Tragic Facts About Princess Alice Of Battenberg, The Hidden Royal

July 9, 2024 | Melissa Gervais

Tragic Facts About Princess Alice Of Battenberg, The Hidden Royal

Princess Alice Of Battenberg, The Hidden Royal

The British Royal Family orbits around Princess Alice of Battenberg. Queen Victoria was her great-grandmother and Queen Elizabeth II is her daughter-in-law. But for a woman with such blue blood, Princess Alice's life was no fairy tale. From her heroism during WWII to her abandonment in a mental institution, this forgotten royal is worth a closer look.

Princess Alice Of Battenberg Split

1. Queen Victoria Saw Her Birth

Princess Alice was born in Windsor Castle's Tapestry Room—a far cry from the sanatorium she'd eventually find herself in. Her great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, was present for her birth. Princess Alice was low on the totem pole, but her connection to Victoria ensured she'd end up embroiled in Europe's messy game of thrones before long.

And, unfortunately for Alice, the cards were stacked against her.

princess alice of battenberg

2. She Was Different

Being a royal comes with a lot of perks, but it also meant Alice's parents dragged her all across Europe when she was a girl, rarely staying in the same place for long. She generally split her time between Darmstadt, London, Jugenheim, and Malta, with countless diplomatic trips sprinkled throughout. Such a hectic childhood would be hard on anyone, and Princess Alice of Battenberg wasn't just anyone.

Alice's mother soon realized something was...different about her.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikimedia Commons

3. She Struggled To Speak

It all started when little Alice reached the age when her parents expected her to start talking. The weeks and months passed, and yet Alice hadn't yet said a word. They heaved a sigh of relief when she spoke her first words, but soon a new fear surfaced. Alice was talking, but she seriously struggled with pronunciation, far more than physicians considered normal.

Alice's parents were desperate for an answer—but they wouldn't like the one they'd get.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikimedia Commons

4. She Got A Tough Diagnosis

In the end, it was Alice's paternal grandmother, Princess Julia of Battenberg, who solved the mystery: Princess Alice was deaf. It was a tough pill to swallow, but it was also the first step in the right direction. Alice's mother took a personal interest in her early education, and she was in for a pleasant surprise. Alice was brilliant, and soon she could speak and lip-read in both English and German.

Princess Alice's deafness never held her back. Unfortunately, her family never quite got over the idea that something was "wrong" with her.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikimedia Commons

5. She Was A Cute Bridesmaid

The British Royal Family was in turmoil during Alice's childhood. Case in point: In the span of a few months, her uncle, Prince Albert Victor, passed on, and his ex-fiancee, Princess Mary of Teck, married Albert's brother, Prince George. But while the wedding was a little...uncomfortable, obviously, at least little Alice looked adorable as Mary's eight-year-old bridesmaid.

Unfortunately, not all of Princess Alice's royal duties were quite so fun...

Queen Mary of Teck FactsWikimedia Commons

6. She Saw History As It Happened

Queen Victoria's 63-year reign ended in 1901, and a 16-year Princess Alice attended the funeral. Her great-uncle, Prince Albert, was crowned King Edward VII soon after. Naturally, Alice attended the coronation, likely a long and boring day for her—but at least she had something to keep her distracted. That was the day she met the man who would change her life forever.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikipedia

7. She Met A Boy

By the turn of the 20th century, every royal family in Europe was one big, tangled mess. It seemed as though every prince and princess in the continent was related to each other. Queen Victoria's nine children and countless grandchildren saw to that. Because of that, royals from all over traveled to London to see their brother/cousin/uncle King Edward VII's coronation.

One of these royals was Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark. If it wasn't love at first sight, it was close.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikipedia

8. Her Life Seemed Perfect

Alice and Andrew didn't wait long. The sparks flew in their first meeting and they kept in close contact. Within a year, they were ready to jump in the deep end. They married in 1902 and got to their royal business. They went on to have four daughters, then a boy—the baby of the family. That boy would grow up to be Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and consort to Queen Elizabeth II.

But Alice's time with her boy Philip would be painfully short.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikimedia Commons

9. She Wanted To Be A Nun

Motherhood wasn't Alice's only passion. On a trip to Russia, she met her cousin Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna. The Bolsheviks would eventually murder Elizabeth along with the rest of the Romanovs, but during Alice's visit, everything seemed A-OK in Russia. Elizabeth inspired Alice to live a more religious life. She gave away most of her possessions and started preparing for an ascetic, spiritual existence.

Honestly, that would have been preferable to what really awaited Princess Alice.

Elizabeth Feodorovna factsWikipedia

10. She Lived In A Warzone

Things had started going wrong before WWI. The Greek Liberation movement gained traction, and that was not good news for a royal like Alice. Then WWI broke out, and things went from bad to worse. Though the government supported the Allies, Alice's brother-in-law, King Constantine I, refused to take a side. That's how Alice found herself huddling in the palace cellars with her children as the French bombarded Athens.

As they sat there, the building shaking around them, Alice must have simply prayed for her nightmare to be over. Little did she know, it was only beginning.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikimedia Commons

11. She Had To Flee

By June of 1917, the Greeks had finally had enough of their king and all his relatives—and that included Alice herself. The democratic government forced King Constantine I to abdicate, then exiled the entire royal family to Switzerland. At least, for Alice, this was some respite from the conflict. It wouldn't last long, though.


12. She Was In Danger

Supporters restored Constantine to the throne in 1920, allowing Alice and her family to return home—but that didn't last long. The Greeks lost the Greco-Turkish War, and in the aftermath, a military coup seized power and exiled the royals yet again. It was a disaster for the monarchy—and Alice was in even more danger than most.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikimedia Commons

13. She Needed To Escape

The coup meant that there was a target on Prince Andrew's back. Any military officials with ties to the monarchy were apprehended—and who had closer ties than the king's brother? Andrew sat in captivity as several other officers who'd been detained along with him were tried...and then executed. Alice had to wait with bated breath to hear her husband's fate, and her own along with it.

Then, at the final hour, their savior arrived.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikimedia Commons

14. She Got Out Of Greece

Greece was a viper's den, but Alice still had people in her corner back in England. She was, after all, Queen Victoria's great-granddaughter. The Brits weren't just going to forget about her! They knew that Prince Andrew's family was in grave danger, so they sent a British cruiser, the HMS Calypso, to take them out of Greece.

They ended up settling in Paris, enjoying a quiet life alongside other Greek refugees. It felt like Alice could finally have some peace—but it couldn't last for long.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikimedia Commons

15. She Started To Change

Though WWI had put Alice's religious ambitions on hold, now that she had free time on her hands, she dove right back into her work. She converted to the Greek Orthodox Church and began plans for a religious order of nurses—the same plan her martyred cousin Elizabeth Feodorovna had outlined all those years ago to her.

However, people couldn't help but notice something was...different about Princess Alice.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsGetty Images

16. She Heard Voices

Around this point in her life, Princess Alice started to claim that she was receiving divine messages from spiritual forces. She told people that she was in direct contact with not only Jesus Christ, but also the buddha. Those people close to her grew concerned by her disturbing behavior—and it was going to get worse before it got better.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikipedia

17. She Was Touched By God

Through her divine messages, Princess Alice became convinced that she had been given healing powers by God. Her family didn't agree. Alice's sudden change in behavior terrified them, and they sent her to several specialists to try and find out what was really happening. They eventually got their answer. Sadly, it sealed Alice's fate.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikimedia Commons

18. They Said She Was Schizophrenic

Alice's family sent her to the finest psychiatrists in Europe, and they all offered the same diagnosis: Princess Alice was a paranoid schizophrenic. You would hope that getting the answer might be the beginning of Alice's journey to recovery—but mental health was more of an "art" than a science back in those days. Alice's days of royal privilege were officially over.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsPicryl

19. She Ended Up In An Asylum

Following her diagnosis, the royal family could only think of one thing to do with Princess Alice...and it wasn't good. Princess Alice was forcibly removed from her children and tossed in Ludwig Binswanger's sanatorium in Switzerland. This was no Bedlam—some of the world's richest mental patients resided at the sanatorium—but to Alice, it was nothing more than a prison.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikimedia Commons

20. Freud Studied Her

Princess Alice was royalty, and she was staying in a fairy swanky sanatorium, which meant the greatest minds of the day studied her and tried to understand her condition further. Her doctors sought out Sigmund Freud, the poster boy of psychoanalysis, to help determine what treatment could help Alice. His conclusions were absolutely bizarre.

Sigmund Freud factsGetty Images

21. He Diagnosed Her

Surprise surprise, Sigmund Freud believed that Princess Alice's hallucinations were caused by sensual frustration—which was pretty much the same diagnosis he gave to most his patients. He didn't just stop at diagnosing the cause of her illness, though. He had a treatment in mind, too. The only problem was, it was completely deranged.

Alma Mahler factsWikimedia Commons

22. He Had A Bizarre "Treatment"

Sigmund Freud recommended that Princess Alice's regular doctors at the sanatorium should X-ray her ovaries. Why? To dampen her libido, of course, and thus "fix" the "problem". Spoiler alert: It didn't work. Meanwhile, the days kept ticking by, and Alice remained trapped against her will. Soon, her plight became truly heartbreaking.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikimedia Commons

23. She Wanted Out

The entire time that Princess Alice remained locked up in the sanatorium, she insisted that she was sane and begged to be let free. She even tried to escape several times, only for guards to bring her right back. There was nothing she could do but listen to the doctors and hope they might one day let her walk free again. That day did eventually come—but the damage had already been done.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsPicryl

24. Her Family Moved On

Getting thrown in a sanatorium is bad enough, but for Princess Alice, that was just the half of it. While she remained hidden away, her family went on with their lives without her. She grew more and more distant from her husband. Her daughters all married German princes, while her son, Prince Philip, went to Britain to stay with Alice's brothers.

By the time Alice got out, her life had already passed her by.

Prince Philip FactsGetty Images

25. She Cut Them Off

Princess Alice stayed locked up in the sanatorium for two years, despite her many pleas for freedom. When she finally left, she simply wanted to be left alone at last. Although she wrote to her mother, she refused contact with anyone else in her family. They had betrayed her once, and they wouldn't gain her trust again that easily.

Alice lived a simple, obscure life in Central Europe for the years following her stay in the asylum—but soon, her entire life would be thrown upside down once again.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsGetty Images

26. She Stayed In Greece

Princess Alice wanted to be left alone, but WWII made her simple life impossible. Despite her distance from her husband (she had barely seen him in a decade), she still wanted to be with her people. She spent the duration of the conflict living in Athens while the rest of the Greek royal family fled the country for South Africa.

But Alice didn't simply cower behind palace walls. She was ready to work.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikimedia Commons

27. She Helped However She Could

After years in a small, humble flat, Alice moved to the former royal palace in the middle of the city. From there, she set up a base of operations with the Red Cross, providing relief to the people of the city. She organized soup kitchens, and even snuck medical supplies into the country from Sweden under the guise of a visit to her sister, Louise.

Princess Alice worked tirelessly to help the people of Athens. However, her work only got harder as WWII raged on.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikimedia Commons

28. She Couldn't Save Them

After Mussolini's fall in 1943, the Axis forces occupied Athens. It was an extremely dark time, and not just for Princess Alice. During that period, the Germans sent about 60,000 Greek Jews to concentration camps, where all but 2,000 of them perished. There was only so much Alice could do to protect her people—but she did what she could.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikimedia Commons

29. The Germans Took The City

When German forces entered Athens, they assumed that Alice had stayed behind because she supported the Axis cause. After all, two of her daughters were married to Germans. Thus, they treated her with respect. A German general personally paid her a visit and asked her if there was anything he could do for her. I doubt he expected her defiant response.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikimedia Commons

30. She Held Her Head High

Despite her German sons-in-law, Princess Alice was staunchly against the Germans. So, when the general asked what he could do for her, she looked him in the eye and barked, "You can take your troops out of my country". That is just the kind of woman that Princess Alice was. And, if her demand wasn't courageous enough, she was also hiding a secret—one that would mean certain death if it got out.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikimedia Commons

31. She Had A Secret

Years earlier, in 1913, a Jewish man named Haimaki Cohen aided the King of Greece. In return, the King promised that if he ever needed help, the monarchy would be there for him. Well, by 1943, the king was long gone, but Cohen's son still remembered the promise. With no other options, he ventured to the palace where he appealed to Princess Alice.

Alice didn't personally owe this man anything, but he needed her help, and she wasn't going to turn him away.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikimedia Commons

32. She Sheltered A Jewish Family

Princess Alice took in the Cohen family and hid them from the Germans for the rest of WWII. She couldn't save the 60,000 Jews whom the Germans expelled, but she could at least do this. Later, Israel's Holocaust memorial institution would declare her "Righteous Among Nations" for her efforts. She remained in Athens, with the Cohens, until 1944, when the Allies liberated the city.

However, because this poor woman must have been cursed, Alice's problems were far from over.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikimedia Commons

33. The Fighting Continued

The liberation of Athens didn't free the city from conflict. Though Axis forces fled, the fighting continued, as Communist guerrillas tried to wrest control of the capital from the British. If anything, the city grew even more dangerous, as the streets became a battleground for the struggle. But Princess Alice had served her city through years of warfare—she wasn't going to stop now.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikimedia Commons 

34. She Showed Great Bravery

British forces begged Princess Alice to remain in shelter, but they didn't know who they were dealing with. She openly walked the streets of the city, distributing rations to children. One man tried to warn her that a stray bullet could strike her at any minute. Her reply was characteristically witty: "They tell me that you don't hear the shot that kills you, and in any case I am deaf. So, why worry about that?"

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsGetty Images

35. Her Son Found A Winner

Princess Alice didn't leave Athens until 1947—but this time, she had a pretty good reason to exit. Her son Philip was finally getting married, and Alice just had to meet the blushing bride he had chosen. So, who was the lucky lady Philip managed to tie down? Oh right, you knew that already: It was the future Queen Elizabeth II.

Queen Elizabeth II FactsFlickr

36. She Gave What She Could

Traveling to England must have been a strange experience for Alice. She had spent years living in squalor in war-torn Athens. She had few possessions remaining, as she had given most of them away to those in need. However, she did still have some jewels remaining from her more glamorous days. In fact, you can still see these jewels today: They're usually on Queen Elizabeth's finger.

Alice didn't have much to offer her new daughter-in-law, but she had some of her jewels used to make Elizabeth's engagement ring.

Prince Philip FactsGetty Images

37. She Sat With The King

Life can change fast. One day, Princess Alice was living off of meager war rations in Athens. Just a few short years later, she sat at a British royal wedding, across from the King of England himself. She had come a long way from begging for her freedom in a sanatorium. And now that WWII was actually behind her, she could finally start living her life again. So, what was she going to do?

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsGetty Images

38. She Founded A Convent

Princess Alice never forgot about her meeting with her aunt, Elizabeth Feodorovna, who spoke of founding a nursing order of nuns. Though Elizabeth lost her life in the Bolshevik Revolution, Alice kept her spirit alive by realizing her dream. She founded the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary. Her mother couldn't believe it of her own daughter, exclaiming, "What can you say of a nun who smokes and plays canasta?"

Don't say anything I guess?

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikipedia

39. She Stood Out

You couldn't miss Princess Alice at her daughter-in-law's coronation. In one of the most extravagant, gilded ceremonies in the world, Alice stood in a simple grey dress and wimple, like a nun's habit. After the coronation, she returned to Greece. Though almost none of her family remained there and the monarchy was in tatters, Greece was her home. Until it wasn't.

Prince Philip FactsGetty Images

40. She Had To Flee Greece Once More

Though Alice preferred to remain in Greece, the 1967 Colonels' Coup made it too dangerous to do so. She was a hero, she had royal blood, but the military dictatorship was a threat. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip invited her to live with them at Buckingham Palace. However, while she made it out of Greece, she didn't have much time left.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikimedia Commons

41. She Was Lucid Until The End

At this point, people in England whispered that Prince Philip's mother had gone utterly senile—but that was mostly because of her appearance and her humble clothing. Though incredibly frail and even deafer than ever before, Alice remained lucid until her final days. She finally passed on December 5, 1969, in Buckingham Palace.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsGetty Images

42. She Left Nothing Behind

You would think that, being a royal and all, Princess Alice would have left a handsome will behind. In reality, she left no possessions at all when she passed. Charitable to a fault, she had long since given everything away.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsGetty Images

43. She Wanted To Be Alone

After they sent her to a sanatorium, Princess Alice scarcely saw anyone from her family for the rest of her life. For the first several years after she got out, in fact, she had absolutely no contact with them at all. Maybe she would have carried on like that for the rest of her life. Then a tragedy forced her to change her plans.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikimedia Commons

44. She Lost Her Daughter

In 1937, Princess Alice received devastating news: Her daughter Cecilie, her son-in-law, and two of her grandchildren lost their lives in an air accident that shocked the world and the royal family. She hadn't seen Cecilie in years, but the loss still hit her hard. It took Cecilie's funeral to get Alice to finally see her family again.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikimedia Commons

45. She Finally Saw Them Again

Alice saw her husband, Prince Andrew, and son, Prince Philip for the first time in six years at their daughter's funeral. Philip had been a boy when she'd seen him last, and now he was a strapping 16-year-old. I suppose time heals all wounds, because after their tearful reunion, Alice finally resumed contact with her family—though it was far too late to save her crumbling marriage.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsGetty Images

46. She Didn't Get Over It

Apparently, sending her to an insane asylum just wasn't the kind of thing Princess Alice would get over. Though she saw her husband at the funeral, the reunion was brief. Alice returned to Athens to work with the poor, despite the fact that Andrew was still banned from the country. Then WWII broke out, and five more years passed with the couple not seeing one another.

Finally, after the liberation of Athens, it seemed like the time might finally be right for them to get back together. Of course, that's when tragedy struck again.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikimedia Commons

47. She Lost Her Husband

Before they could figure out how to have a reunion—or if Princess Alice even wanted a reunion between the two of them—Prince Andrew succumbed to heart failure in Monaco. He had barely seen Alice a handful of times since he sent her off to the sanatorium in 1930. The last time they'd met had been in 1939, five years before his passing.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsGetty Images

48. She Lived In Squalor

Alice chose to stay in Athens to help the poor rather than go be with her husband, but doing so was no walk in the park. As WWII went on, conditions in the city grew worse and worse. Though Alice's privilege protected her from the worst for a while, eventually, she ended up in the muck with everyone else. When the Allies liberated the city, a British statesman tracked her down.

He couldn't believe his eyes when he found her. Here was Princess Alice, great-granddaughter to Queen Victoria herself, living in utter squalor.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikimedia Commons

49. She Ran Out Of Food

Alice later revealed to her son just how desperate the final days of Germany's occupation had been. She went months without meat of any kind, and by the time the British arrived, she had been living on nothing but bread and butter for weeks. The liberation came just in time, because only a little while longer and Alice might not have made it.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsGetty Images

50. She Didn't Think She Was Special

Princess Alice's final wish was to be interred in Jerusalem, at the Church of Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives. In 1988, she got her wish, and her remains were moved from Windsor Castle to the Holy Land. Later, Prince Philip visited the city when Yad Vesham declared her Righteous Among Nations.

Of his mother, Philip said: "I suspect that it never occurred to her that her action was in any way special. She was a person with a deep religious faith, and she would have considered it to be a perfectly natural human reaction to fellow beings in distress".

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsWikipedia

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

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