A recent BBC documentary about King George and Queen Mary made frequent disparaging references to George’s ‘dissolute’ older brother, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale. Until a few years ago, I was under the impression that ‘Eddy’ as he was known in the family was an unintelligent wastrel and his untimely death on January 14th 1892 was something of a blessing for the country as he would have made a very inept king. Happily, I have since discovered that this image of the prince is without foundation.
So unpleasant is the way in which this poor prince has been presented that he was even, for some bizarre reason (undoubtedly to sell books!) posthumously accused of being – or being associated with – Jack the Ripper! Such a notion is totally without foundation and the stories attempting to make the association become increasingly wayward despite the fact that Court records prove that Prince Eddy was not even in London at the time of the murders! Other books suggest that he didn’t die in 1892 but was hidden away by the family and later became ‘the Monster of Glamis’!! Poor Albert Victor!
The fact that one of his associates was involved in the Cleveland Street scandal also led to various spurious allegations about his dissipated life and some authors claim that the stories of his dissipation are supported by Queen Victoria’s letters. In fact, like many a grandmother, Queen Victoria might well have worried about her grandson’s morals – we need only think of her response to the Prince of Wales as a young man becoming involved with the actress – but there is nothing to suggest that Prince Albert Victor was any more licentious (in fact he was probably less so!) than most young men of his era and class. His younger brother, George, also had a mistress at the time and yet he is portrayed as the model of sobriety and morality!
Further accusations concern his laziness (something of which his father, Edward VII was also accused) and his lack of interest in study and inability to learn. The same allegations of a lack of intelligence were made about his brother, George, but again this is forgotten! Albert Victor had inherited his mother’s deafness and there is a likelihood that this might have made him seen ‘absent’ at times and also hindered his learning but by the time he was a young man, he was different from the image which has since been presented of him.
Recently discovered letters written from the prince to the Prime Minister and to his friends show that he had a very real and sensitive grasp of the tricky political situation in Ireland and, had he become king, he might even have succeeded in bringing harmony to that country in a way that successive kings and governments failed to do. Repeatedly, too, letters from his family and from others refer to his kindness and his understanding. When he died at the age of only 28, the country and his family genuinely mourned his passing and even the Prime Minister, Gladstone, wrote in his diary that the prince’s death was great loss to the country and to his party. Gladstone was hardly a sentimental man and such a tribute cannot be overlooked.
It is only since his death that this poor prince has been the subject of all kinds of scurrilous slanders and there are times when I wonder whether this wasn’t done to bolster the image of King George V – as though to say, “Aren’t we fortunate to have this king....look at whom we might have had!” Although it is impossible to say for certain, judging by Eddy’s warmth and understanding, I venture to suggest that, had he lived and become king, he – unlike his brother - would have welcomed the Russian Imperial Family to Britain after the revolution and proved himself to be a very popular and well-loved monarch, with great similarities to his mother, Queen Alexandra who endeared herself to the people throughout her life. It seems very wrong that people go on – even on BBC documentaries – glibly repeating the old lies and creating more and more fanciful and lurid stories about this innocent man.