01 November 2016

Queen Elizabeth II's tragic mother in law: Princess Alice of Greece

Princess Alice of Battenberg (1885-1969), born in Windsor Castle, was related to most European royal families. Her parents were Prince Louis of Battenberg & Princess Victoria of Hesse, grand daughter of Queen Victoria. When she was a young child, Alice was diagnosed as deaf and had to become a fluent lip reader. This hand­icap may have made her especially sensitive to the underprivileged and the outcast.

Princess Alice met Prince Andrew of Greece (1882-1944) in 1902, at King Edward VII's London coronation. The couple married the next year and soon had five children. She had spoken English at home in Britain and knew German from her own family, but now Alice had to learn to both lip-read and speak in Greek. In the meantime she raised her four daughters and one son as best she could.

In 1909, the political situation in Greece led to a coup d'état; the Athens government refused to support the Cretan parliament, the body that wanted the union of Ottoman Crete with the Greek mainland. A group of dissatisfied officers formed a Greek nationalist Military League that led to Prince Andrew's resignation from the army.

A few years later, at the outbreak of the Balkan Wars in 1912, Prince Andrew was reinstated in the army as a lieutenant colonel and was placed in command of a field hospital. Andrew’s father King George I of Greece was assassinated just before the war, so Andrew inherited a villa on the island of Corfu. How the world changes! By 1914, Prince Andrew held honorary military posts in both the German and Russian empires, as well as Prussian, Russian, Danish and Italian honours.

During WWI, Prince Andrew continued to visit Britain, despite loud hints in the Parliament that he was a German agent. Did the British think he was a military risk or not?

It seems certain that dissatisfaction with the outcome of the war led to the September 1922 Revolution, during which time Prince Andrew was arrested, court-martialled and found guilty of acting against orders in battle. Since many defendants in the treason trials that followed the coup were shot, Princess Alice of Battenberg got her British uncle King George V to negotiate Andrew’s release. Andrew was strip­ped of his royal titles and was banished for life, but at least he escaped on a British cruiser to Paris.

Our own Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh was actually born Prince of Greece and Denmark in Corfu in 1921; the only son of Prince Andrew of Greece and a great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria. The pater­nal side was of Danish desc­ent; Andrew was the grandson of King Christian IX of Denmark. His mother was Princess Alice of Battenberg, as we have said, eldest child of Prince Louis of Battenberg and sister of Earl Mountbatten of Burma. He was educated in France, Germany and the UK but never had a proper home.

The family had long changed the family name to Mountbatten, the name Prince Philip adopted when he became a natural­ised British subject.

Princess Alice of Battenberg, Prince Philip, Princesses Margarita, Theodora and Sophie, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, and Princess Cecilie
Photo from the last time the family was together, 
1930.

Princess Alice’s marriage must have been both lonely and night­marish. Alice became deeply religious, and in Oct 1928 she entered the Greek Orthodox Church. In 1930, she was diagnosed with schiz­oph­ren­ia and locked up in a Swiss asylum by her nasty husband who rushed off to gamble and debauch. Thereafter Alice lived separately from her husband and children, not even invited to her four daughters’ weddings to princes in Germany. Only in 1938, when one daughter died in a car crash, was Alice allowed to see her beloved son Prince Philip at Princess Cécile’s funeral.

At the start of WW2, Prince Andrew was living in Vichy France, Princess Alice was living back in Athens and their son Prince Philip was fighting in the British Royal Navy. At the same time Princess Alice was watching on while her surviving German sons-in-law were fighting on the German side. Alice moved into the Athens palace of her brother in law, Prince George of Greece, for the duration of the war and worked with the Swedish and Swiss Red Cross.

The Greek royal family had been well acquainted with the family of Haimaki Cohen, a Jew and former member of Parliament, from Tricala in northern Greece. In 1941, when Germany invaded Greece, the Cohen family fled to Athens – then still under Italian rule, where the anti-Jewish policy was more moderate. However the period of relative safety lasted only until September 1943; following Italy's surrender to the Allies, the Germans occupied Athens and the hunt for Jews began. By that time Haimaki Cohen had died and his widow, Rachel, and her five children were looking for a place of refuge. The family's four sons wanted to cross to Egypt, and join with the Greek government in exile (in Cairo). But the trip proved too hazardous for Rachel and their sister. Princess Alice heard of the family's desperate situation and offered to shelter Rachel and two of her children at her home. Until liberation! Princess Alice may have had the least caring family in the world, but she had acted like a true hero for other needy families.

After WW2 the British Royals announced the engagement of Princess Elizabeth to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten. Princess Alice visited Great Britain in April 1947 to attend her son’s wedding! On the day of the wedding, her son was created Duke of Edinburgh by King George VI. Princess Alice sat at the head of her family on the north side of Westminster Abbey, opposite the King and Queen Elizabeth.

In Jan 1949, Princess Alice founded a nursing order of Greek Orthodox nuns, the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary. She withdrew from the world and moved to the island of Tinos. But it wasn’t remote enough. Following the colonels’ coup d’etat in Greece in 1967, Princ­ess Alice went back to England and moved to Buckingham Palace, to be close to her son and his family for whatever short time was left to her. Alice died in London in December 1969, aged 84.

Princess Alice, a nun, 
with her grandchildren Charles and Anne c1968.

Not long before her death, Princess Alice recorded her wish to be bur­ied in Jerusalem, next to her aunt Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodor­ovna (1864–1918). The Grand Duchess had also become a nun so her remains were buried in the Church of Maria Magdalene in the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem. In 1988 Princess Alice’s coffin was also transferred to the Mount of Olives crypt.

In 1993 the State of Israel bestowed the title of Righteous Among the Nations on Princess Alice. A year later, Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh and Princess George of Hanover travelled together to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, made a speech and planted a tree in her honour.





12 comments:

Andrew said...

What can one say but just fascinating. You certainly did some hard yards on this post.

Another Student said...

Why didn't Prince Philip take his mother to the UK and give her a happy life?

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, I admire her inner strength and integrity that came to the fore in times of difficulty, which seem to have come so often during her life.
--Jim

Hels said...

Andrew

When Lord Louis Mountbatten died in 1979, I already knew how close an uncle he was to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and to Prince Charles. But until relatively recently no-one mentioned that Lord Mountbatten and Princess Alice of Greece were siblings. They were of course both born to Prince Louis of Battenberg and Princess Victoria of Hesse, grand daughter of Queen Victoria.

I suspect British historians were not very pleased that Princess Alice's four daughters married German princes who fought for Germany during WW2. Thus the information (in English) was difficult for me to locate.

Hels said...

Another Student

Young Philip hardly saw his mother from the time they escaped from Greece when the lad was a baby.. until he married Princess Elizabeth in 1947. I know Princess Alice had written to Philip in the interim asking him to live with her in Athens, but that was not going to happen. Perhaps he didn't trust his mother's psychiatric events or her religious fervour.

But why leave it until the colonels’ coup d’etat in Greece in 1967? Princess Alice was a VERY elderly lady by then.

Hels said...

Parnassus

Alice had four major catastrophes in her life:
1. She married into the Greek royal family, but the revolution dethroned them.
2. She had five children close together, but they were all sent abroad to marry (without her knowledge or presence).
3. She was locked away in mental hospitals and subjected to nasty treatments by psychiatrists.
4. Her husband spent his years with mistresses and never visited Alice again.

The fifth issue was not a catastrophe, but it was difficult for other people to deal with.
5. Alice had religious visions that made her isolate herself on a remote island.

Yet she was a heroine in tough times, dedicating herself to working with the poor in Greece, giving away her treasures, saving Jews in the war and founding her own religious order. Amazing!

WoofWoof said...

I think Prince Philip and the Queen did ask his mother to come and live in England but she wanted to do her work in the religious order and live a life of contemplation. Being a royal in England probably wouldn't have suited her. Prince Philip obviously named one of his sons after his father; I am surprised that they did not give Princess Anne the name Alice (I think she is Anne Elizabeth Mary) as the Queen also has other close relatives called Alice. I think they saw her as an eccentric and recluse and didn't want to draw attention to her (or maybe the plan was to name the next daughter after her which of course never happened.

Joseph said...

If Princess Alice was Greek Orthodox, then her son would probably have been born Greek Orthodox.

Hels said...

WoofWoof

Princess Alice was born in Windsor Castle in an English-speaking environment and was christened in Darmstadt in a German-speaking environment. Being a royal in England would have suited her very well, at least before the 1930s.

However I totally agree with you that, later on, they saw her as an eccentric and recluse who would have been best ignored.

Hels said...

Joseph

Interesting. As a baby, Prince Philip was baptised into the Greek Orthodox Church in 1921, while the family still lived in Athens.

Later in Britain he always felt he was a member of the Anglican church, although he didn’t formalise his nationality until early 1947 and religious status until late 1947.

mem said...

I read her biography not so long ago . A very interesting and quite heroic lady . No wonder prince Charles is also his own man who somebthink a little eccentric.prince Charles was very fond of his grandmother . I wonder if he found something sympathetic in her nature which he didn't share with his parents ?

Hels said...

mem

I know royals sometimes had horrible marriages because they were married off too young, to somebody they had never met and wouldn't like. For women it was worse because they very often had to leave their home country to live in a place where they couldn't speak the language. Princess Alice didn't have those problems because, from all I can read, she was totally besotted with her future husband.

She must have been a very strong individual. If Prince Charles did inherit strength from his grandmother, it was nature/genetic and not nurture/modelling. By the time they spent quality time together, Alice was in her 80s.