|Photo by Camille Silvy: Princess Alice, June, 1861|
|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|
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.
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, 1960|
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 1977 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.|
|Son Frittie, November, 1871|
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.|
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.
*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
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