Monday, March 22, 2010

The Curious Case of Prince Eddy

Had the eldest son of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra of Britain survived, British history and perhaps world history would have been very different. Queen Elizabeth II's grandfather, King George V, would not have become king and, had the crown fallen to this particular individual we are about to discuss, perhaps the British monarchy might have been swept away with the rest of Europe's major thrones in the aftermath of the First World War.


Albert Victor Christian Edward - named for his paternal grandfather, Prince Albert; his paternal grandmother, Queen Victoria; his maternal grandfather, King Christian IX of Denmark; and his father, Albert Edward - was born January 8, 1864. He was titled Prince Albert Victor of Wales, as his father was then the Prince of Wales, but to his entire family and to most biographers later on, he was known as "Eddy".



From an early age, it was clear that Eddy was a most peculiar specimen. When Eddy and his brother, Prince George (just seventeen months younger) began their education with a private tutor, the tutor noted to the Prince and Princess of Wales that while their son George was progressing along at a fine, if unremarkable, pace, there was something sluggish about Eddy's mental development. Many historians believe that Eddy's premature birth as well as a possible case of petit mal, or absence seizures, were at the root of Eddy's learning disabilities. As Eddy and George both grew older, it was agreed that the two brothers should continue to be educated together, as one tutor believed it was Prince George who helped to stimulate Eddy's otherwise listless mind.


Eddy's private life also made him the subject of scandal. In 1889, the London police uncovered a male brothel on Cleveland Street. In a time when homosexual acts were outlawed, the raid made headlines as a number of men in British high society were implicated in the scandal. During this time arose the rumor that a member of the British royal family had frequented the Cleveland Street brothel, and the name that came forward was Eddy's. Though none of the male prostitutes in the brothel had ever named Eddy as a client, there was a great deal of talk that seemed to suggest his frequent presence there. Eventually, the Prince of Wales intervened and Eddy was never officially prosecuted or questioned in the investigation, but this forever tainted his image with later biographers.


Perhaps most intriguing were the rumors that Eddy might have been Jack the Ripper. These claims were not officially published about until the 1960s- over seven decades after his death- but it seemed that the mystery surrounding prince's controversial lifestyle provided enough ammunition for a number of authors to explore the possibility that Queen Victoria's grandson might have been the most notorious serial killer of 19th century Britain. At the time that the Ripper's first victims were murdered, however, Eddy was in Balmoral visiting family, a fact that diaries and letters from other relations can confirm.


When the rest of his family began to realize the severity of Eddy's weak constitution and dissipated life, his father and grandmother felt that a suitable, sensible wife would be the proper anchor he needed. Queen Victoria suggested another of her granddaughters, Princess Alix of Hesse. Alix, in Victoria's opinion, showed great internal strength, and her widely-acknowledged beauty would certainly appeal to her wayward grandson. The queen was right, and Eddy dully began corresponding with his cousin Alix. Alix, however, was not the least bit interested in Eddy, and though she was wholly devoted to her grandmother, she resisted Victoria's influence on the matter and politely turned down Eddy's marriage proposal. Princess Alix would later become Empress of Russia when she married her lifelong love, Tsar Nicholas II. Eddy then pursued a romance with Princess Helene of Orleans, daughter of the pretender to the French throne. The couple were deeply in love, but Helene was a Catholic, and unless she converted, Eddy would automatically lose his place in the British succession if he married a Catholic. Helene offered to convert, but she was dissauded by her father and by Pope Leo XIII.


Finally, Princess Mary of Teck was brought forward. She was, in Queen Victoria's words, "charming, sensible and pretty", and the daughter of the penniless Duke of Teck and Queen Victoria's cousin, Prince Mary Adelaide of Cambridge. Eddy and Mary were engaged, but just weeks later Eddy caught influenza and suddenly died at the age of 28. In his place, Eddy's brother George became second-in-line to the throne and later was crowned King George V.


His family was devasted- the Prince of Wales told his mother "Gladly would I have given my life for his", and the Princess of Wales never fully recovered from his unexpected demise. Yet there were many who whispered behind closed doors that by Eddy's death, the stability of the monarchy was secure. George was sensible and dutiful, and, in the opinion of most, succeeded where Eddy would most likely have failed. In addition to inheriting his place in the line of succession, George also inherited Eddy's fiancee. About a year after Eddy's death, Princess Mary of Teck was engaged to Prince George, and their marriage would prove to be a solid and happy one.

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