Full Name: Alice Maud Mary
Born: 25th April 1843
Married: Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse
Died: 14th December 1878
Buried: Grand Ducal Mausoleum, Rosenhöhe
The third child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Alice’s birth prompted the royals to buy a new home for their expanding family. Osborne House on the Isle of Wight was purchased by Albert in 1844 and he designed the grounds to help his children learn practical skills such as gardening and cooking. Their own mini home, known as the ‘Swiss Cottage” overlooking their garden was maintained by the children alone. They were encouraged to be self sufficient and live frugally. Alice thoroughly enjoyed this responsibility and was a thoughtful and sensitive child and would actively visit and speak to the staff and tenants living on the royal estates.
Her caring nature led her to help nurse her maternal grandmother, Victoria, Duchess of Kent in a her final months. Alice’s skills were used again that same year when he suddenly became ill with suspected typhoid fever. 18-year-old Alice remained at his bedside until his final moments and was a steady support for her grief stricken mother.
In 1860 plans for Alice to be married were begun by Queen Victoria and she settled on Louis of Hesse. He was the nephew and heir of the Grand Duke of Hesse, and similar age to Alice. The two had taken a liking to each other at the Ascot races, and the queen encouraged the match. They were formally engaged in April 1860 and wed in July 1862 at Osborne House. After the wedding the coupled moved to Louis’s hometown of Darmstadt in South Western Germany. They had 7 children – 5 daughters and 2 sons. Alice took to motherhood, and was devoted to each of her children, particularly her youngest two daughters Alix and Marie. Queen Victoria never understood the bond Alice developed with them, and was appalled at her decision to breastfeed, describing her as being like ‘a cow’.
In 1866 the Duchy of Hesse was caught in War with Prussia and Austria. This meant that Alice was on opposing sides to her sister Vicky who was the wife of the heir to the Prussian throne. The end of war left Darmstadt in a dire situation with food shortages and many people wounded. Alice, who had nursed her family members, helped heal those in need. She had always been an advocated for nursing education, and had learnt about cleanliness and hygiene from Florence Nightingale. Alice spent most of her later years fundraising for those in need and pushing for improvements in social reform.
Sadly, Alice’s life was cut short. In 1878, only a year after becoming Grand Duchess of Hesse, Alice’s family contracted Diphtheria. Her youngest child, Marie was the first to die at the age of 4. Alice’s grief was immense having already lost her son Fredrich to Haemophilia in 1873. She herself contracted the illness and died on 14th December, exactly 16-years from her father’s death. She is buried in the Grand Mausoleum at Rosenhöhe and a monument of the Princess with her daughter Marie was erected beside it.
Alice’s surviving children had noteworthy lives. Her daughters Elisabeth and Alix married into the Russian Royal family, and were both subsequently murdered in the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. To read more about them, checkout my post here. Her eldest daughter was the grandmother of Prince Philip, the current Duke of Edinburgh and husband to Queen Elizabeth II.