Being a daughter of Queen Victoria should have meant love, luxury, and happiness for Princess Alice of the United Kingdom. Instead, Alice’s position overwhelmingly brought her bitterness, betrayal, and one of the most tragic ends in the history of the royal family—Princess Diana included. This is the forgotten story of Princess Alice.
1. She Was A Royal Disappointment
Princess Alice was born on April 25, 1843 at Buckingham Palace as the third child and second daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. But her birth was not a happy occasion. After the queen’s second-born son Edward, the public were eagerly awaiting another boy. When that didn’t happen, the disappointment was palpable; the Privy Council even sent a letter to her father giving “congratulation and condolence.”
With a start like that, is it any wonder Alice ended up where she did?
2. Her Life Was Different Than People Imagine
As a royal heir, Princess Alice’s young life wasn’t what most people think. Victoria and Albert weren’t just infamously obsessed with each other, they were also all about solid middle-class family values, and they raised their children accordingly. They made Alice and her siblings dress in practical, humble clothing, and they lived in unadorned lodgings without regular heating. Her father Prince Albert even helped design their school curriculum.
Only, even from this tender age, it was clear Alice was different.
3. She Was Extremely Empathetic
A typical middle child, Princess Alice got along with nearly every sibling in her large family, though she was particularly close with her older siblings Princess Vicky and Edward, the Prince of Wales. But even so, she wanted something more. She always itched for the world beyond her royal confines, and liked to visit the working class tenants at Balmoral and find out how they lived.
Although this might seem a bit “Anne of Green Gables,” Alice somehow found a way to make it naughty.
4. She Rebelled
One day, little Alice escaped from her governess while they were attending mass in Windsor Castle’s chapel. Why, exactly? She decided she wanted to sit in the public pews instead of with her family, now bent on finding out how the other half lived in a spiritual sense. And, as this small act of rebellion hints at, Princess Alice could definitely be a problem child…
5. She Had A Temper
Princess Alice was sturdy and dependable, but she did have a dark side few know about. She might have been a middle child, but she was no pushover: Headstrong and opinionated, she often lashed out with her tongue when she was angry—which was more often than her siblings would have liked. As we’ll see, this would only get worse with time.
6. Her Mother Wanted Her To Marry Young
When Alice was still a teenager, her mother Queen Victoria decided it was high time to get her daughter hitched; after all, Alice’s eldest sister Vicky had already gotten married in 1858 to Prince Frederick of Prussia. Considering herself a liberal mom, the queen allowed for the possibility of a love match for Alice, provided she still married into one of the royal houses of Europe. Except, this didn’t go as planned.
7. She Had Slim Pickings For Men
Alice’s newlywed sister Vicky helped compile a list of eligible European bachelors…and came up with exactly two men: William the Prince of Orange, and Prince Albert of Prussia, who just so happened to be her husband’s cousin. Yeah, the pickings were slim (and incestuous) in Victorian Europe. And when Princess Alice finally met these two suitors, things went from bad to worse.
8. She Was In Hate At First Sight
With his family salivating at the thought of marrying a daughter of England, the Prince of Orange traveled all the way from the Netherlands to Windsor Castle to meet his prospective bride and mother-in-law. Alice’s response was swift and brutal. Alice disliked him practically on sight, and had no qualms telling her mother about it. Somehow, though, Alice’s second and last option proved even more unsuitable.
9. She Was Too Good For Her Suitor
Even though Prince Albert came recommended as the cousin of Alice’s new brother-in-law Frederick, he failed at the first step. And I do mean the first. Independent of Alice even meeting the poor guy, Frederick himself claimed his cousin wasn’t good enough for Alice, “who deserves the very best.” Suddenly, our girl’s (very) short list was down to zero. So enter: the underdog.
10. She Had A Third Man
Princess Alice’s sister Vicky must have been feeling mighty embarrassed about her top two picks crashing and burning, because she started racking her brains for one more eligible man. Eventually, she landed on Prince Louis of Hesse, who came from a minor, impoverished, but nonetheless respectable German house. Rolling the dice one more time, the queen invited Louis to Windsor Castle. Well, the third time was very much the charm (…at first).
11. She Developed A Royal Crush
When Alice and Louis met, sparks flew—but it was their parting that really sealed the deal. While everyone could see that they got along well during the visit, Louis amped it up a notch when he asked for Alice’s autograph as a keepsake as he was leaving. His crush wasn’t in vain, either; when he left Alice told her mother just how attracted she was to the strapping Teutonic man.
Queen Victoria immediately made plans to marry the pair. But before that could happen, immense tragedy struck.
12. She Lost Her Grandmother
The spring of 1861 was full of both joy and sorrow for Princess Alice. Although she was formally engaged to Prince Louis that April, just a month before that she had to watch as her maternal grandmother the Duchess of Kent, wasted away in her bed and then finally passed. Alice wasn’t just close to the duchess; she had also taken up the job of nursing her in her final weeks. Sadly, her passing only unleashed more pain.
13. She Was The Caretaker Of The Family
Queen Victoria had a complicated and often vicious relationship with her mother, and the duchess’s end sent the monarch into a tailspin, leaving Princess Alice to pick up the matronly pieces. After all, as the empathic middle girl, that was her job in the family. So when Queen Victoria broke down into sobs, her father Albert instructed her to “Go and comfort Mama.”
Only, there was no comfort to be had for the next blow to the family.
14. She Tried To Save Her Father’s Life
On December 1861, Alice’s father Albert fell dangerously ill, either with typhoid fever or complications from undiagnosed Crohn’s disease. Not that the Prince Consort had been in the best of health beforehand: He had spent the last few stressful weeks reining in Alice’s beloved brother Edward, who had taken to carousing with mistresses around town.
Princess Alice and Queen Victoria rallied around the patriarch at all hours of the day, hoping against hope that this time their nursing could save a life. It didn’t.
15. She Was In The Middle Of A Family Feud
On December 14, Albert passed in his bed at Windsor Castle. The fallout for Alice was devastating. Queen Victoria, shattered by the passing of her one true love, placed the blame for his end squarely on her prodigal son Edward and refused to even notify her heir of his father’s death. This tension was too much for the harmony-seeking Alice to bear…and she plotted her betrayal.
16. She Disobeyed Her Mother
Princess Alice may have been good, but she wasn’t a good girl. In defiance of her mother and her royal commands, Alice actually managed to sneak a telegram over to Edward to let him know the worst had really happened. If she was hoping for reconciliation, however, it never took place; as Queen Victoria later wrote that “I never can, or shall, look at [Edward] without a shudder.”
This was the beginning of the end of Alice’s healthy relationship with her mother. But then again, she had bigger things to worry about…
17. She Got Married Amidst Tragedy
Believe it or not, Alice was still planning her wedding to Prince Louis of Hesse after her grandmother’s end. Then, exhibiting that famous British stiff upper lip, Queen Victoria insisted that the ceremony go on even after Prince Albert passed. So, against all odds, the wedding happened on July 1, 1862—but by the time it was over, Alice probably wished it had been canceled.
18. Her Big Day Was A Horror Show
Your wedding is supposed to be the happiest day of your life. For Princess Alice, it was a total nightmare. The whole palace was still in the throes of mourning for Prince Albert, and no one was trying to hide it. Instead of getting married in a church, Alice had to settle for converting the dining room of her childhood home into a chapel. Ok, fine, that could still be cute. But keep reading.
19. She Was A Bride Who Wore Black
Princess Alice was dressed the fairy-tale part for her ceremony. She wore a white gown with a veil of Honiton lace, and held a bouquet of orange blossom and myrtle—a classic “royal getting married” look. But the fun ended there: Right before and immediately after the ceremony, Queen Victoria’s court mourning protocols forced Alice to wear only black clothes. And then there was the mother of the bride herself…
20. Her Mother Upstaged Her On Her Wedding
Sure, Queen Victoria insisted that Princess Alice’s wedding ceremony take place, but you wouldn’t have known it from her behavior that day. The queen had her sons escort her into the makeshift chapel, and then requested they stand in front of her to shield her from prying eyes throughout the entire ceremony. Meanwhile, the monarch sat on an armchair near the “altar” and tried not to cry.
Gee, thanks mom. The worst part? The day didn’t get better.
21. Her Ceremony Was Pathetic
Everybody—and I do mean everybody—thought Princess Alice’s nuptials were miserable. Queen Victoria called it “more of a funeral than a wedding,” while the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson said, “it was the saddest day that I can remember.” The whole miserable thing was all over by 4 pm. Yet before the night wound down, Queen Victoria managed to give her daughter one messed-up parting gift.
22. She Got A Chilling Gift
At the end of the ceremony, Victoria presented Princess Alice with a gold bracelet inlaid with pearls and diamonds from both her and the late Prince Albert. The inscription on the inside was heartbreaking. It said, “To dear Alice from her loving parents Albert and Victoria R who though visibly parted are ever united.” Yep, you read that right. Queen Victoria somehow managed to even make her wedding gift about her ghost husband.
With that horrific day done, though, at least Alice could finally look forward to her honeymoon…right? Nope.
23. She Told A Huge Lie
Immediately following her induction into married life, Alice had a whole new set of worries and tensions when it came to her mother. After all, she was in a haze of bridal bliss with Prince Louis of Hesse—and this was repugnant to Queen Victoria. The grieving monarch got so jealous of Alice’s contentment that the princess had to school herself to not look “too happy” when she was around her mother.
All in all, it was an ominous start both to Alice’s marriage and her adult relationship with the queen. Both would take much darker turns.
24. She Went Far Away From Home
For a very brief moment, it seemed like Alice could be happy with Prince Louis in his home of Darmstadt, in Hesse. When she arrived there in 1862, crowds of her citizens greeted her with cheers, and she wrote to Queen Victoria that, “I believe the people never gave so hearty a welcome.” Yet as the furore calmed down, Alice couldn’t shake the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.
25. She Was Terribly Homesick
For all that Darmstadt and Hesse in general was her royal realm, Alice’s new life had glaring, destructive problems. Although her father Prince Albert had given her a substantial wedding dowry before he passed, he also claimed “she will not be able to do great things with it” in the small kingdom. He was right. Alice quickly felt homesick and bored…but that was the least of her issues.
26. Her Father-in-Law Disgraced Her
Hesse wasn’t just provincial, it also simply couldn’t accommodate someone of Alice’s considerable rank. Queen Victoria had intended Alice to get a brand new palace there, but, uh, that’s not what happened. Prince Louis’s father had limited and dwindling coffers, and refused to find or build the newlyweds appropriate lodgings.
Instead, Alice and her groom lived in—gasp!—a simple house overlooking a street in the rumbling Old Quarter of Darmstadt. Still, Alice was nothing if not accommodating, and she tried her darndest to make herself fit in. Only, just as soon as she started, her personal life imploded.
27. She Had “Disturbing” Tastes
Like so many “good” wives before her, Alice started pumping out babies right after the wedding, having two children, Victoria and Elisabeth, within two years of tying the knot. This brought up a bizarre problem. See, Alice was all about breastfeeding her own babes—and while this wasn’t all that common for the time, the real issue was that Queen Victoria hated the thought of her daughter doing it. As the years wore on, though, the queen took her displeasure to new heights.
28. She Liked Getting Physical
In truth, Princess Alice had a surprisingly comfortable relationship with her body and the bodies of others, even starting up a serious interest in nursing and becoming friends with Florence Nightingale. This? Nearly destroyed her horrified mother. Victoria even wrote a warning to Alice’s younger sister Louise about Alice’s “perverse” interests.
Fearful that Alice would take a gynaecological tack with the princess when she visited, the queen insisted, “Don’t let Alice pump you. Be very silent and cautious about your ‘interior’.” Sadly, however, there was a tragic reason for Victoria’s criticisms of Alice.
29. Her Mother Was The Jealous Type
Long after Alice’s marriage, Queen Victoria simply couldn’t let her daughter go or allow her to be happy—so instead, she sniped. Indeed, every year that passed grew harder, making it clear to the queen that Alice was content, having ever more children, and was less likely to visit England on any given month. But if Victoria wanted to see Alice sad, she should have been careful what she wished for.
30. Her Son Was Deathly Ill
On October 7, 1870, Alice gave birth to her second son and fifth child, Frederich, AKA “Frittie.” Although the new baby was Alice’s firm favorite, there was something seriously wrong from the beginning. See, Grandma Victoria was a carrier for the genetic disorder hemophilia, which seriously prevents blood clotting in male children, and she had passed it right down to Alice and then to little Frittie.
The so-called “royal disease,” which was currently plaguing the British family, was nothing less than a death sentence at the time; it would go on to kill Alice’s brother Leopold in 1884. Naturally, then, everyone feared the worst for the princeling Friedrich—and when the end came, it was so much more devastating than anyone could have predicted.
31. Her Baby Passed In A Horrible Way
On May 29, 1873, little Frittie fell 20 feet after hanging out of a window in his home. The fall might have fatally hurt even a healthy child, but the sickly prince had no chance at all. Although the boy woke up after the tumble, the best doctors in the land couldn’t stymie his internal bleeding, and his end followed swiftly. Alice’s response was gut wrenching.
32. She Was Eternally Heartbroken
Alice never, ever got over the loss of her beloved son, and we have a letter from her that indicates just how much anguish she was in. Two months after the fall, she wrote to her mother and confessed, “I am glad you have a little coloured picture of my darling. I feel lower and sadder than ever and miss him so much, so continually.” The years that followed started a dark spiral.
33. She Had Mommy Issues
Throughout Alice’s anguish, Queen Victoria wasn’t exactly a huge boon to her. Victoria’s jealousy, bitterness, and domineering nature had historically clashed with Alice’s own stubborn, sharp ways, and now they would often get into it through vicious letters. When Alice once had the audacity to give some diplomatic advice to Victoria, the monarch wrote back, “I do not think, dear child, that you should tell me…what I ought to do.” Once more, thanks for the support, mom.
34. She Didn’t Cope Well
For two whole years, Alice retreated from public life to nurse her wounds as well as her succeeding children; she had two girls, Alix and Marie, in 1872 and 1874. To cope with Frittie’s absence, she also latched onto her only surviving son, Ernest, promoting him to her new favorite and barely letting him out of her sight. If this sounds unhealthy, just wait until you get a load of her marriage.
35. Her Husband Wasn’t As Smart As Her
The problems within Alice’s union to Prince Louis of Hesse started out slow at first. Although he was a kind man, he was also a little soft-headed and could be emotionally stunted. Unfortunately, emotional support was exactly what Alice needed after Friedrich’s tragic passing. So when their love collapsed, it did so spectacularly.
36. She Had A Bitter Change Of Heart
By 1876, Alice’s disappointments with Prince Louis had soured into total, unbridled resentment. In one letter from this time, she accused him of writing “empty and bare” letters that left her cold and alienated from her “real self,” confessing that “I feel myself through them that I have less to say to you than any other person.” Ouch, Alice. Louis, I think she gets it from her mama.
37. She Got A Royal Promotion
Soon after these fractures started showing, the royal couple received an enormous curveball. In 1877, Louis’s father passed, turning him into the Grand Duke of Hesse and Alice into the Grand Duchess. It may have been everything they were waiting for, but when the time finally came, it was nothing like Alice expected.
38. She “Dreaded” Her Life
At the point Alice became Grand Duchess, her relationship to her realm was, er, complex. She had never settled into Hesse, and the local people had started to see her as a stiff, distant princess. She also now felt extra pressure to perform as the new head of the country, and wrote to her mother that she “dreaded everything” and it was “more than she could stand in the long run.”
As usual, Alice would find the opposite of comfort in her mother.
39. Her Mother Made Her Want To Die
Queen Victoria hadn’t ruled England for decades just to field complaints from her daughter’s sovereignty over a minor duchy, and she once let Alice know this in no uncertain terms. Although we don’t know the contents of the letter, we do know that one of Victoria’s missives from this time devastated Alice. As she confessed, it “made me cry with anger…I wish I were dead and it probably will not be too long before I give Mama that pleasure.”
Worst of all, Alice ended up being right about that.
40. The Grim Reaper Came To Her Home
November 1878 cast a dark cloud over the royal household of Hesse. Early in the month, Alice’s oldest girl Victoria took ill with a sore, stiff neck. The reality was terrifying. The next morning, the doctor took one look at her and diagnosed the girl with diphtheria, a bacterial infection that was often fatal in the Victorian era. Within days, Alice’s house turned into a mausoleum.
41. She Heroically Tried To Save Her Family
Alice avoided becoming infected at first, but almost no one else in her family was so lucky. Four of her children—Alix, Marie, Irene, and Ernest—and even her husband fell ill within days of Victoria showing symptoms. A nurse to her bones, Alice tried her best to tend to everyone, but an immense shock was just around the corner.
42. She Buried Another Child
On November 15, Alice’s youngest daughter Marie, who was only four years old, fell severely ill. The staff, certain that the girl didn’t have long to live, called the Grand Duchess to her bedside. Alice arrived to an absolute horror. Before she could even make it, Marie had choked, and now her body was already turning cold. Alice’s knee-jerk reaction…could have been better.
43. She Kept A Horrific Secret
Although Alice confessed to Queen Victoria that “the pain is beyond words” when it came to losing Marie, she decided to keep the girl’s passing from the rest of her children in the hopes that it wouldn’t dampen their spirits while they were fighting an infection. In her head, it was the best decision—but it would end up being her downfall.
44. She Admitted A Harsh Truth To Her Son
After pretending Marie was alive for weeks on end, Alice finally gave in, confessing the truth to her favorite son Ernest in early December. His response was soul-crushing. The little boy couldn’t believe it at the beginning, and when the reality dawned on him, he broke down into jagged sobs. Unable to see her son in pain, Alice made a fatal error.
45. She Broke Her Own Rule
Before this point, Alice put her whole household under strict “no contact” orders. She had even sent her daughter Elisabeth away from the house entirely so she wouldn’t get sick. In this one moment, however, she couldn’t help comforting her infected son, and gave him a kiss to ease his pain. It would be one of the last things she ever did.
46. She Had Precious Few Days Left
Alice spent her last days on Earth in ironic placidity. When her sister Vicky visited a few days after her confession to Ernest, it raised Alice’s spirits, and she corresponded with her mother with a “hint of resumed cheerfulness.” Little did Alice know, the infection had already moved through her body at a rapid pace. When it surfaced, it would be with a vengeance.
47. Her Last Words Were Tragic
On Saturday, December 14, Alice fell incredibly ill with diphtheria, so much so that she barely survived for a few more hours. At 2:30 am, she spoke her heartbreaking last words, whispering “Dear papa” before losing consciousness and never waking up again. At 8:30 am, she died. Even so, there was something mystical about that devastating day.
48. She Passed On A Strange Anniversary
Incredibly, in addition to her final words about her father, Alice passed on the anniversary of Prince Albert’s death 17 years earlier. Queen Victoria, who was always looking for cosmic connections, couldn’t fail to notice this one. She called it “almost incredible and most mysterious” and lamented that “This terrible day come round again!” However, this wasn’t the only strange happening in Alice’s legacy.
49. She Left A Dark Legacy
Although few people realize it, Alice’s daughter Alix survived diphtheria and grew up to change the world—just not in a good way. As an adult, Alix married Tsar Nicholas II and became Alexandra Feodorovna, Tsarina of Russia. More than that, she inherited her mother and her grandmother’s hemophilia gene, which she then passed on to her son Alexei.
If this is sounding eerily familiar, it should be. Eventually, Alexei got so sick that Alexandra recruited the controversial healer Rasputin. This didn’t help raise her stock with the Russian people in the slightest; instead, it helped kick start the Russian Revolution.
50. Her Family Mourned Her
Princess Alice’s passing hit her nearest and dearest very hard—even her mother. Suddenly, Queen Victoria was all fond remembrances for the daughter she had clashed most with. As she memorialized once, “She had darling Papa’s nature, and much of his self-sacrificing character and fearless and entire devotion to duty!” Victoria wasn’t the only one; when Alice’s sister-in-law met with the royal family after, she reportedly cried out, “I wish I had died instead of her!”