Princess Alice, full name: Princess Alice of Battenberg
As far as we know, the only royalty who was born deaf.
She was born in the UK, in Windsor Castle.
She was the great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, the mother of Prince Philip and the mother-in-law of Queen Elizabeth II.
Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark by Philip de László, 1907. Private collection of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
Princess Alice lived from 25 February 1885 – 5 December 1969.
In 1903, she married Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and became Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark. They had had five children, one of whom was prince Philip.
She lived in Greece until the exile of most of the Greek royal family in 1917.
In 1930, Princess Andrew was diagnosed with schizophrenia. She was sent to a sanatorium in Switzerland; thereafter, she lived separately from her husband.
After her recovery, she devoted most of her remaining years to charity work in Greece.
In January 1949, the princess founded a nursing order of Greek Orthodox nuns – the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary. She decided to withdraw from the world and moved to the island of Tinos.
Following the colonels’ coup d’etat in Greece in 1967 she went back to England and moved to Buckingham Palace to be close to her son and his family. She died in London in December 1969, aged 84.
How did she communicate?
Princess Alice's mother noticed that she was slow in learning to talk, and became concerned by her indistinct pronunciation.
Her grandmother, Princess Battenberg, identified the problem and took Alice to see an ear specialist. She was diagnosed with congenital deafness.
With encouragement from her mother, Alice learned to both lip-read and speak in English and German. By the age of eight she had become a fluent lip reader.
She was educated privately and studied French. Later, after her engagement to Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, she learned Greek.
A leaflet with a drawing showing Queen Victoria using sign language at the bedside of a 'deaf mute'.
Source: Museum of London
Some say it was Queen Alexandra from Denmark who taught Queen Victoria to fingerspell. Source.
World War II
During World War II, Princess Andrew was in the difficult situation of having sons-in-law fighting on the German side and a son in the British Royal Navy.
She and her sister-in-law, Princess Nicholas of Greece, lived in Athens for the duration of the war.
She worked for the Red Cross and helped organise soup kitchens for the starving populace. She flew to Sweden to bring back medical supplies on the pretext of visiting her sister Louise. She organised two shelters for orphaned and lost children, and a nursing circuit for poor neighbourhoods.
She hid Jewish widow Rachel Cohen and two of her five children, who sought to evade deportation to the death camps.
The Cohens stayed in Princess Alice's residence until liberation. There were times when the Germans became suspicious, and Princess Alice was even interviewed by the Gestapo. Using her deafness, she pretended not to understand their questions until they left her alone.
In 1994, Princess Andrew's two surviving children, the Duke of Edinburgh and Princess George of Hanover, went to Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Memorial) in Jerusalem to witness a ceremony honouring princess Alice as "Righteous Among the Nations" for having hidden the Cohens in her house in Athens during the Second World War.
Prince Philip said of his mother's sheltering of persecuted Jews, "I suspect that it never occurred to her that her action was in any way special. She was a person with a deep religious faith, and she would have considered it to be a perfectly natural human reaction to fellow beings in distress."
In 2010, the Princess was posthumously named a Hero of the Holocaust by the British Government.