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Princess Alice of the United Kingdom (Alice Maud Mary; April 25, 1843 – December 14, 1878) was Grand Duchess of Hesse and by Rhine from June 13, 1877 until her death in 1878 as the wife of Grand Duke Ludwig IV.

She 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 predecease their mother, who died in 1901. Her life had been enwrapped in tragedy since her father’s death in 1861.

In this blog entry I will be focusing on her marriage to the future Ludwig IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine.

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 and Alice spent the next six months acting as her mother’s unofficial secretary.

Alice’s matrimonial plans were begun in 1860 by her mother. Queen Victoria had expressed her wish that her children should marry for love, but this did not mean that her choice of suitors would necessarily be extended to anybody outside the Royal Houses of Europe.

Raising a British subject to royalty, however high their rank, was politically objectionable, and also wasted any opportunity for a useful foreign alliance. The Queen instructed her daughter Victoria, recently married to Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia, to produce a list of eligible princes in Europe.

Her search produced only two suitable candidates: the Willem, Prince of Orange; and Prince Albrecht of Prussia. Prince Albrecht of Prussia was a cousin to Victoria’s husband Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia.

Prince Albrecht of Prussia

Prince Albrecht of Prussia (1837 – 1906) was also a cousin of the Prince of Orange given he was the son of Prince Albrecht of Prussia and his wife Princess Marianne of the Netherlands, daughter of King Willem I of the Netherlands.

Willem, Prince of Orange (1840 – 1879), was heir apparent to the Dutch throne as the eldest son of King Willem III and his first wife, Princess Sophie of Württemberg. In 1849, after the death of his grandfather King Willem II of the Netherlands, he became Prince of Orange as heir apparent. His Victorian upbringing turned out to be a disaster.

The Prince of Orange was soon discounted. He journeyed to Windsor Castle so that Queen Victoria could look him over in person, but he proved unpalatable to Alice.

Prince Willem of the Netherlands, Prince of Orange

Albrecht of Prussia was born in Berlin, the son of Prince Albrecht of Prussia and his wife Princess Marianne, daughter of King Willem I of the Netherlands. His father was a brother of King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia and of Wilhelm I, German Emperor, whose son was Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia (future German Emperor Friedrich III) the wife of Princess Alice’s sister, Princess Victoria the Princess Royal.

Prince Albrecht of Prussia also showed little interest in Alice, despite strong pressure from his pro-British mother, Queen Sophie of the Netherlands. Prince Albrecht, too, was spurned, with Prince Friedrich Wilhelm remarking that his cousin would not do for “one who deserves the very best”.

With both of the leading candidates now discounted, Princess Victoria suggested Prince Ludwig of Hesse and by Rhine, a minor German royal, the nephew of the Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine. Princess Victoria had gone to the court of Hesse to inspect Ludwig’s sister, Princess Anna, as a potential bride for her brother, the Prince of Wales.

Princess Alice of the United Kingdom

Although not favorably impressed with Princess Anna, she was impressed with Ludwig and his brother Prince Heinrich. Both were invited to Windsor Castle in 1860, ostensibly so they could watch the Ascot Races in the company of the royal family, but in reality, the visit was a chance for the Queen to inspect her potential son-in-law.

The Queen admired both Ludwig and Heinrich, but noted how well Ludwig and Alice got along together. When the Hessian family departed, Ludwig requested Alice’s photograph, and Alice made it clear that she was attracted to him.

Engagement and wedding

Alice was engaged to Prince Ludwig of Hesse on 30 April 30,1861, following the Queen’s consent. The Queen persuaded the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, to secure the agreement of Parliament for Alice to receive a dowry of £30,000 (£2.86 million as of 2022).

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 and 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, and the resulting controversy caused resentment there. This meant that Alice was unpopular in Darmstadt before she even arrived.

Prince Ludwig of Hesse and by Rhine

Between the engagement and the wedding, Alice’s father Prince Albert died on December 14, 1861. Despite the Queen’s grief, she ordered that the wedding should continue as planned.

On July 1, 1862, Alice and Ludwig were married privately in the dining room of Osborne House, 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, and took her place in an armchair near the altar.

Alice was given away by her uncle, Albert’s brother Ernst II, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and was flanked by four bridesmaids: her younger sisters, Princesses Helena, Louise and Beatrice, as well as Louis’s sister Princess Anna. For the ceremony, Alice wore a simple white dress, with a veil of Honiton lace and a wreath of orange blossom and myrtle, but was required to wear black mourning clothes before and after the ceremony.

Prince and Princess Ludwig of Hesse and by Rhine

The Queen, sitting in an armchair, struggled to hold back her tears, and was shielded from view by the Prince of Wales and Prince Alfred, her second son, who cried throughout the service.

The weather at Osborne was dreary, 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”, and remarked to Alfred, Lord Tennyson that it was “the saddest day I can remember”.

The Princess’s life in Darmstadt was unhappy as a result of impoverishment, family tragedy and worsening relations with her husband and mother.