that most other members of royalty would find shocking. She shared her father’s hands-on disposition and he took a leading role in supervising her education. Alice was close to her two older siblings – Victoria, Princess Royal and the future Edward VII. She was deeply interested in the outside world and inherited her mother’s extreme emotional sensitivity, short tempter, and sharp tongue. Because Alice was sympathetic towards the plights and sufferings of others, she became known as the family caregiver. When her maternal grandmother, Victoria, the Dowager Duchess of Kent, was at her deathbed in 1861, Alice spent much of her time by her grandmother’s side looking after her. Her mother also leaned heavily on her when the Dowager Duchess died, as her death hit the emotional Queen quite heavily. Her siblings were:

  • Victoria, Princess Royal (1840-1901) married: Frederick III, Emperor of Germany and King of Prussia - had issue
  • Edward VII, King of the U.K. (1841-1910) married: Princess Alexandra of Denmark - had issue
  • Prince Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1844-1900) married: Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia - had issue
  • Princess Helena (1846-1923) married: Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein - had issue
  • Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll (1848-1939) married: John Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll - no issue
  • Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn (1850-1942) married: Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia - had issue
  • Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany (1853-1884) married: Princess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont - had issue
  • Princess Beatrice (1857-1944) married: Prince Henry of Battenberg - had issue

Princess Alice of the U.K.
(Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1857)

The Queen’s grief was further compounded by the passing of her beloved husband, which occurred just months after her mother’s death. Victoria shut herself away from every aspect of public life and fell into a deep pit of mourning, neglecting her royal duties. Alice, who had stayed at her father’s bedside during his final illness, took up her mother’s tasks and became her unofficial secretary and the physical representation of the Queen for six months. A year before Albert’s death, Queen Victoria had begun arranging martial plans for Alice. Although the Queen wanted her children to make matches of love like she had, she also didn’t want any of their spouses to be mere commoners. It was Alice’s older sister, Princess Victoria, who suggested Prince Louis of Hesse as a possible husband for her sister. Prince Louis, although officially royalty, was from a minor and less influential noble family, as he was merely the nephew of the Grand Duke of Hesse. Louis was invited to England to be inspected by the Queen, who was satisfied with him as a spouse for her daughter. Alice and Louis became attracted to each other right away and got along quite well. Before Louis left, he even requested a photograph of Alice to take with him.

Princess Alice on her wedding day
(Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1862)
The two became engaged in late April of 1861. When Alice’s father died that December, the Queen commanded that the wedding not be delayed, as a happy occasion was needed to brighten the grim court. The couple married on July 1, 1862 in a private ceremony in the dining room of Osborn House with the Queen struggling to hold back her tears throughout the whole ceremony. She even remarked later that the service was “more of a funeral than a wedding”, despite her initial longing for the affair to be a happy event. During the ceremony, Alice wore a simply white gown with a “deep flounce of Honiton lace” and “a veil of the same [fabric] and a wreath of orange blossom and myrtle”. At the time of her marriage, Alice was nineteen and Prince Louis was twenty-four (the couple were actually also distant cousins, as they were both descendants of George I of Great Britain). Alice, although extremely happy with her husband, tried not to be too happy in front of her depressed and grieving mother. Despite her efforts, the Queen could easily see how in love her daughter was, and became a bit jealous of her daughter’s newfound romance. Alice arrived in her new home of Darmstadt with her husband in July and was greeted enthusiastically by the German people. 

The Wedding of Princess Alice and Prince Louis of Hesse
 (George Housman Thomas, 1862)

However, she had a hard time adapting to her new environment at first, as she was homesick and was worried about her melancholy mother. Even though Alice and her mother clearly loved each other, their relationship broke down a bit after Alice’s marriage, mostly because the bleak Queen was now aware that Alice, who was immensely happy and in love, would not be coming home to visit as often as she liked. Things were further compounded by Alice’s decision to breastfeed her children, a decision her mother was against. Alice and Louis resided mainly in their residence northeast of Darmstadt, which was located in Kranichstein. They had seven children together, five of which survived infancy: four daughters and a son:

Princess Alice and her husband, Prince Louis
of Hesse
Unfortunately, as Queen Victoria was a carrier of the disease hemophilia, her daughter became one as well and passed the sickness on to three of her children, one of whom died from the condition at a young age. The other two, Princess Irene and Princess Alix, were hemophilia carriers and passed the disease on to their children. During her marriage, Alice focused her efforts on nursing and creating women’s hospitals and nursing schools. She even became a good friend of the famous nurse, Florence Nightingale. During the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, Alice helped wounded soldiers by making bandages and visiting the injured troops with her children. In 1873, Alice’s favorite child and second son, Friedrich, died at the age of two and a half after falling from a window. He suffered from hemophilia and the bleeding from the accident could not be stopped. Alice was devastated by the death of her beloved son and never fully recovered from the tragic loss. Although Alice and her husband were happy with each other at first, their marriage began to deteriorate around this time. This was mostly due to their opposing personalities and the fact that they didn’t have the same interests (Alice was clearly more intellectual than her husband). She also had a difficult time with the people of her new country, for they never quite warmed to her, even though they had accepted her enthusiastically when she first arrived in Darmstadt.

The Family of Princess Alice and Louis IV, Grand
Duke of Hesse and by Rhine
On March 20, 1877, Louis’s father died, making Louis heir apparent to the dukedom, as his uncle was the Duke. But when his uncle died childless on June 13th of the same year, Louis became the Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine as Louis IV at the age of thirty-nine. Alice, now Grand Duchess, was thirty-four at the time, but her new position did not bring her any happiness. She grew increasingly bitter at the people’s dislike for her and found her new duties as Grand Duchess to be too taxing and difficult to carry out. This strain caused her to move away from Darmstadt to Houlgate, Normandy with her children, where Louis visited them consistently. Despite the move, Alice always remained supportive of her husband and aided him in his new position as much as she could. In November of 1878, Alice’s family fell ill from diphtheria and all were inflicted with the disease except Alice and one of her daughters, Elisabeth, who she sent away to her mother-in-law’s to keep her safe. At first, Alice remained healthy by not having physical contact with her husband or her children, even though she spent all her time nursing them. On November 15th, Alice’s daughter, Marie, died after choking to death, as diphtheria leads to blockage of the airway. Alice became extremely distraught but kept Marie’s death a secret from the rest of her sick children, for she believed the news would only worsen their health. However, her son, Ernest, discovered the truth in early December and when he began to sob, Alice kissed him in an attempt to comfort him.

Princess Alice, Grand Duchess
of Hesse and by Rhine
 At first, Alice did not become ill and seemed to be completely fine until the anniversary of her father’s death on December 14th, where she began to clearly suffer from the diphtheria she had caught from her son. She died the same day, December 14, 1878, at the age of thirty-five, although everyone else in her family recovered (except for her daughter, Marie, as mentioned previously). She was mourned deeply by her family and the people of Britain, especially her mother, who found the fact that Alice died on the same day her father had years ago to be rather upsetting. Alice was buried at the Grand Ducal mausoleum at Rosenhöhe just outside of Darmstadt. She was the first of Queen Victoria’s children to die and her mother outlived her by more than two decades. After her death, Louis married morganatically in April of 1884 to the Russian Countess Alexandrina Hutten-Czapska, who was seventeen years his junior. The marriage didn't last long, as both the bride and groom's families objected so strongly to the union that the couple separated within a week and the marriage was annulled after three months. Louis died on March 13, 1892 at the age of fifty-four and was buried next to his first wife. He was succeeded as Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine by his eldest son, Ernest Louis. 

Princess Alice's surviving daughters (left to right):
Princesses Alix, Victoria, Elisabeth, and Irene
Alice’s children and their descendants would go on to have substantial roles in European history. Her fourth daughter, Alix, became the Empress of Russia as the wife of Tsar Nicholas II and passed her mother’s gene for hemophilia to her son and heir to the Russian throne, Alexei. Tragically, Alix and her entire family were killed by the Bolsheviks in 1918 after Nicholas II was forced to step down from the throne. Alice’s second daughter, Elizabeth, who also married into the Russian royal family, became a nun after her husband was assassinated in 1905 and was killed by the Bolsheviks just a day after her sister’s death. Alice’s grandson, Louis Mountbatten, who was the son of her eldest daughter, Victoria, became the last Viceroy of India and was assassinated by the IRA in 1979. Victoria’s grandson (and Alice’s great-grandson), Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, would go on to marry his cousin, Queen Elizabeth II of the U.K.

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