Alice of the United Kingdom, Ludwig of Hesse and by Rhine, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia, Princess Victoria of the United Kingdom., Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, Willem of the Netherlands
Princess Alice of the United Kingdom (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.
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 Prince of Orange (the eldest son of King Williem III of the Netherlands and his first wife, Princess Sophie of Württemberg); and Prince Albrecht of Prussia, cousin to Victoria’s husband Friedrich Wilhelm.
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. The prince too showed little interest in Alice, despite strong pressure from his pro-British mother, Queen Sophie of the Netherlands. Prince Albert, too, was spurned, with Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia 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 Charles of Hesse and by Rhine. the first son and child of Prince Charles of Hesse and by Rhine (1809 – 1877) and Princess Elisabeth of Prussia (1815 – 1885), granddaughter of King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia.
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.
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.
Alice was engaged to Prince Ludwig of Hesse and by Rhine on 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 (£2.98 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.
Between the engagement and the wedding, Alice’s father Prince Albert, the Prince Consort, 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 Ludwig’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. 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 ceremony—described by Gerard Noel as “the saddest royal wedding in modern times”—was over by 4 pm, and the couple set off for their honeymoon at St Claire in Ryde, a house lent to them by the Vernon Harcourt family.
Alice’s entourage consisted of Lady Churchill, General Seymour and Baron Westerweller (a Hessian courtier). Alice was careful not to displease the Queen after her marriage. When the Queen visited the couple at St Claire, Alice tried not to appear “too happy”. Despite this, Alice’s displays of romantic bliss made the Queen jealous of her daughter’s happiness.