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Princess Alice, Queen Victoria's Most Unfortunate Child


HRH Princess Alice of the United Kingdom was Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's second daughter and third child.

She was the child of Queen Victoria whom Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, directly descended. Her eldest daughter, Princess Victoria, was the Duke of Edinburgh's maternal grandmother whom he grew up with.

However, the life story of Princess Alice has been marred by tragedy. After her death at the age of 35, her children were struck by a succession of tragedy. Could she be the most unfortunate child of Queen Victoria?

Princess Alice was born on April 25, 1843. When her father, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, fell ill, she nursed him until his death in December 1861.

By then, her older sister Princess Vicky, was already married to the future Emperor Frederick III of Germany, leaving Princess Alice to attend personally to their grieving mother who could not get over the death of their father.

Princess Alice acted as Queen Victoria's secretary until she married in 1862.

On July 1, 1862, she married Prince Louise of Hesse, nephew of Grand Duke Louis III of Hesse and by Rhine. She relocated to Darmstadt, Germany and started a family. They had seven children:

1. Princess Victoria who later married Prince Louis of Battenberg
2. Princess Elisabeth - married Grand Duke Sergei of Russia
3. Princess Irene - married their first cousin, Prince Henry of Prussia (son of Princess Vicky)
4. Prince Ernest Louis, his father's successor, who married twice
5. Prince Friedrich - died at the age of 2 due to a fall accident.
6. Princess Alix who would become Empress Alexandra of Russia
7. Princess Marie - died from diphtheria at the age of four.

The Grand Ducal family

In 1873, her favorite son, Prince Friedrich fell from the window. He was revived and conscious but later died due internal bleeding. He was hemophiliac, a blood disease in Queen Victoria's offspring passed to sons by mothers.

It was the first tragedy that befell on Princess Alice's family. She deeply mourned the passing of her favorite son. It made worsened by the marital problems she had with her husband in later years.

In 1877, her husband succeeded his childless uncle and became Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine.

A little over a year, the Grand Ducal house of Hesse was struck by a contagious illness called diphtheria. All of Princess Alice's children, except Princess Elisabeth, were infected. The first to die was the youngest, Princess Marie, in November 1878.

Weeks later, she was infected by her only surviving son, Prince Ernest Louis. By December 1878, Princess Alice became gravely ill. She died on December 14, 1878 on the 17th death anniversary of her father, Prince Albert. 

Princess Alice's last words before she died were "dear papa". She was the first to die among the nine children of Queen Victoria. 

Shocked by grief and with a death that coincided the death anniversary of Prince Albert, whom she had mourned all throughout her life, the Queen wrote a letter to her eldest child, Princess Vicky:

"My precious child who stood by me and upheld me 17 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".

Princess Alice had not witnessed any of her children grew up into adulthood nor their marriages. After her death, her daughters, Victoria, Elisabeth, Irene and Alix, were sent to Windsor Castle to live with their grandmother, the Queen, while they were young.

Queen Victoria doted her grandchildren with Princess Alice, especially Alix, the future Empress Alexandra of Russia, who many believed was her favorite grandchild.

In later years, Princess Alice's children and grandchildren would be struck by a succession of tragedy.

Princess Victoria

Her eldest daughter, Princess Victoria, married in 1884 to Prince Louis of Battenberg, her Hessian cousin, and permanently lived in England as Louis served in the British Royal Navy.

They lived in Kensington Palace, a place where Prince Philip grew up when he was sent there in 1931 after his parents' marriage fell apart.
Prince Louis of Battenberg and Princess Victoria of Hesse

In 1917, Prince Louis, who by then became the First Sea Lord of England, was advised by his cousin, King George V, to give up his princely title and anglicized his name, to please the public, in part because of bitter anti-German sentiments in England.

Prince Louis relented and changed the Battenberg to Mountbatten. He was also made a British nobleman and was given the title, Marquess of Milford-Haven. But Prince Louis have not gotten over the humiliation of relinquishing his princely status, he resigned from the Navy.

Prince Philip the grandson 
of Princess Victoria 

By then all his children married into royalty and aristocracy, except Lady Louise who later married the widowed Crown Prince of Sweden in 1923.

His eldest child, Princess Alice married Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, his eldest son, George, married a granddaughter of a Russian emperor, and his youngest son, his namesake, Lord Louis, married a wealthy scion of an aristocrat, The Honourable Edwina Kassel.

Princess Elisabeth

Princess Alice's second daughter, Princess Elisabeth known to the family as Ella, was often regarded by most historians as one of the most beautiful women in Europe during her time.

She attracted many suitors including her first cousin, the future German Kaiser, William II, and wanted to marry her.

Princess Elisabeth

But Princess Ella chose the son of a Russian emperor, Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich.

In 1884, barely two months after the wedding of her older sister, Princess Victoria, they wed.

She relocated to Russia and became known as Grand Duchess Elisabeth Feodorovna. Their marriage however did not bear any children.

In 1905, Grand Duke Sergei, was assassinated. Ella did not remarry and devoted herself to charity. She was popular in Russia due to her beauty and charitable works. 

In 1909, she sold all her royal possessions and founded the Convent of Sts Martha and Mary and became a nun.

She had worn a religious habit since then, something that was practiced also by her niece, Princess Alice of Battenberg, the mother of Prince Philip.

In July 1918, around the time her sister, brother-in-law, nephew and nieces were massacred by the Bolshevics in the mountain of Ekaterinburg, Grand Duchess Elisabeth was arrested on the order of Vladimir Lenin. She was joined by other Russian imperial relatives.

Two months later, they were brought to a forest, thrown to a mine shaft and killed by a hand grenade. The remains of Grand Duchess Elisabeth were brought to the Far East then to Jerusalem where she was buried in the Church of Mary Magdalene.

She was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1981 and posthumously rehabilitated by the state in 2009 together with other imperial Romanovs who were illegally arrested and killed during the Russian revolution.

Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse

He was the only surviving son of Princess Alice and the sole heir to the Grand Ducal house of Hesse.

Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse

Ernest succeeded his father as Grand Duke in 1892. He married his first cousin, Princess Melita of Edinburgh, daughter of his uncle, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. 

They had one child, Princess Elisabeth, born in 1895. But the couple's relationship was not harmonious and they ultimately drifted apart. However, they could not file a divorce because their grandmother, Queen Victoria, strictly opposed it. 

It was only realized in 1901, months after the death of the Queen. Princess Elisabeth remained in custody of Ernest in Darmstadt.

Princess Melita remarried to her cousin, Grand Duke Kyril while Ernest remarried four years later, in 1905, to Princess Eleanore of Solms-Hohensolms-Lich.

In 1903, a tragedy struck Grand Duke Ernest. His only daughter, Princess Elisabeth, died suddenly from a short illness and he deeply mourned her passing. He had not gotten over the death completely, even thirty years later.

His second marriage to Princess Eleanore bore two sons, Prince Georg Donatus and Prince Louis. The heir, Prince Georg Donatus married Princess Cecil of Greece and Denmark, daughter of his first cousin, Princess Alice of Battenberg. They had three children.

Prince Georg Donatus 
and Princess Cecil 

The end of World War I saw the abolition of most monarchies in Europe including Germany. By the time Ernest Louis died in 1937, the Grand Duke title was merely titular and Prince Georg Donatus was only known as the Hereditary Grand Duke of Hesse.

Weeks after the death of his father, Prince Georg Donatus, his heavily pregnant wife, Cecil, their two sons, and his mother, boarded a plane for England to attend the wedding of his younger brother, Prince Louis, to the Honourable Margaret Geddes.

They did not make it however, upon entering the airspace of Belgium, the plane's tail caught the chimney of a factory in Ostend, and crashed to the ground. All people on board were killed.

Prince Georg Donatus's only daughter, Princess Joanna, who was left behind in Hesse, was adopted by Prince Louis, she died a year later due to an illness.

Princess Alix

In November 1894, Princess Alix married Czar Nicholas II of Russia, the last of the Romanovs to reign in the Russian empire. Upon conversion to the Russian orthodox church, she became Alexandra Feodorovna.

They had five children, one of whom the literary world was fascinated over half of the century, the widely fabled Grand Duchess Anastasia. 

Empress Alexandra

Just like most of her grandmother's offspring, Empress Alexandra was also a carrier of haemophilia disease, which had claimed many lives of Queen Victoria's kin, including her son, Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany.

It can be passed by a woman to her sons so it came as no surprise when  Empress Alexandra's only son, the heir, Alexei, was diagnosed with the disease.

She was extra careful with the Tsesarevitch (title of the heir-apparent to the Russian throne). She made sure he was out of harm or any fall, bruises or cut.

She had sought doctors' help but to no avail until she turned to mystic and faith healers to cure the disease. It was during this time that she was introduced to Grigori Rasputin, a Siberian priest and mystic. 

Astoundingly, Rasputin seemed to find cure on Alexei's disease, much to the relief of Alexandra and Nicholas. Until the empress increasingly became dependent to Rasputin, entrusting her son's survival.  

Her affinity to this monk had caused so much disappointment among the nobles. The emperor appeared to have been submissive to his wife. It gave further license to Rasputin to wield power in the imperial court.

Other imperial Grand Dukes were so incensed they conspired to assassinate Rasputin in December 1916.

Before his death, Rasputin had an ominous warning. If he would be killed by conspirators, Russian empire would be pushed to destruction and the imperial family would be heavily punished.

A warning that could never be substantiated according to historians. But three months later, in March 1917, Nicholas II was forced to abdicate. They were held under house arrest by the Provisional Government. 

A negotiation with foreign allies  to take the Tsar family out of Russia was said to have been initiated by the Provisional Government. Nicholas himself sought an asylum in England.

But King George V of the United Kingdom, despite being first cousin to both Alexandra and Nicholas, refused, citing unpopularity of his cousins in Russia.

The British king wanted to protect his kingdom so he kept his distance from his German and Russian cousins. He immediately changed his royal house name from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to Windsor to make it appear thoroughly English without any German traces.

France was contacted by the Provisional Government but the country hesitated to welcome them, citing Alexandra's sympathy to Germany.

In the end, the imperial family remained in Russia and was sent to Siberia instead.

By November 1917, the situation of the Romanovs had worsened. The Provisional Government was defeated by the Bolshevics Revolution, a group that wanted to get rid of the imperial family.

The imperial couple, their five children, servants and few staff, were moved to the mountain of Ekaterinburg later and were never be freed again.

In July 1918, the revolutionists decided to kill them by gunshot. Their remains were burned and scattered in the mountain.

In 1981, Nicholas, Alexandra and their children were canonized and proclaimed the Passion Bearer.

It's quite tragic to think the sad fate suffered by Princess Alice's children and grandchildren.

By the end of World War II, only two out of her seven children had direct living descendants: Victoria and Irene.

Princess Alice had no surviving offspring in the male line. All of the three children of Grand Duke Ernest died without  living descendants.

By 1978, upon the death of Prince Louis, Ernest's younger son, the male line of the Grand Ducal house of Hesse became extinct.

In 1960, Prince Louis had adopted a relative, Prince Moritz, from the cadet branch of Hesse-Cassel house to bequeath the Hesse property and title.

He was the son of Prince Philip of Hesse, to whom the Duke of Edinburgh was named.

Prince Philip of Hesse was the son of Princess Margareta of Prussia, grand daughter of Queen Victoria. He was the older brother of Prince Christoph, first husband of Princess Sophie, sister of Prince Philip. Prince Christoph died in action during World War II.

Prince Moritz inherited the Grand Ducal house of Hesse upon the death of Prince Louis.

When he died in 2013, the titular headship of Hesse was passed to his eldest son, Prince Donatus.

Today, the official seat of the Grand Ducal house of Hesse is the Schloss Wolfgarten, a former hunting lodge of the Hessian ruler and the favorite home of Grand Duke Ernest.

It was not sequestered by the government after the monarchy was abolished in 1918.

It's a palatial property in Hessen near Frankfurt, Germany and open to public on certain days.

Schloss Wolfgarten








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