Royal. Hero. Nun. Princess Alice of Battenberg may have been born into privilege and position, but she lived one tumultuous existence. Surviving through conflicts, poverty, and involuntary institutionalization, Alice came out the other side a changed and twisted woman. Here are tragic facts about the life of Princess Alice of Battenberg.
Princess Alice of Battenberg Facts
1. She Had A Really Long Name
Princess Alice was born on February 25, 1885, in the Tapestry Room at Windsor Castle in full view of her great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. Her parents christened her Princess Victoria Alice Elizabeth Julia Marie of Battenberg. Just imagine misbehaving as a child and getting full-name yelled at with that five-name moniker.
2. Her Mother Was Intimidating
Alice’s family was sharp—in more ways than one. Her mother, Princess Victoria of Hesse, inherited Queen Victoria’s whip-smart mind; she was an avid reader and, according to Alice’s brother, “a walking encyclopedia.” But these book smarts didn’t make the royal clan emotionally intelligent, and little Alice’s childhood was a rough one…
3. She Was A Slow Learner
Alice’s cunning family members began to notice that something was “different” when it came to Princess Alice’s own intelligence. She was slow in learning to talk, and her pronunciation was oddly muddled. Her keen mother especially started to fret about her daughter’s development. Sadly, there was good reason to worry.
4. She Had An Invisible Disability
After weeks of stress, it was Alice’s maternal grandmother, the Princess of Battenberg, who finally figured out what was happening. She took the young girl to an ear specialist, and they came back with a definitive diagnosis: Alice had been born deaf. It must have come as a shock to the family, but Alice’s own reaction was surprising.
5. She Proved Her Worth
Although Princess Victoria had worried about her daughter’s intelligence, she definitely didn’t need to. As soon as they identified the issue, Alice took off running. With the help of her mother, she learned to speak and lip read, first in English and German, and then in a host of other languages. As we’ll see, Alice would need all the smarts she could get.
6. She Met The Love Of Her Life
In 1902, Princess Alice had a date with destiny. At the coronation of Edward VII—her grand-uncle, NDB—she met Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark. The family affair quickly turned into a romantic one, with Alice and her “Andrea,” as his intimates called him, falling in love and swearing they’d only have each other. But the course of love never did run smooth.
7. She Said “I Do” Three Times
Wedding planning is stressful enough for any bride—so, just imagine planning three. Princess Alice and Prince Andrew first married in a civil ceremony at Darmstadt on October 6, 1903, just a year after they met. The next day, they were married twice more in separate religious ceremonies: Lutheran and Greek Orthodox. Rich people, am I right?
8. Her Life Looked Perfect On The Outside
After their wedding(s), Princess Alice and her new husband settled in to begin their new life together. For a while, it seemed like it would go just like a fairy tale. Alice kept herself busy, popping out five children—one son and four girls—while her husband continued his career in the military. Yet their domestic bliss soon turned into an utter tragedy.
9. Her Future Became Uncertain
Once they were married, Princess Alice moved with her husband to his home country of Greece, but this…may not have been the best idea. The country was on the brink of a massive political crisis, and the situation eventually became so bad that a coup d’état forced Prince Andrew to resign his army position. But the worst was yet to come.
10. She Made A Great Escape
Besides the Greek crisis, WWI was also on the horizon, and it did not help Alice at all. During the conflict, the French bombarded Athens on December 1, 1916. Fearing for the lives of her young children, the Princess ushered them down into the cellars of the palace to wait out the attack. Her quick thinking saved them…this time.
11. She Became An Exile
Greece had already been crumbling before WWI, but in the heat of battle, the country fell right to pieces. Prince Andrews’s brother, King Constantine I of Greece, completely lost power and abdicated his throne on June 1917. This had devastating consequences. The entire Greek royal family had to flee to Switzerland, and Princess Alice was officially an exile.
12. Her Family Renounced Their Heritage
Just because Princess Alice was in Switzerland didn’t mean she was out of danger. Anti-German sentiment ran rampant during WWI, and the Teutonic name of “Battenberg” was basically a target on her back. To keep themselves safe, Princess Alice and her family became the more English-sounding “Mountbattens.” Guess what? It didn’t save them.
13. Her Aunts Were Murdered
Alice wasn’t the only one suffering during this time. Two of her aunts, the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, were killed in the Russian Revolution. Alice had been particularly close to her pious Aunt Elizabeth, and she would one day follow in her footsteps. For now though, she just had to survive.
14. A Monkey Saved Her Family
The story of how Princess Alice clawed her way back to glory is utterly bizarre. After her brother-in-law Constantine abdicated, his son Alexander took the Greek throne. But just three years later, Alexander was dead from an infected monkey bite. After this strange misfortune, Constantine reclaimed the throne—and reinstated Alice’s husband Andrew to power. What a world.
15. Her Husband Was In Grave Danger
Unfortunately, Alice’s relief—much like Alexander’s reign—was short-lived. Like a kid who couldn’t hold onto his balloon, King Constantine I lost his crown again. And this time, everything truly unraveled. Revolutionaries not only forced Constantine into exile, they also seized Alice’s husband Prince Andrew. And then all hell broke loose.
16. Her Husband Almost Perished
Several of the higher-ups taken during this second coup met horrific ends at the barrel of a bayonet. Naturally, everyone assumed that Prince Andrew was next in line for the gruesome firing squad. Beside herself and terrified for her children, Princess Alice had to act quickly if she was ever going to save her husband’s life.
17. She Had A Second Exile
Luckily, Alice’s relative King George V intervened in the proceedings and saved Prince Andrew from execution. Except his safety came at a high price. His prosecutors sentenced him to banishment, forcing Alice and her family to flee Greece once more, where they eventually settled into a small house just outside of Paris. Whew.
18. She Plunged Into Devotion
Understandably, Alice likely had the fear of God put into her after surviving all her ordeals, and she became deeply religious. So much so that in October 1928, she converted to the Greek Orthodox Church and engaged in a number of religious activities. Only, well…as it turned out, this pious turn began to gather a very dark side.
19. She Had Delusions
At this point, Princess Alice had really been through the wringer, and it started to show. Something in her mind had drastically changed—and she began making wild, terrifying claims. According to the Princess, she began receiving divine messages and now had miraculous healing abilities. If you’re thinking, “uh-oh,” you’d be right.
20. She Suffered A Nervous Breakdown
Poor Princess Alice was shell shocked. Probably reeling from the trauma of losing family members and almost losing her husband, it wasn’t surprising to people that she broke down. So for a time, many thought that the stresses of her life had finally caught up to her. Unfortunately, the problem was much bigger than that.
21. She Went To A Famous Doctor
In 1930, the royal family received a chilling diagnosis. Princess Alice, the rock of her brood, had paranoid schizophrenia, an illness that was little understood at the time and very difficult to treat with any success. Given her privileged background, her family sent her to none other than Sigmund Freud to find a cure. What he offered instead was a nightmare.
22. Freud Mistreated Her
Freud might have been all the rage during Princess Alice’s time, but he hasn’t exactly become known for his accurate assessments. Unfortunately, Freud ultimately decided that the Princess’s delusions stemmed from her carnal frustrations, instead of…you know…trauma. Like huge, earth-shattering trauma. Somehow, though, his treatment idea was even worse.
23. She Almost Underwent A Horrific Operation
The bad doctor’s recommended treatment for Princess Alice’s “little” issues was original at least. He decided the best way for her to get better was for physicians to…X-ray her ovaries and smother her libido. Great work there, doc. Thankfully, Princess Alice didn’t take him up on that bright idea. Still, I wish I could say her prospects got better. They did not.
24. Her Family Forced Her Out
During this time, Princess Alice’s family had her forcibly removed from her home and put into various sanitariums around Europe. One of her stays was in Kreuzlingen, Switzerland, where famous tormented geniuses like Vaslav Nijinsky had also spent time. This hardly could have comforted Princess Alice, though—and she soon rebelled in a big way.
25. She Tried To Flee Her Prison
Not only did Alice deeply miss her family, she also insisted to doctors that she was completely sane, and aware of every indignity that they had forced on her so far. Always one to put her money where her mouth was, Alice tried to escape her luxe, white-walled prison several times, but with no success. And then, heartbreak…
26. Her Husband Abandoned Her
Alice and Prince Andrew had endured immense hardship together, and their marriage was strained near to breaking before she entered the asylum. After she went in, the royal couple completely fell apart. Andrew drifted away emotionally and then physically, eventually living in the south of France away from his wife. Soon enough, they were totally estranged. And that’s not all.
27. Her Children Moved On
Alice’s husband wasn’t the only one to move on with his life. During the Princess’s long convalescence, her son Prince Philip moved away to England to stay with his uncles and grandmother. Meanwhile, all four of her daughters fell in love and married German princes, and she couldn’t attend any of their weddings. Not that she would have wanted to…
28. Her Daughters Had Shameful Marriages
Although Alice missed her daughters’ nuptials, her beloved children left a dark legacy. Of the four German princes that her daughters married, a full three had mega, big-time Nazi connections. To make tensions worse, Princess Alice was staunchly anti-Axis powers, and undoubtedly felt shame for her children’s harmful beliefs.
In short, at the end of Alice’s long years inside the asylum, she was cut off from everyone she loved. So when she finally did get out…
29. She Hid From Her Family
The doctors finally released Alice from her institutionalization after a two-year stay. With nowhere to go, the once-great Princess aimlessly wandered around Central Europe, traveling incognito. Although she did maintain her relationship with her mother, Alice cut off all contact with the rest of her family. That is, until tragedy struck once more.
30. Her Daughter Met A Violent End
On November 16, 1937, Princess Alice’s daughter Cecilie perished in a plane crash alongside her husband, two sons, and mother-in-law. So, yeah, pretty much Cecilie’s entire family. But the tragedy doesn’t stop there. Cecilie was also pregnant with her fourth child and had given birth mid-flight; it was this chaotic event that likely caused the accident. Is it too early to say this family is cursed?
31. She Had A Bittersweet Reunion
Like so much in Princess Alice’s life, tragedy intertwined with bliss. While attending her daughter’s funeral, she met her estranged husband Prince Andrew again for the first time in over half a decade. The meeting sparked a reunion within the shattered family, and Alice even made a homecoming to Athens at last. But they would go through a trial by fire once more.
32. Her Family Was A House Divided
With the rise of WWII to its full force, Princess Alice’s family was a house torn asunder again. Although her son Prince Philip fought for the British Royal Navy, her daughters were still very much married to the Third Reich’s higher-ups, and were on the opposing side of the war. Many people mistakenly thought Alice was pro-German too, but she soon put them in their place.
33. She Gave A Legendary Comeback
The Germans sought to curry favor with Princess Alice while she was living in Greece, and one day she happened to meet with a German general who was more eager than most to please her. “Is there anything I can do for you?” He asked her. Alice’s reply was unforgettable. Not mincing words, she snapped, “You can take your troops out of my country.”
34. She Lied To The Government
Princess Alice did what she could to help people during WWII. Working with the Red Cross, she helped organize soup kitchens, nursing circuits, and shelters for children. But one day, she kicked it up a notch to espionage. She flew to Sweden, claiming she was visiting her sister, when really she was funnelling in medical supplies to her country. Oh, and she had more up her sleeve.
35. She Was A Hero
Not content with simple subterfuge, Alice actively worked to undermine the German regime in Athens by sheltering Greek Jews. More specifically, Alice hid the Jewish widow Rachel Cohen and two of her children from the Gestapo, saving them from the concentration camps. She was a brave woman, but she was also struggling to survive the conflict herself…
36. She Violated The Law
Although Athens was technically “free,” various factions were still fighting in the streets, and the city put out a curfew. Did Alice pay any attention to that? Heck no. In defiance of the order, the stubborn woman would go outside to distribute rations to patrolmen and children at all hours of the night. When the British tried to stop her, she unleashed the full force of her power on them…
37. She Was Fearless
According to one source, a friendly authority figure stopped Alice one evening as she was doing her post-curfew rounds. He screamed in dismay, telling her that at any moment, a stray bullet could pierce her. In classic Alice fashion, she only coolly responded: “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?” No one puts Princess Alice in a corner.
38. She Lost Her Husband
With the retreat of the German forces from Athens, things were finally starting to look up—until another black raven tapped at Alice’s door. That December, Alice received devastating news. Her husband Prince Andrew had passed. Alice hadn’t seen him since 1939 and had hoped to reunite after the fighting ended. Now, she would never see him again. But a twist of fate was around the corner.
39. Her Son Married Up
At the close of WWII, Princess Alice got her first real lucky break. Somehow or another, her son Prince Philip had managed to win the heart of Princess Elizabeth, the heir to the British throne and the woman we know today as Queen Elizabeth II. They got engaged, and set the wedding for April 1947. But by now you know that a Battenberg reunion is always doomed.
40. England Shunned Her Daughters
In the end, Philip’s royal wedding was the only one of her children’s nuptials that Alice got to attend. Yet everything was far from rosy: Although the new couple invited her, they pointedly refused to invite Alice’s surviving daughters. After all, there was that whole pro-Germany thing they had going on in WWII. Now that’s an awkward seating arrangement.
41. She Became A Cool Nun
With her husband gone and all her children married off, Princess Alice gave new meaning to the term “empty nest syndrome.” How? Well, our Alice decided to become a freaking nun. Seriously. Even her own mother thought this was a wild move, remarking, “What can you say of a nun who smokes and plays canasta?” Two words: Boss nun.
42. She Began Her Own Convent
Ever on the move, it wasn’t enough for Alice to simply become a nun—she wanted to start her own convent, too. It took her two trips to the United States to raise the necessary funds, but finally, in January 1949, she successfully founded the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary, a Greek Orthodox nuns’ nursing order. Sadly, her dream wouldn’t last long.
43. Her Biggest Passion Failed
Despite her best efforts, Alice’s convent failed because there weren’t enough suitable applicants to keep it running. It must have come as a crushing blow to the Princess’s spirit, as she had invested a lot of time, energy, and money to get this passion project off the ground. Still, this wouldn’t be the end of her spiritual exploits…
44. She Offended A Nation
Impressed by Alice’s religious thought, the politician Rajkumari Amrit Kaur invited her to visit India in 1960. Yet the princess made a huge faux pas. Alice fell ill during her trip and cut her visit short, which deeply offended her hosts. Luckily, her sister-in-law was able to smooth things over for Alice before tensions got too out of hand. Speaking of tensions…
45. She Left Greece Forever
When another coup formed in Greece in 1967, it became the straw that finally broke the camel’s back for Alice, and she left Greece for the last time. Her health was failing, and as you can imagine, she just didn’t have it in her to deal with any more political strife. Instead, she moved into Buckingham Palace to be closer to her son and daughter-in-law.
46. She Pulled A Sophia Tolstaya
Alice and her family likely harbored a lot of resentment about their treatment back in Greece, and her husband even once wrote a book defending his actions during all the conflicts. Ever the supportive wife, Alice spent her entire winter translating her husband’s work into English so it could reach the widest audience possible.
47. She Was A Decorated War Nurse
In times of strife, Princess Alice was no idle wife. During the Balkan conflict, the army briefly reinstated her husband Prince Andrew, so she enlisted as a nurse and helped set up field hospitals while working at operations. England’s King George V took notice of Alice’s hard work and even awarded her the Royal Red Cross in 1913 for her efforts.
48. Her Parents Had A Romeo And Juliet Romance
It wasn’t just her own life that was packed with drama; Princess Alice’s family origin story was also a dark fairy tale. Her parents, Princess Victoria of Hesse and Prince Louis of Battenberg, fell in love agains the odds and against her respectable family’s wishes. You see, Alice’s father was dirt poor by royal standards, and they had to break the rules to find happiness.
The young couple defied Victoria’s father, the Duke of Hesse, and married without his blessing…but there might have been another reason for his disapproval.
49. Her Parents Were Blood Relatives
Technically speaking, Alice’s mother and father were first cousins once removed through the Hesse family. The lovebirds had actually known each other since childhood before they fell in love, and they met mostly through family gatherings. Yep, that’s more than a little icky. Yet, more shame was coming on Alice and her family.
50. Her Grandfather Caused A Scandal
The very day that Alice’s parents married brought a black mark on their legacy. That same evening, Alice’s grandfather the Duke of Hesse also secretly married his divorced mistress, Countess Alexandrine von Hutten-Czapska. This union enraged Europe’s royal families because of the Countess’s low rank and her divorcee status.
51. Her Aunt Became A Martyr
Fun Fact: the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia canonized Alice’s dear Aunt Elizabeth as “Holy Martyr Elizabeth Feodorovna” decades after her assassination. Moreover, her statue still exists today above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey in London, England. I suppose there really is a silver lining in every dark cloud.
52. Her Dying Wish Upset Her Daughter
As her health declined, Alice expressed her wishes to be buried with her aunt, the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, in Jerusalem. Maybe that sounds nice, but it truly upset her daughter, since the girl worried that Jerusalem was too far away for the family to visit Alice’s grave. This, however, led to another vintage Alice quip. The matriarch responded, “Nonsense, there’s a perfectly good bus service!”
53. She Had An Ironic Downfall
Late in her life, dark whispers kept following Princess Alice, with many saying she had fallen into senility and that her mind was going. Ironically, given her tragic history in mental institutions, the Princess was going through nothing of the sort. Her mind remained sharp and dementia-free for the rest of her years, even as her body started to fail.
54. Her Dying Wish Was Problematic
Alice’s dying wish to be buried in Jerusalem proved nearly impossible. She was of Greek Orthodox faith, while her Aunt Elizabeth was Russian Orthodox. Maybe not a big deal now, but super big deal then. Needless to say, the religious problems of burying a woman in a church of a different faith in a foreign country caused her family more than a few headaches.
In fact, it would take another 19 years after she passed for her family to get permission to do it.
55. Her Memory Lived On
On October 31, 1994, Princess Alice’s son and daughter, Prince Philip and Princess Sophie, visited the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem to attend a ceremony honoring their mother as “Righteous Among the Nations” for saving the Cohen family during WWII. The British government also later named her a Hero of the Holocaust in 2010.
56. She Showed Up To A Coronation In Style
When Princess Alice committed, she committed. In June 1953, Alice’s daughter-in-law officially became Queen Elizabeth II in a coronation ceremony. Alice was in full-on nun mode by this time, so while everyone else arrived in fascinators and gowns, the Princess showed up in a grey dress and a wimple reminiscent of her nun’s garb. It’s called fashion, look it up.
57. She Perished As A Pauper
On December 5, 1969, Princess Alice passed at Buckingham Palace at the ripe old age of 84. Her last will and testament caused something of a scandal. Whether it was because she left Greece in a hurry or because she had been living a nun’s life, Alice didn’t leave any possessions to her family; she had already given everything away. But she still managed to make things complicated from beyond the grave…
58. She Was Destitute
The hardships of WWII left Princess Alice impoverished. By the time the occupying forces left Athens in October 1944, she was in “squalid conditions.” One of her letters reveals the full, heartbreaking truth. She confessed to her son that she hadn’t eaten meat in several months, and only had bread and butter left for the week before the liberation.