December 14 1878, Diptheria, Grand Duchess of Hesse and By Rhine, Grand Duke Ludwig IV of Hesse and By Rhine, Marie of Hesse and By Rhine, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Princess Alice of the United Kingdom, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain
Princess Alice of the United Kingdom (Alice Maud Mary; April 25, 1843 – December 14, 1878), Grand Duchess of Hesse and by Rhine, was the third child and second daughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-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.
On July 1, 1862, while the court was still at the height of mourning, Alice married the minor German Prince Ludwig of Hesse and By Rhine, heir to the Grand Duchy of Hesse and By Rhine. Prince Ludwig was the first son and child of Prince Charles of Hesse and by Rhine (1809 – 1877) and Princess Elisabeth of Prussia (1815 – 1885), the second daughter of Prince Wilhelm of Prussia and Landgravine Marie Anna of Hesse-Homburg and a granddaughter of Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh is her great-great-grandson.
As his father’s elder brother Ludwig III (1806-1877), the reigning Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine, had been married to his first wife since 1833 without legitimate children and from 1868 was married morganatically, Prince Ludwig was from birth second-in-line to the grand ducal throne, after his father.
Grand Duke Ludwig IV of Hesse and By Rhine
The wedding ceremony—conducted privately and with unrelieved gloom at Osborne House—was described by the Queen as “more of a funeral than a wedding”. The Princess’s life in Darmstadt was unhappy as a result of impoverishment, family tragedy and worsening relations with her husband and mother.
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 5th. Diphtheria was diagnosed the following morning, and soon the disease spread to Alice’s children Alix, Marie, Irene, and 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.
The youngest, 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-Ludwig 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 and gave him a kiss. This was the kiss of death.
At first, however, Alice did not fall ill. She met her sister Victoria (Crown Princess of Germany and Prussia) 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, on December 7, Alice recognized the symptoms of diphtheria in herself and by Saturday, December 14th the 17th 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.
Alice was buried on 18 December 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.
She was 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.