Tragic real-life story of Prince Philip’s mother – Princess Alice of Greece, The Crown’s new star

The Crown season three looks at Prince Philip's complex relationship with his mother, Princess Alice of Greece

Jane Lapotaire plays Philip's mother Princess Alice in The Crown

Netflix’s The Crown season three delves into the complex relationship between Prince Philip (played by Tobias Menzies) and his mysterious mother, Princess Alice of Greece (Jane Lapotaire), who lived through several traumatic events before eventually moving in at Buckingham Palace for her final years.

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Here’s what you need to know about the real-life history behind The Crown season three.

Who was Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Alice?

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Great-granddaughter to Queen Victoria, Princess Alice of Greece (also known as Princess Alice of Battenberg) was born in 1885 at Windsor Castle — Queen Victoria herself was present at the birth. Born congenitally deaf, she spent her early life in the UK, Greece and the German Empire, before later marrying Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark in 1903.

She had four daughters and one son, Prince Philip, whom she affectionately called ‘Bubbikins’.

Princess Alice lived through various traumatic life experiences, including the forcible exile of the Greek royal family in 1922, thanks to her husband’s involvement in the Greco-Turkish War (her son Philip was only toddler, and had to be bundled into a fruit crate as a makeshift cot). Around this time she converted to the Greek Orthodox Church, becoming deeply religious and later claiming she had received divine messages.

Was Princess Alice treated for schizophrenia by Freud?

In 1930 Princess Alice was diagnosed with schizophrenia and forcibly taken to a Swiss sanatorium, where she was treated by the renowned psychologist Sigmund Freud.

Freud, believing that her reported visions were the results of sexual frustration, recommended a course of treatment involving electro-shock treatment, and X-raying her ovaries to kill off her libido — bringing on early menopause.

The Princess pleaded her sanity, but was kept in the sanatorium for over two years. On her aunt’s time under Freud’s care, Countess Mountbatten later said: “It was rather hushed up… I think my aunt would have suffered very much.”

What was Princess Alice’s relationship like with Prince Philip?

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Separated from her husband Andrew in every sense except on paper, the princess lived in Europe after her release from the sanitorium. She missed out on great chunks of her only son’s childhood; Philip was sent away to boarding school in England and spent various holidays with his uncle Lord Louis Mountbatten.

Princess Alice was largely estranged from her family until 1937, when her 26-year-old daughter Cecilie and son-in-law Georg Donatus, along with two of her grandchildren, were all killed in a plane crash. She reunited with her family, including Philip, at the funeral, before going on to found a nunnery in Greece (she was never seen in civilian clothes after 1949).

Alice funded the nunnery with her own jewels, although she still gifted some diamonds from her tiara to Philip, who used them in his engagement ring for the future Queen Elizabeth II.

She can be seen at the start of this British Pathé archive footage from 1946 (below), in which she arrives at an English airport and declines to comment on rumours about her son’s engagement to Princess Elizabeth.

Did Princess Alice call Prince Philip Bubbikins?

Yes! She seems to have enjoyed using pet names.

In June 1965 she visited London (getting to know her grandchildren, Edward and Andrew, during the stay), and referred to her son and daughter-in-law as the “Filibets” in letters (Elizabeth’s pet name was ‘Lilibet’). She also wrote to Philip, calling him “Dear Bubby-kins”: “You do not know how happy you have made me this summer & I am so sad it was over so quickly.”

Did Princess Alice save a Jewish family in World War 2?

While living in Europe, Princess Alice worked for the Red Cross and later helped to protect a Jewish family, hiding them in her house while she was living in Athens during World War II. She shielded Rachel Cohen and two of her children — despite the fact that the princess lived only yards away from the Gestapo headquarters. Rachel was the widow of Haimaki Cohen, who back in 1913 had assisted King George I of Greece.

Princess Alice reportedly was able to use her deafness as a means to evade the questions of the Gestapo, and she pretended she couldn’t hear or understand their questions. In 1994, she was posthumously named as one of the Righteous Among the Nations in Jerusalem, a honour granted to non-Jews who helped the Jewish people during the Holocaust.

Did Princess Alice come to live at Buckingham Palace?

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In 1967, Prince Philip grew increasingly concerned about the unstable political situation in Greece, and twice visited his mother while flying to and from Australia, according to Hugo Vickers’ 2001 biography ‘Alice: Princess Andrew Of Greece’.

Alice was already frail and in ill health; having been taken sick in 1966 while in Germany, she wrote to her son from her hospital bed: Shortly before her death, sent a note to her ‘Bubbikins’: “Dearest Philip, be brave, and remember I will never leave you, and you will always find me when you need me most. All my devoted love, your old Mama.”

When the 1967 Colonels’ Coup began, an anxious Philip immediately inquired after his mother. The British Embassy passed him a message from her, which read that she was unafraid and following events closely: “I am well & terribly interested of course.” Philip in turn also sent further information to her, and the Palace soon decided that she should leave Athens and come to stay at Buckingham Palace.

When Alice heard from her daughter Sophie that the Queen herself had issued the invitation, she reportedly said: “Lilibet said that? We go this afternoon.” (In reality, it took a little longer to organise the necessary arrangements). On arrival in England she moved into two rooms on the first floor at Buckingham Palace, living alongside the Queen and with her own son, Prince Philip. She lived at Buckingham Palace until her death on 5th December 1969.

Princess Alice arrives at Buckingham Palace in The Crown

The princess wasn’t as isolated in England as she appears to be in The Crown. In fact, she was far from a recluse. Her daughters and various visitors often came to stay; she often visited with Lord Mountbatten; and when the British royal family visited Balmoral in the summer, she stayed in a London hotel.

“I was so sad to see you all go off,” she wrote to Philip on one of these occasions, “& I miss my talks with you. I am so grateful that my health permitted me to travel to England & have such a wonderful time with you in consequence.”

A near-constant smoker, her health began to seriously decline in 1969, and she was last seen in public on 3rd October (two months before she died). Her death received little fanfare in the British press. She was initially interred in the royal vault, but in 1988 she was finally buried in Jerusalem, according to her wishes.

Was Princess Alice interviewed by a Guardian journalist?

Colin Morgan plays journalist John Armstrong in The Crown season 3

The Crown season three shows how Princess Alice arrives at the palace just as the royal family are scrambling to rectify their reputation, as Prince Philip made embarrassing comments on US television about how pay cuts were impacting the royal household (he lamented potentially having to give up polo).

Actually, Alice had arrived at Buckingham Palace in 1967 – and was already safely installed by 1968, when filming for the Royal Family documentary began. The incident where Philip made controversial remarks on Meet the Press in America took place in 1969, so the order of events is switched around for the sake of the drama.

In The Crown, Princess Alice also gives an interview to Irish republican and Guardian journalist John Armstrong (played by Colin Morgan), who writes a sympathetic piece about her tragic past — helping to achieve a more positive public attitude towards the royal household.

This is likely a fictionalisation; the Vickers biography suggests she never talked to the press, and Armstrong himself did not exist; he is more of an amalgamation of several journalists into one character.

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The Crown season three is available on Netflix now.