ALICE OF ALBANY
Countess of Athlone
Alice’s father was haemophiliac and Queen Victoria was determined to use his illness as a way of keeping him at home but Leopold wanted his independence and marriage was a way of achieving that. Leopold married Helen of Waldeck and Pyrmont on 27 April 1882 and they had a happy marriage until Leopold’s death in 1884, four months before the birth of his son, Charles Edward. As the daughter of a haemophiliac, Alice was a carrier of the disease and she passed it down to her son, Rupert, who died in a car crash in 1928.
After Leopold’s death, Helen and her children remained in Claremont House. Charles Edward was named as heir to the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha title in 1900 and fought in the German army during the First World War which saw him stripped of his British titles.
On 10 February 1904, Alice married Alexander of Teck, the brother of Queen Mary at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor. In 1917, George V dropped the Royal Family’s German titles and Alice’s husband adopted the name Cambridge, before settling on Earl of Athlone. Alice relinquished her titles of Princess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and Duchess of Saxony, but remained a Princess of the United Kingdom as a granddaughter of Queen Victoria in the male line.
In 1924, Alexander was named Governor General of the Union of South Africa and the couple lived in a coastal beach house constructed at Muizenberg which still stands today and is a national monument. After almost a decade in South Africa, Alexander was appointed as Governor General of Canada in 1940 for six years where he acted as a liaison between Canadian troops and their monarch. Alice also supported the war effort by acting as Honorary Commandant of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service, Honorary Air Commandant of the Royal Canadian Air Force (Women’s Division) and president of the nursing division of the St. John Ambulance Brigade. The Athlones also found themselves as hosts to many of Europe’s displaced royals, including Olav, Crown Prince of Norway, and his wife, Martha; Grand Duchess Charlotte and Prince Felix of Luxembourg; King Peter of Yugoslavia; King George of Greece; and, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and her daughter, Juliana.
In 1943, the couple also hosted the Quebec Conferences attended by Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Mackenzie King, where strategies were discussed which would eventually lead to victory over Germany and Japan. After the war ended, Alice discovered her brother, Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, had been arrested by the Americans for his Nazi sympathies and she travelled to Germany to plead for his release. The Americans fined Charles Edward to the point of bankruptcy and he lost much of the family’s property.
In 1946, Alice and her husband returned to Britain where she continued to carry out numerous royal duties while residing in Kensington Palace. Alexander retired from his vice-regal duties, however he was appointed to the committee organising the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Alice died at Kensington Palace on 3 January 1981 and was buried alongside her husband and son in the Royal Burial Ground, Frogmore, directly behind the mausoleum of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.