Prince Alfred (1844-1900) was the second and favourite son of Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort Albert of Saxe Coburg and Gotha. He was spared the draconian private education established by Prince Albert that traumatised his elder brother Bertie (the future King Edward VII) and entered the Royal Navy aged twelve in 1856. Nicknamed ‘Affie’ by his family, Prince Alfred fulfilled his promise as a naval officer and was the first member of the British royal family to circumnavigate the world and visit Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Hong Kong.
Prince Alfred was second in line to the throne until the birth of his nephew Prince Albert Victor in 1864. At this point in the family history, Affie had developed a passion for his sister-in-law Alexandra, Princess of Wales. His voyages may have been a result of his mother Queen Victoria keeping him out of harm and scandal’s way. In 1866, Prince Alfred was given the title Duke of Edinburgh on The Queen’s Birthday Honours List. Two years later, he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in Sydney when an anarchist’s bullet narrowly missed his spinal chord in 1868.
In 1874 the Duke of Edinburgh married the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, second daughter of Emperor Alexander II. The new Duchess of Edinburgh offended her female relations by insisting on court precedence as a Russian Grand Duchess; a protocol Queen Victoria immediately reversed much to the Duchess’s chagrin. The Queen gave the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh Clarence House as an official London residence and the Duchess’s gargantuan dowry paid for extensive redecoration including a Russian Orthodox chapel. The marriage was not happy; not least because of the Duke’s serial infidelities with celebrated courtesans in London, Paris and Malta where he was posted.
In 1893 the Duke was appointed Admiral of the Fleet and in the same year he succeeded his paternal uncle as Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The Duke could have been a king in 1862 when he was chosen to succeed the abdicating King Otto as monarch of Greece. This diplomatic appointment his mother Queen Victoria scuppered. As Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Prince Alfred was conscientious but melancholy due in no small part to his wife. According to Edward VIIs biographer Jane Ridley, in later life he became a chronic alcoholic and experienced ‘great monetary difficulties’.
When the Duke and Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary in 1899 at Prince Albert’s childhood home in Gotha his only son Prince Alfred shot himself having entered into an unsuitable relationship. He died two weeks later in a sanatorium aged only twenty-four. His father died within a year of complications due to throat cancer in 1900 aged fifty-five. When Prince Alfred’s mother Queen Victoria died in 1901, her youngest daughter Princess Beatrice burnt thirty volumes of his letters hence his rather shadowy presence in British royal family history.