Thursday, March 02, 2006

Royal Profile: Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale

Invariably labeled 'slow', 'backward' and a 'lunatic', his memory is destined to be clouded by mystery. Considered unsuitable for the throne, his death has even been regarded as a stroke of luck for the royal family. To this day there are rumours that he was a drug addict, homosexual, had fathered an illegitimate child, and, although never a formal suspect, the notorious Jack the Ripper.

Prince Albert Victor Christian Edward, was born on January 8, 1864 at Frogmore House. Due in March, he was originally supposed to be born at Marlborough House but his mother, Princess Alexandra, went into labour while watching her husband, the future King Edward VII, play ice hockey. Instead, he was born prematurely at Frogmore House, weighing less than 4 pounds. Against the wishes of his parents, Queen Victoria chose the names Albert Victor, after her late husband and herself. He was informally known to his family as 'Eddy' but due to the circumstances of his birth, society had a different name for him: "All-but on the ice".

As an infant with his mother
Although he was regarded as 'apathetic' and 'backward', there was another side to the prince, he was by accounts, sweet natured, gentle, and close to his mother and three sisters: Princess Louise, Princess Victoria Alexandra, and Princess Maud, the future Queen of Norway. He was also very close to his brother, Prince George, the future King George V, and they were educated together by a tutor, Reverend John Dalton. The brothers were devoted to each other, but very different in character. Regarded as the more intelligent of the two, Prince George was destined for a career in the navy, while Queen Victoria wanted Eddy to be sent to a public school. But George brought out the best in Eddy and their tutor recommended that the brothers not be separated. When George began his naval career it was decided that Eddy should join him, and in 1877, Eddy and his brother joined the training ship, Britannia. In 1879, accompanied by his brother and tutor, he set out on a three-year world tour on the HMS Bacchante, visiting Australia, the Far East and Japan.

Unlike his brother, Eddy showed no aptitude or interest in the Navy. His father then decided a formal education might be more beneficial and in 1883 he entered Trinity College, Cambridge. He did not excel academically but he was eventually granted an honorary degree in 1888. In 1885 he joined the Army, and was commissioned into the 10th Hussars Calvalry Regiment. In 1889-90 he made his first solo tour to India and upon his return, Queen Victoria granted him the dukedoms of Clarence and Avondale, and the title Earl of Athlone.

As a potential King, his parents and Queen Victoria became concerned with Prince Albert Victor's increasingly desolute lifestyle. Rumoured to be frequenting homosexual brothels, it was thought that a good marriage would set him straight and Queen Victoria set about finding a bride for him. The Prince had a habit of falling in love easily with unsuitable women. At one point he was secretly engaged to the unsuitably Catholic Princess Hélène of Orléans, daughter of the pretender to the French throne. His parents and the Queen eventually chose the suitable and sensible Princess May of Teck, the future Queen Mary. It was not a love match but Prince Albert Victor duly proposed to her in December 1891 and their wedding was set for February 27, 1892.

One month before their marriage, while at Sandringham, he fell ill with influenza. Within days he developed pneumonia and died on January 14. He is buried in St. George's Chapel, Windsor.

© Marilyn Braun 2006

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Albert Victor is very interesting. Did you ever hear that because he was so backward, and "un-kingly" that a decision was made to hasten his death--its possible it was something pulled off by one of the Dr's and someone in the government---to give him something that would kill him? There were many who wanted to see George King. It makes you wonder. No one really knows if its true.

Sue M, Duchess of Cozy

Marilyn said...

I wouldn't be surprised about that, after all he was considered unsuitable, it was something his parents and Queen Victoria were concerned about. So, although sad, I've read that his death has been considered a 'stroke of luck', not only for the monarchy but also for Queen Mary.

I've heard that when King George V died in 1936, that something was given to him to hasten his death. Mainly so that reports of his death would appear in the more 'prestigious' morning papers instead of the afternoon papers.

Anonymous said...

There are a great many "stories" about Albert Victor (Eddy) and the majority of them are fanciful inventions.

Eddy was not particularly bright but then he was not stupid either and many of his existing letters attest to this.

There is no definitive evidence of connection to homosexual brothels or of his even being gay. His alleged "secret marriage" and any association with the Ripper murders have been debunked also. His illness and death were minutely chronicled by family members and at least one photo of him in death exists where he is readily recognisable.

He may not have been ideal king material but he was a pretty nice guy and did his best. I believe his memory has been unfairly blackened over time.

Marilyn said...

I've never heard of (or seen) a photo of Prince Albert in death. I know there's one of his father.

Yes, I also believe that his memory has been maligned over the years - after all, he can't respond, so it's rather easy to do. One thing is for certain, the royal family would look quite different today had he lived.