Queen Victoria’s eldest British-born grandson and heir apparent to the throne Prince Albert Victor, 1864-1892, was a fragile infant born two months’ prematurely to flighty Princess Alix of Denmark and her rumbustious husband ‘Bertie’ Prince of Wales. In his brief but eventful life, the child who would forever call his faerie princess of a matriarch ‘Motherdear’ would inspire great love and protectiveness in the closed circle who surrounded him thus making the facts of his life obscure at best and obtuse at worst.
The Prince of Wales had suffered under a draconian academic and physical regime set down by his parents that he failed to even bother to scale let alone conquer. So it seems odd that Bertie would push his delicate, indolent eldest son Prince Eddy (as he was known in the family) into a naval cadetship at Dartmouth next to his more competent younger brother George, Duke of York.
Perhaps it was Bertie’s neglect and Alix’s weakness that allowed a charlatan of a tutor/chaplain John Dalton to be appointed keeper of the royal princes for so many years at the command of their formidable, stubborn grandmother Queen Victoria. It was Dalton who first branded Prince Eddy’s an ‘abnormally dormant mind’ while Sir Henry Ponsonby speculated that he had inherited his charming mother’s deafness and blindness to all that failed to please her.
In 1877 the Princes Eddy and George were shipped-off on a world tour aboard HMS Britannia, again in the company of chaplain John Dalton who sounded not dissimilar to Evelyn Waugh’s egregious Mr Samgrass in Brideshead Revisited. Both characters ghost wrote travel diaries for their less-than-enthusiastic charges. For three years the Royal Princes and their keeper toured the British Empire, the Americas, South Africa, Australia, Fiji, Singapore, Celoyn, Aden, Egypt, the Holy Land and Greece. In Japan the boys’ backs were tattooed with flaming dragons hidden from all but their future wives and male friends. Prince Eddy was eighteen when he returned to the lands he was born to rule.
Prince George, whose aptitude in the navy would earn him the moniker ‘Sailor King’ continued his adventures at sea while Prince Eddy, like his father before him, was ‘ceremonially’ sent-up to Trinity College, Cambridge. Like the Prince of Wales, Prince Eddy did not graduate though he did meet sinister, charismatic tutor James Stephen who was both a misogynist and homosexual.
Stephen said of his prince, ‘I do not think he can possibly derive much benefit from attending lectures at Cambridge. We hardly would like to make a man of the world of him … not that he would refuse to be initiated’. Prince Eddy did, in fact, contract gonorrhoea at Cambridge presumably with a fellow man. It was hardly portentous that Prince Eddy met handsome, well-connected young men at Trinity who made a pet of him as was noted in Illustrated London News cartoons.
In 1884 Prince Albert Victor was sent down and spent a term at Heidelberg University to improve his execrable German. Offered an honorary degree in 1888, Prince Eddy was gazetted as an Officer of the 10th Hussars in which time his uncle HRH Prince George, Duke of Cambridge called him ‘an inveterate and incurable dawdler’. Though Prince Eddy’s prowess on the parade ground was lack lustre, the same could not be said about his boots blacked and polished to shine like vinyl, the frogged and furred skin-tight No 1 Mess Dress tunic and breeches he wore to pose for Vanity Fair’s Spy cartoon portrait of 1888 or the ‘Masher’ style of exaggerated shirts that earned him his father’s mocking nickname ‘Eddy Collars and Cuffs’.
Scandal began to circle Prince Albert Victor when another Henry Poole & Co client, Lord Arthur Somerset, used his initials (PAV) to suggest to Prime Minister Lord Salisbury that higher in the land than a Lord were implicated in a male brothel affair the yellow press titled The Cleveland Street Brothel Scandal that broke in 1889. Somerset was all but proven to be a visitor to this house of ill-repute in 1888 and was at the time Extra Equerry to the Prince of Wales. Bertie and Alix were ‘assailed daily with anonymous letters of the most outrageous character’ at their London residence Marlborough House.
Salisbury gagged the British press but American journals were less patriotic ridiculing Prince Eddy as a dullard and a pervert unfit for the British throne. The triumvirate of Marlbrough House staff, Sir Dighton Probyn, Sir Oliver Montagu and Sir Francis Knollys (all Poole’s men) protected the Princess of Wales from the most heinous of rumours apropos Prince Eddy frequenting Cleveland Street indulging a taste for teenage telegraph boys. But rather than risk the further, if ludicrous, assertion that her son might be involved in the unsolved 1888 Jack the Ripper Whitehall murders sent Prince Albert Victor on a seven-month tour of India.
Photographs of the Princes Eddy and George on tour in India being entertained by the Nazim of Hyderabad, big game hunting and spending Christmas in Mandalay show the elder of the young men as the glass of fashion in colonial hunting mufti. On his return, Prince Albert Victor was conferred with the unfortunate title Duke of Clarence & Avondale: the former Duke of Clarence being drown in a vat of malmsey wine in the Tower of London on brother King Richard III’s orders and the latter none other than the rakish seadog King William IV.
Despite his manly good looks and expectations, the Duke of Clarence & Avondale was unlucky in love. His cousin Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine refused him only to be shot in a basement not twenty years later with her chosen one Tsar Nicholas II of all the Russias. Prince Eddy and Princess Hélène of Orleans – daughter to the pretender to the throne of France – were purported to be in love but the Catholic/Protestant divide could not be breached despite Queen Victoria’s willingness to smooth the path of true love.
Finally, the plain but resourceful minor royal princess May of Teck was agreed upon and the union proposed at a Syon House ball in December 1891 to the great pleasure of all concerned: the increasingly desperate Wales’s and the poor-as-a-church-mouse house of Teck. Tragically, a week after his twenty-eighty birthday Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence & Avondale succumbed to a severe bout of influenza at Sandringham in January 1892.
Commenting on his son’s death in January 1892, the Prince of Wales said he would have ‘gladly given his own life’. Princess Alexandra never fully recovered the loss of ‘beloved Eddiedear’ and the black and white marble Art Nouveau tomb above his body in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, is the masterpiece of high Victorian mourning sculpture. The first rumours that Prince Eddy actually was Jack the Ripper began to circulate in 1962 but have since been soundly dismissed on account of geography alone. However, his connection to the Cleveland Street Scandal is still never far from the headline of his largely untold and brief life story.