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Princess Alice of the United Kingdom VA CI (Alice Maud Mary; April 25, 1843 – December 14, 1878) was the third child and second daughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Alice was the first of Queen Victoria’s nine children to die, and one of three to be outlived by their mother, who died in 1901. Her life had been enwrapped in tragedy since her father’s death in 1861.

HRH Princess Alice of the United Kingdom

On July 1, 1862, Alice married the minor German Prince Ludwig of Hesse and by Rhine, heir to the Grand Duchy of Hesse and by Rhine at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight while the court was still at the height of mourning for the death of the Prince Consort.

On the day of the wedding, the Queen issued a royal warrant granting her new son-in-law the style of Royal Highness in the United Kingdom. This elevation of status was only valid in the United Kingdom. The Queen also subsequently made Prince Ludwig a knight of the Order of the Garter.

In March 1877, Ludwig became heir presumptive to the Hessian throne when his father, Charles, died and, less than three months later, on June 13, 1877, he found himself reigning Grand Duke upon the demise of his uncle, Ludwig III.

Princess Alice in her wedding dress

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 November 5. Diphtheria was diagnosed the following morning, and soon the disease spread to Alice’s children Alix, Marie, Irene, and Ernst.

Her husband Ludwig became infected shortly thereafter. Elisabeth was the only child to not fall ill, having been sent away by Alice to the palace of Princess Charles, her mother-in-law. Princess Charles was Princess Elisabeth of Prussia (1815 – 1885) who was the second daughter of Prince Wilhelm of Prussia and Princess Maria Anna of Hesse-Homburg and a granddaughter of King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia.

Marie became seriously ill on November 15, and 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 Ernst in early December.

Prince and Princess Ludwig of Hesse and by Rhine

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 and 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, and wrote to her mother with “a hint of resumed cheerfulness” on the same day.

However, by Saturday, December 14, the anniversary of her father’s death, she became seriously ill with the diphtheria caught from her son. Her last words were “dear Papa”, and she fell unconscious at 2:30 am. Just after 8:30 am, she died.

I have read a slightly different account of the fatal kiss that allowed Alice to contract diphtheria. In this account the fatal kiss occurred on November 16, the day after the death of Princess Marie. Alice’s young son, Hereditary Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig wanted to give Marie a book but became inconsolable when told she passed away the previous day. To console her son Alice gave him a Kiss.

So instead of early December that the fatal kiss occurred, this account means that Alice contracted diphtheria earlier and suffered for weeks with the disease before succumbing from this terrible illness. I’m still doing some research to discover which account is the accurate one.

Family of the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Hesse and by Rhine

Alice was buried on December 18, 1878 at the Grand Ducal mausoleum at Rosenhöhe outside Darmstadt, with the Union Flag draped over her coffin. A special monument of Alice and her daughter Marie was erected there by Joseph Boehm.

Alicemwas the first child of Queen Victoria to die, with her mother outliving her by more than 20 years. Victoria noted the coincidence of the dates of Albert and Alice’s deaths as “almost incredible and most mysterious”. Writing in her journal on the day of Alice’s death, Queen Victoria referred to the recent sufferings of the family: “This terrible day come round again!”

Shocked by grief, she wrote to her daughter Princess Victoria: “My precious child, who stood by me and upheld me seventeen years ago on the same day taken, and by such an awful and fearful disease…She had darling Papa’s nature, and much of his self-sacrificing character and fearless and entire devotion to duty!” The animosity that Victoria had towards Alice seemed no longer present. Princess Victoria expressed her grief to her mother in a 39-page letter, and deeply mourned Alice, the sister to whom she was closest. However, both she and her husband were forbidden from attending the funeral by the Emperor of Germany, who was worried about their safety.

Alice’s death was felt in both Britain and Hesse. The Times wrote: “The humblest of people felt that they had the kinship of nature with a Princess who was the model of family virtue as a daughter, a sister, a wife and a mother…Her abundant sympathies sought for objects of help in the great unknown waste of human distress”. The Illustrated London News wrote that the “lesson of the late Princess’s life is as noble as it is obvious.

Moral worth is far more important than high position”. The death was also heavily felt by the royal family, especially by Alice’s brother and sister-in-law, the Prince and Princess of Wales. The Princess of Wales, upon meeting the Queen after Alice’s death, exclaimed “I wish I had died instead of her”. The Prince, meanwhile, wrote to Earl Granville that Alice “was my favourite sister. So good, so kind, so clever! We had gone through so much together…”