Princess Alice of the United Kingdom, Grand Duchess of Hesse: 1843-1878
Alice was the second daughter and third child of Queen Victoria and Albert, the Prince Consort. On the occasion of her birth the Privy council sent Prince Albert a note of “congratulation and condolence” due to the sex of the new princess, as most people had been hoping for a “spare heir” to join the Prince of Wales in the line of succession.
As a child, Alice was often in the shadow of her elder sister Victoria, who was always hailed as the exceptionally gifted and prettiest of the children. Her mother the Queen once very bluntly said “Alice, I daresay, will improve.” But Alice possessed a very compassionate nature and was the most sensitive of all eight of her siblings, which contrasted greatly with her quick temper and sharp tongue. Alice was always curious about the common people and felt a need to help the sick and needy. Her favorite times were those when she visited tenement houses and military hospitals with her mother. She was especially close to her older brother Albert Edward, known as “Bertie,” and often took up for him when he was harshly criticized by their mother. Alice eased the extreme pressure Bertie was under from their parents to be like his father, and as a result he relied on Alice for comfort and advice for the rest of her life.
In April of 1861, Alice was engaged to Prince Louis of Hesse. But in December of the same year Prince Albert died suddenly and Queen Victoria was plunged into a deep and life-long mourning. Because of Alice’s compassion she became the caregiver of the family, even acting as Victoria’s unofficial secretary when her mother could not bear to attend to affairs of state. Alice worked so tirelessly that when Prince Louis arrived in England for the wedding she had grown thin and gaunt and looked profoundly sad. Alice and Louis married on July 1, 1862. They would have seven children, including Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and Grand duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna of Russia.
As Grand Duchess of Hesse, Alice was devoted to her children and to helping the less fortunate. She threw herself wholeheartedly into nursing and hospital work during the Austro-Prussian War. Several years later she would nurse her her hemophiliac son Frederick after he fell from a window and suffered extreme internal bleeding that ultimately killed him. In 1878 diphtheria swept through the Grand Ducal family and infected all but one of the children and killed her youngest child Marie. Alice nursed her family day and night, but the disease soon took hold of her exhausted body. She died on December 14, 1878 at the age of 35.