Among the numerous offspring of Queen Victoria perhaps no other suffered as tragic a fate as two of her granddaughters Princesses Elisabeth (*1864) and Alix (*1872), children of Princess Alice of the United Kingdom and Grand Duke Ludwig IV of Hesse. Blue-eyed and golden-haired, they were both undisputed beauties of the family with loving and happy dispositions, however the untimely death of their mother in 1878 signalled both change in the course of their lives and introduced solemnity and melancholy into the character of the younger sister. Virtually adopted by Queen Victoria, Ella and Alicky were to play major roles in political and human disaster of Europe in years to come. When Ella married Grand Duke Sergei of Russia in 1884, in spite of loud opposition from her formidable grandmother, she unknowingly set in motion a chain of seemingly minor events that eventually led to her younger sister to fall in love and marry Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich in 1894, again to great disaproval of the English monarch.
Grand Duchess Elizaveta Fyodorovna and Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna, as they were now styled, found little happiness in their exalted positions. The patronizing manners and difficult personality of Grand Duke Sergei, as well as the couple´s childlessness, made Ella´s life complicated. Still in her devotion she further suffered when her husband was killed by a revolutionary bomb in 1905. Meanwhile the painfully shy Alix suffered through the unavoidable social events and faced growing unpopularity, mainly because she failed to give Russia a male heir for first ten years of her marriage. When her son Alexei was finally born in 1904, it was soon apparent he was a victim of hemophilia. His mother never knew a moment´s peace since that day.
In the growing dark of political and social struggle Russia was going through, the two German Princesses found comfort in embracing their new country and particularly its faith, both becoming devout Orthodox Christians. Free of her marital status, Ella became a nun and dedicated her life to care of the poor and sick. When the Great War errupted in 1914, Alix found new purpose in personally caring for the injured, and organizing sanitary trains, hospitals, orphanages and other helpful institutions. Her own inexperience in political field, unfortunately, led to further deterioration of order in an already unstable government, adding the proverbial straw that ultimately broke the camel´s back.
After the revolution both sisters were arrested and held prisoner for several long months, with other members of the Romanov family, and together with them they were brutally massacred. In early morning hours of 17th July 1918 Alix and her family met their end in hail of bullets, a mere day later Ella and several Romanov Princes were thrown into an abandoned mineshaft, followed by grenades.
The British royal family at Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. 1953.
Group includes:Princess Alexandra of Kent, Prince Michael of Kent, Princess Marina (Duchess of Kent), Prince Henry (Duke of Gloucester), Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Prince Edward of Kent, Princess Mary (Countess of Harewood), Prince William of Gloucester, Prince Richard of Gloucester and Princess Alice (Duchess of Gloucester).
Princess Alix, the last Empress of Russia, was the sixth child and fourth daughter of Grand Duke Ludwig of Hesse and Princess Alice of the United Kingdom. Born in 1872, she was a “merry little person” and soon earned a nickname “Sunny”. In the above photo she was about four years old and yet unaware that within two years her life would be shattered to the core with death of her mother and closest sister. Her joyful character would turn serious and eventually she would grow up to be melancholic and deeply introverted individual.
July 1, 1862 – Wedding of Princess Alice of the United Kingdom and Prince Ludwig of Hesse.
On July 1, 1862, at Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight, Princess Alice married Prince Louis, the future Grand Duke of Hesse. They had been engaged for over a year, but in the interim, Princess Alice’s father, Prince Albert, had died. After six months the court was still in deepest mourning but, though Queen Victoria was still nearly mad with grief, she ordered that the wedding should go on as planned. In consideration of the circumstances, the wedding was a quiet, private affair; the dining room at Osborne House was converted into a temporary chapel.
Scarcely got any sleep. Towards morning heard all the preparations for today’s ceremony going on. It tired me terribly. Alice got up & came & kissed me & I gave her my blessing & a Prayer Book, like one dear Mama gave me on our happy wedding morning. [..] Took a short drive with Lenchen & then saw dear Louis, who was nervous & overcome. Alice was dressed before 1, looking lovely in her bridal attire. She had no train, but a half high dress with a deep flounce of Honiton Lace, a veil of the same & a wreath of orange blossoms & myrtle. She had her order on & wore the beautiful opal cross & brooch. There were 4 Bridesmaids, our 3 girls & Anna of Hesse, dressed in sprigged net over white, with pale mauve trimmings. — The time had come & I, in my “sad cap” as Baby calls it, — most sad, on such a day, went down with our 4 Boys, Bertie & Affie leading me. It was a terrible moment for me.
I sat all the time in an armchair, Bertie & Affie close to me. The Hessian Family stood opposite, Clementine, Augustus & Nemours, next to them. After a short pause Louis came in, conducted by Ld Sydney, & followed by his 2 brothers William & Henry. After another pause came the dear dear Bride on her Uncle’s arm, followed by the Brides Maids, a touching sight. The service then commenced, the Arch Bishop performing it beautifully. Alice answered so distinctly & was full of dignity & self possession. Louis also answered very distinctly. I restrained my tears, & had a great struggle all through, but remained calm. The service over, dear Alice, who was wonderfully composed, embraced me, as I did also Louis, after which they left the room, followed by us all.
Charles, very overcome & most kind, & dear good Fritz came into the Horn Room, & the Dean brought in the Register, which we all signed, the rest of the Family coming in, in succession. When that was over, I took leave of all the guests & went upstairs, where Alice & Louis joined me, & we lunched together, all the others lunching below. Mr Thomas made a slight sketch of Alice & then she went into her dear Father’s room to change her dress, putting on a white “mousseline de soie” with a little bonnet trimmed with orange blossoms. Her calmness & composure continued. They both went to wish Pce & Pss Charles goodbye, who then came with their sons & daughter to take leave of me. Ernst C. went to Town with them, but returns in 2 days. — Dear Alice & Louis sat with me for a short while & at 5 o'clock I parted with them, blessing them both & saw them drive off.
Dear Fritz dined alone with me & was extremely kind. We talked of many things. The others joined us afterwards. — Read over the account of Vicky’s wedding, so different to this, then, all such a joyous celebration !
Grand Duchess Alice of Hesse and by the Rhine, nee Princess of the United Kingdom, and her children, Victoria, Elizabeth, Irene, Ernest Louis “Ernie” and a very grumpy looking Alix, later Empress of Russia
Princess Alice of the United Kingdom, later Grand Duchess of Hesse, with her daughter Princess Elisabeth, future Grand Duchess of Russia and Martyr of Orthodox Church, 1864. Since “Ella” was second child, and again a daughter, instead of awaited heir to the Duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt, some were not too pleased at her birth. Her mother herself wrote to Queen Victoria: “The little daughter was but a momentary disappointment to us, which we have quite got over. We console ourselves with the idea that the little pair will look very pretty together.”