Royal Lives: Princess Alice of Battenberg, Prince Philip’s Mother

Princess Alice of Battenberg was born at Windsor Castle on February 25, 1885, in the presence of her great-grandmother Queen Victoria. She married Prince Philip’s father, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, within a year of meeting him. Prince Andrew was the fourth son of King George I of Greece, part of the House of Glücksburg.

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Princess Alice was one of the most interesting royals in modern times, providing a fascinating insight into the tumultuous times that characterized Prince Philip’s childhood and early adulthood. Prince Philip’s life before marriage was largely defined by the devastation unleashed by World War II, and his mother was a central figure during his development.

During the early years of their marriage, Princess Andrew, as she was now known, focused on charity work and nursing amid a deepening political crisis in Greece. She served as a nurse during the Balkan Wars, assisting staff with supply management and operations.

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For her war efforts, she was awarded the Royal Red Cross by George V in 1913. Prince Andrew’s father King George I of Greece was assassinated by anarchist Alexandros Schinas in 1913. The new king, Andrew’s brother Constantine I, was exiled after disagreeing with Prime Minister Venizelos over whether Greece should enter World War I.

Alice and Andrew also went into exile, returning briefly in 1920 when Constantine was reinstated, only to be exiled again a few years later. As the years progressed, Alice and Andrew’s marriage deteriorated, and Andrew eventually went to live in the South of France with his mistress Countess Andrée Lafayette, a French actress.

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Princess Alice with her daughter’s Princesses Margarita and Theodora of Greece and Denmark. 

Princess Alice’s health and mental state also deteriorated, and in 1930 she was sent to a sanatorium in Switzerland and diagnosed with schizophrenia by Sir Maurice Craig, a renowned psychiatrist who counted the Duke of Windsor and Virginia Woolf among his patients.

During this time her daughters (Sophie, Margarita, Theodora, and Cecilie) married German princes. Sophie married twice, first to Prince Christoph of Hesse and later Prince George William of Hanover. Margarita married Prince Gottfried of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, Theodora married the Margrave of Baden while Cecilie married the Hereditary Grand Duke of Hesse. Cecilie, her husband, and their children died in a plane crash in 1937 over Ostend, Belgium. She was 26. The death of Cecilie further aggravated Princess Alice’s mental state.

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As World War II loomed, Alice’s family pledged loyalty to opposite sides of the battlefield. While her son Prince Philip fought alongside the British Royal Navy, her sons-in-law supported Adolf Hitler (Prince Christoph and his brother Phillipp were part of the German SS and SA, respectively, while another son-in-law, Berthold, also served in the German Army).

Princess Alice remained in Greece while the rest of the family fled to Africa. As she did during the Balkan Wars, she worked with the Red Cross where she fed the poor and even smuggled medical supplies from Sweden under the pretext of visiting her sister, Crown Princess Louise.

She risked her life hiding Jewish families when Germany occupied Athens and rounded up tens of thousands of Jews to be sent to concentration camps. Her own situation was also extreme, as she often went without much food or water. By this time Prince Andrew was settled in the South of France. He never reconciled with his wife. Prince Andrew died in December 1944 in Monte Carlo.

When the war ended, Princess Alice founded the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary, a Greek Orthodox order devoted to nursing and good works. She retreated to the Greek island of Tinos to devote herself to the order. The inspiration for the order was her aunt Grand Duchess Elisabeth Feodorovna of Russia, who left the Imperial Russian court and opened a convent after the socialists assassinated her husband Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich in 1905. Elisabeth also founded a hospital that focused on the poor, a model later used by her niece Alice. Like her husband, Elisabeth was assassinated by Russian revolutionaries.

Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, Princess Alice focused on developing the order’s activities and travelling to such varied places as the United States and India to meet with religious leaders and raise funds. Eventually, the order was closed due to lack of financial support. She left Greece in 1967 forever after a group of right-wing officers overthrew the government of Prime Minister Kanellopoulos.  

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In her later years, her health worsened and she was then invited to live at Buckingham Palace. Alice died in 1969, and although she was laid to rest at the Royal Crypt at Windsor Castle her remains were transferred to the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem almost 20 years later since she at one point expressed her desire to be buried there.

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In 1994, Israel honoured Princess Alice’s war efforts to hide Jewish families during the war, granting her the honour of Righteous Among the Nations.

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A year before, Israel awarded the order to another Greek royal who also helped hide Jews from the Nazis, Helen, daughter of King Constantine I of Greece and later Her Majesty The Queen Mother of Romania.

For more information about the fascinating life of Princess Alice, check out her official biography, Alice: Princess Andrew of Greece by Hugo Vickers.

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