Battenberg, Buckingham Palace, Convent of Saint Mary Magdalene, Duke of Edinburgh, Hesse and By Rhine, Holocaust, King Edward VII, King Gustaf VI Adolph of Sweden, Kings and Queens of England, Prince Andrew of Greece., Prince Philip, Princess Alice of Battenberg, Queen Victoria, Righteous among the Nations
She was christened HSH Princess Victoria Alice Elizabeth Julia Marie of Battenberg and was the eldest daughter and child of Prince Louis of Battenberg and Princess Victoria of Hesse and By Rhine. Prince Louis of Battenberg was a morganatic scion of the house of Hesse and was the son of f Prince Alexander of Hesse and by Rhine and Countess Julia von Hauke. Louis was first cousin to his wife’s father, Grand Duke Ludwig IV of Hesse and By Rhine. Grand Duke Ludwig had married Princess Alice of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, second daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Because of his close relationship with the British royal family, Alice’s father, Prince Louis, lived in the UK and had an illustrious career in the British Navy rising to the post of First Sea Lord in 1912.
Princess Alice was born on February 25, 1885 in the Tapestry Room at Windsor Castle in the presence of her great-grandmother Queen Victoria. While very young her mother noticed that Alice was slow in learning to talk. Soon it was diagnosed that she suffered from a congenital form of deafness. Despite this problem Alice was able to lip read and speak English, German, French and later Greek. Because of her father’s military career Alice lived in London, Darmstadt, Jugenheim, and Malta. She was later joined by three siblings, George, Louise (who became Queen Consort of Sweden) and Louis, who became Earl Mountbatten of Burma and the last Viceroy of India.
At the coronation for her great-uncle, King Edward VII, in 1902 she met and fell in love with Queen Alexandra’s nephew, Prince Andrea (Andrew) of Greece and Denmark. The two were married the next year, October 6, 1903 with a civil ceremony in Darmstadt, followed by a Lutheran and then Greek Orthodox services. Alice and Andrea had four children between 1905 and 1914. They were all girls, Margarita, Theodora, Cecile, Sophie who all married into various German royal houses. After a gap of six years Alice and Andrea had their last child a son, Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, who made the most prized marriage of them all when he married the future Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom on November 20, 1947.
During the early part of her marriage Alice visited her aunt, Grand Duchess Elizabeth, in Russia and became interested in the religious order she had founded along with the charity work she was engaged in. These were to become a significant focus for her entire life. Also at this juncture Greek politics, which seems to often be unstable, were experiencing political tumult once again and Prince Andrea had to renounce his military position because the political squabbles. However, he was reinstated once the Balkan Crisis of 1912 required his presence. During the Balkan Wars Alice’s nursing work lead to her being given the Royal Red Cross Award in 1913. When World War I broke out in 1914 her brother-in-law King Constantine I of Greece kept the country neutral despite the prime Minister’s support of the allies.
World War I caused great pains and tragedy for Alice and her relatives. All her German relations lost their thrones and postilions at the end of the war. He maternal aunts, Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia and the Empress Alexandra of Russia and her family, were brutally murdered in 1917. Her father and two brothers, living in the UK were forced to give up their German princely titles in a wave of anti- German sentiment. In replace of their titles they Anglicized their territorial designation of Battenberg into the surname of Mountbatten and her father was created Marquess of Mildford Haven. King Constantine I was exiled during the war and briefly reinstated. Shortly after the birth of her son, Prince Philip, in 1921 the Greek Royal Family was once again exiled. The situation became so precarious that Prince Andrea was arrested and with his life endangered King George V sent a British cruiser, the HMS Calypso, to rescue the royal family. The king feared a repeat of what happened to the Russian Royal Family.
By the 1930s Princess Alice became very religious and reported having visions. She was shortly diagnosed with schizophrenia and was institutionalized for brief period and then took two years to recover her stability. During the time she cut off ties to her family and she became estranged from her husband. In 1936 her daughter Cecile and her husband (her cousin Georg Donatus of Hesse and By Rhine) and two of their sons were killed in a plane crash. At the funeral she saw her husband for the first time in six years. When World War II broke out Princess Alice found herself with divided loyalties. Her son prince Philip was a member of the British Navy while her sons-in-law were fighting for Germany. She remained in Greece during the war continuing her charity work such as setting up soup kitchens for the poor. She would visit her sister Louise, who was married to King Gustaf VI Adolph of Sweden, and smuggle in medical supplies. She also helped hide escaped Jews during this period when Athens was occupied by Italy.
Sadly as she was moving toward a reconciliation with her husband Prince Andrea died of a heart attack in 1944 at the age of 62. In 1947 Alice returned to Great Britain for the marriage of her son to Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King George VI. Alice returned to Greece, which had restored the monarchy after the war, and established an order of nuns. She remained in Greece until politics once again the monarchy was the victim of a military coup in 1967 forcing her to leave. Her son and the Queen Elizabeth II offered her an apartment in Buckingham Palace and lived there until her death on December 5, 1969 at the age of 84. She was initially interred in St George’s Chapel but was transferred to Convent of Saint Mary Magdalene in Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. In 1994 Alice was named by Israel “Righteous among the Nations” for aiding Jews during the war. In 2010 she was named a Hero of the Holocaust by the British Government. A deeply religious woman dedicated to service she left no material possessions. For a large part of her life she wore a nun’s habit even though she was never ordained as a nun. She also was a chain smoker for the majority of her adult life.
HRH Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark