Royal In-laws: Prince Philip's Mother

For most of us, the Duke of Edinburgh has been around for a lifetime. If asked, no one could be more British than he; and his unique sense of humor has become an epitome of what it means to be British. Like consorts before him, his family history is not always straight forward; and his mother was an original of rare quality: Princess Alice of Battenberg.

Princess Alice of Battenberg and family

Modern journalists (and this includes the BBC) try to make it appear as if the Royal Family had been wondering about who Prince Philip was when he asked for the hand of Princess Elizabeth. The only one wondering was Queen Mum as the odd one out in the family; everyone else had Royal connections all over the continent and were related to Philip in one way or another. And they had followed all the scandals in the family very closely.

Princess Alice of Battenberg was born 1885 in Windsor the daughter of Prince Louis of Battenberg and his wife Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine. No scandals there, those had been played out a generation earlier, or maybe two. Prince Louis had started life as Count Louis of Battenberg, a title he had inherited from his mother the former Countess Julia Hauke (a Polish title conferred on Julia's father by the tzar of Russia in his guise as king of Poland). She had married Prince Alexander of Hesse and by Rhine after an elopement and against the wishes of the Hesse Royal family as well as the Russian Imperial family.

As Countess Julia Hauke was not descended from a ruing family, the marriage was declared morganatic; this meant that the descendents of this union could not inherit the titles of their father and were excluded from the succession in Hesse. Grand Duke Louis III of Hesse conferred the mediated title of Countess of Battenberg on her (in her own right) after the marriage; mediated meant that she was addressed like a ruling countess as Most Illustrious Highness. He conferred the the title Princess of Battenberg on her and the accolade of Most Serene Highness.

As to Louis' father, his birth to Princess Wilhelmina of Baden, consort to Grand Duke Louis II of Hesse, was rumoured to be extramarital. It was said at the time (and is believed by many today) that the Grand Duchess was in a relationship with Swiss born Baron Auguste de Senarclens de Grancy and that Alexander and his younger sister Marie (later Empress Maria Alexandrovna of Russia) were the result of certain civilities exchanged between the Grand Duchess and the Baron.

As a final clincher, Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria. And now someone try to tell me that the family was not aware of all this. Highly unlikely, except if you were not part of the club like Queen Mum.

Princess Alice was born with congenital deafness. Despite not hearing anything, she learned to lip-read and speak in several languages. Before her marriage to Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark she was fluent in German, English, and French. After her marriage in 1903 she added Greek as a matter of course. Their wedding was the last general gathering of descendents of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom (grandmother of Europe) and King Christian IX of Denmark (grandfather of Europe) before the Great War.

The couple had four daughters between 1905 and 1914. During the Balkan War of 1912/13, she organised field hospitals and nursing stations for the troops spending most of the war at the front. In 1917, the her family had to leave Greece for exile in Switzerland after the abdication of King Constantine I. They returned after the death of her brother-in-law King Alexander I when King Constantine was reinstated.

In 1921, the couple's only son Philip was born. In 1922, Prince Andrew was convicted at a court-martial and sentenced to exile in France by the republican government installed after the war between Greece and Turkey of 1919 to 1921. The family moved to Paris but Prince Andrew soon withdrew to Monaco to live with his mistress Countess AndreƩ de la Bigne.

In 1928, she converted to the Greek Orthodox Faith which led her family to the conclusion that she was going mad. In 1930, on the instigation of her brother Louis (Battenberg meanwhile had become Mountbatten) and with the connivance of her mother, she was interned first in a German and then in a Swiss sanatorium and subjected to the sick cures of psychopaths - sorry psychiatrists (wrong synonym; my bad).

Her mother married off her daughters in quick succession in 1930 and 1931, all of them to German Princes; that left only Prince Philip as an annoying left-over. The boy would be left at boarding schools for as long as possible and during holidays he would be shunted from one relative to another. Princess Victoria was very efficient in the way she managed not to be troubled by the family she had disbanded.

Finally released in 1932, Princess Alice had no family or home to return to, thanks to the efficiency of her mother. She drifted through Europe incognito and only picked up the family lines in 1937 when her daughter Cecilia and her husband Georg Hereditary Grand Duke of Hesse died in an airplane crash near Ostende.

The monarchy in Greece had been reinstated again in 1935. Princess Alice moved to Athens in 1938 and did charitable work for the poor there. She refused to leave Athens when the Germans invaded and continued to care for the poor of the city and running a soup kitchen. In 1943, she took in a family of Jew fugitives from Thessaloniki and hid them successfully from the Germans until the end of the war.

The German military commander assumed her to be an ally in the occupation; being German herself and having three daughters married there made this self evident. She is reputed to have had a visit by him and asked if he could do her any favours, she replied: "You can take your troops out of my country."

After liberation, war between government forces and communist terrorists waged all over Athens where British troops tried to instill a curfew to get control of the situation. Princess Alice disregarded the curfew to distribute food to the poor and crossed and recrossed the fighting lines at will. When reprimanded by the British commander to take care, she is said to have told him: "They tell me that you don't hear the shot that kills you and in any case I'm deaf. So, why worry about that?"

In 1949, she founded her own religious order of the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary to which he devoted most of the rest of her life. She was forced to abandon her project in 1967 when the monarchy was again abolished. She went into exile in London where she spent her last two years living in Buckingham Palace. She died in 1969 without a penny to her name as she had given away everything to the poor of Athens.

After long negotiations involving such diverse bodies as the Church of England, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church, the State of Israel, the governments and Royal families of the United Kingdom and Denmark, she found her final rest in a crypt of the Convent of Saint Mary Magdalen in Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem in 1988. In 2010, the state of Israel named her among the Righteous Among the Nations.

Further reading
Royal In-laws Aren't Always What They Seem, Either
Prince George of Hanover, Duke of Cambridge
Evacuation From Yalta 1919