Royal of the day: Princess Alice

Last updated 05:00 15/04/2014
Princess Alice
Wikimedia Commons
ROYALLY DIFFERENT: A 1907 painting of Princess Alice of Battenburg.

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The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was an event that enraptured the Commonwealth. The major players - Prince Philip, The Queen Mother, and Elizabeth herself - were familiar faces to those watching at home.

But it was the ghostly figure draped in a grey nun's veil who captured the eye of many viewers. The elderly woman, who sat alongside the Royal family, was the image of modesty amongst the parade of diamonds and jewels.

Princess Alice of Battenburg, the Queen's mother in law, had always been a little bit different.

She was born in Windsor castle to Princess Victoria of Hesse and her husband, Prince Louis. Her grandmother, Queen Victoria, was present at her birth.

After she had difficulties learning to speak, it became evident that Alice had been born deaf. Despite this, she grew to speak with extreme clarity, and learned how to read lips in four different languages.

After an uneventful childhood, Alice fell in love with Andrew, Prince of Greece and Denmark. The two married and had five children.

During World War 1, tension between the Greek government and the royals led to the banishment of Alice's family. Her youngest child, 18 month-old Prince Philip, was evacuated from the country in a crate of oranges.

After residing in Switzerland for a few years, Alice's family returned to Greece, only for her husband to be arrested and threatened with execution. At the same time, two of Alice's aunts, who had married into the Russian royal family, were murdered by Bolsheviks after the Russian revolution.

The death of her aunt Elisabeth hit Alice particularly hard. The Russian Duchess was renowned for her charitable work, and Alice was keen to follow in her example.

After escaping from Greece a second time, the family finally settled in Paris, where Alice worked in a charity shop devoted to helping Greek refugees.

Even though she was now free from the political discord that defined her early life, Alice was about to be struck with a savage mid-life crisis.

She had become increasingly religious through her work in the charity shop, which had led her to join the Greek Orthodox Church. As the years went by, her faith descended into madness; she heard voices, believed she had healing powers, and claimed to have had physical contact with Jesus Christ.

Nine year old Prince Philip had been out for a picnic with his grandmother on the day his mother was taken. Alice's biographer later described the scene as "literally a car and men in white coats coming to take her away". Philip would not see his mother again until he was 16.

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Alice was schizophrenic, according to the doctors who examined her. Sigmund Freud, who was consulted about her case, believed her behaviour was caused by sexual frustration. He recommended she have her ovaries x-rayed to destroy her libido.

For two and a half years, Alice was held against her will in a Swiss sanitorium. Her husband, Andrew, left with his mistress to live on the French Riviera.

Alice lived as a drifter for five years, losing all contact with her family. In 1937 her daughter, Cécile, and her two grandchildren were killed in a plane crash. She saw her husband and her son, Philip, for the first time since she had been taken away at the funeral.

At the onset of World War 2 she once again returned to Greece, where she helped the poor from her two-bedroom flat in Athens.

Alice became something of a subversive. Despite having family members high up in the German army, she had nothing but contempt for the Nazi occupation of Greece. When a German general visited to ask if he could do anything to help her, she replied "you can take your troops out of my country".

During the war she smuggled supplies from Sweden (under the guise of visiting her sister), gave the food packages her brother sent her to the poor, and secretly harboured a Jewish family in her house just metres from Nazi headquarters.

After the war she continued her charitable efforts by establishing an order of healing nuns, following the example set by her aunt Elisabeth.

As she crossed into her 80s, Alice was invited to stay at Buckingham Palace with Philip and her daughter-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II. When she passed in 1969 (aged 84), she left no possessions, as she had already given everything away.

Her remains are located in Israel where they rest by her aunt Elisabeth, the woman she had so admired throughout her life.

- Stuff


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