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Prince Albert Victor: Scandalous “Collars and Cuffs”

As an author who writes about British and European royalty, I enjoy focusing on lesser-known and forgotten royals.

Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale. Nicknamed "Collars and Cuffs".

Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale. Nicknamed "Collars and Cuffs".

Prince Albert Victor: Grandson of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

The royal who was destined to be one of the few Heir Presumptives (second in the line of succession) to never sit on the British throne was born two months prematurely on 8th January 1864 at Frogmore House on the Windsor estate in Berkshire.

At first, Alexandra, Princess of Wales, dismissed her labour pains as discomfort from the winter sports she’d been enjoying that day. Mary Frances Parker, the 6th Countess of Macclesfield, was one of her ladies in waiting and fortuitously a mother of thirteen with one on the way, so she swiftly set to work. Mary Frances and the local doctor delivered the royal baby. Edward, Prince of Wales, finally managed to earn faint praise from his mother by fathering a boy.

Queen Victoria decreed that the infant was to be named Albert Victor in honour of her gracious self and the late Prince Albert. The Prince and Princess of Wales were not pleased by this but acquiesced. Their son was christened Albert Victor Christian Edward. Christian was a reference to Alexandra’s father, King Christian of Denmark, and Edward was the name of Queen Victoria’s late father, the Duke of Kent. He was called Eddy within the family.

Prince Albert Victor in 1875. Photographed by Alexander Bassano.

Prince Albert Victor in 1875. Photographed by Alexander Bassano.

"Collars and Cuffs": Languid Prince With a Long Neck and Limbs

Eddy was apathetic and worryingly slow to learn in the schoolroom. Later it was suggested that his premature birth might have resulted in either learning difficulties or a mild form of epilepsy.

In 1871 Victoria appointed John Neale Dalton to educate Eddy and his younger brother Georgie (born in 1865, later King George V). Dalton accompanied the boys on their naval training and for three years aboard the HMS Bacchante. George remained in the navy after this, but Eddy returned to dry land to embark on an unremarkable period of study at Cambridge University. Tactfully, Eddy was made an honorary Doctor of Law at the end of his time there.

Eddy became an army officer in 1886, but he served without distinction. He was nicknamed “Collars and Cuffs” because his unusually long neck and limbs made wider cuffs and collars on his army apparel a necessity.

The Cleveland Street Scandal

True to his Hanoverian roots, the prince was the subject of scandal and made headlines during the summer of 1889. Eddy’s friend Lord Arthur Somerset was a client of a male brothel situated on Cleveland Street, London. Eddy went with him to the establishment several times.

Somerset chose to inform the police when he was arrested that a far more prominent figure with the initials A.V. frequented the brothel. The inference that A.V. was the heir presumptive to the throne gave Somerset’s lawyer leverage to get potential charges against his client dropped by royals keen to bury the situation.

The Prince of Wales intervened, and no charges were brought. Eddy was waved off on a conveniently organised extensive overseas tour. In May 1890, with memories of the scandal fading, he was created the Duke of Clarence and Avondale and the Earl of Athlone by his grandmother.

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The American Press reported on the Cleveland Street Scandal. The British press were not so bold in their language.

The American Press reported on the Cleveland Street Scandal. The British press were not so bold in their language.

A Royal Bride for Prince Albert Victor

Eddy fell hopelessly in love with the catholic French Princess Hélène d’Orléans, but as he was destined to be the king of a protestant country, the match was constitutionally impossible. Hélène offered to convert to the Church of England, but her father forbade it.

Queen Victoria cast her royal eyes in the direction of the disciplined, intelligent and protestant Princess May of Teck as a suitable bride. (Princess Victoria Mary Augusta Olga Louise Pauline Claudine Agnes of Teck to give her her full name, known as May, because her birthday was in that month). May dutifully accepted Eddy’s equally dutiful proposal. It was hoped by the elder royals that May would calm Eddy’s wildness.

Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale with his dutiful bride to be May of Teck in 1891.

Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale with his dutiful bride to be May of Teck in 1891.

A Premature Royal Death

The wedding date was set for the 27th February 1892 but on 14th January, Eddy fell victim to the influenza pandemic that was ploughing through the population. In his delirium, he often called out Helene’s name. The heir to the throne had just passed his twenty-eighth birthday when he died from pneumonia that escalated from influenza. The Wales’ never recovered from the loss. Alexandra left Eddy’s rooms at Sandringham untouched, a shrine to him.

He was buried at Windsor with May’s wedding bouquet, no longer required for a happy occasion, resting on his coffin. Conspiracy theories popped up about the establishment removing an unsuitable prince before he became a failure as king, but these seem wholly baseless. He died in the 4th year of the cycle of peaks and troughs of the pandemic.

Jack the Ripper?

Long after his death, speculation arose that Eddy was the infamous murderer Jack the Ripper because he frequented nightspots in the Whitechapel area of London that the murders occurred in. The Cleveland Street Scandal led to questions being raised about him, but there has never been any proof that the partying prince was a murderer nor that he was in London at the time any of the ladies were slain. Predictably the lack of proof led to whispers of a cover-up.

His younger brother George married May in 1893. They ruled as King George V and Queen Mary between 1910 and 1936, his death. She survived until 1953.

Prince Albert Victor was the last royal named the Duke of Clarence and Avondale.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Joanne Hayle

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