Princess, nun, schizophrenic: Who is Alice of Battenberg, the mother of Prince Philip?

Years after her death, the remarkable life of the princess of Greece continues to fascinate.

While Princess Alice of Battenberg traveled extensively throughout her life, her life began where it would end: in a palace in the United Kingdom. Born on February 25, 1885, at Windsor Castle, Alice was the eldest daughter of Prince Louis of Battenberg and his wife and the great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria.

From an early age, the girl traveled with her parents, dividing her time between London, Germany and Malta where her father, an officer in the Royal Navy since the age of 14, was based for much of the year. Diagnosed deaf at birth, Princess Alice of Battenberg learned to speak by reading the lips of those around her and even demonstrated a certain talent for learning foreign languages.

At the age of 17, the young teenager fell madly in love with Prince Andrew, the fourth son of King George I of Greece. Princess Alice married her prince in 1903, in three successive ceremonies, a civil marriage, a marriage according to the Lutheran rite and finally a marriage in accordance with tradition. This was necessary to satisfy the different religious beliefs of their huge family. The sumptuous party will be celebrated in Germany and the young couple receives no less than 750 000 dollars of gifts from their entourage. The equivalent of 23 million dollars today!

When Alice meets Jesus

Together Prince Andrew and Princess Alice will have five children: Margarita, Theodora, Cecilie, Sophie and finally Philip, future Prince Consort of England. While her husband is concentrating on his military career, Princess Alice is desperately looking for an activity to occupy her days, which are often too long for her taste. She finally finds God.

Getty Images Prince Andrew of Greece and his wife, Princess Alice.

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It was during a trip to Russia in 1908 that Princess Alice of Greece spoke at length with her aunt, the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, who was rigorously committed to redistributing all her wealth to those in need. She decided to take inspiration from this conversation, which awakened in the young woman a strong inclination for good works.

Since the beginning of the century, a wind of revolution has been blowing across Europe and Russia, threatening the monarchies. In 1917, the Russian Revolution broke out in Petrograd and the following year Tsar Nicholas II and his family were assassinated. For their part, the King of Greece and his family – including Princess Alice and Prince Andrew – escaped death but were exiled from Athens. For a time, the couple and their children settled in Saint-Cloud, near Paris.

Interviews with a psy

In 1930, Princess Alice, who made no secret of her devouring faith, claimed to be in contact simultaneously with Jesus Christ and Buddha. The doctors get involved and declare her schizophrenic. Forced into a clinic in Switzerland, the aristocrat is consulted by Sigmund Freud, who blames her illness on sexual frustration and suggests using X-rays on her ovaries to suppress her libido. Alice tries several times to leave the establishment. Without success.

Getty Images Princess Alice before she adopted the veil.

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During her two years of internment, Princess Alice gradually moves away from her husband, Prince Andrew of Greece. She was also unable to attend the weddings of her daughters, who all married German princes. When she was finally allowed to leave the clinic, Alice broke off all relations with her family and began a life of itinerancy in Central Europe. She did not see her husband and son, Prince Philip, again until 1937, when her daughter Cecilie was killed with two of her children in a tragic plane crash.

The following year, Alice of Battenberg returned to live in Athens. She remained there throughout World War II, exhausting herself helping the Red Cross and distributing food to the poor and orphans. She even went so far as to risk her life by making an express return trip to Sweden during the occupation to collect medicine. To facilitate her travels, she used her title as an excuse to visit her sister Louise, wife of the Crown Prince. Princess Alice is also famous for having given shelter to a Jewish family in her home, thus saving them from certain death.

A nun at Buckingham Palace

When Athens was liberated in October 1944, Harold Macmillan, a protégé of Winston Churchill, visited Princess Alice and described her living conditions as “humble, even quite squalid. In spite of this, she still had no intention of leaving Greece and returning to a palace life. On the contrary: in 1949, Alice founded a religious order and in the early 1950s, she embarked on two tours of the United States to raise funds to support her organization. In 1953, Princess Alice of Battenberg attended the coronation of her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth II of England, in religious garb.

In 1967, a military coup overthrew the Greek government and seized power by imposing a dictatorship. Since her health had been deteriorating considerably for several years and her religious order could not find any postulants, Princess Alice finally accepted the invitation of her son, Prince Philip, to move to Buckingham Palace. She died there on December 5, 1969.

Photo credits: Getty Images

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