Born in 1921 on a kitchen table on the island of Corfu, Prince Philip was born a descendant of most of the greatest European dynasties. As her biographer Ingrid Seward noted in Prince Philip revealed, he had “more blue blood flowing in his veins than his wife, the queen”.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s parents and ancestors included those who had endowed him with his independence, stubbornness, keen sense of duty and humor, which made him uniquely suited to be the most Prince Consort. ancient in British history.
The great-great-grandmother: Princess Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse and the Rhine
Third child of Queen Victoria and her beloved Albert, Princess Alice was born in 1843. Growing up, she was known as the gentle peacemaker in her large family, an intellectual with a streak of melancholy martyrdom. According to Jerrold M. Packard, author of Victoria’s daughters, Alice frequently attempted to break her “golden chains”, visiting the tenants of their cottages on the royal estates and once fleeing from her nanny in church to sit on the commoner pews.
As a teenager, Alice has been credited with breastfeeding her father, Albert, on his deathbed in 1861. Nicknamed “the angel of the house” by a family friend, it was also believed that she had prevented a devastated Victoria from descending into total madness. On July 1, 1862, Alice married the handsome and rather simple Louis of Hesse and the Rhine, and set out to start a new life in the conservative city of Darmstadt (now part of Germany).
Remarkably progressive for her time, Alice was determined to make a difference in her new home. “If we never see poverty and still live in this cold circle of the people of the Court”, she underlined wrote to his mother, “Good feelings are drying up, and I feel the urge to go and do the little good that is in my power.”
In frequent contact with her hero Florence Nightingale, Princess Alice set out to radically transform healthcare in Hesse. Over time, she will open the Alice Hospital and Princess Alice’s Women’s Guild, which trains nurses. She also promoted women’s rights (much to the chagrin of many aristocratic women) with Darmstadt Women’s Day, and invited liberal theologian David Friedrich Strauss to her home, leading her stepmother, Empress Augusta, to nickname her a “Absolutely atheist! “
Queen Victoria has also been threatened by her progressive daughter, who she called “strong and awe-inspiring and wanting to have it all in her own way.” According to Victoria, Alice had dared to ask her sisters about their sex life and gynecological health, much to their mother’s horror. After the accidental death of his favorite son Frittie in 1873, his streak of melancholy was accentuated. “I would like to be dead” she wrote, “and it probably won’t be long before I give mom this pleasure.”
Princess Alice died of diphtheria on December 14, 1878, Victoria and Albert’s first child to die. She left behind five children alive: Victoria, Irene, Ernest and the convicts Ella and Alix, who were murdered during the Russian Revolution. For more on Ella, read below.
The Great Aunt: Grand Duchess Elisabeth (Ella) of Russia
Canonized like a saint in the Russian Orthodox Church, Grand Duchess Ella of Russia would have a huge impact on her family. Gentle, compassionate and energetic, Ella was the unrequited love of her cousin the future Kaiser Wilhelm II, who laid the sword down long enough to write poetry in her honor.
In 1884 Ella married the much older and extremely tense Grand Duke Sergei of Russia, Governor of Moscow. A star of the company, it was Ella who encouraged the romance between her painfully shy sister Alix and the future Tsar Nicholas II. But Ella’s gay life of balls, sleighs, and charity events ended in 1905, when her husband was murdered by revolutionaries. According to Robert K. Massie, author of Nicolas and Alexandra:
The Grand Duke… had just said goodbye to his wife in their Kremlin apartment and was walking through one of the gates when a bomb exploded on him. Hearing the trembling explosion, Ella shouted: “It’s Serge” and rushed towards him. What she found was not her husband, but a hundred unrecognizable pieces of flesh, bleeding in the snow. Courageously, the Grand Duchess went to her husband’s dying coachman and softened his last moments by telling him that the Grand Duke had survived.
From that day on, Ella appeared to channel her mother Alice of Hesse. She visited her husband’s killer in prison, asking him to pray with her for his forgiveness. She opened the Convent of Martha and Mary in Moscow and became an abbess, although she ensured that her flattering pearl-gray dresses were designed by worldly painter Mikhail Nesterov. Through her convent, Ella fed thousands of people and cared for almost as many. Ella also saw through Rasputin and in 1916 warned her sister, now Empress Alexandra, that he would destroy the royal family.