Season 2 of Netflix’s The Crown has revealed more detail surrounding Prince Philip’s life than we ever realized we needed to know. While his upbringing may have been unusually tragic, particularly for a royal, his mother’s path in life was largely to blame. Princess Alice never meant to leave her son in his predicament. However, she was fighting many battles of her own.
From being diagnosed with schizophrenia to becoming a nun, here’s a look at the amazing story behind one of the most interesting royal family members: Queen Elizabeth’s mother-in-law.
She was congenitally deaf
Princess Alice of Battenberg already had an interesting story from the time of her birth. She was born in 1885 at Windsor Castle with immediate royal status, becoming the great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria.
Most notably, she was congenitally deaf — however, it didn’t keep her from being able to speak with clarity.
She had a fairytale romance
At only 17 years old in 1902, Alice fell in love with Prince Andrew. They met in London, while attending King Edward VII’s coronation. Lady Pamela Hicks, Alice’s niece, recalled just how smitten she was with the prince. “[Alice] was absolutely dotty about him,” she said. “Really, deeply in love.”
The two wed in 1903 in a civil ceremony. Thanks to Andrew, who was a son of the King of Greece, Alice became part of the Greek royal family.
She and her family fled to Paris
Alice and Andrew lived in Greece while they had five children, including four daughters and their only son, Prince Philip. Toward the end of 1922, when Phillip was only 18 months old, their family was exiled from Greece, thanks to Andrew’s involvement with the Greco-Turkish War.
Philip, his older sisters, and his parents escaped on a British war ship to Paris. They arrived as refugees, surviving solely on handouts from their relatives. These hardships reportedly pushed Alice to focus heavily on her religious beliefs.
She was diagnosed as schizophrenic
Alice’s mental health deteriorated over the next few years. According to Daily Mail, “By 1930 she was hearing voices and believed she was having physical relationships with Jesus and other religious figures.” This led to her diagnosis of schizophrenia, for which she received some pretty traumatizing treatments.
She was sent for treatment in a Berlin clinic, where “her womb was blasted with X-rays to cure her of frustrated sexual desires.” Sigmund Freud was the mind behind this method, but it failed to cure her mental illness.
According to Alice’s biographer, Hugo Vickers, she was then admitted to a Swiss sanatorium. “It was literally a car and men in white coats, coming to take her away,” he described.
Even though she was held prisoner at the sanatorium for two-and-a-half years, “It was rather hushed up.” Countess Mountbatten, Alice’s niece, recalled, “I think my aunt would have suffered very much.”
Prince Andrew abandoned her and left Philip homeless
Alice and Andrew may not have ever divorced, but he did leave her for his mistress. With Alice being locked away and Andrew out of the picture, Philip was left parentless and homeless.
According to Daily Mail, “[Philip was] spending boarding school holidays with various relatives, including his uncle Lord Louis Mountbatten, father of Countess Mountbatten.”
She reunited with her son five years after her release
Alice was released from the sanatorium in 1932, but it took five years before she reunited with Philip. Over those five years, she became a drifter, reportedly staying in German bed and breakfasts. Their reunion may have been long-awaited, but the reasoning was sadly tragic. They were attending the funeral for Cécilie, Alice’s daughter and Philip’s sister. She’d been killed in a plane crash, at the young age of 26 in 1937.
Their reunion was short-lived, as well. Though Alice invited Philip to move to Athens with her, he had already been set to serve in the Royal Navy.
She hid a Jewish family during the Holocaust
Alice found herself alone yet again. This time, she was stuck in Nazi-occupied Greece in 1941. Her brother, Lord Mountbatten, sent her packages of food to help her survive. However, she distributed the food to those in need instead of keeping it for herself. While this may have proven her kindness, she showed her true bravery by hiding a Jewish family in her own home.
Alice lived close to the Gestapo headquarters, and eventually, they caught on to her acting suspicious. She was able to use her deafness to her advantage, as she pretended not to hear any of their questions.
According to Daily Mail, she was “posthumously [honored] as Righteous Among The Nations -– the highest Israeli [honor] to non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust.”
She founded her own sisterhood of nuns
Following World War II in 1949, Alice sold her jewels and founded her own sisterhood of nuns, naming it the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary. In Athens, she built a covenant and an orphanage to help those in need.
She donated some of her other jewels, namely the diamonds from her tiara, to Philip. He used those diamonds in the custom-made ring he would propose to Elizabeth with.
Philip and Elizabeth ordered for Alice to come home
Due to Alice’s refusal to leave Athens during a Greek military coup in 1967, Philip and Elizabeth took lengthy measures to bring her home. With a special request and a plane sent directly to her, they brought her back to Buckingham Palace.
She lived out the rest of her life with her family until her death in 1969. Just before she passed away, she wrote a loving note to her son: “Dearest Philip, be brave, and remember I will never leave you, and you will always find me when you need me most. All my devoted love, your old Mama.”
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