top of page
  • Writer's pictureVictoria Regina

The wedding of Princess Alice and Prince Louis of Hesse 1862

Updated: Jan 25

On this day, 1st July 1862, Princess Alice, third child of Queen Victoria, married Prince Louis of Hesse in the Dining Room at Osborne House.

The marriage of Princess Alice, 1st July 1862 by George Housman Thomas The marriage of Princess Alice, 1st July 1862 by George Housman Thomas Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

In 1860, Victoria and Albert began making plans to find Alice a husband. Similarly to themselves, they believed that their children should marry for love. However, the options were still limited to European royals that promoted a positive foreign alliance. On request of the Queen, Alice’s older sister, Princess Victoria, made a list of potential suitors. The two suggestions included William, Prince of Orange and Prince Albert of Prussia. Although William travelled to Windsor for the Queen to analyse, the two quickly proved incompatible. Unfortunately for Prince Albert of Prussia, he was dismissed by Princess Victoria’s husband, Friedrich, before he’d had chance to meet the Princess. With both of the prime candidates dismissed, Princess Victoria suggested Prince Louis of Hesse. Before long, Louis and his brother, Henry, had been invited to watch the Ascot races with the royal family, however Victoria’s real reason for the invite was so he could undergo her close inspection.

Both Victoria and Albert were impressed with Louis and noticed that him and Alice seemed to be getting along. When preparing to return home, Louis asked Alice for a photograph, and on return she made it clear that she was interested in him. During his second visit to Windsor Castle in November 1860, Louis proposed to Alice. However, the happy news wasn’t officially announced until 30th April the following year, when the Queen had formally given her consent.

Princess Alice and Prince Louis, dated 8th December 1860

As wedding plans began, Queen Victoria convinced Prime Minister at the time, Lord Palmerston, to get parliament approval for a £30,000 dowry for Alice. Although £30,000 was considered a tremendous amount, Prince Albert still complained that his daughter “will not be able to do great things with it”. For comparison, £30,000 in 1861 is equivalent to around £3 million today!

Along with wanting more money, Queen Victoria expected a new palace to be built for the couple, however the people of Darmstadt didn’t approve of the suggestion, causing Alice to become unpopular before she had even visited.

Princess Alice and Prince Louis in July 1862 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

However, tragedy struck in December 1861, when Prince Albert died of typhoid fever. Queen Victoria plummeted into a deep state of mourning. As the eldest sister, Alice became a second mother to her grieving siblings, along with assuming the role of Victoria’s unofficial private secretary, aided by her sister, Louise. Due to this and the weight of her own grief, Alice began skipping meals and dramatically lost weight. Louis himself was shocked to see how much she had changed when he next visited Britain.

Princess Alice in her wedding dress by George Koberwein, dated 1862 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

Following Albert’s wishes, Queen Victoria agreed for the wedding to go ahead as planned and the two were married on 1st July 1862, in the Dining Room at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Unlike the wedding of Princess Victoria’s wedding in 1858, Alice’s was much a much smaller affair and the guest list was limited to family, close friends, government representatives and members of the royal household.

Due to the mourning customs of period, all guests were required to wear mourning attire. Men wore black evening coats and black neck cloths, while women wore either black or violet mourning dresses. As the bride, Alice was allowed to wear a white Honiton lace gown, decorated with orange blossom and myrtle, which also secured her veil. Her four bridesmaids: Princess Helena; Princess Louise, Princess Beatrice; and Princess Anna (sister of Prince Louis), all wore similar with a violet stripe. They themselves weren’t allowed to get ready until right before the ceremony and had to change back into mourning dress immediately after the couple left on their honeymoon. Unfortunately, Alice’s eldest and closest sister Victoria, had been unable to travel from Germany due to being eight months pregnant. In a letter to her daughter, Queen Victoria described the ceremony as “more of a funeral than a wedding”. It seems that many other guests agreed, with one calling it “the saddest royal wedding of modern times”!

Princess Alice in her wedding dress, dated July 1862 by William Bembridge © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

At 1 o’clock, Queen Victoria was led from her room to an armchair near the altar. She was followed by the rest of the guests and Prince Louis, who was supported by his brother, Prince Henry. The last to arrive was of course Alice, supported by her paternal uncle, Ernst II , Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. During the ceremony, Queen Victoria was shelled from the scene by her two eldest sons, and instead focused on a portrait of Prince Albert, which hung proudly above the altar. Herself and her four sons couldn’t help but sob throughout what was meant to be a happy day. Even the Archbishop of York, who led the ceremony, is believed to have cried!

Afterwards, the newlyweds and their close family were led into the nearby Horn Room for luncheon, while the rest of the guests gathered in the Council Room for their separate luncheon.

Princess Alice in 1860 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III 2024

At about 5pm, the royal couple left Osborne House for St Clare Castle in nearby seaside town, Ryde. while they were there, Queen Victoria visited the couple twice. Aware of her jealousy towards their new happiness, Alice actively tried not to appear “too happy”. On 9th July, they set off for Darmstadt. On the way, they stopped off at Brussels to see King Leopold I of Belgium.

As they approached Darmstadt on 12th July, the couple were greeted by cheering crowds and decorated streets. In a letter to her mother, Alice said “I believe the people never gave so hearty a welcome.” However, despite the positive start, Alice quickly became homesick and struggled to adapt to her new country. Even after their wedding, housing arrangements still hadn’t been made. Eventually, Alice and Louis were given a house in the “Old Quarter” of Darmstadt, overlooking the busy street. Alice’s new home was completely different to the quiet palaces she’d been used to back home in England, however, the environment seemed to suit her interest in ordinary people.

Prince Louis and Princess Alice of Hesse with three of their children: Princess Victoria (standing), Prince Friedrich (seated on Alice’s lap) and Prince Ernst Louis (standing right) by Christian Karl August Noack, dated 1871 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

Nine months after their wedding, Alice gave birth to the couples first child, Princess Victoria, on 5th April 1863 at Windsor Castle. Over the next eleven years, she would give birth to a total of seven children!

Despite their happy family, their lives were filled with tragedy. On 29th May 1873, their youngest son, Prince Friedrich, fell out of a window while playing with his older brother. Like Queen Victoria, Alice was a carrier of haemophilia, which spread to many of her children. As a result, Friedrich died of internal bleeding soon after regaining consciousness. Just five years later, their family would be torn apart when diphtheria spread through their home. On 14th December 1878, Princess Alice died, prematurely ending their relationship.

Princess Alice and Prince Louis with their six surviving children, dated 1875 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III 2024

4 views0 comments
bottom of page