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Friday 4 January 2008

Princess Alice 1843-1878

Over the next few weeks, I intend to add accounts of some of the members of Queen Victoria's extended family, beginning today with one of the most tragic and heroic of all the Queen's children, her second daughter, Princess Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse.

Only eighteen-years-old when her father, Prince Albert, died in December 1861, the young princess virtually took over all her mother's duties, while the Queen was lost in her grief. This gave Alice little time to come to terms with her own bereavement - and she had been very close to her father.
Alice's wedding, the following July, was a gloomy affair. Virtually everyone was dressed in black, the Queen and several of Alice's siblings wept throughout the service and even the recently-widowed Archbishop performing the ceremony was in tears.
Alice went with her new husband, Prince Louis of Hesse-and-by-Rhine, to Darmstadt, the centre of the little German Grand Duchy to which her husband was heir. By royal standards they were not wealthy and were driven to beg Queen Victoria for financial assistance.
Alice devoted herself entirely to the people of Hesse, often going incognito to their homes, scrubbing floors and making meals for the sick and elderly. She founded countless charitable institutions, supported the Red Cross, opened a 'mental asylum' and personally worked in the hospitals carrying out the most menial tasks.
She bore 5 children - two of whom, Ella, the future Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feodorovna, and Alix, the future Empress Alexandra of Russia - were destined to be murdered by the bolsheviks. Unlike many princesses of her day, Alice took a personal interest in every aspect of her children's welfare and education, shocking Queen Victoria by breast-feeding baby Ella herself. Their curriculum was wide-ranging and alongside academic skills she introduced all her children to the idea that responsibility accompanied their privileged position.
To be continued....

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