Princess Alice lived with the royal family in Buckingham Palace during the final years of her life

By Simon Perry
December 21, 2019 12:00 PM
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One of the stand-out stories in season three of The Crown focuses on Prince Philip’s eccentric mother Princess Alice.

“She is the unheralded star of the show,” says Robert Lacey, the historical consultant for the Netflix series.

We first see Alice — who had been beset by mental health difficulties, including schizophrenia — at the nursing home run by the monastic Christian sisterhood, which she set up in Athens, Greece. Always looking for more funds, she is forced to sell jewelry to keep a roof over the residents’ heads, against a backdrop of a possible military coup. It is this fear of violent changes in the Greek capital that forces her son Philip to bring her over to London.

Royal historian Hugo Vickers, author of The Crown Dissected, (excerpted in The Times), says the show portrays Philip as being uncomfortable with his mother being in Buckingham Palace, and is reluctant to visit her in her room.

In reality, Prince Philip had been trying to persuade his mother to come over to London for some time. Vickers writes that she lived at the palace between 1967 and 1969, when she passed away.

Princess Anne and Princess Alice in 1969
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Vickers, who also wrote Alice: Princess Andrew of Greece, says that Philip was the much longed-for son after Alice had four daughters. “On his part, he was very good to her, often flying her from one place to another and, as related, buying her the apartment in Athens.”

As Philip grew up, there were long separations due to his mother’s hospital stays, or when she was living in Germany in the 1930s, and later in Athens. Vickers adds, “I suspect that others in his family sought to minimize her influence on him.”

Her health challenges saw famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud being consulted — although he did not treat her as the show recounts, the biographer points out.

And the scene of her interview-bombing (to granddaughter Princess Anne’s enjoyment!) the official documentary made about the Windsors is also fiction. But it does underline how close Anne was to her.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip
| Credit: Anwar Hussein/Getty

“Anne called Alice Yaya, the Greek word for grandmother,” Lacey, the author of The Crown, The Inside History, says. “She loved sitting and hearing the stories that her grandmother would tell about Victoria being present at Alice’s birth.”

More recently, Alice has become more celebrated for her role in helping save a Jewish family — and she is buried Jerusalem. “She was also a hero of the Holocaust,” adds Lacey. Her grandson Prince Charles, 71, spoke of her and his father Prince Philip at a recent palace reception.

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“I am immensely proud that my dear grandmother, Princess Alice of Greece, is buried in Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives,” Charles said. “She is counted one of the Righteous among the Nations for her actions in 1943 when, in Nazi-occupied Athens, she saved a Jewish family by taking them into her home and hiding them. My grandmother was a formidable lady.”