Alexandra of Denmark, Duke of Clarence, King Christian IX of Denmark, King Edward VII of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Prince Albert Victor, Princess Alix of Hesse by Rhine, Princess Hélène of Orléans, Princess Mary of Teck
Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale (Albert Victor Christian Edward; January 8, 1864 – January 14, 1892) was the eldest child of the Prince and Princess of Wales (later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) and grandson of the reigning British monarch, Queen Victoria. From the time of his birth, he was second in the line of succession to the British throne, but never became king because he died before his father and grandmother.
Albert Victor was born two months prematurely on January 8, 1864 at Frogmore House, Windsor, Berkshire. He was the first child of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, and his wife Alexandra of Denmark, daughter of was Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg (King Christian IX of Denmark) and her mother was Princess Louise of Hesse-Cassel.
Following his grandmother Queen Victoria’s wishes, he was named Albert Victor, after herself and her late husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. As a grandchild of the reigning British monarch in the male line and a son of the Prince of Wales, he was formally styled His Royal Highness Prince Albert Victor of Wales from birth.
He was christened Albert Victor Christian Edward in the private chapel of Buckingham Palace on March 10, 1864 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Charles Longley, but was known informally as “Eddy”. His godparents were Queen Victoria (his paternal grandmother), King Christian IX of Denmark (his maternal grandfather, represented by his brother Prince Johann of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg), King Leopold I of Belgium (his great great-uncle), the Dowager Duchess of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg (his maternal great-grandmother, for whom the Duchess of Cambridge stood proxy), the Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (his great-aunt by marriage, for whom the Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz stood proxy), the Landgrave of Hesse (his maternal great-grandfather, for whom Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, stood proxy), the Crown Princess of Prussia (his paternal aunt, for whom Princess Helena, her sister, stood proxy) and Prince Alfred (his paternal uncle).
When Albert Victor was just short of seventeen months old, his brother, Prince George of Wales, was born on June 3, 1865. Given the closeness in age of the two royal brothers, they were educated together. In 1871, the Queen appointed John Neale Dalton as their tutor. The two princes were given a strict programme of study, which included games and military drills as well as academic subjects. Dalton complained that Albert Victor’s mind was “abnormally dormant”. Though he learned to speak Danish, progress in other languages and subjects was slow. Sir Henry Ponsonby thought that Albert Victor might have inherited his mother’s deafness. Albert Victor never excelled intellectually. Possible physical explanations for Albert Victor’s inattention or indolence in class include absence seizures or his premature birth, which can be associated with learning difficulties, but Lady Geraldine Somerset blamed Albert Victor’s poor education on Dalton, whom she considered uninspiring.
In 1877, the two boys were sent to the Royal Navy’s training ship, HMS Britannia. They began their studies there two months behind the other cadets as Albert Victor contracted typhoid fever, for which he was treated by Sir William Gull. Dalton accompanied them as chaplain to the ship. In 1879, after a great deal of discussion between the Queen, the Prince of Wales, their households and the Government, the royal brothers were sent as naval cadets on a three-year world tour aboard HMS Bacchante. Albert Victor was rated midshipman on his sixteenth birthday. They toured the British Empire, accompanied by Dalton, visiting the Americas, the Falkland Islands, South Africa, Australia, Fiji, the Far East, Singapore, Ceylon, Aden, Egypt, the Holy Land and Greece. They acquired tattoos in Japan. By the time they returned to Britain, Albert Victor was eighteen.
Brothers Prince George and Prince Albert Victor
Albert Victor’s intellect, sexuality and mental health have been the subject of speculation. Rumours in his time linked him with the Cleveland Street scandal, which involved a homosexual brothel, but there is no conclusive evidence that he ever went there or was homosexual. Some authors have argued that he was the serial killer known as Jack the Ripper, but contemporary documents show that Albert Victor could not have been in London at the time of the murders, and the claim is widely dismissed.
The foreign press suggested that Albert Victor was sent on a seven-month tour of British India from October 1889 to avoid the gossip which swept London society in the wake of the Cleveland Street scandal. This is not true; the trip had actually been planned since the spring. Traveling via Athens, Port Said, Cairo and Aden, Albert Victor arrived in Bombay on November 9, 1889. He was entertained sumptuously in Hyderabad by the Nizam, and elsewhere by many other maharajahs. In Bangalore he laid the foundation stone of the Glass House at the Lalbagh Botanical Gardens on November 30, 1889. He spent Christmas at Mandalay and the New Year at Calcutta. Most of the extensive travelling was done by train, although elephants were ridden as part of ceremonies. In the style of the time, a great many animals were shot for sport.
On his return from India, Albert Victor was created Duke of Clarence and Avondale and Earl of Athlone on May 24, 1890, Queen Victoria’s 71st birthday.
Princess Alix of Hesse and By Rhine
Princess Hélène of Orléans
Several women were lined up as possible brides for Albert Victor. The first, in 1889, was his cousin Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine, but she did not return his affections and refused his offer of engagement. She would later marry Emperor Nicholas II of Russia, another of Albert Victor’s cousins, in 1894. The second, in 1890, was a love match with Princess Hélène of Orléans, the third of eight children born to Prince Philippe VII , Count of Paris, and Infanta Maria Isabel of Spain, daughter of Prince Antoine, Duke of Montpensier and Infanta Luisa Fernanda of Spain. Antoine was the youngest son of Louis-Philippe I, the last King of France, and Maria Amalia of Naples and Sicily. Infanta Luisa was the daughter of Ferdinand VII of Spain and her grandfather’s fourth wife Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies. All four of her grandparents and seven of her eight great-grandparents were members of the French Royal House of Bourbon.
At first, Queen Victoria opposed any engagement because Hélène was Roman Catholic. Victoria wrote to her grandson suggesting another of her grandchildren, Princess Margaret of Prussia, as a suitable alternative, but nothing came of her suggestion, and once Albert Victor and Hélène confided their love to her, the Queen relented and supported the proposed marriage. Hélène offered to convert to the Church of England, and Albert Victor offered to renounce his succession rights to marry her. To the couple’s disappointment, her father refused to countenance the marriage and was adamant she could not convert. Hélène travelled personally to intercede with Pope Leo XIII, but he confirmed her father’s verdict, and the courtship ended. On June 25, 1895, at the Church of St. Raphael in Kingston upon Thames, Hélène married Prince Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy, 2nd Duke of Aosta (1869–1931).
The Duke of Clarence and Avondale with Princess Mary of Teck
In late 1891, the Prince was implicated as having been involved with a former Gaiety Theatre chorus girl, Lydia Miller (stage name Lydia Manton), who committed suicide by drinking carbolic acid. In 1891, Albert Victor wrote to Lady Sybil St Clair Erskine that he was in love once again, though he does not say with whom, but by this time another potential bride, Princess Mary of Teck, was under consideration. Mary was the daughter of Queen Victoria’s first cousin Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck. Queen Victoria was very supportive, considering Mary ideal—charming, sensible and pretty. On 3 December 1891 Albert Victor, to Mary’s “great surprise”, proposed to her at Luton Hoo, the country residence of the Danish ambassador to Britain. The wedding was set for February 27, 1892.
Just as plans for both his marriage to Mary and his appointment as Viceroy of Ireland were under discussion, Albert Victor fell ill with influenza in the pandemic of 1889–92. He developed pneumonia and died at Sandringham House in Norfolk on January 14, 1892, less than a week after his 28th birthday. His parents the Prince and Princess of Wales, his sisters Princesses Maud and Victoria, his brother Prince George, his fiancée Princess Mary, her parents the Duke and Duchess of Teck, three physicians (Alan Reeve Manby, Francis Laking and William Broadbent) and three nurses were present. The Prince of Wales’s chaplain, Canon Frederick Hervey, stood over Albert Victor reading prayers for the dying.
The nation was shocked. Shops put up their shutters. The Prince of Wales wrote to Queen Victoria, “Gladly would I have given my life for his”.