Princess Alice was the second of Victoria and Albert’s children to marry but it was a rather sombre affair as the Prince Consort had died just a few months before the wedding took place. Despite her immense grief, Victoria decreed the wedding should go ahead as planned but it was to be a private affair at Osborne House rather than the public spectacle originally planned.
Although Queen Victoria was eager for her children to marry for love, there was no question of Alice marrying anyone other than royalty and she asked her eldest daughter, Vicky, to produce a list of eligible princes. The choice proved to be limited between William, Prince of Orange, or Prince Albert of Prussia but Alice found neither desirable. Vicky then suggested Prince Louis of Hesse, a minor German royal, who she had recently met while assessing the suitability of his sister, Anna, for Albert Edward, Prince of Wales. While Vicky was not impressed with Anna, she had liked Louis and his brother, Henry, immensely.
Louis and Henry were both invited to Windsor Castle in 1860 to give Queen Victoria an opportunity to assess Louis’s potential and she was pleased by both brothers. More importantly, Alice seemed to be taken with Louis and the feeling seemed to be mutual as Louis requested a photograph of the princess before his departure home.
The engagement was announced on 30 April 1861 and Alice was given a dowry of £30,000, while Queen Victoria made it known she expected a new palace to be built for her daughter’s comfort. Hesse was not a rich kingdom and a new palace would cause financial difficulties so the people of Darmstadt were already holding a grudge against Alice before they even met her. However, the problems with Hesse were to prove minor in comparison to the blow that was about to be dealt with the death of Prince Albert in December 1861 which completely overshadowed the wedding.
The wedding date had been set for 1 July 1862 which placed it with the traditional period of mourning but Queen Victoria ordered the wedding to go ahead as planned. The wedding was moved to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight where the dining room was converted into a temporary chapel. 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. Alice was given away by her father’s brother, Ernst, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, in the absence of her father, while her mother was hidden from view by her brothers.
While Alice was allowed to wear a white wedding dress, she was expected to wear mourning clothes immediately before and after the ceremony and the photos show a very solemn bride. Alice’s wedding dress, designed by a Mrs Clarke of Cavendish Square, had a deep flounce of Honiton guipure lace and was trimmed with rose, myrtle and orange blossoms, but had no train. The matching Honiton lace veil was held in place with a wreath of orange blossom and myrtle. Alice was accompanied by four bridesmaids, her sisters, Princesses Helena, Louise and Beatrice, along with Louis’s sister, Anna. They wore white dresses with flared sleeves and blue ribbons.
After the ceremony, the newlyweds dined in private with Queen Victoria while the guests attended a separate luncheon. Alice and Louis spent their honeymoon at Ryde where they were visited by Queen Victoria who was so jealous of her daughter’s happiness, it caused a rift that would never completely heal.
Alice’s lace veil was kept in the Hessian family and was used by Victoria Melita of Edinburgh when she married Alice’s eldest son, Ernest Louis, in 1894. Sadly, the veil was lost in the tragic air crash at Ostend on 16 November 1937 which claimed the lives of the Dowager Grand Duchess Eleonore of Hesse, Grand Duke Georg Donatus of Hesse and his wife, Grand Duchess Cecile, together with their young sons, Prince Ludwig and Prince Alexander of Hesse. The family had been en route to London for the marriage of Ernest Louis’s eldest son, Louis, to the Hon. Margaret Geddes.