Every year I like to focus on one Queen Victoria’s family who was born or was alive in the 19th century. Naturally, the first yea, I showcased Our Queen. We have since moved on methodically from Victoria, Albert, Vicky, Bertie/Edward VII, and now, sweet Alice. Most facts are taken from, Alice, The Enigma: A biography of Queen Victoria’s Daughter by Christina Croft. Princess Alice was Queen Victoria’s third child and second daughter, born on April 25th, 1843. Not quite the spare the Royal Couple had hoped for, but were delighted nevertheless.
. . .With Prince Albert’s agreement, [the name] ‘Alice’ was chosen partly as a kindness to Lord Melbourne who had once mentioned that this was his favorite name . . . –page 32
While the Royal Children were shuttled from a few of the Royal residences, for as long as she lived Osbourne House and the memories of her dear father would always be the yardstick which she measured her happiness. The house sits on the Isle of Wright and was known as the family’s summer home and royal retreat. A Swiss Cottage was imported from Germany from the request of Prince Albert in 1853. It was placed in a secluded area and was meant as a playhouse for the children. Granted, Prince Albert was all about educational play. It hoped the Swiss Cottage would help his children
develop independence by choosing their own occupations and learning the practical skills of cooking and gardening. . . Vicky and Alice pickled fruits, prepared the vegetables which had grown in their little gardens, and made meals to be distributed to the tenants and the poor, or, on special occasions, to be served to their parents and other guests. –page 41
The girls often learn to sew and paint, and craft gifts. The boys, in turn, practiced carpenters skills with woodwork and masonry. “Forts and barracks” were also installed near the cottage, to assist with royals involvement in the military. The Osbourne nursery was filled with typical games and toys of any wealthy Victorian household; books, dolls, rocking horses, trains, and the like.
The home was situated near beach and it was here the royal children learned to swim, gather shells and explored the woods nearby to collect items for their own little museums.
As Prince Albert’s daughter, she was raised to understand with privilege comes responsibility. Both her parents drilled charity and being accessible to those less fortunate and help in some way. This extended to animals, as the Queen was a huge proponent of all kinds of animals and often encouraged her children to care and nurse any wounded creature they happened upon.
Under Albert’s strict schooling Alice did well, but never excelled to the heights of her oldest sister, Vicky.
Lessons began around eight in the morning and continued until six in the evening, broken throughout the day by frequent physical and outdoor activities. . . Along side visits to the Botanical and Zoological Gardens, [their governess] took her charges to lectures from well-known scientists and academics.–page 49
More interestingly, the girls would often practice meeting, greeting, and chatting with fake dignitaries. Placing chairs about the room in various settings, such as a dinner, a ball, or a salon, they moved about the room addressing imaginary ambassadors with appropriate questions and comments to spur debate and conversation.
Most of the Royals took an interest in the arts, with Vicky being accomplished in drawing, but Alice had a natural gift for music; particularly the piano. All the children were taught multiple languages from a young age as well, although retention of these foreign tongues varied from child to child. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert also hoped to instill a respect for religion and religious tolerance, but also to be rational and consider both opposing arguments to reach their own conclusions.
Do not be fooled, was still a girl and a princess with access to things not available to the common man, and she did make the most of it. She was always into high fashion and jewels, even as a toddler. More over, even if she is often depicted as kindness itself, she did have a stubborn and adventurous streak. Her older brother, Bertie , and heir to the throne was her closest companion and partner in crime. They would sneak off to smoke cigarettes and occasionally pull pranks on the staff. They defended each other and would sneak each other little sweets under the door, when one of them was essential grounded for misbehavior.
Like her father, she was sensitive to others and the deep, profound questions of the world. The meaning of life and death, the suffering of it all. She had bouts of melancholy and was sometimes described as emotionally hypersensitive. When the Crimean War began Princess Alice was around eleven years old and was fascinated by Florence Nightingale. The stories of The Lady of the Lamp inspired Alice’s lifelong interest in nursing. Her more immediate experience will illness occurred soon after when four of Queen Victoria’s children caught Scarlet Fever, Alice included. All of them recovered, but these bouts were blamed for future weak constitution in their health.
Merely three years, later Alice’s world shook again. Her eldest sister, Vicky married at seventeen. With the Princess Royal out of the house, Alice was now the eldest daughter in the home and was expected to play more prominent role in the public duties of the family and gain new privileges as well.
At fifteen-years-old, Alice’s grace and composure had won the affection of the crowds . . . she was now considered sufficiently mature to join her parents for dinner once or twice a week . . . Prince Albert now focused more intently on Alice’s education. Each evening she was invited to spend an hour alone with him to discuss history, politics, and literature to enable her to form opinions, which would, it was hoped, serve her well in her future role.–page 79
Around this time, Queen Victoria and her eldest daughter Vicky started scouting Europe for potential husbands for Alice. Asking for references and discreetly doing background checks on eligible bachelors and their families, with the focus on compatibility of personalities. Above all, Queen Victoria wished her daughter to have a good, kind husband, since it was obvious no one could out rank a Princess of England. Even though, Victoria was looking, she did not want her daughter married off “so early,” as Vicky’s had been. For now it was a waiting game.
The death of the Duchess of Kent, Queen Victoria’s mother, and Alice’s grandmother was Alice’s first personal experience with death. She saw the toll it took on both of her parents, but mainly how the Queen’s inconsolable grief wore down her father, although he would never admit it. Shockingly, ten months later, Alice would be by her father’s deathbed. Like her mother, and Vicky before her, Alice worshiped her father and everything he stood for. His death on December 14th of 1861 was a blow which she never really recovered, but unlike her mother, she did go on living. In the beginning, all her attention was refocused on taking care of the Queen after her husband’s passing. Part of the excessive grief displayed by most of the women in the royal family comes from a culture where the more dramatic the demonstrations the more loved and respected the deceased was. Since Vicky was already married and Bertie, was away and thought incompetent by his mother, Alice stepped in temporarily taking on the duties of “heir or right hand man.” Alice was only 18 years old.
For her 19th birthday, the Queen gave Alice a gold bracelet commissioned by Prince Albert earlier that year, engraved with a ship and her own face. Around this time Alice was newly engaged to Louis of Hesse. “It was the last material gift Alice would receive from her father, and one which she would treasure for the rest of her life.”
The following July in 1862, Alice wed Louis in one of the more depressing royal weddings. Then the newly weds were off on a three-day honeymoon a few miles from Osbourne House. However, the Queen could not stand being without her companion and burst into the building on the second day with a large entourage and had the couple move back into Osbourne House for the next eight days before sailing to Hesse-Dramstadt. They had come to an agreement the couple would spend a few months each year in England, to satisfy the Queen and spend time with her family. The Queen had ordered her doctor to write to Alice describing the symptoms of pregnancy and a safe confinement. Alice made short work of this information, because by the end of her three day honeymoon she was already pregnant!
Once ensconced in her small home in Germany, she quickly established a routine.
- 7:15 am Rise
- 8:00 am Coffee then went out with her husband
- 10:00 Correspondence (think the equivalent of emails, text, phone calls)
- 12:00 “Breakfast” then received official visitors
- 4:00 “Dinner” then alone time with Louis to read, discuss plans, and the like
She spent a lot of time visiting all the towns and cities within Hesse and Dramstadt to further familiarize herself with the Hessian culture and understand its people. Due to German transport system, she also had many opportunities to visit relatives living and vacationing nearby. However, after three weeks in the German Duchy, the couple announced they will be returning to England for as their quarters were too tight. Alice ended up having her first child on English soil on Easter Sunday, Victoria Alberta was born at a quarter to five. Alice was just 19 years old, but she knew her next child had to be born on German soil to gain the confidence of the Hessian people. Almost a year later she kept her promise when Elizabeth was born in the following November. However, everyone in the family simply called the little girl Ella. With her sisters Vicky’s encouragement and to her mother’s horror, Alice breastfeed Ella.
Even before she had her children Alice had visited the hospital in Darmstadt with the intent of raising awareness and gaining donations for its improvement. In a time when nurses were thought badly of, due to the reputation of attracting the lowest classes of society, Alice waded into the foray. It also went against the Victorian ideal of wealthy woman having any knowledge whatsoever of the human anatomy, who was supposed to be totally dependent on her father or husband. Alice saw nursing as prepping for the doctor’s arrival and to stand in awe of how the human body functions. Moreover, she wanted to improve childbirth conditions. She encouraged hospitals to provide clean linens and other necessities to at home births. She often went undercover to assist with the most menial tasks in the poorest homes of birthing women along side midwives and doctors. While pregnant with another child and Hesse now at war with Prussia, Alice wasted no time rolling bandages and setting to work to do all she could for the wounded.
When the hospital became crowded, Alice personally nursed the soldiers within her own home, tending not only to the wounded but also those suffering from disease.–page 202
Alice was also a big advocate for the mentally ill, and not to confuse it with the criminally insane. The need for mental asylums with humane treatment of patients in Hesse was a dream for her. Her charity and in part her small stipend almost made her a poor relation in the Royal Household. While she grew up with servants and staff, she had to find a way to make due without especially during the war years. She penny pinched unlike any of the royals to keep her family afloat. Years after the war, she became involved in the plight of orphans and the building of orphanages, in addition to her hospitals and asylums. It drew her into the Women’s Suffrage Movement, which in turn got her pulled into the plight and reform of prostitutes.
All this while being the best mother she could be and passing on the ideals of her father to her children. From reform, independence, charity, animal care and visits to everywhere when possible. However, she could not escape her genetics and her second son, Frederick Wilhelm or Frittie, was born a hemophiliac. When he was four years old, Frittie was happily playing in the room while went through her papers. She left the room for a few minutes to call the other children to supper. During that short time Frittie climbed up to the open window and tumbled into the terrace below. There were no broken bones or obvious bleeding, but by nightfall it was obvious he was dying from internal hemorrhage. A year later her father in law would pass away elevating her to the title of Grand Duchess and allow her access to more money for her charities and home situation.
Then came the diphtheria.
One of the great killers of the era, the greatly feared and highly infectious disease, affects the throat and lymph nodes, causing he membranes to swell across the tonsils and in extreme cases, across the airways leading to suffocation. . . Alongside the asphyxiating membranes, the toxins produced by the infection can lead to kidney, liver and nerve damage in victims whose immune system is already comprised or under developed. . . Symptoms–a headache, sore throat and general malaise-do not generally manifest for five or ten days after the infection has been contracted..–pave 242
Five of her remaining children and her husband caught it and Alice was already in frail health, but she dutifully nursed everyone with the help of eight nurses night and day. She was very conscientious of physical contact, disinfectant, protective clothing and fumigation. Her eldest daughter recovered first and her youngest was thought to be on the mend, but died quickly. Since all were quarantined, Alice did not tell the other children of little May’s death and held a very small quiet service for her daughter alone. Because of this lack of knowledge and Alice attempt at trying to remain cheerful for the rest of her family, her young son Ernie asked to give little May a book to make her feel better. It was not until toward the end of the month that Ernest was out of danger and sufficiently recovered before Alice had the heart to tell him the truth about May’s death.
So distressed was he, that her natural response was take him in her arms and kiss him-perhaps thereby contracting the illness herself.–page 244
On December 14th, the very day of her father’s passing, Princess Alice Muad Mary of the United Kingdom and Grand Duchess of Hesse-Dramstadt died of diphtheria. Her last words was the mummer “Dear Papa.” “The father whom she loved so deeply had come to take her home.”–page 245