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Princess Alice of Battenberg

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Princess Alice of Battenberg

Princess Alice of Battenberg, later Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark (25 February 1885 - 5 December 1969) was a great-granddaughter of the British Queen Victoria who married into the royal house of Greece. She was the mother of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who became consort of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. She was also the elder sister of Lord Mountbatten and Lady Louise Mountbatten (13 July 1889 - 7 March 1965), who became the second wife of King Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden.

Her Serene Highness Princess Victoria Alice Elizabeth Julia Marie of Battenberg was born at Windsor Castle in Berkshire. She was the eldest child of Prince Louis of Battenberg (24 May 1854 - 11 September 1921) and his wife Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine (5 April 1863-24 September 1950). Her mother was the eldest daughter of Princess Alice, the second daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Her father was eldest son of Prince Alexander of Hesse and by Rhine through his morganatic marriage to Julia, Countess von Hauke. At the request of King George V, on 14 July 1917, Prince Louis relinquished the title Prince of Battenberg in the Grand Duchy of Hesse and the style Serene Highness, and Anglicized the family name to Mountbatten. The following day, the King created him Marquess of Milford Haven in the peerage of the United Kingdom.1

Princess Alice of Battenberg spent most of her childhood in London. She was diagnosed with congenital deafness, but learned to lip-read in English, French, and German. Later, she learned to lip-read in Greek. On 7 October 1903, she married Prince Andrew (Andreas) of Greece and Denmark, the fourth son of King George I of the Hellenes and Queen Olga, the daughter of Grand Duke Constantine of Russia, at Darmstadt. The bride and groom were closely related to the ruling houses of Great Britain, Prussia/Germany, Russia, Denmark, Greece, Hesse and by Rhine, Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenberg, and Württemburg; their wedding was one of the last great gatherings of the descendants of Queen Victoria and Christian IX of Denmark before World War I.

Prince and Princess Andrew of Greece had five children:

After Turkey defeated the Greek army in 1922, a Revolutionary Committee under the leadership of Colonel Nikolaos Plastiras and Colonel Stylianos Gonatos seized power and forced King Constantine I of Hellenes into exile. They confined Alice's husband Prince Andrew, who had served as commander of the Second Army Corps during the Balkan War, on the island of Corfu, along with his family. Later, they put him on trial for treason. However, due to the intervention of the British government, Prince and Princess Andrew and their children were allowed to go into exile. The family settled at Saint-Cloud, on the outskirts of Paris, where the princess opened a charity shop for Greek refugees. She became deeply religious, and on 20 October 1928 entered the Greek Orthodox Church. In 1930, she suffered a severe nervous breakdown. Princess Andrew was removed from her family and placed in a sanatorium in Switzerland, where she was diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic. She remained in various mental institutions for most of the 1930s.

During Princess Andrew's long convalescence, she and Prince Andrew gradually drifted apart, and in 1938, she retuned to Athens alone to work with the poor and the sick. Her daughters went to stay with German relatives, and Prince Philip went to England to stay with his uncles, then-Lord Louis Mountbatten and George Mountbatten, 2nd Marquess of Milford-Haven, and his grandmother, the Dowager Marchioness of Milford-Haven.

During World War II, most of the Greek royal family remained in exile in South Africa. However, the war found Princess Andrew in the tragic situation of having four daughters married to German princes and a son in the Royal Navy. She and her sister-in-law, Princess Nicholas of Greece (1882-1947) (the mother of Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent), lived in Athens for the duration of the war. She worked for the Swedish and Swiss Red Cross organizations and helped organize soup kitchens. After the fall of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in September 1943, the German Army occupied Athens, where the majority of Greek Jews had sought refuge. During this period, Princess Andrew hid Rachel Cohen and her five children, who sought to evade the Gestapo and deportation to the death camps.

Princess Andrew returned to Great Britain in November 1947 to attend the wedding of her only son, then-Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, R.N. to HRH The Princess Elizabeth, the elder daughter and heir presumptive of King George VI. She sat at the head of her family on the left side of Westminster Abbey, opposite the King, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary. The British royal family had not invited Princess Andrew's daughters to the wedding because of the depth of anti-German sentiment in Britain following World War II. In January 1949, the princess founded an order of Greek Orthodox nuns, the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary, on the Greek island of Trinos. She attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953 wearing her nun's habit.

Increasingly deaf since childhood, Princess Andrew left Greece for the last time following the 21 April 1967 Colonels' Coup. King Constantine II of the Hellenes and Queen Anne-Marie voluntarily went into exile. Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh invited Princess Andrew to reside permanently in Great Britain. She died at Buckingham Palace in December 1969. Initially her remains were placed in the Royal Crypt in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. However, her wish to be buried at the Convent of Saint Mary Magdalene in Gethsemane was finally realized in 1988 when her remains were transferred to her final resting place in a crypt below the church.

On 31 October 1994, Princess Andrew's two surviving children, the Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Georg of Hanover, went to Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Memorial) in Jerusalem to witness a ceremony honoring her as "Righteous among the Nations" for having hidden the Cohen family in her flat in Athens during the Second World War.

Footnotes

1. Princess Alice of Battenberg never used the Mountbatten surname or assumed the courtesy title as a daughter of a British marquess since she had married into the Royal House of Greece in 1903.

Sources

Ronald Allison and Sarah Riddell, eds., The Royal Encyclopedia (London: Macmillan, 1991).

Hugo Vickers, Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000).

"Princess Andrew, Mother of the Duke of Edinburgh," The Times, 6 December 1969, p. 8, column E.de:Alice von Battenberg

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