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"SHE EXTENDS HER HAND TO THE POOR,
YES, SHE REACHES OUT HER HANDS TO THE NEEDY"
PROVERBS 31:20

              
                        

Holy Land Heroines

Princess Alice, mother of Prince Philip (Duke of Edinburgh) and mother-in-law of Queen Elizabeth, was born in Windsor Castle in 1885.  Her great-grandmother was Queen Victoria who was still alive when she was born.  Alice was related to most of the European pre-World War royalty, yet her exemplary life with its unexpected twists and turns may have been the most turbulent among all her cousins.

When she died in 1969, she was buried at Windsor Castle (just as her son Philip was in April 2021).  But 19 years later, according to a request before her death, her bones were transferred to the Church of Mary Magdalena, on the slopes of the Mount of Olives above Gethsemane in Jerusalem.

Princess Alice, great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria was born in Windsor Castle

Engraving of Windsor Castle in Wikipedia Commons

Princess Alice, great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria was born in Windsor Castle

Princess Alice's final resting place in the Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalena in Jerusalem

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Princess Alice's final resting place in the church of Mary Magdalena in Jerusalem

Therefore, on the Day of the Great Reckoning, according to Jewish, Christian and Muslim tradition, she will be among the first to rise up.  Then she can share the full details of her unconventional and tumultuous life.  In the meantime, this is what we know….
Princess Alice was born deaf.  By the age of eight, with the prodding of her mother who believed in “tough love”, she was a fluent lip reader.  By age eighteen, she could not only speak clearly, but she could lip read in three languages.
 
Alice was raised in the privileged style of “English princess”.  Like a fairy tale, she met the dashing Prince Andreas of Greece and Denmark at the coronation of her great uncle, King Edward VII of England.  They fell in love and were married in October 1903.  Their wedding was one of the last large gatherings of European royals before the First World War.

Portrait of Princess Alice in her youth

Photo in the public domain

In the beginning, the life of Princess Alice was like a fairy tale

The couple settled into a wing of the Royal Palace in Athens and went on to have five children, four daughters and a son.  During the 1912 Balkan Wars between the Greeks and the Turks, Alice left her children and went to work as a nurse on the frontlines.
 
While Andres pursued his military career (and other women), Alice raised her family and became very involved in charity work.  However, the political situation in Greece was touch and go, extremely unstable, and the family was forced into exile several times.
In 1922, one year after Prince Philip was delivered on a kitchen table in Alice’s country home, the King (Alice’s father-in-law) was forced to abdicate and Prince Andreas was arrested and charged with treason.  He was court-martialed and convicted and would have probably been executed had it not been for the intervention of Alice’s cousin, King George V of England.
When Prince Andrew was given a stay of execution, the family seized the opportunity to flee.  With Prince Philip stored in an orange crate under a make-shift cot, Alice and her family boarded a British warship and sailed into a humiliating exile.  Her conventional life as a princess was over.
The family ended up as refugees outside Paris.  They had lost their fortune and had to live off their rich relatives.  Alice worked with Greek refugees and steadily became more and more devout.  In 1928 she quietly converted to the Greek Orthodox Church. Soon Alice began to show signs of mental illness.
In desperation, the family turned to the new science of psychiatry.  In 1930 she checked herself into a psychiatric hospital outside of Berlin.  She then found herself in the company of Europe's most (loony) disturbed psychiatric patients – those with obsessive disorders and those with addictions.  She was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and believed herself to be in an intimate relationship not only with Jesus, but also with Buddha.
The head of the psychiatric hospital appealed to Sigmund Freud for help when he visited the premises.  Freud recommended that Princess Alice be given x-rays to her ovaries to cool down her libido, her sexual excitement.  Later, Princess Alice wrote that the renowned psychiatrist “was not a kind man.”
Then she was sent by her family to a sanitarium in Switzerland.  She was basically a prisoner for two and a half years while her husband carried on an independent life in Southern France.  All four of her daughters married German princes who became officers in Hitler’s army.  She did not attend their weddings.  Her son Philip, from age 10, was sent off to boarding schools and was shuffled off to various branches of the family for school holidays.
In 1938 when the Greek monarchy was restored, Alice returned to Athens.  Along with her sister-in-law, Alice worked with the Red Cross during WW II to organize food and shelter for orphaned children in the poorer neighborhoods of Athens.  She wanted Philip to come live with her in Athens.  But he seemed to have a promising future in the British Royal Navy with his uncle Lord Mountbatten.
In 1940 Hitler's armies conquered Greece and in 1941 the swastika was raised over the Acropolis.  Alice found herself alone in Nazi occupied Greece with her son fighting in Britain's royal navy.  She worked in a soup kitchen in Athens. Then they ran out of food.

Greece Surrenders to Nazi Germany in April 1941 with Princess Alice in Athens

Archive photo of Segula

Greece Surrenders to Nazi Germany in April 1941 (with Princess Alice in Athens)

In 1943, after the German Army had occupied Athens, and while most Jews (90%) were being deported to concentration camps, Alice hid a Jewish widow, Rachel Cohen and two of her children on the top floor of her residence in central Athens.  Thirty years earlier, Mrs. Cohen’s husband had come to the aid of King George I of Greece. The monarch had offered to someday repay him if there was ever anything he could do for him.  Mrs. Cohen remembered this promise and reached out to Princess Alice who took the family in, risking her own life in doing so.
The Gestapo was suspicious of Alice, even questioning her, but the princess turned her disability into a weapon.  She pretended not to understand their questions.  For thirteen months until liberation, she hid the Cohen family members from the Nazis (and from her daughters married to German officers).  For this act of courage, she was posthumously recognized as a member of the “righteous among the nations” at Israel’s Holocaust Memorial, Yad Vashem.
In November 1947, Alice returned to the UK for her son Philip’s wedding to the Princess Elizabeth.  Some of her jewels were used to create Elizabeth’s engagement ring, as well as a bracelet that Philip designed for her as a wedding gift.  None of Alice’s daughters had been invited to the royal wedding due to their marriage to German princes.

Alice is at the extreme right in the official photo of Elizabeth and Philip's wedding

Photo in the public domain

Alice is at the extreme right in this official photo of Elizabeth and Philip's wedding

After the wedding, Alice disappeared. Until the coronation of Elizabeth in June 1953 when Alice was spotted in the royal procession.  Wearing a gown designed to look like a nun’s habit, she led the formal procession of Philip’s family, including his three surviving sisters and his uncle.
After the coronation, Alice returned to Greece, working to help the poor and those in need.  She had founded a Greek Orthodox religious order of nurses called the Sisterhood of Martha and Mary.
With the military coup in 1967 and her children’s growing concern for her safety, it became obvious that she would need to leave the country that she’d grown to love so much since first arriving in 1903.  Even so, Alice refused to bulge until Philip sent a plane to bring her home.  She moved into a small apartment in Buckingham Palace.

Duke of Edinburgh escorting his mother into Westminster Abbey on July 3, 1960

Photo in the public domain

Duke of Edinburgh escorting his mother into Westminster Abbey on July 3, 1960

Family and staff joked about a particular corridor in Buckingham Palace smelling of Woodbine -- a brand of tobacco associated with working-class men.  It turned out that Alice had picked up the habit from all the British servicemen that she had nursed as a nun during the war.  She was considered quite a character.  About her unconventionality, her own mother is reported to have said, “What can you say of a nun who smokes and plays canasta?"
At the age of 84, Princess Alice died at Buckingham Palace in December 1969. Following her funeral, her remains were placed in the royal Crypt at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.  Alas, there was one more surprise for her family.

Her final wish was to be buried on the Mount of Olives near her aunt Ella, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna of Russia at the Convent of Saint Mary Magdalena on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.  On August 3, 1988, nearly 19 years after her death, her remains were moved to Jerusalem and placed in a crypt below the church.
 

Tombstone of Princess Alice at the Church of Mary Magdalena in Jerusalem

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Tombstone of Princess Alice at the Church of Mary Magdalena in Jerusalem

Visited by her grandson Prince Charles (2020) and great-grandson William (2018)

 

Copyright 2021 Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.

 

Onion domes atop the Church of Mary Magdalena final resting place of Princess Alice

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Onion domes atop the Church of Mary Magdalena final resting place of Princess Alice

 
The improbable journey of the eccentric Princess Alice is just one of the stories Gila tells during her original "Daughters of Jerusalem" tour customized for your delight.  Contact Gila for more info.
 

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GILA YUDKIN TCHERNIKOVSKI 64A JERUSALEM ISRAEL
gila@itsgila.com

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