Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone

Princess Alice
Countess of Athlone
Princess Alice of Albany.jpeg
Born (1883-02-25)25 February 1883
Windsor Castle, Berkshire
Died 3 January 1981(1981-01-03) (aged 97)
Kensington Palace, London
Burial 8 January 1981
( m.  1904; died  1957)
Issue Lady May Abel Smith
Rupert Cambridge, Viscount Trematon
Prince Maurice of Teck
Full name
Alice Mary Victoria Augusta Pauline Windsor
House Windsor (from 1917)
Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (until 1917)
Father Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany
Mother Princess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont

Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone (Alice Mary Victoria Augusta Pauline; 25 February 1883 – 3 January 1981) was a member of the British royal family. She is the longest-lived British princess by descent, and was the last surviving grandchild of Queen Victoria. She also held the titles of Princess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Duchess in Saxony from birth, as well as being a Princess of Teck by marriage, until 1917 when the British royal family ceased usage of German titles.

Early life

Princess Alice was born on 25 February 1883 at Windsor Castle. Her father was Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, the youngest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Her mother was Princess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont.[1] She had one brother, Prince Charles Edward, Duke of Albany (1884–1954) and later reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1900–1918). As a granddaughter of the Sovereign through the male line, she was a Princess of the United Kingdom and a Royal Highness.[2] As the daughter of the Duke of Albany, she was styled Her Royal Highness Princess Alice of Albany.

She was baptised in the Private Chapel of Windsor Castle on 26 March 1883, and named Alice after her late paternal aunt. Her godparents were: Queen Victoria (her paternal grandmother); the German Empress (for whom Alice's paternal aunt Princess Beatrice stood proxy); the King of the Netherlands (her mother's brother-in-law, for whom the Dutch Ambassador Count van Bylandt stood proxy); the Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine (her paternal aunt's widower, whose brother-in-law the Duke of Edinburgh represented him); the Princess of Waldeck and Pyrmont (her maternal grandmother); the Prince of Wales (her paternal uncle); the German Crown Princess (her paternal aunt, whose sister-in-law the Princess of Wales represented her); Prince Wilhelm of Württemberg (her mother's brother-in-law, for whom his cousin the Duke of Teck stood proxy); the Hereditary Princess of Bentheim and Steinfurt (her maternal aunt, for whom her paternal aunt Princess Christian stood proxy); and the Duchess of Cambridge (her grandmother's aunt, whose daughter the Duchess of Teck represented her).[3] She was confirmed at the Royal Memorial Church of St George, Cannes, in 1898 with Queen Victoria present.[4]

Princess Alice was one of the carriers of the gene for haemophilia which originated with Queen Victoria. Princess Alice inherited the gene from her father, who died from the disease when she was a year old.[5]

At the time of her death she was great-aunt to the King of Sweden and great-aunt by marriage to the Queen of the United Kingdom.

Marriage and issue

Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, with her children May and Rupert, c. 1909

On 10 February 1904, at St George's Chapel, Windsor, Princess Alice of Albany married her second cousin once-removed, Prince Alexander of Teck, the brother of Princess Mary, the Princess of Wales (later Queen Mary, consort of George V).[1][6] After their marriage, Princess Alice was styled Princess Alexander of Teck.

Prince and Princess Alexander of Teck had three children:

Name Birth Death Notes
Lady May Cambridge 23 January 1906 29 May 1994 married Sir Henry Abel Smith on 23 October 1931 and had issue.
Rupert Cambridge, Viscount Trematon 24 August 1907 15 April 1928 Died in a car crash
Prince Maurice Francis George of Teck 29 March 1910 14 September 1910 Died at five months old

Following the Earl's retirement from military service after the First World War, the Athlones used for their London residence the grace and favour apartments of the late Duchess of Albany (1861–1922), Princess Alice's mother, in the Clock House at Kensington Palace;[1] in 1923, they also acquired a country house, Brantridge Park in West Sussex.[7]

Princess Alice was godmother to Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, who is the granddaughter of her first cousin on her mother's side, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands.[8]

Change of titles

When the British royal family abandoned all Germanic titles in 1917, Prince Alexander of Teck adopted the surname Cambridge, became (briefly) Sir Alexander Cambridge, then the Earl of Athlone, relinquishing the title "Prince of Teck" in the Kingdom of Württemberg and the style Serene Highness.[9][10] As such, the two surviving children lost their Württemberg princely titles. Princess Alice relinquished her titles of Princess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Duchess of Saxony, while her brother Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, who held a commission in the German Army, was stripped of his British titles.[11] Alice remained, however, a Princess of Great Britain and Ireland and a Royal Highness in her own right, as granddaughter of Queen Victoria in the male line.

South Africa

Portrait by Philip de László, c. 1929

The Earl was appointed Governor-General of the Union of South Africa, and served from 1924-31.[12] Princess Alice accompanied him and was the Vicereine during that period. Lord Athlone and Princess Alice had a coastal beach house constructed at Muizenberg, which still stands today and is one of South Africa's national monuments.[13] The Cape Town suburb of Athlone was named in honour of the Governor-General; apart from the beach house and the preserved Class GL Garratt steam locomotive Princess Alice in the Outeniqua Transport Museum, it is the only physical reminder of the Athlones' residence at the Cape.

Canada and Second World War

Princess Alice in First Aid Nursing Yeomanry uniform, circa 1942

On the sudden death of the popular John Buchan in 1940, Canada found itself without a Governor General in time of war. Despite the longstanding intention of Canadian governments to indigenise the office and appoint Canadian nationals as governors general—Australia had already done so with the appointment of Sir Isaac Isaacs as its governor general in 1931—wartime seemed an unpropitious time for constitutional tinkering; the royal family had garnered vast public support during the Royal Tour of 1939; as Queen Mary's brother and a former governor general of another of His Majesty's Dominions, Lord Athlone seemed a satisfactory candidate, and the Prime Minister (W.L. Mackenzie King) advised the King to appoint him.

Princess Alice accompanied her husband to Canada where he served as Governor General from 1940 to 1946, residing primarily at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. Their three grandchildren, Anne, Richard, and Elizabeth, lived with them in Canada for the duration of the war.[14]

Upon taking up his post, The Earl immediately made himself active in the support of the war effort, travelling across the country and focusing much of his attention on the troops, either those training at military facilities or those injured and in hospital. Viewing his position as governor general as a link between Canadians and their monarch, Athlone also communicated in speeches that the King stood with them in their fight against Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime.[15]

As vicereine of Canada, Princess Alice also supported the war effort by serving 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.[16]

Eleanor Roosevelt, Princess Alice, and Clementine Churchill at the Second Quebec Conference, during WWII

In 1944, the Princess Alice Barracks Cabin at Britannia Bay provided a summer retreat for Royal Canadian Air Force Women's Division personnel based in Ottawa. The cabin was located near the Britannia Boating Club's facilities for tennis, dancing and boating. Rented from the King's Daughter's Guild of Ottawa, the cabin featured 60 beds, a separate cookhouse and dining pavilion. The cabin had served previously as a Fresh Air Cottage for mothers and undernourished children.[17]

The war was brought close to home for the Athlones also because many of those belonging to displaced European royal families sought refuge in Canada, and resided at or near the royal and viceroyal residence, Rideau Hall. Among the royal guests were Crown Prince Olav and Crown Princess Märtha of Norway; Grand Duchess Charlotte and Prince Felix of Luxembourg; King Peter of Yugoslavia; King George of Greece; Empress Zita of Bourbon-Parma (Austria) and her daughters; as well as Queen Wilhelmina and her daughter, Princess Juliana.[18] Further, in December 1941, British prime minister Winston Churchill arrived at Rideau Hall, where he presided over British Cabinet meetings via telephone from his bed.[19]

The viceregal couple also played host at Quebec City to prime minister Mackenzie King, as well as Churchill and United States president Franklin D. Roosevelt, who all gathered to take part in what would become known as the Quebec Conferences, with the first taking place between 17 and 24 August 1943 at the viceregal residence in La Citadelle, and the second occurring from 12 to 16 September 1944 at the Château Frontenac. Photos of the Earl with Roosevelt, Churchill and Mackenzie King on the ramparts of the Citadel during the Quebec Conference were widely published at the time.

The Earl and Countess of Athlone, followed by Mackenzie King at the opening of parliament, 6 September 1945

It was at these meetings that the four men discussed the Allied strategies that would eventually lead to victory over Nazi Germany and Japan. When Germany fell on 8 May 1945 and Japan on 15 August of the same year, Athlone led the national celebrations held on Parliament Hill and elsewhere. He thereafter spoke in speeches about Canada's future being marked not by war but by a strong role in reconstruction and reconciliation.[15]

During their time in Canada the Athlones also supported various charitable and social events, and mounted a number of tobogganing parties and skating lessons on the grounds of Rideau Hall, as well as skiing in Gatineau Park. Before the couple departed from Canada at the end of Athlone's time as the King's representative, he left as a legacy the Athlone-Vanier Engineering Fellowship, awarded by the Engineering Institute of Canada.[15]

After the Second World War

At the end of the Second World War, the American Military Government in Bavaria, under the command of General George S. Patton, arrested and imprisoned Alice's brother, Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (who served as a member of the Reichstag from 1937 to 1945), because of his actions as a Nazi supporter during the war. Alice, learning of her brother's incarceration, came to Germany with her husband to plead with his American captors for his release. They would not yield, and in 1946 he was sentenced by a de-nazification court, heavily fined and almost bankrupted.[20]

Public life

In her lifetime, Princess Alice carried out many engagements and took part in many of the activities the royal family were involved in. Apart from her normal duties as vicereine of South Africa and then Canada, she attended the coronations of four British monarchs: Edward VII, George V, George VI, and Elizabeth II, as well as the investiture of the Dutch queen Juliana. She was also the Colonel-in-Chief of two British Army units and one Rhodesian Army unit. During the Second World War, she was Honorary Air Commandant of the Royal Canadian Air Force Women's Division. In 1950, she became the first Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (then the University College of the West Indies).[21] As Chancellor, she visited the university every year, staying as a guest of Sir Kenneth Blackburne, Governor-General of Jamaica, and his wife.

From the 1930s to the 1960s she was Chair of the Council (governing body) of Royal Holloway College, University of London. With her husband, daughter and son-in-law, Princess Alice represented the King at the 1937 wedding of Juliana of the Netherlands to Prince Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld.[22]

The princess and her husband visited Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in the winter of 1938.[23] She was the first member of the British royal family to visit the country and the only one to meet King Abdulaziz.[24][25][26] Their nephew Lord Frederick Cambridge accompanied them in the visits.[27] In Saudi Arabia Princess Alice visited Riyadh, Hofuf and Dammam, and met Noura bint Abdul Rahman, sister of the King and other members of the Saudi royal family.[28]

In 1966, Princess Alice published her memoirs, For My Grandchildren.[23][29]


The Earl of Athlone died in 1957 at Kensington Palace in London.[27] Princess Alice lived there until her death, dying in her sleep on 3 January 1981, aged 97 years and 313 days.[1] At her death, she was the longest-lived British Princess of royal blood and the last surviving grandchild of Queen Victoria.[1] The funeral of Princess Alice took place in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle, attended by all members of the royal family. She is buried alongside her husband and son in the Royal Burial Ground, Frogmore, directly behind the mausoleum of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, in Windsor Great Park. Her daughter and son-in-law are also buried close by.

She lived through six reigns:[1] those of Victoria (grandmother), Edward VII (uncle), George V (cousin and brother-in-law), Edward VIII (first cousin once removed and nephew), George VI (first cousin once removed and nephew) and Elizabeth II (first cousin twice removed and great-niece).


Honorary military appointment

United Kingdom United Kingdom


As a granddaughter of Queen Victoria in the male line, Princess Alice was entitled to use the Royal Arms with a 5-point label for difference, the central point bearing a cross gules, the others hearts gules.

Coat of Arms of Alice of Albany, Countess of Athlone.svg
Royal Standard of Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone.svg
Royal Standard of Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone (in Scotland).svg
Princess Alice's coat of arms
Alice's banner of arms, a five-point label, the first, second, fourth and fifth points charged with a red heart, the third point charged with the Cross of St. George
Alice's personal banner of arms in Scotland.



  1. ^ a b c d e f "Princess Alice, at London Home; A Grandchild of Queen Victoria". The New York Times. 4 January 1981. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  2. ^ "No. 30428". The London Gazette. 14 December 1917. p. 13086.
  3. ^ "Yvonne's Royalty Home Page — Royal Christenings". Archived from the original on 6 August 2011. Retrieved 27 December 2010.
  4. ^ "The Confirmation of Princess Alice of Albany at St George's Church, Cannes". The Illustrated London News. 16 April 1898. pp. 5, 6.
  5. ^ "HRH Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone". The Times. The Times Digital Archive. 5 January 1981. p. 14.
  6. ^ Stegner, Wallace (January–February 1969). "Discovery! The Story of Aramco Then". Saudi Aramco World. 7.
  7. ^ Aronson, Theo (1981). Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone. London: Cassell. p. 123. ISBN 0304307572. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  8. ^ De vijf peetouders van prinses Beatrix. The Memory of the Netherlands. Retrieved on 2008-07-11.
  9. ^ "No. 30374". The London Gazette. 9 November 1917. pp. 11592–11594.
  10. ^ "No. 30374". The London Gazette. 9 November 1917. p. 11594.
  11. ^ Lyon, Ann (10 June 2016). Constitutional History of the UK. Routledge. p. 421. ISBN 9781317203988. Retrieved 31 December 2017 – via Google Books. That year, the UK Parliament passed the Titles Deprivation Act which empowered the Privy Council to investigate "any persons enjoying any dignity or title as a peer or British prince who have, during the present war, borne arms against His Majesty or His Allies, or who have adhered to His Majesty's enemies."
  12. ^ "Earl of Athlone (1874–1957)". University of Warwick. Archived from the original on 16 April 2009. Retrieved 25 March 2009.
  13. ^ "Royal Pictures by South African Artist, Jacob Hendrik Pierneef, on Sale at Bonhams in London". Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  14. ^ "Life Calls on the Earl of Athlone". Life. 17 (6): 94–97. 7 August 1944. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  15. ^ a b c Office of the Governor General of Canada. "Governor General > Former Governors General > Major General The Earl of Athlone". Queen's Printer for Canada. Archived from the original on 11 February 2009. Retrieved 24 March 2009.
  16. ^ "The Earl of Athlone," Former Governors General, The Governor General of Canada, accessed 22 April 2011.
  17. ^ the Princess Alice Barracks Cabin at Britannia Bay Ottawa Citizen Jul 10, 1944
  18. ^ Hubbard, R.H. (1977). Rideau Hall. Montreal and London: McGill-Queen's University Press. p. 201. ISBN 978-0-7735-0310-6.
  19. ^ Hubbard 1977, p. 202
  20. ^ Hitler's Favourite Royal (Channel 4 documentary) Dec 2007
  21. ^ "PRINCESS ALICE, AT LONDON HOME: A GRANDCHILD OF QUEEN VICTORIA". The New York Times. UPI. Archived from the original on 7 October 2016. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  22. ^ Aronson, Theo (1981). Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone (first ed.). London: Cassell. p. 185. ISBN 0304307572.
  23. ^ a b "Sotheby's To Sell An Historic Album Photographs Recording the First British Royal Visit to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain". Art Daily. Archived from the original on 17 October 2015. Retrieved 19 July 2013.
  24. ^ "Audio Slideshow: Princess Alice in Saudi Arabia". BBC. 11 October 2010. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  25. ^ Morris, Loveday (30 July 2011). "Alice in Arabia: the first British royal to visit Saudi Arabia". The National.
  26. ^ "Journey of a Lifetime: The visit of HRH Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia" (PDF). College of Social Sciences and International Studies. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  27. ^ a b Morris, Loveday (30 July 2011). "Alice in Arabia: the first British royal to visit Saudi Arabia". The National. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  28. ^ "The journey of a lifetime". Geographical. July 2011. Archived from the original on 21 May 2014. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  29. ^ Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone (1966). For My Grandchildren. London: Evans Bros. OCLC 654367087.
  30. ^ "History | FANY (PRVC) - Princess Royal's Volunteer Corps". FANY (PRVC) - Princess Royal's Volunteer Corps. Retrieved 22 May 2017.

External links

Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone
Cadet branch of the House of Wettin
Born: 25 February 1883 Died: 3 January 1981
Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Baroness Tweedsmuir
Viceregal Consort of Canada
Succeeded by
The Countess Alexander of Tunis
Academic offices
New title Chancellor of the University of the West Indies
Succeeded by
Sir Hugh Wooding