PRINCE EDDY – THE MAN WHO WOULD NOT BE KING
Posted March 10, 2015on:
The monarchy is a lottery. At random you can get a good sovereign, but occasionally Fate throws up someone who is wholly unfitted for the job. When an inadequate one comes along it must be quite a relief when nature takes the law into her own hands, and removes that person from life prematurely. Such was the case with Queen Victoria’s grandson, Prince Eddy, who wasn’t an evil man, but by all accounts wasn’t really up to much either. Such is the mystery hanging over this somewhat pathetic specimen, that over the years he has even been accused of being Jack The Ripper!
Born on 8 January 1864, and christened Albert Victor Christian Edward, the Duke of Clarence (to give him his official title) was the eldest son of Edward, Prince of Wales (later to be King Edward VII) and the beautiful Queen Alexandra. He seems to have been a weak man, not overly blessed with brains. He was highly resistant to being educated at all, and was usually branded as “a dawdler”.
Some of the mystery around Prince Eddy revolves around his sexuality, with many trying to put misogynistic, homosexual overtones on him. Most of these come from the Cleveland Street Scandal, which centred around a notorious gay brothel, which was unearthed by the police in the summer of 1889. Apart from homosexuality still being illegal then (as it would be for another 80 years), the scandal arose from the prostitutes, on being questioned, naming a number of influential establishment figures amongst their clients, among them Lord Arthur Somerset, equerry to the Prince of Wales.
Much of the Jack The Ripper allegations comes from Eddy’s association with his tutor, James Kenneth Stephen, who had belonged to a notorious group at Cambridge University, the Apostles Club. This was a club for intellectuals, founded in 1820, and strictly male-only (women were only finally admitted in the 1970s), and much of the misogyny charge comes from a poem Stephen wrote which described an encounter with a girl in The Backs (the riverside part of the university). The poem went along the lines of “I do not want to see that girl again / I do not like her / and I should not mind if she were done away with, killed, or ploughed / She did not seem to serve a useful end / and certainly she was not beautiful”.
Admittedly, this wasn’t exactly along the lines of “shall I compare thee to a summer’s day“, but to me it just seems like the usual obnoxious bilge you would get from an effete over-educated old Etonian with too much time on his hands. Stephen was thought to have been bipolar, and had extremes of emotion where he did things like hurtle about madly in Hansom cabs. His first cousin, celebrated author Virginia Woolf, also suffered from life-long mental illness, and would eventually take her own life in 1941.
J K Stephen’s nasty little poem though was enough on it’s own to convince some Ripperologists that Prince Eddy was Jack The Ripper, and that he worked in collusion with J K Stephen to butcher those poor women in Whitechapel in 1888.
Much of the theories trying to link Eddy with the Ripper are simply wishful thinking. The trouble is it is astonishingly easy to disprove, by the fact that Eddy was nowhere near London on the occasion of any of the murders. When Polly Nichols met her fate at the end of August, he was in Yorkshire. Likewise with Annie Chapman at the beginning of September. When the double murders occurred at the end of September, he was paying a visit on dear old granny, Queen Victoria, up in Scotland. For Mary Jane Kelly, in November, he was at Sandringham. And yet, along the grounds that you should never let the facts get in the way of a good story, I have read books by Ripperologists still trying to claim that Eddy and Stephen – making full use of the London Underground – did away with the women. One even has Eddy dressing up in Mary Jane’s clothes the morning after her murder.
The fact is that, instead of being a bisexual closet serial-killer, Eddy seems to have been remarkably straightforward where sex was concerned. He formed love-lorn crushes on women. One was Princess Alix of Hesse, nicknamed “Sunny” in the family for her well-balanced disposition. Unfortunately Alix wasn’t very interested, and went on to marry Nicholas Romanov, who would become Tsar of Russia, and she would be shot, alongside him and their children, in a basement at Ekaterinburg in 1917.
The great love of Eddy’s life was Princess Helene of Orleans, but she was out of the running because she was a Catholic. By the autumn of 1891 the Royal Family were becoming increasingly concerned that it was time to marry the 27-year-old Eddy off. The Cleveland Street Scandal had been too close for comfort, whether he had ever actually gone there or not. And so the Royals do what they always do when they want to distract everybody … they planned a Royal Wedding. The lucky girl chosen from a not-very-long list of favourable candidates was Princess May of Teck, an obliging girl, decorous of manner, and known for having intelligence and common-sense, qualities that would be badly needed to bring Eddy into line.
May hadn’t liked Eddy much when they were children. He had been known to bully her a bit. But this was all forgotten, and the young couple decided to do what was expected of them. May knew that by doing this she would please her fiercely pushy, ambitious mother, and Eddy … well I expect Eddy dawdled along a bit like Father Dougal Maguire, not having much idea what was expected of him, but going along with it anyway. The Wedding was set for the end of February 1892, and the nation (as usual) went into a frenzy of Royal Wedding fever, lapping up hysterical tales of young love, the dashing prince and his pretty new bride etc etc.
Things didn’t quite go according to plan though. Eddy had never really been a prime physical specimen. He had caught gout at an early age (often known as the rich man’s disease, brought on by an excess of good living), and there is some speculation that in the last months of his life he was suffering from venereal disease. Shortly after celebrating his birthday at Sandringham on 8 January, Eddy went down with pneumonia. Everybody thronged round his deathbed, including his sad young bride-to-be. In a feverish delirious state Eddy was said to have cried out Helene’s name on his deathbed.
Eddy died on 14 January, and the nation went from joy to despair. J K Stephen seemed to take the news worse than anyone. Already committed to a mental hospital after suffering a severe head injury, which had exacerbated his bipolar, Stephen starved himself to death in grief.
It must have been a difficult time for May too, going from bride-to-be and future Queen of England, back to nobody again. The Royal Family though were somewhat resourceful. What on earth was the point of letting a Royal Wedding go to waste? Eddy’s younger brother George had taken his place in the line of succession, and he would need a bride. Hey! We’ve got May, and she’s willing. It turned out to be a successful marriage. George and May (who would become Queen Mary) were genuinely fond of each other, and were on the same level as one another. For decades afterwards it must have seemed like Prince Eddy had done everybody an almighty favour by popping his clogs. George and Mary were a royal dream-time. Unfortunately they weren’t terribly good as parents. Distant, emotionally detached, and obsessed with royal protocol, their children were left severely emotionally handicapped by their upbringing. Bertie, who would become King George V, was afflicted with a serious stammer brought on by nerves. Their eldest son David would go hunting for mother substitutes from a succession of capable married women, before finally falling hook, line and sinker for Wallis Simpson, and bringing about the Abdication.
There have been some very entertaining conspiracy theories about Prince Eddy’s death. I even read one many years ago (on an Internet chat-forum) which said that, far from dying, he had been spirited away up to Glamis Castle in Scotland, the childhood home of the Queen Mother, and the lair of the legendary Monster of Glamis. There he would live to the ripe old age of 100. In John Hamer’s book ‘The Falsification Of History’ he has Eddy being drowned somewhere near Balmoral, only to go crawling back to the castle on his hands and knees. Which, frankly, all sounds a bit resourceful for poor old Eddy.
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