Princess Alice of Battenberg, born as “Victoria Alice Elizabeth Julia Marie”, was the eldest child of Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine and Prince Louis of Battenberg. Through her mother, she was a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, whose second daughter – Princess Alice – was her maternal grandmother. Alice (she went by her second name to avoid confusion between herself, her mother, and her great-grandmother) was born on February 25, 1885 in the Tapestry Room at Windsor Castle. Her royal great-grandmother and namesake (as well as her mother) was present at her birth. Her middle names were all the first names of some of her closest relatives: “Alice” was for her late maternal grandmother, “Elizabeth” was for her maternal aunt, the Grand Duchess Elisabeth of Russia, “Julia” was for her paternal grandmother, and “Marie” was for her paternal aunt. Alice’s parents would have three more children after her birth: Louise, Queen of Sweden, George, 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven, and Louis, Earl Mountbatten of Burma.
|Princess Alice (right) and her younger |
sister, Princess Louise
Although London was the main residence of Alice’s family, she also spent time in Darmstadt, Judenheim, and Malta (as her father, a naval officer in the Royal Navy, was sometimes stationed there). Her mother, a sharp-minded and acute woman, worryingly noted that as Alice progressed through the years, she took quite some time to learn how to talk and even then she had trouble pronouncing words. Though it was her parents who noticed that their daughter had problems with speaking, it was actually her paternal grandmother, Princess Julia of Battenberg, who suspected that Alice had an issue that stemmed not from her tongue but her hearing. She took her to an ear specialist and it was discovered that Alice suffered from congenital deafness. Alice adapted to her disability by learning how to not only speak in English and German but also to lip-read both languages with her mother’s help. Later, she would also learn the French and Greek languages.
|Princess Alice and her husband, Prince Andrew|
After Queen Victoria’s death, her eldest son and Alice’s great-uncle, Edward VII was crowned as the new King of the United Kingdom. His coronation took place in London on August 9, 1902, an event which Alice attended. Here she met a distant relative, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, who she quickly became infatuated with. Prince Andrew, known as “Andrea” by his family, was the seventh child of King George I of Greece and Grand Duchess Olga Constantinovna of Russia. Through his father, he was the grandson of Christian IX of Denmark, a descendant of George II of Great Britain. Thus, Alice and Andrew were fifth cousins once removed. Andrew was a handsome young man, just as Alice was one of the loveliest princesses in Europe at the time, and although he was shortsighted, he entered the military at a young age and became a commissioned officer in the Greek army. His parents hoped that Alice would be a stable influence in their extravagant son’s life. Andrew was known for supporting a profligate lifestyle and, as he was bisexual, had various affairs with both men and women. It is unlikely that Alice fully knew or understood what she was stepping into when she married Prince Andrew on October 6, 1903, or perhaps she was simply too taken by his charm and shockingly good looks to notice. Either way, the eighteen year-old Alice became a Princess of Greece and Denmark when she wed the twenty-one year old Andrew.
The wedding consisted of two religious marriage ceremonies – one Lutheran service for Alice and a Greek Orthodox service for Andrew. The wedding was a grand event and due to the bride and groom’s ancestry, the whole ceremony ended up being a huge informal family gathering of the royal houses of Britain, Germany, Russia, Denmark, and Greece. Now a married man, Andrew continued to serve in the military while Alice became devoted to charity work. It wasn’t long before they had their first child, the first great-great grandchild of the late Queen Victoria. Ultimately, the couple would have five children (four daughters and one son):
- Princess Margarita of Greece and Denmark (1905-1981) married: Prince Gorrfried of Hohenlohe-Langenburg – had issue
- Princess Theodora of Greece and Denmark (1906-1969) married: Berthold, Margrave of Baden – had issue
- Princess Cecilie of Greece and Denmark (1911-1937) married: Georg Donatus, Hereditary Grand Duke of Hesse – had issue
- Princess Sophie of Greece and Denmark (1914-2001) married: (1) Prince Christoph of Hesse – had issue, (2) Prince George William of Hanover – had issue
- Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (1921- ) married: Queen Elizabeth II of the U.K. – had issue
|Princess Alice of Battenberg|
(Philip de László, 1907)
In 1908, Alice traveled to Russia to attend the wedding of her husband’s niece, Grand Duchess Maria of Russia, to Prince William of Sweden. Here, she spent time with her aunt, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna, who she had always been very close to, more so than any of her other aunts or uncles. Elizabeth, now a widow, talked about her plans for creating a religious order of nurses to Alice during her visit. Alice herself laid the foundation stone of her aunt’s church when construction began. When she came back to her home and husband in Greece, things began to slide downhill. Andrew was never truly devoted or passionate to his wife and continued to indulge in extramarital affairs with both men and women. He was far more concerned with his personal pleasure than caring for his wife and children and therefore, constantly ignored them. Greece was in a state of political turmoil, as a union of unhappy military officers had formed a Greek nationalist Military League that dangerously butted heads with the monarchy. It was this group that forced Prince Andrew to resign from the army and caused the rise of the charismatic Liberal, Eleftherios Venizelos, who became the Prime Minister in 1910.
|Princess Alice of Battenberg|
(Philip de László, 1922)
When the Balkan Wars broke out in 1912, Andrew was recalled to the army as a lieutenant colonel and was given command of a field hospital. Alice became involved in the conflict as well by becoming a nurse for wounded soldiers and helping to organize field hospitals. On March 18, 1913, Andrew’s father, King George I, was assassinated by a Greek anarchist. Andrew’s eldest brother, Constantine I, took the throne after their father’s death (Constantine was married to Princess Sophia of Prussia, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria through her eldest daughter, Victoria, Princess Royal. Therefore, she was the first cousin once removed of Alice, her husband’s sister-in-law). In 1914, when World War I began, Andrew continued to make visits to Britain as he had done in the past, but since his brother declared neutrality for Greece in order to stay out of the war, the irritated British began to whisper that Andrew was secretly a German spy. King Constantine and his government, led by Venizelos, fought so heatedly over the country’s neutrality policy that in June 1917, public support turned against the King and Constantine had no choice but to abdicate. The Greek royal family, including Alice, her husband, and their children, left the country in exile for Switzerland.
By the time the Great War finally ended in 1917, Alice’s life was drastically changed. Her family had given up their German names and titles, changing their surname of “Battenberg” to the Anglicized version – “Mountbatten”. Two of Alice’s aunts, Grand Duchess Elizabeth and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia, had been murdered by the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution just as the Russian, German, and Austro-Hungarian empires ceased to exist. With the fall of the German Empire, Alice’s uncle, Grand Duke Ernest Louis of Hesse, lost his title and power. In 1920, when Constantine was restored to the throne, Alice and her family came back to Greece and lived at Mon Repos on Corfu, a villa that had once belonged to Andrew’s father. But after a devastating defeat by Turkey in the Greco-Turkish War, Constantine was forced to give up his crown for a second time on September 27, 1922. Prince Andrew, who was again a commander in the military, was arrested along with many other ministers and generals, most of whom were shot. Andrew was given a show trial and although he was not executed, he was banished from his home. He then took his wife and children back into exile with help from the British navy.
|Princess Alice of Battenberg|
Alice and her family moved to a small house in Saint-Cloud near Paris, which had been loaned to them by Andrew’s sister-in-law, Princess Marie Bonaparte. Here, Alice continued to do charity work, this time for Greek refugees like herself and her family. During this time, she became obsessed with religion and converted from Anglicanism to the Greek Orthodox faith in 1928. It wasn’t long before she began declaring that she was having messages from God and that she possessed miraculous healing powers. In 1930, she spiraled into mental instability after having a serious nervous breakdown. Her breakdown was probably triggered by the strain of her now shaky and uncertain life in France where she and her children were living on handouts from sympathetic relatives. Her husband’s constant unfaithfulness and lack of respect or love towards her didn’t help her fragile mental condition either. She was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was forced into a well-known and respected sanatorium in Switzerland that housed other famous patients. Alice continuously refused to believe that she was mentally unstable during her time in the sanatorium and tried to escape on various occasions. Sigmund Freud even played a hand in trying to treat the Princess by advising that her womb be blasted with X-rays to “cure her of frustrated sexual desires”. When Alice was placed in the sanatorium, her first four daughters were all married and living lives of their own, so they didn’t need their mother’s care to get by. However, Alice’s youngest child, Prince Philip (the current Duke of Edinburgh) was just nine years old when his mother was taken away. His father had no desire to care for his son, instead choosing to run off to the French Riviera with his mistress, Countess Andrée de La Bigne, so young Philip was taken into the care of his maternal grandmother, Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine, and his uncles – George and Louis. He was brought up in England alongside his other British relatives and was given a substantial education before entering the Royal Navy in 1939.
|Alice's eldest daughters (left to right): Princess Margarita and Princess Theodora|
While Alice was away receiving treatment, her husband separated from her in all but name to go frolic about (rather unsurprisingly, as he had never shaken off his playboy nature) through France with his mistress. During Alice’s stay in the sanatorium, all of her daughters married German princes but she was unable to come to any of the weddings due to her mental state. Her first daughter to marry was actually her youngest. Sophie married her second cousin once removed, Prince Christoph of Hesse, on December 15, 1930 when she was sixteen . Prince Christoph was a younger son of Princess Margaret of Prussia, a daughter of Victoria, Princess Royal. Alice’s third daughter, Cecilie, was the second to marry on February 2, 1931 to her maternal first cousin once removed, Georg Donatus, Hereditary Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine (he was the eldest son of Ernest Louis, Alice’s deposed uncle). The eldest Margarita, had a wedding of her own soon after on April 20, 1931 to Prince Gorrfried of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, a great-grandson of Queen Victoria through his mother, making him her second cousin once removed. Theodora, Alice’s second daughter, married last on August 17, 1931 to her second cousin, the Margrave Berthold of Baden.
|Alice's third daughter, Princess Cecilie,|
with her husband, Georg Donatus
Alice was released from the sanatorium in 1932 and, finding herself essentially abandoned by her husband, she became a desolate drifter, traveling from one humble B&B to another throughout Germany. She survived like this for some time, not contacting any of her family members (except her mother), including her own children, until the end of 1936. It was only in 1937 when she saw her husband for the first time in seven years, albeit under very depressing circumstances. On November 16, 1937, her daughter Cecilie died in a horrible plane crash whilst traveling from Darmstadt to London to attend her brother-in-law’s wedding. She was on a plane with her husband, their two sons – Ludwig and Alexander (aged six and four respectively), and her mother-in-law, Princess Eleonore of Solms-Hohensolms-Lich, when their plane ran into some bad weather in Belgium and caused them to hit a factory chimney. The plane went down in flames before crashing, killing everyone on board. At the time, the twenty-six year old Cecilie was eight months pregnant with a boy and when the bodies were recovered from the crash, the remains of her stillborn son were found amongst the wreckage. Cecilie’s only child left alive was her only daughter, Princess Johanna. Johanna had not been with her family on the plane when it crashed because she was just a year old at the time and, deemed too young to travel to the wedding, stayed behind in Darmstadt. She was adopted by her paternal uncle, Ernest Ludwig, Grand Duke of Hesse, whose wedding her doomed family had been traveling to when they died. He and his new bride, Margaret Campbell-Geddes, cared for the girl for almost two years before she fell ill from meningitis and died in June of 1939 at the age of two and a half. Alice attended her little granddaughter’s funeral and the sight of the deceased Johanna struck her deeply. She even remarked that the girl “so closely resembled her mother at the same age that it felt like losing her daughter Cecilie all over again”.
It was at Cecilie’s funeral where Alice saw her husband again, having last seen him when she had been taken away to the sanatorium. Here, she also reunited with her four remaining children. She then moved back to Athens to continue her charity work with the poor. She wanted her sixteen year-old son, Philip, to come with her but he was set on his future in the Royal Navy, so she went alone. When World War II broke out in 1939, Alice had various family members on both sides of the devastating conflict. Her German relatives, including her sons-in-law, fought for the Axis Powers while her British family members like her son, Philip, were on the Allied side. In April of 1941, Greece was taken over and occupied by the Nazis, rendering escape impossible for Alice. Most of the Greek royal family had fled to South Africa but Alice remained behind in Athens with the wife of her brother-in-law, Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna of Russia (the mother of Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent). But despite her inability to leave Greece, Alice became extremely involved in the war effort. Her brother, Louis Mountbatten, would send her food parcels that she would hand out to the poor and she even hid a Jewish family in her house for more than a year, a remarkable feat considering that she lived a few years away from Gestapo headquarters. She volunteered for the Red Cross, supported soup kitchens for famished Greek citizens, and flew to Sweden on the pretense that she was visiting her sister, Louise, when she was actually getting medical supplies to smuggle back into Athens. She remained out of harms way from the Gestapo because they believed that since her sons-in-law were members of the Nazi party, she must also support the German cause. They apparently didn’t take the hint that she was far from pro-German when one German general visiting her asked if he could do anything for her and she replied: “You can take your troops out of my country”.
|Princess Alice of Battenberg and her son,|
Alice got her wish in October of 1944 when Athens was finally liberated by the Allies. She was able to write to her son about the “somewhat squalid conditions” she was living in. She said that in the last week before the country was liberated she had nothing to eat except for bread and butter and she hadn’t had meat for months. But the war in Greece was far from over; the British were now fighting Communist guerillas for control of the country. During this time, Alice learned that her estranged husband had died of heart failure and arterial sclerosis in Monaco on December 3, 1944. He was sixty-two years old. The last time Alice had seen her husband was right before the war began in 1939. She continued to aid those in need while the British fought the Communists and although she supported the British, they were distressed at her dangerous acts of charity. She would walk down the streets after curfew giving rations to policeman and children in face of the danger of being shot. To this, she said: “They tell me that you don’t hear the shot that kills you and in any case I am deaf. So, why worry about that?” Eventually, the British and their supporters won out on October 16, 1949 and the Communists were driven out of the country.
|The wedding of Prince Philip and the future|
Before the Greek Civil War ended, Alice was able to return to Britain in April of 1947 to attend the wedding of her son, Philip, to his second cousin once removed, Princess Elizabeth, the eldest daughter and heir presumptive of King George VI. The couple wed on November 20, 1947 at Westminster Abbey. On the day of the wedding, George VI made his son-in-law the Duke of Edinburgh. Alice even used her diamonds from her tiara for Princess Elizabeth’s engagement ring. Unfortunately for Philip, his sisters were not invited to the wedding because anti-German sentiment was still very much alive in Britain at the time. After her son’s wedding, Alice followed in her late aunt Elisabeth’s footsteps when she founded a nursing order of Greek Orthodox nuns in January of 1949. The order was even modeled after the convent Elisabeth had created in Russia forty years previously. Her mother, Victoria, was bemused by her daughter’s decision and even remarked: “What can you say of a nun who smokes and plays canasta?” When Alice attended the coronation of her daughter-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II, in June of 1953, she wore a gray dress and a wimple in the style of a nun’s habit to try to promote her religious order. However, her efforts to sustain her order ultimately fell flat because not enough appropriate candidates could be recruited.
In her last years, Alice’s health began to fail and her already poor hearing weakened even further. After the Greek military junta of 1967, she left Greece for the last time in April to live with her son and daughter-in-law at Buckingham Palace. It is falsely believed that Alice became senile in her later years; in fact, Alice remained quite cogent but physically infirm and weak. Shortly before her own death, Alice’s second daughter, Theodora, died on October 16, 1969 at the age of sixty-three in Hesse. She had three children, two sons and one daughter, who all married into royal European families and had children of their own. On December 5, 1969, Princess Alice of Battenberg (also known as Princess Alice of Greece and Denmark) died at the age of eighty-four. She had given every last one of her belongings away before her death. At first, she was buried in the Royal Crypt in St George’s Chapel but since she had wanted to be buried in the Church of Mary Magdalene near Gethsemane with her aunt, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, her remains were moved there in 1988.
|Alice's youngest daughter, |
Alice was survived by her daughters, Margarita and Sophie, as well as her son, Philip. Margarita had six children, four sons and two daughters, but her eldest daughter was stillborn. Three of her five surviving children married and had children. Margarita died on April 24, 1981 at the age of seventy-six in West Germany. Alice’s youngest daughter, Sophie, had five children with her husband, Prince Christoph of Hesse, three daughters and two sons, before Christoph, a Nazi military leader, died in October of 1943 in an airplane crash in a war zone of the Apennine mountains in Italy. Sophie remarried her second cousin (also her third cousin), Prince George William of Hanover, in April of 1946. Prince George William was a younger son of Ernest Augusts III, Duke of Brunswick (although he had lost his title after World War I) and Princess Victoria Louise of Prussia, the only daughter of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Sophie had three children with her second husband, two sons and a daughter. Sophie died on November 3, 2001 in Munich at the age of eighty-seven.
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, now aged ninety-five, is Alice’s only child who is still alive today. He is the longest-serving consort of a reigning British monarch and the oldest-ever male member of the British royal family. With Queen Elizabeth II, he has four children: Charles, Prince of Wales, Anne, Princess Royal, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex. Today, he has eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.