With the marriage of Victoria, Princess Royal, to the future Frederick III of Prussia, Queen Victoria turned her “matchmaking” skills upon her second daughter, Princess Alice Maud Mary. Although she promoted the idea of love matches for all her children, Victoria made certain the choice of spouses were limited to certain individuals and families.
Although she was known to possess a quick temper and a shrewish tongue at times, Alice was considered Victoria’s most sympathetic child. Alice held a reputation of caring for the burdens of others. Her education was devised by Albert’s close friend and adviser, Baron Stockmar, and included practical activities such as needlework and woodwork, as well as French and German. When her father, Prince Albert, was diagnosed with typhoid fever in December 1861, Alice nursed him until his death on 14 December that year. Following his death, Queen Victoria entered a period of intense mourning, and Alice spent the next six months acting as her mother’s unofficial secretary.
In choosing a husband for Princess Alice, Queen Victoria was most insistent that the prospective bridegroom be a Protestant, more specifically a Protestant from the European continent. She did not approve of her children choosing one of her own subjects, no matter how high the person’s rank. In fact, Victoria did not approve of many of the British Hanoverian relations. Moreover, marrying another British subject eliminated the possibility of extending foreign relations and Victoria’s influence on foreign powers.
The “match pool” for Princess Alice included Willem, Prince of Orange, Prussian Prince Albert, Pedro of Portugal (who was eliminated because he was a Catholic), and
Willem, heir apparent to the Dutch throne as the eldest son of King William III, would have been Victoria’s first choice for Alice, but word was received early on at Windsor that the Dutch prince was besotted with an Austrian archduchess, who was, Heaven Forbid!, a Catholic. Nevertheless, Willem traveled to London in January 1860 to be inspected by Victoria and Albert. Little did he know, they had already rejected the idea of an alliance with the man. Thankfully, Alice also did not find him interesting. The prince fell in love with the 19-year-old Countess Mathilde von Limburg-Stirum in 1873. The relationship between the prince and his parents became very problematic, as his parents refused William’s wish to accept Mathilde as his bride in 1874. By the standards of the Dutch royal family, a marriage between a member of the royal family and a member of the nobility was considered unequal and therefore unacceptable. Also a rumor circulated that Mathilda was an illegitimate daughter of King William III and so William could be marrying his half-sister. The 33-year-old William wanted to marry, if necessary, without the consent of his parents. However, Mathilda was not yet twenty and so permission was needed from her parents too. Since they denied permission, the prince’s attempt to marry Mathilda failed. Disillusioned, Prince William then went into exile in Paris, where he threw himself into a life of sex, drinking and gambling. Ironically, he died, debauched, within months of Alice’s death in 1878.
A cousin to Princess Victoria’s husband, Frederick III, was also a candidate. However, when Victoria and Albert consulted their son-in-law regarding Prince Albert of Prussia being a worthy suitor for Alice, Fritz candidly vetoed his cousin, saying that Alice “deserves the very best.”
In June 1860, Louis of Hesse-Darmstadt, accompanied by his brother Henry, arrived at Windsor. Hesse-Darmstadt, whose ancestors included Charlemagne, had prior to this event been known to have strengthened its blood lines through inter-marriages. It was a landgravate (a country ruled by sovereign counts), which had been raised to the status of Grand Duchy in the 16th Century and had come to be known as “Hesse and the Rhine.” Louis was born at the Prinz-Karl-Palais, the first son and child of Prince Charles of Hesse and by the Rhine and Princess Elisabeth of Prussia. As his father’s elder brother Louis III (1806-1877), the reigning Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine, had been married to his first wife since 1833 without legitimate children and from 1868 was married morganatically, Prince Louis was the likely heir eventual to the grand ducal throne from childhood.
Both Queen Victoria and Princess Alice approved of Louis, but he was rumored to have his heart set upon Princess Marie of Baden. However, the longer he remained at the British royal court, the more smitten he became with Alice. Thankfully, Alice spoke German rather well for Louis’s English was undeveloped. Alice quickly declared herself “in love.” Perhaps if she had been permitted more time with Prince Louis, Alice would have discovered that he certainly was not her equal or her superior in either intelligence or emotional stability. Alice had no idea of “true society.” Victoria and Albert kept their family matters private. Louis was said to have thought of Alice as “bauble” to be displayed upon his arm. He was not of the nature to understand his wife’s complicated nature.
Louis made a second call at Windsor in November 1860. The pair became officially engaged on 30 November 1860. Even so, Victoria declared the marriage must wait a year before the wedding. Louis remained in England until three days after Christmas. He presented Alice a cast of her hands as a Christmas gift. Ironically, Victoria wrote to her Uncle Leopold her expectation of Louis remaining in England with her family after his marriage.
The Hesse-Darmstadt duchy was a poor country. Although the British government presented Alice a dowry of £30000, but Alice’s prospects were slim. In reality, Louis’s homeland could not afford a new palace for the pair, and Victoria’s insistence upon one was thought ill-fit by Louis’s countrymen. Louis holidayed with Alice’s family at Balmoral in the spring of 1861. Although she still grieved her mother’s death, the queen welcomed Louis’s return.
In December of 1861, Prince Albert succumbed to typhoid fever. It was the 18-year-old Alice who attended him. Therefore, the wedding was again postponed. Alice and Louis did not marry until July 1862. They married at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. On the day of the wedding, the Queen issued a royal warrant granting her new son-in-law the style of Royal Highness in the United Kingdom. The Queen also subsequently made Prince Louis a knight of the Order of the Garter. Becoming parents in less than a year following their marriage, the young royal couple found themselves strapped financially to maintain the lifestyle expected of their rank. Princess Alice’s interest in social services, scientific development, hands-on child-rearing, charity and intellectual stimulation were not shared by Louis who, although dutiful and benevolent, was bluff in manner and conventional in his pursuits. The death of the younger of their two sons, Frittie, who was afflicted with hemophilia and suffered a fatal fall from a palace window before his third birthday in 1873, combined with the wearying war relief duties Alice had undertaken in 1870, evoked a crisis of spiritual faith for the princess in which her husband does not appear to have shared.
Diaries and Letters: Princess Alice of Hesse and by Rhine ~ by Raegan Baker, Alexander Palace Time Machine
Eilers, Marlene. Queen Victoria’s Descendants. Rosvall Royal Books, Falkoping, Sweden, 1997. pp. 49-50. 141, 175.