Sunday, January 17, 2010

Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha

The fourth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert was Alfred (Alfred Ernest Albert.) He was born in 1844 at Windsor Castle. He was originally the Duke of Edinburgh, but towards the end of his life he ruled Saxe-Coburg and Gotcha in the German Empire, so he ended up being known as the Duke of ... well, you know.

He was known in the family as Affie. "Affie", not "Alfie." As in "Affable." (Or "Affluent.")

When he was born, he was second in line of succession to the British throne, but as his older brother married and began having children he dropped so far down he lost all interest. In all likelihood, I mean.

He had an interesting and honorable life. He joined the Navy at age 12 and stayed in for some 40 years. He worked his way up through the officer's ranks until, in 1893, he was awarded his baton as Admiral of the fleet.

In 1862, Prince Alfred was chosen by Greece to take their throne, upon the abdication of King Otto. However, the British government (not his mother) told him to send the Greeks his regrets, so he just stayed in the Navy.

Alfred was the first English prince to visit Australia, stopping there nearly 5 months during one of his naval voyages. (My source says "English prince" rather than "British prince", so I am doing the same here - although I don't have a clue what Scottish prince might have preceded him. Maybe one was transported. Sorry, Adullamite.)

On the (then) Duke of Edinburgh's second visit to Australia, in March of 1868, he was the victim of an assassination attempt. While picnicking, he was shot in the back by one Henry James O'farrell. The bullet was just to the right of the prince's spine. He was nursed by six Florence Nightingale-trained nurses, led by matron Lucy Osburn. He recovered.

The assailant was arrested at the scene and hanged 40 days later. Back then, if you were caught in the act, they just got it over with. Moral: don't embarrass the Aussies. I could find no record of O'farrell's final words, but I imagine them to be along the lines of, "Holy Mackerel! - the bloke didn't even DIE, fer chrissake!"

In January of 1874, the Duke of Edinburgh married the Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna of Russia, daughter of Tsar Alexander II. To commemorate this marriage, a small English bakery made the now famous Marie biscuit (with her name on them). So, that was pretty nice.

Marie herself was somewhat less than nice. She insisted on taking precedence over the Princess of Wales (Alexandra of Denmark) because her own family (so they all thought) was much higher in rank than the lowly Danes. Her own mother was Hessian, you see. (Remember the rule: Denmark or Hesse.) Queen Victoria smacked her down, though, and granted her precedence right after Alexandra. I'm sure you care. To soothe her feelings, her father gave her the staggering sum of £100,000 for a dowry and granted her another £28,000 per annum for life. So the cookie princess was able to survive her humiliation.

Oddly, the Duke's flagship, when he was an admiral, was named "Alexandra".

Marie and Alfred had six children (one was stillborn), but only one son, another Alfred, the Hereditary Heir to Saxe-Coburg and Gotcha. Gotha. I have to tell you this story: while his parents were busy celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, the 24-year-old prince shot himself over a scandal involving his mistress-cum-unauthorized-bride (shades of Rudolf of Austria, eh?) and died a few days later. I think I will leave out the syphilis part.

The Duke himself died of throat cancer on 30 July, 1900.


  1. I'm waiting for you to get to all the complicated stuff around the first world war, when all these damn cousins had to choose which side they were on....

  2. None of Victoria's children made it to the Great War. And I don't intend starting in on the second generation after I finish Victoria's litter. This was a bad idea. 3 comments so far. On the entire series.

  3. Ok, some of Victoria's children made it to WWI. But none, I think, affected the outcome. But there were plenty of cousins (Victoria's grandchildren) at odds, notably Georgie of the UK, Willy of Germany, and Nicky of Russia. As for which side the rest of them backed depended on whom they had married. Interesting, this tangled web.

  4. New to your British Speak, but grown rather fond of it.

  5. Hard to believe that it could be acceptable to enter the navy at the age of 12.

  6. Thank you Joan. I'm glad you stopped by and hope to see you again.

  7. @A. - They had a really weird system of cabin boys and midshipmen back then. Plus he had a mother who could pull some stings. I don't think he was actually assigned to ship duty until he was 14 or so, unless I read wrong. Either way, it was early.

    Well, here is what Wikipedia says:

    1. He was born August 6, 1844
    2. "In 1856 it was decided that Prince Alfred, in accordance with his own wishes, should enter the Royal Navy. A separate establishment was accordingly assigned to him, with Lieutenant Sowel, R.E., as governor."
    3. "He passed the examination for midshipman in August 1858, and was appointed to HMS Euralus."

    In August of 1858 he was 14 or just turned 15 years old. He was 12 years old when he began his tutelage under a Naval officer.

  8. But I know you were just making an observation and not being argumentative. :) :)

    I put that in the post precisely because it seemed so implausible to me when I read it.

  9. It was normal to become a midshipman, whatever that was, at 12 in the Royal Navy.

    As to calling someone an 'English prince' well that is English racism for you. After the union in 1707 they attempted to call Scotland 'North Britain,' but when that failed they just called everything 'England!' They still do but now they listen to the objections there are cries of 'treason!'

  10. Throat cancer seems fairly prevalent as a cause of death. Was it all the cigars.

    And I THINK I've heard about the suicide thing with his son, but I might be confusing it with Rudolph. I'm not good with names.

  11. I am writing about Queen Victoria's children too! King Edward VII's children will be next.

    It's hard work.

    I only found your blog today and I am so anxious to send a comment that I haven't read the article yet. It certainly looks good.

  12. @Addulamite - I know enough not to step into any discussion of England vs. Scotland. I did feel the author of my source material on this should have said "British prince's first visit to Australia."

    @Stephanie B - Yes, smoking took it's toll. Frederick III, Edward VII, Alfred. The last Tsar was a constant cigarette smoker too, and complained in his diary of horrific chest pains while standing at a church service once. Some historians believe he had experienced a heart attack.

    As for THIS suicide, I hadn't really heard of it before. I had studied the Habsburgs, of course, and knew of the scandal of their crown prince. As a result of Rudolf's suicide, the succession went to his brother Ludwig who immediately renounced the Austrian throne in favor of his son Franz Ferdinand, who was later assassinated in Sarajevo - and the rest is history.

  13. Hello Viola! Thank you for stopping by and for leaving a comment. :)

    I look forward to reading your account. I'm sure it is more scholarly than my little posts here. I hope we see you again here.



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