This is a guest article by Meghan, following Katherine and Joan: Being deaf in the Middle Ages.
In this next part, I will take you on a journey of discovering two of Germany’s princesses. You will see the perks of being born as royal descendants of Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and how their lives were flipped upside down after the fall of their homelands and how they became the hidden gems of the World Wars.
Before the First World War would officially begin in 1914, a man by the name of Garvilo Princip killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg. This would send shockwaves throughout the world and would eventually help to start the First World War. Germany would be one of the first countries to support Austria-Hungary in its cause. 1 A year into the war, Crown Prince Wilhelm of Prussia and Cecilie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin had their fifth child and first daughter Princess Alexandrine Irene of Prussia. This little princess was born with Downs Syndrome.
Since Alexandrine was a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, she passed down the haemophilia 2 gene to her children and their descendants. This was when I wondered if this condition could be a factor in her own disability, but it seems that haemophilia infects the blood in one’s body while Downs Syndrome3 is caused by having an extra chromosome.
As she grew up, she was allowed to attend public royal engagements with her family instead of being kept away at institutions. In 1918, the Kingdom of Prussia dissolved. She went to Trupersche Sonderschule which was a school for children with disabilities. In 1936, she moved to Bavaria where she remained during the World War II while other people and children were being killed for having disabilities.4 After the war was over, she moved again to a house at Lake Starnberg, where she lived until 1980 when she died at the age of 65. She is buried in the family cemetery at the castle of Hohenzollern. She was never betrothed to anyone and was mostly cared for by her nurse Selma Boese.
Next, we have Princess Alice of Battenberg. You may not recognise her name at first, but she has a bigger story to tell later on. Princess Victoria Alice Elisabeth Julia Maria was born to Prince Louis of Battenberg and Princess Victoria of Hesse and By Rhine in 1885.5
When Alice was still fairly young, she had issues with pronouncing and was slow at learning new things. She and her family would later find out that she was deaf. In my first piece, I explained how people with disabilities would be seen as beggers and ignored or cared for by the church. During the 19th century, being born deaf also had its troubles. In America, they were taught to use sign language in schools by their teachers.6 However for a royal princess, Alice was “forced” to learn how to read lips of her family and everyone else she came into contact with in life, but because of this, she learned how to understand it in multiple languages.
In 1903, Princess Alice married Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark; thus she became “Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark”. Alice and her husband had a total of five children: four daughters and one son: the future Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. They lived in Greece until the abdication of her brother-in-law King Constantine I in 1917 where they were forced to go into exile. They would have to do this again in 1922. After they went to live in France, their fabulous lifestyle as wealthy royals was at an end as they were now the ones asking for money. They also lost contact with their family members, and it was a factor in Alice’s mental breakdown. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was sent to an institution in Switzerland. She was kept there for almost two years.7
After the Greek monarchy was restored in 1935, she returned and lived in Athens. She worked with the poor and began to feed and clothe them, and when the Second World War erupted, she stayed behind and shielded a Jewish family in her apartment which could have cost her life as much as theirs. When the war was over, she remained ever religious and helpful to her fellow Greek citizens. She opened a Greek Orthodox nunnery, called the Christian Sisterhood of Mary and Martha. In 1947, she attended her only son’s wedding to Princess Elizabeth. Five years later, she went to Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, where she wore a dress that made her look like a nun.
Princess Alice died in 1969, two years after she left Greece for good to live with her son. She was originally placed in the crypt at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle but wished to be buried in Jerusalem, but she wasn’t able to be moved there right away, and it wasn’t until 1988 that she was moved to the Convent of Saint Mary Magdalene.