Thursday, February 5, 2009

Hereditary Prince of Coburg dead at 24

February 6, 1899

The Hereditary Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha died today at the age of 24.

The following is an excerpt from my book, Queen Victoria's Descendants.
"Within a year of their St. Petersburg wedding, the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh were the proud parents of a son, to be followed over the next ten years by four daughters. Unlike his four sisters, young Prince Alfred's health was not robust, but as the eventual heir to the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, it was decided that he should be brought up in Germany. While the Duke was still pursuing his naval career, his son's upbringing was left largely to his mother, and Queen Marie of Roumania has recorded that their father was "even a little bit of a stranger" to his children.
Young Alfred was only 24 when he died, and little has been written about him. Separated from his sisters, he was a lonely young man with a father frequently absent, and a mother who was hard to please and unable to show her feelings. The most significant event in the manner of his short life was his death, across which a veil of reticence has been drawn. In her memoirs, his sister Marie simply relates that his health broke down; other writers have attributed his death to consumption. The Times announced that Prince Alfred's death was due to a tumor, but it seems clear that as The Complete Peerage states, he shot himself. Unfortunately, he could not have chosen a more awkward moment for his tragic action, as it occurred in the midst of his parents' silver wedding anniversary celebrations. Though severely wounded, he survived. Angry at so embarrassing an incident occurring when all the family was present, Duchess Marie, against the wishes of the doctors, insisted on having her son moved to Meran, where it was hoped he would recuperate. But the journey proved too much, and young Alfred died alone save for the presence of a doctor and his manservant.

It is idle to speculate on the reasons for his suicide. A legend has been fostered that he married one Mabel Fitzgerald, but no evidence of this exists. Whatever the cause, it is an unhappy story. His life is best summed up by his aunt, Empress Friedrich, who wrote to her daughter Sophie, "I knew how shocked and grieved you would be at the terrible death of your poor cousin. It is indeed terrible. You ask about the cause. It is true that he was giddy and wild, as many young men alas are, and that he contracted an illness of which I know next to nothing, as I have never asked or heard anything about it, one dislikes thinking about it, and still more speaking or writing about it. This was neglected, and the poor boy led a dissipated life besides. Potsdam! -- there was not the place for him. He was too inexperienced and heedless and giddy to resist temptations, bad examples, etc. It is not all too miserable! I loved that boy, but there was something irresistibly taking about him. He was one of those who are not fit to take care of themselves, not from evil disposition but from weakness of character."

The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh were stunned by their son's death; and Queen Marie of Roumania recorded her astonishment at seeing her mother break down and sink sobbing to her knees as her son's coffin was brought back to Gotha.

"All of the church bells of Gotha began ringing and we heard the muffled tones of a funeral march, and Mamma, generally so sober of movement, so undemonstrative, sank to her knees, crossing herself many times and then burst into tears. Mamma! Mamma who always hid every motion; it was an overwhelming sight; Mamma weeping for her first-born.""

And from Queen Victoria's Descendants A Companion Volume

"The Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha’s British titles, which included the Edinburgh dukedom, reverted to the Crown when he died. His only son, the Hereditary Prince Alfred, committed suicide in 1899, having lived a dissipated life that included gambling scandals. He never married nor had issue, but on January 28, 1895, the Court Circular published the following: “We are informed that a marriage has been arranged between his Royal Highness Prince Alfred of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, only son of their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and grandson of her Majesty, and her Royal Highness the Duchess Elsa Matilda Marie, elder twin daughter of the late Duke William Eugene of Württemberg by his marriage with the Grand Duchess Vera of Russia. The Duchess Elsa attains her 19th year on March 1 next, and Prince Alfred, who is a lieutenant à la suite in the German army, comes of age in October this year.”

Two days earlier, the New York Times reported from London that “the Central News learns that Prince Alfred, only son of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, is betrothed to the Duchess Elsa of Württemberg.”

There are no further reports in either paper (or in any biographies or published correspondence) about the marriage, although it was probably arranged and championed by Alfred and Elsa’s mothers, both of whom were Russian grand duchesses by birth. One can only assume that the engagement was broken by the bride’s family when they learned more about young Alfred’s lifestyle, which was reported avidly in the German tabloid press.

Another marriage was eventually arranged for Duchess Elsa. On May 6, 1897 at Stuttgart, she married Prince Albrecht of Schaumburg-Lippe.
When Hereditary Prince Alfred reached his majority in October 1895, he received a letter from his father “exhorting him to be mindful of the duties of a German prince, and to aid in furthering the welfare of the duchy and the empire.”

But young Affie was unable to live up to his father’s demands and expectations
as a son and Hereditary Prince."

(if you liked this article)

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