Alice of Battenberg was born on 25 February 1885 as the daughter of Prince Louis of Battenberg and Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria through her daughter Alice. Due to the early death of Queen Victoria’s daughter Alice, Queen Victoria took a special interest in her grandchildren through Alice.
Alice’s mother Princess Victoria was the eldest of seven – though, at the time of her daughter’s birth, only five remained. Young Marie had died in the same diphtheria attack that had killed their mother, and young Friedrich had died after falling from a window – he had suffered from haemophilia. The remaining siblings were Elisabeth (later known as Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna), Irene, Ernst Louis (the future Grand Duke of Hesse) and Alix (later Empress Alexandra Feodorovna)
The younger Victoria went to stay with Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle and settled into the Tapestry Room, where she herself had been born in 1863. Alice was born in the late afternoon, after a long labour. Queen Victoria wrote in her journal, “I had some breakfast & then went back remaining with dear Victoria on & off, till at length, at 20m to 5 in the afternoon, the child, a little girl, was born. The relief was great for poor Victoria had had such a long hard time, which always makes me anxious. How strange & indeed affecting, it was, to see her lying in the same room & in the same bed, in which she herself was born.”1
Alice and her mother stayed at Windsor until 30 March when they left for Darmstadt, where Alice was entrusted to the care of Mary Anne Orchard – or Orchie. On 25 April 1885 – her grandmother’s and namesake’s birthday – Alice was christened. Queen Victoria wrote, “A day of great emotion. Dear beloved Alice’s birthday & her darling boy (Ernst Louis) to be confirmed & 1st grandchild christened. But she was not there to see it!”2 Queen Victoria stayed to visit the graves at Park Rosenhöhe and then returned home with Princess Victoria, Louis, and young Alice. The young family settled at Sennicotts and began to divide their time between England, Malta (due to her father’s time in the navy) and Darmstadt.
The first hint that Alice might be deaf appeared in a letter in January 1887 when Queen Victoria wrote, “She is very slow in learning to talk, but on the other hand very clever with her fingers.”3 It was actually Alice’s paternal grandmother Julia, Princess Battenberg (born Julia Hauke), who identified it as deafness, and she took Alice to a specialist in Darmstadt. Alice was diagnosed with congenital deafness – which was due to the thickness of the Eustachian tubes. Her mother began to spend many hours teaching Alice to lip-read and working on her speaking. She was able to hear some sounds, but no operation was possible. Eventually, she became so good at lip-reading that people became very careful around her when gossiping.
On 13 July 1889, the family expanded with the birth of Louise, later Queen of Sweden. When Alice was six years old, the Empress Frederick (Victoria, Princess Royal) wrote, “What a beautiful child little Alice is! She has the most perfect little face & those beautiful brown eyes & dark eyebrows!”4 On 6 November 1892, Victoria gave birth to her third child – a son named George (later George Mountbatten, 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven). By then, Alice was being taught by a tutor named Miss Robson, who had also been governess to Princess Margaret of Connaught.
In 1893, Alice was one of the ten bridesmaids in the wedding of Princess Mary of Teck to the Duke of York (the future King George V). Queen Victoria noted that Alice was “very sweet in white satin, with a little pink and red rose on the shoulder and some small bows of the same on the shoes.”5 During her stay in England, Alice had her tonsils removed by Sir James Reid.
The following year, Julia, Princess Battenberg, Alice’s grandmother, died, and her mother wrote Queen Victoria telling her how sad Alice was at her passing. Queen Victoria wrote back, “Poor little Alice too. It is touching to hear of her sorrow. I hope this feeling of affection & gratitude will always be encouraged as her dear Grandmama was so fond of & kind to her.”6 Her little brother George placed a pear in Julia’s coffin, saying she would have preferred this to flowers.
Alice had been quite young when she had been present for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee; ten years on, she was able to appreciate the Diamond Jubilee more, and she also took a larger part. The Battenbergs stayed with Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Louise at Kensington Palace. Alice joined the procession from Buckingham Palace to St Paul’s Cathedral in a carriage with Princess Beatrice‘s children. A few days later, Alice attended a garden party at Buckingham Palace, and she was able to view the great naval review at Spithead. In 1899, the family spent Christmas at Windsor with Queen Victoria and the New Year was celebrated at Sandringham. The summer of 1900 was spent at Frogmore, and they would sometimes accompany the Queen to church. At Frogmore House, Princess Victoria gave birth to her fourth and final child – a son named Louis (later Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma).
The following year, an era truly came to an end with the death of Queen Victoria. Alice’s parents were summoned to Osborne for the vigil while the children remained in London. Queen Victoria died on 22 January 1901 and was succeeded by her eldest son and Alice’s great-uncle, who now became King Edward VII. From this time, the first letters by Alice’s own hand began to appear. She described Queen Victoria’s funeral in a letter to a friend in Darmstadt, “We had to wait three hours in St George’s Chapel until the train arrived. The coffin was covered with a white and red silk cloth, on which there was a large crown, sceptre and two orbs. All the friends followed behind. In the chapel everything was white as the Queen insisted there was to be no black.”7
Alice spent the beginning of the new reign in London, studying under governesses, and she began to prepare for her confirmation, which took place in Heiligenberg on 9 April 1901.
- Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece by Hugo Vickers p.3
- Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece by Hugo Vickers p.19
- Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece by Hugo Vickers p.24
- Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece by Hugo Vickers p.31
- Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece by Hugo Vickers p.36
- Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece by Hugo Vickers p.40
- Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece by Hugo Vickers p.490