Princess Alice, Prince Philip's Mother, Was a Fascinating, Tragic Figure

Hers is one of the strangest stories in royal history.

Princess Alice
(Image credit: Keystone-France)

The relationship between Prince Philip (played by Tobias Menzies in season three of Netflix hit The Crown) and Philip's mother Princess Alice (played by Jane Lapotaire) was fraught for most of their lives. Alice, who preferred not to be associated with her royal name and spent a great deal of time either institutionalized or in a convent, was absent for a large part of her son's life and only reconnected with him when both were much older.

She's a fascinating and tragic figure, and her story is one of the strangest in royal history. The mother-son relationship is explored in The Crown season 3—so what's the real-life story behind the fictional depiction? 

Princess Alice was born at Windsor Castle.

Princess Alice, who was a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, was born and raised as an English princess, although she spent time in Greece as well as the German Empire. She was born deaf and remained so throughout her life (apparently she could lipread in several languages and speak English and German). She married Prince Andrew of Greece, and the pair had five children—Prince Philip was the youngest—but they were exiled when the Greek royal family was overthrown.

Princess Alice

(Image credit: Hulton Archive)

Prince and Princess Andrew of Greece

Princess Alice with her husband, Prince Andrew of Greece.

(Image credit: Photo 12)

Alice was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1930 (when she was 45) and placed in a sanitarium. Apparently, she was even treated by Sigmund Freud at one point, although (pretty standard for Freud, unfortunately) he said she suffered from sexual frustration and...induced early menopause in her.

After Alice recovered, she stayed in Greece, converted to the Greek Orthodox Church, founded an order of nuns against the wishes of her family, and devoted her life to religious work from then on.

She saved a Jewish family from the Holocaust.

In 2018, when Prince William visited Alice's tomb, she was formally recognized by the royal family for her bravery in sheltering a Jewish family during World War II. Rachel Cohen and her children were hidden at Alice's house, and her descendants thanked William for his great-grandmother's bravery.

The Royal Family tweeted, "Princess Alice, mother to The Duke of Edinburgh, lived in Athens during WWII and worked with the Swedish and Swiss Red Cross. During the German Occupation of Athens Princess Alice sheltered Jewish families in her apartment. In 1993 Yad Vashem bestowed the title of 'Righteous Among the Nations' to Princess Alice—an honour given to non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews."

The show covers her later years.

The first we see of Princess Alice during The Crown is during Elizabeth's wedding in season 1. The show takes a little creative license, showing her in her habit (Queen Mary makes a disparaging remark about her just coming out of a sanitarium). But it looks as though Alice was dressed in event-appropriate attire for the official photo—she's at the bottom left in the darker outfit.


(Image credit: STR)

Spoilers for season 3 ahead. In season 3, Princess Alice is the star of "Bubbikins," one of the best episodes of not only the season, but the series. Presented as a wily, mission-driven nun forced to return to the royal abode for her own safety—a place where Alice finds, with great sadness, that she can be of no use to anyone, and where her beloved son avoids her—Alice is kept behind closed doors by the royal family during a particularly intense period of bad press. The message is clear: She can only provide shame to the royal family, and she is no longer permitted to help the underprivileged, an area in which she clearly found meaning.

Yet, there is vindication for Alice, a plucky character the viewer likes from the start. She's befriended by Princess Anne, who pushes her in front of journalist John Armstrong (who does not exist, but that's a different story), who in turn writes a glowing profile of the princess that redeems the royal family in the eyes of the public. The episode ends with Philip and his mother walking into the garden together, laughing, and discovering once again the bond they lost long ago.

Season 3 of The Crown is available to watch on Netflix on November 17.

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(Image credit: Des Willie)
Katherine J. Igoe

Katherine’s a Boston-based contributor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle—from “Clueless” to Everlane to news about Lizzo. She’s been a freelancer for 11 years and has had roles with Cosmopolitan and Bustle, with bylines in Parents, Seventeen, and elsewhere. It’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.