Princess Alice of the United Kingdom
Birthday: April 25, 1843
Women Historical Personalities
Died At Age: 35
Sun Sign: Taurus
Also Known As: Alice Maud Mary, Princess Louis of Hesse, and Grand Duchess of Hesse and by Rhine
Born in: Buckingham Palace, London, United Kingdom
Famous as: Princess of the United Kingdom
Spouse/Ex-: Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse (m. 1862–1878)
father: Albert, Prince Consort
mother: Queen Victoria
siblings: Alfred, Duchess of Argyll, Duke of Albany, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Edward VII, Prince Arthur, Prince Leopold, Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom, Princess Helena of the United Kingdom, Princess Louise, Princess Royal, Victoria
children: Alexandra Feodorovna, Ernest Louis; Grand Duke of Hesse, Prince Friedrich of Hesse and by Rhine, princess alice of the united kingdom putri elisabeth dari hesse dan oleh rhine, Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine, Princess Irene of Hesse and by Rhine, Princess Marie of Hesse and by Rhine, Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine
Died on: December 14, 1878
City: London, England
Alice Maud Mary of the Royal House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was a Princess of the United Kingdom, and later through marriage, the Princess and the Grand Duchess of Hesse and By Rhine. The second daughter and third child of Queen Victoria and Albert, Prince Consort, Alice is remembered as a prolific advocate of women’s causes and for her tireless efforts to provide healthcare during Austro-Prussian War. She grew up travelling between several British royal residences along with her parents and siblings. She was taught English, French and German, and practical skills like needlework, cooking, gardening, and carpentry. When her father fell ill with typhoid fever in 1861, Alice took care of him until his death. Following this, with her mother having entered a period of intense mourning, Alice acted as the Queen’s unofficial secretary. At the age of 19, she married Prince Louis of Hesse, a minor German royal and the nephew of the Grand Duke of Hesse. Her married life in Darmstadt was quite disconsolate, filled with hardships, family tragedies, and the gradual degradation of relations with her mother and husband. Upon the crowning of her husband in 1877, Alice became the Grand Duchess. In 1878, an outbreak of diphtheria hit the Hessian court and the ducal family was affected. Alice nursed her children before falling victim to the disease herself.
Childhood & Early Life
Born on April 25, 1843, in Buckingham Palace in London, Princess Alice was christened Alice Maud Mary in the royal chapel by William Howley, the Archbishop of Canterbury on June 2. The reaction of the British people was mixed at best to the revelation of her gender. Even the Privy Council, in their message to Prince Albert following her birth, offered their “congratulations and condolences”.
Her godparents were Ernest Augustus, King of Hanover (as he could not attend, Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge stood proxy for him), Princess Feodora of Leiningen (Princess Victoria, Dowager Duchess of Kent stood proxy), Ernest II, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (Frederick William, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz stood proxy), and Princess Sophia Matilda of Gloucester, the Anglo-Saxon variation of whose name, Matilda, was used as one of Alice’s middle names, Maud.
She was the second daughter of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, after Princess Victoria, the future Empress of Prussia and the third child after Victoria and Edward, the Prince of Wales. Her younger siblings were Alfred, the future Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Princesses Helena and Louise, Princes Arthur and Leopold.
As the Buckingham Palace did not have enough private apartments the growing royal family needed, Alice’s parents bought Osborne House in East Cowes in Isle of Wight as a family holiday residence. Her parents were firm believers in monarchy based on family values and raised Alice and her siblings in accordance with it. They wore middle-class clothes regularly and spent nights in sparsely furnished rooms with little to no heat. Prince Albert, together with his close friend Christian Friedrich, Baron Stockmar, planned her education.
Her connection with the British people was apparent from an early age. She would often visit the tenants living and working within the premise of the royal estate of Balmoral Castle or run away from her governess at Windsor Castle and sit in a public pew to watch ordinary people going about their daily lives. During the Crimean War, an eleven-year-old Alice accompanied her mother and eldest sister to the London hospitals to visit wounded soldiers.
Her inherent compassion and fortitude made her the caregiver in the royal family. When her father was diagnosed with typhoid fever in December 1861, she took up his nursing responsibilities and stayed at his bedside until his death on December 14, 1861. Afterwards, with Queen Victoria still mourning her husband’s death, Alice served as her mother’s unofficial secretary.
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Queen Victoria wanted her children to marry for love, but she maintained that her prospective son-in-laws and daughter-in-laws would have to be from other European royal families. While acknowledging Alice and her siblings’ emotions, her stand made sure that the Crown would benefit from such unions. The Queen started to devise a marriage for Alice in 1860. Both William, Prince of Orange, and Prince Albert of Prussia were considered and rejected.
It was Princess Victoria who suggested Prince Louis of Hesse, who she had met during her visit to the Hessian court. He was the nephew of Louis III, Grand Duke of Hesse. In 1860, Prince Louis and his brother Prince Henry visited the Windsor Castle so that they could supposedly enjoy the Ascot Races along with the British royal family, but in reality, the Queen wanted to evaluate them both as a potential husband for Alice.
Princess Alice’s own meeting with Louis had gone really well. When the Hessian princes left London, he asked for her photograph and she acknowledged that she was attracted to him. With the Queen’s approval, their engagement took place on April 30, 1861. Queen Victoria convinced Prime Minister Henry John Temple to get Alice a dowry of £30,000.
Prince Albert was still alive during the engagement and the royal family was looking forward to celebrating the union in great opulence. But his death in December 1861 cast a shadow of grief over the wedding, making it a subdued affair. Princess Alice of the United Kingdom married Prince Louis of Hesse on July 1, 1862 in a private ceremony in the dining room of Osborne House. Her paternal uncle, the Hereditary Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, gave her away. The couple spent their honeymoon at St Claire in Ryde.
Life in Hesse
The first problem Alice and Louis faced as husband and wife concerned their place of residence. As she was a daughter of the Queen of the United Kingdom, it was expected that a new house would be built for her, but the people of Darmstadt, the Grand Ducal seat, were not inclined to fund such a project and Louis III seemed to agree with his subjects. Eventually, a house in the city’s ‘Old Quarter’ was given to the newlywed couple. It stood overlooking a bustling street.
Alice flourished in the early years of her marriage. She was a woman in love and had a purpose to win over the citizens of Darmstadt, who while welcomed her in the city with celebration and enthusiasm after her marriage, had previously borne a certain amount of resentment towards her for the residence controversy. Germain artist and courtier Paul Weber gave her art lessons.
She gave birth to her first child, Victoria Alberta Elisabeth Mathilde Marie, on April 5, 1863, during her visit to England to attend the wedding of her brother, the Prince of Wales with Princess Alexandra of Denmark. The Queen was present during the delivery. The Hessian court chaplain was summoned over to England so he could christen the newest addition to the ducal family.
Her second daughter, Elisabeth, was born on November 1, 1864 at Alice and Louis’ new residence in Kranichstein. A disagreement unfolded between Alice and her mother over her decision to breastfeed her children, which the Queen did not like. She was further distressed upon realising that, Alice, with her new responsibilities of motherhood and at the Hessian court, would visit her less often. Their relationship began to deteriorate at this point and would never fully recover.
Hesse supported Austria during the Austro-Prussian War in 1866, putting Alice and her elder sister Victoria on the opposite sides. Louis left Alice heavily pregnant with their third child to marshal the Hessian cavalry against the Prussians. After sending their children to England for safety, Alice carried out the duties her sex and rank required, making bandages for the army and readying the hospitals. On July 11, she delivered her third child, Princess Irene.
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With the Austro-Hessian alliance on the verge of defeat, she pleaded to Louis III to accept Prussia’s terms of surrender, as both she and Princess Victoria believed that it would ultimately lead to a unification of all German states.
She was a friend and admirer of Florence Nightingale who had given her advice on cleanliness and ventilations in hospitals. When the Prussian troops entered Hesse, Alice worked resolutely to help the sick and wounded. Ms Nightingale also raised and sent money to her from England.
In 1869, Alice established Alice-Hospital in Darmstadt to provide care for the sick and wounded. She also founded the Alice Society for Women's Training and Industry to advance women education and the Princess Alice Women’s Guild for training nurses.
Alice ran into Louis in the street unexpectedly amidst the chaos following Hesse’s surrender. A small territory that Hesse had gained in 1866 was annexed to Prussia and the Northern half of the remaining land became a part of the North German Confederation.
She was dismayed seeing Prussia’s treatment of her adopted home, the shameful behaviour of its troops, and the harsh stipulations of Hesse’s surrender. She penned a letter to her mother narrating what she saw, who in turn wrote to Princess Victoria. She replied to the Queen that she could not do anything to lessen the "painful and distressing position darling Alice was in", calling the situation "one of the unavoidable results of this dreadful war".
Alice and Louis had four more children together, their first son, Ernest Louis Charles Albert William (born on November 25, 1868), Friedrich William Augustus Victor Leopold Louis (October 7, 1870), Alix Victoria Helena Louise Beatrice (June 6, 1872), and Marie Victoria Feodore Leopoldine (May 24, 1874).
Later Life & Death
Alice’s friendship with the liberal Protestant theologian David Strauss ushered in her own theological awakening. She had long held the belief that the Victorian understanding of God completely differed from that of the early Christians. In 1870, Strauss dedicated his new book, ‘Lectures on Voltaire’ to Alice upon her request.
Later research revealed that Alice, like many European royalties, was a carrier of haemophilia. She passed it on to some of her children, among whom Friedrich suffered from the genetic disorder. On May 29, 1873, he fell from the window of his mother’s bedroom to the balustrade 20 feet below. Although he survived the fall, and would have lived if it had not been for haemophilia, he passed away hours later of a brain haemorrhage.
Trying to deal with the sudden loss and the subsequent grief, Alice clung to Ernest and her infant daughter Marie. She devoted herself to her public duties, such as fundraising, medical, and social work. However she and Louis began to have serious marital issues. Her letters often criticised him for being “childish” and not having any “desire, intention or insight” to be more to her.
Louis’ father, Prince Charles died on March 20, 1877, which made him the heir to his uncle’s duchy. On June 13, his uncle Louis III passed away at the age of 71. Thus Louis was crowned as Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine. Alice found her responsibility being the Grand Duchess and Landesmutter (mother of her people) increasingly difficult, writing to her mother that she “dreaded everything”. A respite came during the Christmas of 1877 when all the family came together after a long time.
Almost a year later, the Hessian court members and the ducal family began to fall ill with diphtheria one by one. Alice’s eldest daughter, Victoria, was first to get infected, followed by Alix, Marie, Irene, and Ernest. Louis also caught it soon after.
On November 16, 1878 Marie succumbed to her illness. When Ernest heard the news, he was inconsolable. Alice broke her own rules and kissed him, thus getting infected herself. She died on December 14, 1878 on the anniversary of her father Albert’s death. She was the first child of Queen Elizabeth to die, predeceasing her mother by more than 20 years.