Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale (January 8, 1864 – January 14, 1892)
Prince 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 Princess Alexandra of Denmark.
The Prince and Princess of Wales, Albert Edward and Alexandra, with their new-born son, Albert Victor, 1864
Following his grandmother Queen Victoria’s wishes, he was named Albert Victor, after herself and her late husband, Albert. Albert Victor was known to his family, and many later biographers, as “Eddy”. 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.
The Prince and Princess of Wales
When young, he travelled the world extensively as a naval cadet, and as an adult he joined the British Army but did not undertake any active military duties.
Prince 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; however, there is no conclusive evidence that he ever went there, or was indeed homosexual.
Prince Albert Victor of Wales
Some authors have argued that he was the serial killer known as Jack the Ripper, or that he was otherwise involved in the murders, but contemporaneous documents show that Albert Victor could not have been in London at the time of the murders, and the claim is widely dismissed.
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.
Prince Albert Victor of Wales
On his return from a tour of India, Albert Victor was created Duke of Clarence and Avondale and Earl of Athlone on May 24, 1890, Queen Victoria’s 71st birthday.
Albert Victor with Princess Victoria Mary of Teck, his fiancée, photographed in 1891
In 1889, Albert Victor’s grandmother Queen Victoria expressed her wish that he marry his paternal cousin Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine, who was one of her favorite granddaughters.
Princess Alice of Hesse and by Rhine
In Balmoral Castle, he proposed to Alix, but she did not return his affections and refused his offer of engagement. He persisted in trying to convince Alix to marry him, but he finally gave up in 1890 when she sent him a letter in which she told him “how it grieves her to pain him, but that she cannot marry him, much as she likes him as a Cousin.”
In 1894, she married Emperor Nicholas II of Russia, another of Albert Victor’s cousins. Nicholas’s mother, Princess Dagmar of Denmark and Prince Albert Victor’s mother, Princess Alexandra of Denmark, were sisters.
After her proposed match with Alix fell through, Victoria suggested to Albert Victor that he marry another first cousin, Princess Margaret of Prussia.
Princess Margaret of Prussia was the youngest child of Friedrich III, German Emperor, and Victoria, Princess Royal of the United Kingdom. As such, she was the younger sister of Emperor Wilhelm II and a granddaughter of Queen Victoria.
Princess Margaret of Prussia
On May 19, 1890, she sent him a formal letter in which she expressed her opinions about Margaret’s suitability to become Queen: “Of the few possible Princess (for of course any Lady in Society would never do) I think no one more likely to suit you and the position better than your Cousin Mossy … She is not regularly pretty but she has a very pretty figure, is very amiable and half English with great love for England which you will find in very few if any others.”
Although Albert Victor’s father approved, Queen Victoria’s secretary Henry Ponsonby informed her that Albert Victor’s mother “would object most strongly and indeed has already done so.” Because of Alexandra’s strong anti-German feelings, which she had after Denmark was defeated in a war against Prussia in 1864, she didn’t want any of her children to marry Germans. Nothing came of Queen Victoria’s suggestion.
Princess Margaret married Prince Friedrich Charles of Hesse (formerly Hesse-Cassel), the elected King of Finland, making her the would-be Queen of Finland had he not decided to renounce the throne on December 14, 1918.
By this time however, Albert Victor was falling in love with Princess Hélène of Orléans, a daughter of Prince Philippe, Count of Paris, a pretender to the French throne and his wife Princess Marie Isabelle of Orléans was the daughter 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 Fernanda was the daughter of King Fernando VII of Spain and his fourth wife Princess Maria Christina of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. All four of her grandparents and seven of her eight great-grandparents were members of the French Royal House of Bourbon.
The Count and Countess of Paris and thier children were living in England after being banished from France in 1886.
Princess Hélène of Orléans
At first, Queen Victoria opposed any engagement because Hélène was Roman Catholic. 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.
When Albert Victor died, his sisters Maud and Louise sympathized with Hélène and treated her, not his fiancée Princess Victoria Mary of Teck, as his true love. Maud told her that “he is buried with your little coin around his neck” and Louise said that he is “yours in death”. Hélène later became Duchess of Aosta.
By 1891, another potential bride, Princess Victoria Mary of Teck, was under consideration. Mary was the daughter of Queen Victoria’s first cousin Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, Duchess of Teck. Queen Victoria was very supportive, considering Mary ideal—charming, sensible and pretty.
The Duke of Clarence and Avondale and Princess Victoria Mary of Teck
On December 3, 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 1889–1892. He developed pneumonia and died at Sandringham House in Norfolk on 14 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 Duke of Clarence and Avondale
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”. Princess Mary wrote to Queen Victoria of the Princess of Wales, “the despairing look on her face was the most heart-rending thing I have ever seen.” His younger brother Prince George wrote, “how deeply I did love him; & I remember with pain nearly every hard word & little quarrel I ever had with him & I long to ask his forgiveness, but, alas, it is too late now!”
The Duke of Clarence and Avondale
George took Albert Victor’s place in the line of succession, eventually succeeding to the throne as George V in 1910. Drawn together during their shared period of mourning, Prince George later married Mary himself in 1893. She became queen consort on George’s accession.
Albert Victor’s mother, Alexandra, never fully recovered from her son’s death and kept the room in which he died as a shrine.