Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale (Albert Victor Christian Edward; 8 January 1864 – 14 January 1892) was a member of the British Royal Family. He was the eldest son of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) and Alexandra, Princess of Wales (later Queen Alexandra), and the grandson of the reigning monarch, Queen Victoria. At the time of his birth, he was second in the line of succession to the throne, but he did not become king because he predeceased his father and his grandmother, the Queen.
Albert Victor was known to his family as "Eddy" and many later biographers have referred to him by this pet name. When young, he travelled the world extensively as a naval cadet. As an adult he joined the army, but did not undertake any active military duties. After two unsuccessful courtships, he was engaged to be married to Mary of Teck in late 1891. Just a few weeks later, he died in an influenza pandemic. Mary later married his younger brother, George, who became King George V in 1910.
Albert Victor's intellect, sexuality and sanity have been the subject of much speculation. Rumours linked him with a scandal involving a homosexual brothel, though there is no firm evidence that he ever went there or was even homosexual. Some authors have argued that he was the serial killer known as Jack the Ripper. Contemporary documents indicate that Albert Victor could not have been in London at the time of the murders and the claim is widely dismissed.
Albert Victor was christened in the private chapel of Buckingham Palace on 10 March 1864 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Charles Thomas Longley. His godparents were: his paternal grandmother Queen Victoria, his great-great uncle King Leopold of Belgium, his maternal grandfather King Christian IX of Denmark, his great aunt (by marriage) the Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, his paternal aunt the Crown Princess of Prussia, his paternal uncle Prince Alfred, his maternal great-grandfather the Landgrave of Hesse and his maternal great-grandmother the Dowager Duchess of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg.
When Albert Victor was just short of seventeen months old, his brother, Prince George of Wales, was born on 3 June 1865. Given the closeness in age of the two royal brothers, they were educated together. In 1871, the Queen appointed John Neale Dalton as their tutor. The two princes were given a strict programme of study, which included games and military drills as well as academic subjects. Dalton complained that Albert Victor's mind was "abnormally dormant". Though he learned to speak Danish, progress in other languages and subjects was slow. Albert Victor never excelled intellectually. Lady Geraldine Somerset blamed Dalton for Albert Victor's poor education, but possible physical explanations for Albert Victor's inattention or indolence in class include his premature birth, which can be associated with learning difficulties, or petit mal, a mild form of epilepsy manifested in childhood as periods of mental vacuity. Sir Henry Ponsonby thought that Albert Victor might have inherited his mother's deafness.
Separating the brothers for the remainder of their education was considered, but Dalton advised the Prince of Wales against splitting them up as "Prince Albert Victor requires the stimulus of Prince George's company to induce him to work at all. In 1877, the two boys were sent to the Royal Navy's training ship, HMS Britannia. They began their studies there two months behind the other cadets as Albert Victor contracted typhoid fever, for which he was treated by Sir William Gull. Dalton accompanied them as chaplain to the ship. In 1879, after a great deal of discussion between the Queen, the Prince of Wales, their households and the Government, the royal brothers were sent as naval cadets on a three-year world tour aboard HMS Bacchante. Albert Victor was rated midshipman on his sixteenth birthday. They toured the British Empire, accompanied by Dalton, visiting the Americas, the Falkland Islands, South Africa, Australia, Fiji, the Far East, Singapore, Ceylon, Aden, Egypt, the Holy Land and Greece. They acquired tattoos in Japan. By the time they returned to the UK, Albert Victor was eighteen.
The brothers were parted in 1883; George continued in the navy and Albert Victor attended Trinity College, Cambridge. James Kenneth Stephen was appointed as a tutor and lived partly at Sandringham during his tutorship, along with Dalton who was still in attendance both at Sandringham and at Trinity. Stephen was a misogynist and he may have felt emotionally attached to Albert Victor, but whether or not his feelings were overtly homosexual is open to question. No details of Albert Victor's own sex life at Cambridge are known or even if he had one, but partners of either gender would have been available to him. Albert Victor showed little interest in the intellectual atmosphere and he was excused examinations, though he did become involved in undergraduate life. In August 1884, he spent some time at the University of Heidelberg studying German. Leaving Cambridge in 1885, where he had already served as a cadet in the 2nd Cambridge University Battalion, he was gazetted as an officer in the 10th Hussars.
One of Albert Victor's instructors said he learnt by listening rather than reading or writing and had no difficulty remembering information, but his uncle, Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, had a less favourable opinion of him, calling him "an inveterate and incurable dawdler". Much of Albert Victor's time at his post in Aldershot was spent drilling, which he disliked, though he did like to play polo. He passed his examinations, and in March 1887, he was posted to Hounslow where he was promoted to captain. He was given more public engagements, visited Ireland and Gibraltar, and opened the Hammersmith suspension bridge. Of his private life, a childhood friend of Albert Victor later recalled that it was uneventful: "his brother officers had said that they would like to make a man of the world of him. Into that world he refused to be initiated.
In July 1889, the Metropolitan Police uncovered a male brothel in London's Cleveland Street. Under police interrogation, the rent boys and pimps revealed the names of their clients including Lord Arthur Somerset, an Extra Equerry to the Prince of Wales. At the time, all homosexual acts between men were illegal, and the clients faced social ostracism, prosecution, and at worst, two years' imprisonment with hard labour. The resulting Cleveland Street scandal implicated other high-ranking figures in British society. Rumours swept upper-class London of the involvement of a member of the royal family: Prince Albert Victor. The rent boys had not named Albert Victor and it is suggested that Somerset's solicitor, Arthur Newton, fabricated and spread the rumours to take the heat off his client. Letters exchanged between the Treasury Solicitor, Sir Augustus Stephenson, and his assistant, The Hon. Hamilton Cuffe, make coded reference to Newton's threats to implicate Albert Victor. The Prince of Wales intervened in the investigation; none of the clients were ever prosecuted and nothing against Albert Victor was proven. Though there is no conclusive evidence of his involvement or that he ever visited a homosexual club or brothel, the rumours and cover-up led some biographers to suppose that he did visit Cleveland Street, and that he was "possibly bisexual, probably homosexual". This is strongly contested by others who refer to him as "ardently heterosexual" and his involvement in the rumours as "somewhat unfair". The eminent historian of homosexuality, H. Montgomery Hyde wrote, "There is no evidence that he was homosexual, or even bisexual.
Somerset's sister, Lady Waterford, denied that her brother knew anything about Albert Victor, "I am sure the boy is as straight as a line ... Arthur does not the least know how or where the boy spends his time ... he believes the boy to be perfectly innocent", she wrote. In surviving private letters from Somerset to his friend Lord Esher, Somerset denies knowing anything about Albert Victor, but confirms that he has heard the rumours and hopes that they will help quash any prosecution. He writes, "I can quite understand the Prince of Wales being much annoyed at his son's name being coupled with the thing but that was the case before I left it ... we were both accused of going to this place but not together ... they will end by having out in open court exactly what they are all trying to keep quiet. I wonder if it is really a fact or only an invention. He continues, "I have never mentioned the boy's name except to Probyn, Montagu and Knollys when they were acting for me and I thought they ought to know. Had they been wise, hearing what I knew and therefore what others knew, they ought to have hushed the matter up, instead of stirring it up as they did, with all the authorities.
The rumours never completely died; sixty years later the official biographer of King George V, Harold Nicolson, was told by Lord Goddard, who was a twelve-year old schoolboy at the time of the scandal, that Albert Victor "had been involved in a male brothel scene, and that a solicitor had to commit perjury to clear him. The solicitor was struck off the rolls for his offence, but was thereafter reinstated. None of the lawyers in the case were convicted of perjury or struck off during the scandal but Somerset's solicitor, Arthur Newton, was convicted of obstruction of justice for helping his clients escape abroad and was sentenced to six weeks in prison. Over twenty years later in 1910, Newton was struck off for twelve months for professional misconduct after falsifying letters from another of his clients—the notorious murderer Harvey Crippen. In 1913, he was struck off indefinitely and sentenced to three years imprisonment for obtaining money by false pretences.
During the trip, Albert Victor met Mrs. Margery Haddon, the wife of a civil engineer, Henry Haddon. After several failed marriages and Albert Victor's death, Margery came to England and claimed the Prince was the father of her son, Clarence Haddon. There was no evidence and her claims were dismissed. She had become an alcoholic and seemed deranged. The allegations were reported to Buckingham Palace and the head of the police Special Branch investigated. Papers in the National Archives show that neither courtiers nor Margery had any proof of the allegation. In a statement to police Albert Victor's lawyers admitted that there had been "some relations" between him and Mrs. Haddon, but denied the claim of fatherhood.
However, in the 1920s, the son, Clarence, repeated the story and published a book My Uncle George V in the United States, in which he claimed he was born in London in September 1890, about nine months after Albert Victor's meeting with Mrs. Haddon. In 1933, he was charged with demanding money with menace and attempted extortion after writing to the King asking for hush money. At his trial the following January, the prosecution produced documents showing that Haddon's enlistment papers, marriage certificate, officer's commission, demobilisation papers and employment records all showed he was born in or before 1887, at least two years before Albert Victor met Mrs. Haddon. Haddon was found guilty and the judge, believing Haddon to be suffering from delusions, did not jail him but bound him over for three years on the condition that he made no claim that he was Albert Victor's son. Haddon breached the conditions and was jailed for a year. Dismissed as a crank, he died a broken man. Even if Haddon's claim had been true, as with other royal illegitimacies, it would have made no difference to the royal line of succession.
Several women were lined up as possible brides for Albert Victor. The first, in 1889, was Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine but she did not return his affection and refused his offer of engagement. She married Tsar Nicholas II of Russia in 1894. The second, in 1890, was a love match with Princess Hélène of Orléans, a daughter of Philippe, Comte de Paris, and great-granddaughter of the last Bourbon King of France. At first, Queen Victoria opposed any engagement because Hélène was Roman Catholic. Victoria wrote to her grandson suggesting another of her grandchildren Princess Margaret of Prussia, as a suitable alternative, but nothing came of her suggestion and once the couple confided their love to her, the Queen relented and supported the marriage. Hélène offered to convert, and Albert Victor offered to abdicate his succession rights to marry her. To the couple's disappointment, her father refused to countenance the marriage and was adamant she could not convert. Hélène travelled personally to intercede with Pope Leo XIII but he confirmed her father's verdict, and the affair ended. She later became the Duchess of Aosta.
In mid-1890, Albert Victor was attended by several doctors, but in correspondence his illness is only referred to as "fever" or "gout". Many biographers have assumed that he was suffering from "a mild form of venereal disease", perhaps gonorrhea, but there is no known source confirming this. It is claimed that in 1891 Albert Victor was subject to blackmail by two prostitutes to whom he had written incriminating letters. The letters supposedly referring to the case were sold at Bonham's auction house in London in 2002. Owing to discrepancies in the dates and spelling of the letters, however, they are suspected to be forgeries.
In 1891, Albert Victor wrote to Lady Sybil St Clair Eskine that he was in love once again, though he does not say with whom, but by this time another potential bride, Princess Victoria Mary of Teck (known as Princess May), was under consideration. May was the daughter of Queen Victoria's first cousin Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck. Queen Victoria was very supportive, considering May ideal—charming, sensible and pretty. On 3 December 1891 Albert Victor, to her "great surprise" proposed to May at Luton Hoo, the country residence of the Danish ambassador to Britain. The wedding was set for the 27 February 1892.
Just as plans for both his marriage to Mary and his appointment as Viceroy of Ireland were under discussion, Albert Victor fell ill with influenza in the great influenza pandemic of 1889–1892. He developed pneumonia and died at Sandringham House in Norfolk on 14 January 1892, less than a week after his 28th birthday. The nation was shocked. Shops put up their shutters. The Prince of Wales wrote to Queen Victoria, "Gladly would I have given my life for his". Princess May wrote to Queen Victoria of the Princess of Wales, "the despairing look on her face was the most heart-rending thing I have ever seen. His younger brother Prince George wrote, "how deeply I did love him; & I remember with pain nearly every hard word & little quarrel I ever had with him & I long to ask his forgiveness, but, alas, it is too late now! George took Albert Victor's place in the line of succession, eventually succeeding to the throne as King George V in 1910. Drawn together during their shared period of mourning, Prince George later married Princess May himself. She became Queen Mary on George's accession.
Conspiracy theories surrounding Albert Victor's death—that he died of syphilis or poison, that he was pushed off a cliff on the instructions of Lord Randolph Churchill or that his death was faked to remove him from the line of succession—are fabrications. According to Sir Dighton Probyn, the Prince and Princess of Wales, Princesses Maud and Victoria, Prince George, Princess May, the Duke and Duchess of Teck, three doctors (Manby, Laking and Broadbent) and three nurses were all present. The Prince of Wales's chaplain, Canon Frederick Hervey, stood over Albert Victor reading prayers for the dying.
Albert Victor's mother, Alexandra, never fully recovered from her son's death and kept the room in which he died as a shrine. Poignantly, at the funeral Princess May laid her bridal wreath of orange blossom upon the coffin. Remarkably, James Kenneth Stephen, Albert Victor's former tutor, refused all food from the day of Albert Victor's death and died 20 days later; he had suffered a head injury in 1886 which left him suffering from psychosis. The Prince is buried in the Albert Memorial Chapel close to St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. His tomb, by Alfred Gilbert, is one of the most magnificent examples of Art Nouveau sculpture in Britain. A recumbent effigy of the Prince in a Hussar uniform lies above the tomb. Kneeling over him is an angel, holding a heavenly crown. The tomb is surrounded by an elaborate railing, with figures of saints.
During his life, the bulk of the British press treated Albert Victor with nothing but respect and the eulogies immediately following his death were full of praise. The radical politician, Henry Broadhurst, who had met both Albert Victor and his brother George, noted that they had "a total absence of affectation or haughtiness". On the day of Albert Victor's death, the leading Liberal politician, William Gladstone, wrote in his personal private diary "a great loss to our party". However, Queen Victoria referred to Albert Victor's "dissipated life" in private letters to her eldest daughter, which were later published and, in the mid-twentieth century, the official biographers of Queen Mary and King George V, James Pope-Hennessy and Harold Nicolson respectively, promoted hostile assessments of Albert Victor's life, portraying him as lazy, ill-educated and physically feeble. The exact nature of his "dissipations" is not clear, but in 1994 Theo Aronson favoured the theory on "admittedly circumstantial" evidence that the "unspecified 'dissipations' were predominantly homosexual". Aronson's judgement was based on Albert Victor's "adoration of his elegant and possessive mother; his 'want of manliness'; his 'shrinking from horseplay'; [and] his 'sweet, gentle, quiet and charming' nature", as well as the Cleveland Street rumours and his opinion that there is "a certain amount of homosexuality in all men". He admitted, however, that "the allegations of Prince Eddy's homosexuality must be treated cautiously.
Rumours that Prince Albert Victor may have committed, or been responsible for, the Jack the Ripper murders were first mentioned in print in 1962. It was later alleged that Albert Victor fathered a child with a woman in the Whitechapel district of London, and either he or several high-ranking men committed the murders in an effort to cover up his indiscretion. Though repeated frequently, scholars have dismissed the claims as classic urban legends without foundation, referring instead to indisputable proof of the Prince's innocence. For example, on 30 September 1888, when Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes were murdered, Albert Victor was at Balmoral, the royal retreat in Scotland, in the presence of Queen Victoria, other family members, visiting German royalty and a large number of staff. According to the Court Circular that publishes all royal engagements and whereabouts, family journals and letters, newspaper reports and other sources, he could not have been near to any of the murders.
Albert Victor's reputation became so bad that in 1964 Philip Magnus called his death a "merciful act of providence", supporting the theory that his death removed an unsuitable heir to the throne and replaced him with the reliable and sober George V. In 1972, Michael Harrison was the first modern author to re-assess Albert Victor and portray him in a more sympathetic light. In recent years, Andrew Cook has continued attempts to rehabilitate Albert Victor's reputation, arguing that his lack of academic progress was partly due to the incompetence of his tutor, Dalton; that he was a warm and charming man; that there is no tangible evidence that he was homosexual or bisexual; that he held liberal views, particularly on Irish Home Rule; and that his reputation has been diminished by biographers eager to improve the image of his brother, George.
A pair of alternative history novels, written by Peter Dickinson, imagine a world where Albert Victor survives and reigns as Victor I. In Gary Lovisi's parallel universe Sherlock Holmes short story, "The Adventure of the Missing Detective", he is portrayed as a tyrannical king, who rules after the deaths (under suspicious circumstances) of both his grandmother and father. The Prince also appears as the murder victim in the first of the Lord Francis Powerscourt crime novels Goodnight Sweet Prince, and as a vampire in the novel I, Vampire by Michael Romkey.
At death, the Duke's full style was Major His Royal Highness Prince Albert Victor Christian Edward of Wales, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, Earl of Athlone, Royal Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Knight of the Most Illustrious Order of Saint Patrick, Personal Aide-de-Camp to the Queen