Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Princess Alice Of The United Kingdom

Photo by Camille Silvy: Princess Alice, June, 1861
Recently I read the biography of another of Queen Victoria's nine children, her 3rd child, Princess Alice Maud Mary, who was born on April 25, 1843. The Queen's 2nd daughter inherited her father, Prince Albert's keen intellect, musical talent, organizational genius and desire to live a life of worth. 
Princess Alice, Prince Alfred (Affie), Queen Victoria (hidden by her hat), Prince Albert Edward, Princess Royal Victoria and Princess Helena with her head on her mother's lap in 1850
Moreover from a young age, Princess Alice showed a flair for nursing. It was Alice who's bedside manner got the royal family through the illnesses and deaths of her maternal grandmother and (nine months later) her father, when she was only 18 years old. Royal attendants and doctors alike were amazed by her composure, maturity and deftness as a hospice caregiver. For hours she played the piano for her granny and "dear papa," slept nearby and wrote letters they dictated, all the while comforting her distraught mother. It was to Alice (not Queen Victoria) that Prince Albert confided, he was dying. It was also Princess Alice who sent her older brother, Prince Albert Edward (Bertie), heir to the British throne, the telegram telling him to hurry home from school (in Cambridge) to see their father for the last time.

After Prince Albert's death on December 14, 1861, Alice was the strength that her mother, Queen Victoria, relied upon to face her overwhelming grief. A daunting undertaking at any age, Alice acted as her mother's console(r) and unofficial private secretary managing government and family matters.

At the time Alice was engaged to Louis of Hesse, her handsome, straightforward and good natured German prince. Fortunately, the marriage had already been sanctioned and arranged by Prince Albert (before his illness), taking place on July 1, 1862. But since Queen Victoria was wrapped up in grief, the event resembled more a funeral than a wedding. It was held in the dinning room at Osbourne House, not a church. Although Princess Alice was allowed to change into a white wedding gown, she had to wear black before and after the service, with the wedding party dressed in half-mourning. Without the usual fanfare, this significant day in the young royal's life was over by 4 PM. 
Louis, Alice with Victoria & Ella 1865

Princess Alice meet with several challenges in her new home. Unlike her sister, the Princess Royal Victoria who married Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia, life in Darmstadt, Hesse was more modest by royal standards. The newlyweds exhausted their savings to build a new palace. Running way over budget, it was "heavily subsidized by the British Queen, who harbored strong feelings about the proper settings for her children."* Meanwhile they lived in Darmstadt's "Old Quarter" in a house with thin walls pierced through by the noises of "carts rumbling along the cobbled streets,"* which Alice didn't mind. However, she acutely missed the cultural and intellectual stimulation of London.
Even so, the Princess made the most of her life in Hesse. She had a sensibility and drive to improve the lives of poor people in practical ways that made a difference. Considering her youth, it's mind-boggling to think of all her accomplishments, which still impact Germany today. 
Prince Louis, Princess Alice, Princess Marie (in Louis' arms), Ella, next to her father (Princess Elisabeth, later Grand Duchess of Russia), Alix (later Empress Alexandra of Russia), Victoria, next to her mother (grandmother of Philip), Prince Ernst and Princess Irene in May, 1875.
Alice devoted much of her time to bringing Florence Nightingale's procedures for military hospitals to Darmstadt during the Austro-Prussian War (1866). All the while, the Princess was pregnant with her 3rd daughter, Irene. Not only did she visit and roll bandages for wounded soldiers, her organization, the Princess Alice Women's Guild, ran the day-to-day operations of the state's field hospitals.

The Alice Hospital in Hesse-Darmstadt, which still exists, was named after the Princess. She also spearheaded better maternity care. 

Queen Victoria was alarmed by Alice's directness in medical subjects, especially in the area of gynecology. Biographers of mother and daughter cite an 1871 letter in which the Queen wrote to her newly married younger daughter, Princess Louise, warning her: "Don't let Alice pump you. Be very silent and cautious about your interior!"*
Left photo: Princess Alice with her older sister, Vicky, 1850; Right photo: Bertie, Helena (in the cart), Vicky, Affie, (baby) Louise held by their nurse, Mrs. Thurston and Alice (sitting in front of cart), 1848.

Queen Victoria loved, but was not as kind and motherly to her children as she sometimes should have been. At heart, Alice was a peacemaker, and yet the Princess' tendency to speak her mind, strained her relations with the Queen who did not like to be contradicted. When Alice breast feed baby Ella, herself, Victoria disapproved, naming a cow "Alice" after her daughter.* At first Alice objected to her sister, Helena's fiancé, Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein. He was an older, poor, Danish born German prince. Alice knew he was chosen primarily to keep Helena close to home. In response, Victoria called Alice "Mischief-Maker,"* claiming that she was, "the real devil in the family!"* After Alice understood the match was what Helena desired too, she supported the union, getting another family dissenter, Bertie's acceptance. Still the Queen's resentment lingered.
Princess Helena, Prince Leopold, Queen Victoria, Princess Alice, and Princess Louise, August, 1860
Princess Alice worked diligently to upgrade the health, education and everyday life of women in Darmstadt. She initiated programs to train nurses who could work in hospitals. The Princess was also interested in opening "technical, industrial and trade schools"* for women. The Alice Society paired women with teachers and commerce, which could pay them for their sewing and knitting, letting women earn income for their families. Alice often visited the homes of the impoverished in Hesse, as well as, English social agencies on visits home, whose methods she studied in order to develop similar hospitals, group homes and agencies to address social needs. Another interest was to provide a place where prostitutes could turn their lives around. "Prostitute" was not a word used by Victorians in polite society. Furthermore, entering the homes of the poor in the Grand Duke's Kingdom (often "unannounced and unrecognized with just a lady-in-waiting"*) was rare for a princess. And, sometimes criticized by high born tongues.
Left photo: Alice with Louis in uniform, mid 1860s; Right photo: Ella, Victoria, Alice holding Marie, Alix, Ernie and Irene, 1877 or 1878?
Throughout their marriage, Alice and Louis remained devoted to each other. Prince Louis was a good man, a caring husband and adored father. But due to different temperaments, Alice was not happy in later years. She felt lonely. Louis was accepting and easygoing, while Alice had her father's brain, passions and seriousness. 

Louis responded as best he could, and Alice came to realize she had to accept him for who he was. She wrote: 

"You were made for a smooth cheerful, happy life -- and so your wife must want that too. She can share your joys with you, and your worries too, but she may not or rather cannot, expect you to enter into hers ... my mistake is to forget that sometimes. I can share with you -- but you not with me."* Sadly, the spouses were not soul mates, despite there being much love and tenderness in the marriage.
Left photo: Alice with 2nd daughter Ella (1864); Right photo: Alice with son Ernst 1877 or 78

Another trait Alice shared with her father was taking on complicated responsibilities and feeling the effects of overwork resulting in fatigue and running herself down.

Alice's bedroom from where 2 year old Frittie and 4 year old Ernie played when tragedy struck. 
In 1877 Alice and Louis became the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Hesse. By this time, 7 children had been born. Tragically, 2 children died young. Alice was a carrier of
Son Frittie, November, 1871
hemophilia B. One of her sons, 2 year old Frittie, died of the disease (in 1873) after a fall of 20 feet from a window in his mother's bedroom that a normal child would likely have survived. Then 5 years later in November, 1878, nearly everyone in the family came down with diphtheria. Their second daughter, Ella, escaped the illness and was sent away to her Hessian grandmother. For a month Alice nursed her family who had to convalesce in separate rooms. Their youngest child, 3 year old Marie, died on November 15 of the disease; however Alice kept the news from their young son, Ernst, for several weeks. When finally told of his youngest sister's death, the 10 year old boy was so upset, his mother let her guard down to comfort him with a hug and kiss. 

It was a kiss of death. For a few weeks Alice was fine, but on December 14, 1878, the same day Prince Albert had died 17 years earlier, Grand Duchess Alice succumbed to diphtheria. "Dear Papa" were the last words she spoke.

Queen Victoria in mourning with the Hesse family at Windsor Castle, 1879.
Transforming life in her new home for the better, Alice turned out to be her father's daughter. As Prince Albert left his mark on England, Alice mirrored him by leaving hers on Germany. She also died young at 35 years old.

It was desvasting news for the royal family, especially for brother, Bertie and his wife Alexandra, who came to the British throne after Queen Victoria in 1901. Likewise younger brother, Prince Leopold, had grown close to his sister.
The Hesses (+spouses) gather in 1894 for the wedding of Prince Ernst Ludwig of Hesse to Princess Victoria Melita, Affie's daughter 

Grand Duke Ernst of Hesse and by Rhine, Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, Princess Irene of Prussia, Prince Henry of Prussia, Grand Duchess Elisabeth Feodorovna of Russia, Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia, Princess Victoria of Battenberg, and Prince Louis of Battenberg
In later years two of Alice's daughters, Ella (known as Grand Duchess Elisabeth) and Alix (who became Empress Alexandra) married into the Romanov Royal family of Russia to be violently murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918. Son Ernst Ludwig became the Grand Duke of Hesse, after his father, reigning from 1892 until 1918. World War I ended his rule, though he was allowed to keep the family estate. The 3rd daughter, Irene of Hesse, married her first cousin, Henry of Prussia (Vicky's younger son and the brother of Kaiser Wilhelm II). Princess Irene was a hemophilia carrier also. Alice's oldest daughter, Princess Victoria of Hesse, married Prince Louis of Battenberg. They are the grandparents of Prince Philip the current Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth II, which makes the UK's Princes Charles, William and George direct descendents of both Princess Alice and King Edward VII (Bertie).

*Quotes from "Princess Alice" by Gerald Noel. (This is an out of print book. I bought it used on Amazon.) here
*Quotes from "Victoria's Daughters" by Jerrold M. Packward. here
*Quotes from a BBC documentary on the Letters of Victoria

You may also enjoy:
Remembering Prince Leopold, Duke Of Albany  
Extra Photos: Prince Leopold, Duke Of Albany    
More Photos: Prince Leopold, Duke Of Albany
Queen Victoria & Prince Albert: Books And Series


  1. Wonderful post Debbie. I really enjoy reading about the royal family of Queen Victoria, such fascinating history. And so interesting to see how the family line comes down to the present day. Great photos and great research!

    1. Glad to know somebody else likes history too. I am concentrating on Victorian England for a bit of time. A fascinating era. As are biographies, if a biographer does a thorough job.

      It turns out I like Victoria's children as people. She wasn't a natural mother, but she must have done many things right. She raised altruistic, talented and likeable children, more moral than not.

  2. Very interesting reading. I have a great interest in this history since my daughter has recently married into this family. Where do you live ? I could pay for postage for the book.

    1. Hi sharkattack,

      Just private email me (upper right) so I can send you book information. How cool to be related to this family via you daughter's marriage. I wish her all the best!