Updated: Oct 11, 2021
Princess Alice of the United Kingdom was the third child & second daughter of Queen Victoria & Prince Albert.
She became Her Royal Highness Princess Louis of Hesse and by Rhine (1 July 1862 – 13 June 1877) following her marriage to Prince Louis of Hesse. Then Her Royal Highness The Grand Duchess of Hesse and by Rhine (13 June 1877 – 14 December 1878) when his fathers brother Grand Duke Louis III died.
Princess Alice was born on 25 April 1843 at Buckingham Palace. She was christened "Alice Maud Mary" in the private chapel at Buckingham Palace by The Archbishop of Canterbury, William Howley, on 2 June 1843.
"Maud", the Anglo-Saxon name for Matilda, was chosen in honour of one of Alice's godparents, Princess Sophia Matilda of Gloucester, a niece of King George III. "Mary" was chosen because Alice was born on the same day as her maternal great-aunt, the Duchess of Gloucester.
Alice spent her early childhood in the company of her parents & siblings, travelling between the British royal residences. Her education was devised by Albert's close friend & adviser, Baron Stockmar, & included practical activities like needlework & woodwork & languages such as French & German.
When her father, Prince Albert, became fatally ill in December 1861, Alice nursed him until his death. Following his death, Queen Victoria entered a period of intense mourning & Alice spent the next six months acting as her mother's unofficial secretary.
On 1 July 1862, while the court was still at the height of mourning, Alice married the minor German Prince Louis of Hesse, heir to the Grand Duchy of Hesse.
Engagement & wedding;
On 30 April 1861 Princess Alice became engaged to Prince Louis of Hesse (b.12 September 1837 – d.13 March 1892), following the Queen Victoria's consent. The Queen persuaded the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, to vote Alice a dowry of £30,000 (£2.57 million as of 2018). Although the amount was considered generous at the time, Prince Albert remarked that "she will not be able to do great things with it" in the little realm of Hesse, compared to the riches that her sister Victoria would inherit as future Queen of Prussia & German Empress. Furthermore, the couple's future home in Darmstadt, the Grand Ducal seat, was uncertain. Although Queen Victoria expected that a new palace would be built, the people of Darmstadt did not want to meet that expense, & the resulting controversy caused resentment there. This meant that unfortunately Alice was unpopular in Darmstadt before she even arrived.
Between the engagement & the wedding, Alice's father Prince Albert died on 14 December 1861. Despite the Queen's grief, she made sure that the wedding should continue as planned.
On 1 July 1862, Alice & Louis were married privately in the dining room of Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight which was converted into a temporary chapel. The Queen was ushered in by her four sons, acting as a living screen blocking her from view, & took her place in an armchair near the altar.
Alice was given away by her uncle, Albert's brother Ernest II, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, & was flanked by four bridesmaids: her younger sisters, Princesses Helena, Louise & Beatrice, as well as Louis's sister Princess Anna.
For the ceremony, Alice wore a white dress with a veil of Honiton lace, but was required to wear black mourning clothes before & after the ceremony.
The Queen, sat in her armchair, struggled to hold back her tears, & was shielded from view by the Prince of Wales & Prince Alfred, her second son, who cried throughout the service.
The weather at Osborne was very dull, with winds blowing up from the Channel. The Queen wrote to her eldest daughter, Victoria, that the ceremony was "more of a funeral than a wedding", & remarked to Alfred, Lord Tennyson that it was "the saddest day I can remember"
The Queen gifted her daughter a gold, diamond & pearl bracelet, inscribed as a gift from both parents 'To dear Alice from her loving parents Albert & Victoria R who though visibly parted are ever united', April 25, 1863.
The ceremony was over by 4 pm, & the couple set off for their honeymoon at St Claire in Ryde, on the Isle of Wight. Alice's entourage consisted of Lady Churchill, General Seymour & Baron Westerweller (a Hessian courtier).
The wedding dress description;
The muted Royal occasion was reflected in the dress, which was noted as being a 'half-high dress with a deep flounce of Honiton lace, a veil of the same & a wreath of orange blossom and myrtle. It was a simple style & not embellished with a court train'.
Life after the wedding;
The Princess's life in Darmstadt was unhappy as a result of impoverishment, family tragedy & worsening relations with her husband & mother.
Tragedy befell Alice on 29 May 1873, when her youngest & favourite son, Friedrich, called "Frittie", died after falling 20 feet from a window. He suffered from haemophilia, & although he regained consciousness, the internal bleeding could not be stopped. After Frittie's death, Alice attached herself more closely to her only surviving son, Ernest, & her newborn daughter Marie. In 1875 she resumed her public duties, including fund-raising, medical & social work, which had always held her interest. During this time, relations with her husband deteriorated. In late 1876, she travelled to England for treatment due to an internal complaint caused by a backward curvature of the womb, & remained at Balmoral while she recovered.
Despite their marital problems, Alice remained a strong supporter of her husband, being highly critical when his abilities or talents were not fully recognised. On 20 March 1877, Louis' father Prince Charles died, making Louis heir apparent. On 13 June the same year, Charles' older brother Grand Duke Louis III died, & Louis & Alice became the Grand Duke & Duchess of Hesse.
The Princess was patron of women's causes & showed a keen interest in nursing, especially the work of Florence Nightingale. When Hesse became involved in the Austro-Prussian War, Darmstadt filled with the injured; the heavily pregnant Alice devoted a lot of her time to the management of field hospitals. One of her organisations, the Princess Alice Women's Guild, took over much of the day-to-day running of the state's military hospitals. As a result of this activity, Queen Victoria became concerned about Alice's directness about medical matters.
In November 1878, the Grand Ducal household fell ill with diphtheria. Alice's eldest daughter Victoria was the first to fall ill, complaining of a stiff neck in the evening of 5 November. Diphtheria was diagnosed the following morning, & the disease spread to Alice's children Alix, Marie, Irene, & Ernest. Her husband Louis became infected shortly thereafter. Elisabeth was the only child to not fall ill, having been sent away by Alice to the palace of the Princess Charles, her mother-in-law.
Marie became seriously ill on 15 November, & Alice was called to her bedside, but by the time she arrived, Marie had choked to death. A distraught Alice wrote to Queen Victoria that the "pain is beyond words".
Alice kept the news of Marie's death secret from her children for several weeks, but she finally told Ernest in early December. His reaction was even worse than she had anticipated; at first he refused to believe it. As he sat up crying, Alice broke her rule about physical contact with the ill & gave him a kiss. At first, however, Alice did not fall ill. She met her sister Victoria as the latter was passing through Darmstadt on the way to England, & wrote to her mother with "a hint of resumed cheerfulness" on the same day. However, by Saturday, 14 December, the anniversary of her father's death, she became seriously ill with the diphtheria caught from her son. Her last words were "dear Papa", & she fell unconscious at 2:30 am. Just after 8:30 am, she died. Alice was buried on 18 December 1878 at the Grand Ducal mausoleum at Rosenhöhe outside Darmstadt, with the Union Flag draped over her coffin.
Alice was the first of Queen Victoria's nine children to die (14 December 1878 (aged 35), & one of three to be outlived by their mother, who died in 1901.
Alice founded the Alice-Hospital in Darmstadt in 1869, to treat the city's sick & wounded. The organisation continued to flourish long after Alice's death, & in 1953, her grandson Louis, Earl Mountbatten of Burma gave a lecture on the hospital. He spoke highly of Alice, saying "[for her] the point of departure always remained a human being who was ill & needed help, & his needs in war & peace. At his side stood the person willing to give help, wishing to ameliorate his needs & for this purpose could make use of an organisation which was becoming more & more streamlined." Among Alice's other establishments were the Alice Society for Women's Training & Industry, for the purpose of educating women, & the Princess Alice Women's Guild, an organisation devoted to training nurses.
Alice's descendants went on to play significant roles in world history. Her fourth daughter, Alix, married Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, passing her mother's gene for haemophilia on to her only son, the Tsarevich Alexei. Alix, her husband, & her children were killed by the Bolsheviks in the city of Ekaterinburg in the summer of 1918, sixteen months after the February Revolution forced Nicholas to abdicate.
Alice's second daughter, Elizabeth, who had married Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia, & had become a nun after his assassination in 1905, met a similar fate, being killed by the Bolsheviks the day after the former tsar & tsaritsa. Louis Mountbatten, son of Alice's eldest daughter, Victoria, was the last Viceroy of India. He was assassinated by the IRA in 1979. Prince Philip of Greece & Denmark, her great-grandson through Victoria's daughter Princess Alice of Battenberg, married Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.
Princess Alice & Louis had seven children;
Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine, later Victoria Mountbatten, Marchioness of Milford Haven (b.5 April 1863 – d.24 September 1950) - She married her father's first cousin, Prince Louis of Battenberg, an officer in the United Kingdom's Royal Navy.
They had four children;
Alice, later Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark & mother of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (b.25 February 1885 – 5 December d.1969)
Louise, later Queen of Sweden (b.13 July 1889 – d.7 March 1965)
George Mountbatten, 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven (b.6 Dec 1892–d.8 April 1938)
Prince George of Battenberg, later Prince Louis of Battenberg, later Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (b.25 June 1900 – d.27 August 1979)
Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine, later Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna of Russia (Russian: Елизавета Фëдоровна Романова, Elizabeth Feodorovna Romanova; canonized as Holy Martyr Elizabeth Feodorovna; (b.1 November 1864 – d.18 July 1918). She married the Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia, the fifth son of Emperor Alexander II of Russia & Princess Marie of Hesse & by Rhine. They had no children. In 1905. Targeted by the SR Combat Organization, the Grand Duke was assassinated by a terrorist bomb at the Kremlin.
Princess Irene of Hesse and by Rhine (b.11 July 1866 – d.11 November 1953). On 24 May 1888 she married Prince Henry of Prussia, a younger brother of German Emperor William II.
They had three sons;
Prince Waldemar of Prussia (b.20 March 1889 – d.2 May 1945)
Prince Sigismund of Prussia (b.27 November 1896 – d.14 November 1978)
Prince Henry of Prussia (b.9 January 1900 – d.26 February 1904)
Irene passed haemophilia on to two of her three sons: Prince Waldemar of Prussia & Prince Henry of Prussia.
Ernest Louis, later Grand Duke of Hesse & reigning from reigning from 1892 until 1918 (b.25 November 1868 – d.9 October 1937)
He married twice;
Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (m. 1894; div. 1901)
They had one daughter;
Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine (b.11 March 1895 – d.16 November 1903) - died from Typhoid.
His second wife was Princess Eleonore of Solms-Hohensolms-Lich (m. 1905)
They had two children;
Georg Donatus, Hereditary Grand Duke of Hesse (b.8 November 1906 – d.16 November 1937)
Louis, Prince of Hesse and by Rhine (b.20 November 1908 – d.30 May 1968)
Prince Friedrich of Hesse and by Rhine (b.7 October 1870 – d.29 May 1873)
Friedrich was first diagnosed with haemophilia in February 1873, a few months before his death, when he cut his ear & bled for three days. In late May 1873, Friedrich & his older brother Ernst were playing together in their mother's bedroom. Ernst ran to another room, which was set at right angles to Alice's bedroom & peered through the window at his younger brother. Alice ran to get Ernst away from the window. When she was out of the room, Friedrich climbed onto a chair next to an open window in his mother's bedroom to get a closer look at his brother. The chair tipped over & Friedrich fell through the window, falling twenty feet to the balustrade below. Friedrich survived the fall & might have lived had he not been a haemophiliac. He died hours later of a brain haemorrhage on 29 May 1873
Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine (b.6 June 1872 – d.17 July 1918). She was later Alexandra Feodorovna, Empress of Russia as the spouse of Nicholas II the last ruler of the Russian Empire from their marriage on 26 November 1894 until his forced abdication on 15 March 1917.
They had five children;
Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna (b.15 November 1895 – d.17 July 1918)
Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna (b.10 June 1897 – d.17 July 1918)
Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna (b.26 June 1899 – d.17 July 1918)
Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna (b.18 June 1901 – 17 July, 1918)
Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich (b.(12 August 1904 – d.17 July 1918)
Princess Marie of Hesse and by Rhine (b.24 May 1874 – d.16 November 1878)
She died of diphtheria at the age of four & was buried with her mother, who died a few weeks later of the same disease. She & Queen Victoria shared the same birthday.
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