Princess Victoria of Battenburg with her daughter, Princess Andrew of Greece, and her granddaughter Margarita: 1905.

Princess Victoria of Battenburg with her daughter, Princess Andrew of Greece, and her granddaughter Margarita: 1905.


Princess Alice of Battenberg

Princess Alice of Battenberg, later Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark was the mother of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and mother-in-law of Queen Elizabeth II.

She was congenitally deaf, and grew up in Germany, England and the Mediterranean, and in 1930, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and committed to a sanatorium. After her recovery, she devoted most of her remaining years to charity work in Greece.

She stayed in Athens during the Second World War, where she worked for the Red Cross, helped organize soup kitchens for the starving populace and flew to Sweden to bring back medical supplies on the pretext of visiting her sister, Louise, who was married to the Crown Prince. She organized two shelters for orphaned and stray children, and a nursing circuit for poor neighbourhoods.

The occupying forces apparently presumed Princess Andrew was pro-German, nonetheless, when visited by a German general who asked her, "Is there anything I can do for you?", she replied, "You can take your troops out of my country."

Princess Andrew hid Jewish widow Rachel Cohen and two of her five children, who sought to evade the Gestapo and deportation to the death camps.

During the fighting, to the dismay of the British, she insisted on walking the streets distributing rations to policemen and children in contravention of the curfew order. When told that she might have been shot by a stray bullet, she replied "they tell me that you don’t hear the shot that kills you and in any case I am deaf. So, why worry about that?"

In January 1949, the princess founded a nursing order of Greek Orthodox nuns, the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary. 

She died at Buckingham Palace on 5 December 1969. She is recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations" at Yad Vashem.

Prince Philip said of his mother’s sheltering of persecuted Jews, “I suspect that it never occurred to her that her action was in any way special. She was a person with a deep religious faith, and she would have considered it to be a perfectly natural human reaction to fellow beings in distress.”

Left: Queen Victoria’s daughters in mourning for their father, Prince Albert probably in early 1862. From left: Alice, Louise, Beatrice, Victoria, and Helena. 

Right: Princess Alice’s daughters in mourning for their mother, 1878. From left: Victoria, Irene, Alix, and Ella. 

Although Queen Victoria was especially protective of her Hesse grandchildren after their mother’s death, I have always felt that she did an especial disservice to Alix and her siblings by her morbid focus on death and the dead. Being the youngest child, Alix was especially affected by her mother’s death. She rarely smiled after the terrible events of 1878. However, I believe that her grandmother encouraged her in her excessive grief and helped to cause the nervous disorders that ultimately brought about the downfall of the Romanov dynasty. Queen Victoria herself never recovered from the loss of Prince Albert and wallowed in her grief for such an extended period that the monarchy became extremely unpopular. Luckily for her, the charm and popularity of the Prince of Wales saved the day. In the same way, Alix alienated the Russian people, especially the nobility, by her refusal to appear in public and at social functions. Her daughters often took her place, but not having the political significance of the Prince of Wales, this was a largely empty gesture. 

Many people dislike Alix because they blame her for the fall of the Romanovs. She was responsible for much of the chaos in the government during the first world war. However, I believe that most of her erratic behavior and stubbornness stemmed from her upbringing. If Alix had been taught to deal with her grief properly and eventually to move on after the death of her mother and sister in 1878, perhaps history would have turned out differently.