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 would completely overshadow the wedding.
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.
The wedding date had been set for 1 July 1862 which placed it within the traditional period of mourning, however 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. Alice was given away by Ernst, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, in the absence of her father, while Louis, in morning dress, was supported by his brother, Henry. The service was conducted by Charles Longley, the Archbishop of York, who would become Archbishop of Canterbury later that year after the death of John Bird Sumner.
After the ceremony, the newlyweds dined in private with Queen Victoria while the guests attended a separate luncheon in the Drawing Room. The whole affair was concluded by 5 pm and the guests returned to London, while Alice and Louis left for St Clair, Ryde, where they stayed for two days. Wary of her mother’s feelings, Alice tried not to appear too happy but the Queen was jealous of her daughter’s happiness and it was the start of a rift that would deepen over time.
The weather on the Isle of Wight was dreary that day which contributed to the sombre atmosphere which was remarked upon by more than one guest. The people of Ryde were anxious to celebrate the royal wedding in grand style but the period of mourning meant lavish banquets could to be held. The idea of a picnic treat for school children was mooted and permission was granted when the idea was presented to Osborne House. The Committee in charge of the occasion decked bunting along the streets to Ryde House where tables laden with food had been set up on the grounds. In the afternoon, the children, holding bouquets, were gathered together in a procession and led to Ryde House where they sun had thankfully broken though the clouds. After an afternoon of physical games and activities, the children were provided with a tea of cakes and biscuits.
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 was designed by Mrs Clarke of Cavendish Square and was crystalline silk with a deep flounce of Honiton guipure lace and was trimmed with rose, myrtle and orange blossoms. The matching lace veil was held in place with a wreath of orange blossom and myrtle. The lace was designed by Ruth Coxeter, a pupil of the School of Design, Bloomsbury.
Alice is also wearing opal and diamond brooches and earrings commissioned from Garrard, the royal jeweller, by Prince Albert and an opal and diamond cross necklace. Before his death, Prince Albert had also commissioned a Strawberry Leaf Tiara as a wedding gift for his daughter based on a design he had created himself. Although, Alice followed the tradition of her mother by wearing a simple floral wreath on her wedding day, the new Strawberry Leaf Tiara would become a Hesse family heirloom.
Alice’s lace veil was kept in the Hessian family and was used by Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha 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.
Under normal circumstances, Alice would have been attended by the unmarried daughters of peers but due to the circumstances they were unable to attend and Alice sent them gifts instead. The princess had to make do with her three younger sisters and future sister-in-law who wore white lace silk dresses trimmed with grey ribbons with flared sleeves.
- Helena of the United Kingdom
- Louise of the United Kingdom
- Beatrice of the United Kingdom
- Anna of Hesse and by Rhine
Happily Ever After?
Alice and Louis were initially happy and seven children were born, however the princess found it hard settling in Darmstadt and struggled with her duties when Louis became Grand Duke. The death of her favourite son, Frittie, who was a haemophiliac wounded Alice deeply and cracks began to appear in the marriage. When Alice came to Scotland after the birth of her last child, Marie, she wrote poignant letters to her husband complaining about a lack of companionship on his part. Despite this, Alice maintained she loved her husband and was his staunched supporter. The marriage lasted sixteen years and ended with the death of Alice in 1878.