The late Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh was chiefly remembered for his pugnacious spirit and no nonsense attitude to life, living of course in the shadow of his wife Queen Elizabeth II. However, until his death very few words were spoken about his own family and turbulent early life. His entry into the world began amidst the maelstrom of the Greco-Turkish War.
Philip`s father, Prince Andrew of Greece was forced into exile after the Greeks were defeated in the war. Andrew was made the scapegoat for their failure. The Royal Families of Europe were all linked by blood and were still reeling from the murders of their Russian relatives in the 1917 revolution. Titles and wealth may have allowed them some immunity from the problems faced by their subjects, but their very existence made them the focus of grievance and malice.
In this closeted, isolated world privilege meant little to Philip`s mother Princess Alice. She was destined for a gilded life, as if her emergence into the world was engineered by fate and history. Her mother was Princess Victoria of Hesse, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria. As her mother was acutely aware of her high born ancestry she was said to be “radical in her ideas, insatiably curious and argumentative to the point of perversity”. A less charitable interpretation of this would hint at a degree of arrogant entitlement, but this was the burden that Alice was forced to inherit.
Princess Alice bore four daughters and one son. In 1930, one month before her son`s ninth birthday she suffered an acute psychotic episode and was committed to a Swiss institution. When she recovered, she decided to devote the rest of her life to charity. The Greek monarchy was restored in 1935. When the Second World War broke out she stayed in Greece sheltering Jewish refugees who sought sanctuary in Athens. After the war ended she established a Greek Orthodox order of nuns called the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary.
Princess Alice spent her final years at Buckingham Palace at the behest of her daughter in law. She is still remembered by the state of Israel as a heroine and saviour of the Jewish people, and she continues to be revered by the Orthodox Church for her faith and devotion. She left no possessions as she gave all of those away to charity. The Crown both figuratively and literally is a mighty burden to endure, but sometimes this heavy inheritance can lead to quiet acts of humanity.