Alice of Battenberg (1885–1969)
Alice of Battenberg (1885–1969)
Princess of Greece and Denmark, mother of the duke of Edinburgh, and a "Righteous Gentile" as rescuer of Greek Jews in World War II. Name variations: Princess Andrew, Princess Alice. Born Victoria Alice Elizabeth Julia Mary at Windsor Castle, Berkshire, England, on February 25, 1885; died in London's Buckingham Palace on December 5, 1969; daughter of Prince Louis Alexander Battenberg, 1st marquess of Milford Haven, and Princess Victoria of Hesse-Darmstadt (1863–1950); sister of Louise Mountbatten (1889–1965) and Earl Mountbatten of Burma; married Prince Andrew of Greece (1882–1944), on October 7, 1903; children: Margaret Oldenburg (1905–1981, who married Godfrey, 8th prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg); Theodora Oldenburg (1906–1969, who married Berthod, margrave of Baden); Cecily Oldenburg (1911–1937, who married George Donatus of Hesse); Sophia of Greece (b. 1914, who married Christopher of Hesse-Cassell and George Guelph); Prince Philip (b. 1921, also known as Philip Mountbatten, duke of Edinburgh, husband of Queen Elizabeth II of England).
After her husband's family's expulsion from Greece (1923), lived in exile; during WWII, returned to Greece and hid Jewish refugees in her home at the risk of her own life, protecting them from certain death in Nazi-occupied Greece; named a "Righteous Gentile" by Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial museum and research center (1994).
Born in Windsor, England, on February 25, 1885, Alice of Battenberg, princess of Greece, was one of Queen Victoria 's many grandchildren. Her father was Prince Louis Alexander Battenberg, and her mother was Princess Victoria of Hesse-Darmstadt . Alice was the eldest sister of Earl Mountbatten of Burma.
After she married Prince Andrew of Greece in 1903, Alice spent most of her life in that country. Known as Princess Andrew, she shared in many of the tragic events that afflicted Greece in the 20th century. Her husband Prince Andrew was commander of a Greek army corps in the illfated war against Turkey, which ended catastrophically in a Greek military rout in 1922. As politicians searched for scapegoats, they targeted Prince Andrew, arresting him for a show trial. Foreign pressure saved his life, but he and his family were banished when a republican regime overthrew the Greek monarchy in 1923.
Living in exile with her husband and children near Paris, Princess Alice remained indignant over the shabby treatment her husband had received in Greece, and she vowed that their son, Prince Philip, would never suffer the same humiliations. Philip was sent to school in England, effectively preparing him for his later life as an exemplary British officer and gentleman. Living as exiled royalty, Princess Alice became a businesswoman, opening up an embroidery and jewelry boutique in Paris.
Toward the beginning of World War II, the German occupation of Greece in April 1941 strengthened her resolve to render assistance to her adopted country, and Princess Alice returned to Greece. The country endured a Nazi occupation regime that imposed terror and starvation on hundreds of thousands of civilians. While her husband lived in Monte Carlo (where he died in 1944), the princess worked to alleviate Hellenic suffering. Volunteering with the Swedish and Swiss Red Cross organizations, she struggled to bring relief supplies to the populace. World War II also brought private agony to Alice, as it divided her family. While two of her three daughters were married to Germans, her son, Prince Philip, was on active duty in the British Royal Navy.
In several instances, Princess Alice saved lives. In 1942, Nazi occupation forces began to round up all of Greece's Jewish population for deportation to the death camps of German-occupied Eastern Europe. Risking her life, Alice hid several members of a Jewish family in one of her Athens residences, and facilitated the escape of other members of the same family.
After World War II, Princess Alice founded the monastic society of Martha and Mary in 1949. Its goal was to train sisters to care for poor children and the sick. As the society's mother superior under the name of Alice-Elizabeth, she raised funds to buy two houses, one to house convalescents and the other to train nurses. The plan was to use funds derived from the rest home to pay for the nurses' training, but unfortunately too few suitable candidates were available at the time for the sisterhood, and, after a time, the project had to be abandoned.
When her son, Prince Philip, married Princess Elizabeth, who became Elizabeth II , queen of England, Alice could have returned permanently to her native country, but she did not. For many years, the princess lived in a small
apartment in Athens, often traveling abroad to visit her children, with whom she remained close. When she became ill in Germany in 1966, Prince Philip flew to accompany her on her return trip to Greece. Until the last years of her life, she preferred to stay in a hotel for her London visits, rather than at one of the royal palaces. Greek political turmoil continued to intervene in Alice's life when military dictatorship was imposed on Greece in 1967. Alice was forced to flee Athens, leaving her beloved adopted country forever. Finally, with the onset of old age and increasingly fragile health, Alice consented to take up residence in one of the British royal family's palaces. She died in London's Buckingham Palace on December 5, 1969, at age 84.
Many of Princess Alice's heroic deeds were not recognized until after her death. In October 1994, Prince Philip accepted the award of "Righteous Gentile" from Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial museum and research center, on his mother's behalf. Visiting her memorial, located on Jerusalem's Mount of Olives, he noted, "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."
Brozan, Nadine. "Chronicle. Prince Philip accepts an award on behalf of his mother," in The New York Times. November 1, 1994, section B, p. 20.
Cathcart, Helen. The Royal Bedside Book. London: W.H. Allen, 1969.
"Princess Andrew of Greece, 84, Mother of Prince Philip, Dead," in The New York Times. December 6, 1969, p. 37.
John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia