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The Dissolute Duke of Clarence

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale was in line to become the King of England. He took after his father, the Prince of Wales (Edward VII), as one of the more dissipated members of the royal family.

The Duke of Clarence and Avondale.

The Duke of Clarence and Avondale.

The First Born Inherits

The long-suffering wife of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (Edward VII) gave birth to her first child, a son, on January 8, 1864. Princess Alexandra of Denmark was to have five more children, but the arcane rules of succession deemed that the first son born in the royal line had to be the monarch, no matter how unsuitable that person might be.

The law in Queen Victoria’s household was that she got to choose the names of regal offspring, so the newcomer was called Albert Victor Christian Edward. He was, of course, known in the family as “Eddy.”

The Prince and Princess of Wales with their newborn son Eddy.

The Prince and Princess of Wales with their newborn son Eddy.

The Education of a King to Be

Along with his brother George, Eddy was entrusted to the care of the Reverend John Neale Dalton for their education. George was a good student but Eddy was what could be charitably called a low achiever. Indeed, Rev. Dalton said of him that he had an “abnormally dormant condition of mind.”

After 14 years of the clergyman’s patient instruction in Latin, Ancient Greek, and other vital subjects young Eddy was bundled off to Cambridge University. Alas, his tutor, John Kenneth Stephens, found the heir presumptive to still be dull witted: “I do not think he can possibly much benefit from attending lectures at Cambridge. He hardly knows the meaning of the words to read.”

As was the tradition with members of the upper class, he was excused exams; no sense in having the media getting hold of a story about a prince getting an F in basket weaving.

So, what do you with such a dullard? Give him a commission as an officer in the army, of course.

Eddy on the left with his siblings and parents.

Eddy on the left with his siblings and parents.

The Military Duke

Imagine, if you will, the state of mind of the colonel of the 10th Hussars having a clod such as the Prince Albert Victor posted to his barracks. But, we need not feel sorry for this colonel because it was none other than Eddy’s dad, the Prince of Wales.

He joined the cavalry regiment in June 1885, and spent six months in the riding school. A regimental historian has written that “The duke was seen as a somewhat delicate individual and soldier.”

He does not seem to have been engaged much in matters military. There’s mention of his finishing fourth in a point-to-point horse race and how the brave soldier shot three tigers while on a tour of India. His duties were far from onerous and provided ample time for extra-curricular activities.

The Cleveland Street Scandal

In July 1889, a brothel employing rent boys was raided in Cleveland Street, London. Figures attached to the royal family were found to be clients.

It was whispered that members of the aristocracy were involved, one from the highest ranks. Opinions vary as to whether or not the Duke of Clarence was a customer; it will never be proven one way or the other.

The Prince of Wales took charge and saw to it that no prosecutions were made. Eddy’s name was kept out of the British press, but The New York Times gave its opinion that the prince would be kept from the throne.

It seemed like a good idea, unconnected to the Cleveland Street business you understand, to send Eddy off to India and his rendezvous, safely high up on the back of an elephant, with those vicious tigers.

After seven months of schmoozing with maharajahs and other potentates, playing polo, and slaughtering the wildlife of the sub-continent, Eddy came home. Happy to see him back in the fold his grandmother, Queen Victoria, bestowed upon him the titles of Duke of Clarence and Avondale and Earl of Athlone.

American newspapers, such as this one, referred to Eddy as being "mixed up" in the Cleveland Street Scandal.

American newspapers, such as this one, referred to Eddy as being "mixed up" in the Cleveland Street Scandal.

Eddy the Seducer

Eddy’s father, the Prince of Wales, was an enthusiastic and tireless bed hopper; chroniclers have identified about 60 mistresses.

Like father, like son applies in royal circles just as well as it does elsewhere and the Duke of Clarence had many liaisons. It is suggested that he was not particular about the gender of his paramours.

He seems to have developed a habit of infatuations that lasted a while until someone more tempting arrived on the scene.

His wandering eye fell upon Alexandra von Hessen, his first cousin and the woman destined to become the last Empress of Russian. But Aliky, as she was known in the upper reaches of Europe’s royalty, turned Eddy down. Perhaps, Alexandra spotted something in Eddy’s character that was unappealing. As BBC History Extra notes “The prince was exceptionally languid and lethargic, showing precious little interest in anything at all, beyond shooting birds out of the sky.”

Then, there was Helene d’Orleans, to whom Eddy wrote almost daily confessing that “You are indeed to me an angel upon Earth.”

Lydia Manton was a chorus girl on the London stage whose relationship with Eddy had to be masked behind the façade that she was really the mistress of Lord Charles Montagu.

A woman called Annie Crook also appears in lists of Eddy’s love interests and that relationship takes us into a very dark place indeed.

Eddy the Ripper?

A very convoluted theory puts Albert Victor in the frame as a Jack the Ripper suspect. The story goes that Annie Crook was a prostitute that Eddy married and with whom he had a child.

Certainly, it was possible they met because it was the habit of upper-class toffs to visit hookers in London’s gritty East End. But marriage? Hmmm.

We have to thank, if that’s the right word, Stephen Knight for this theory. In his 1976 book, Jack the Ripper: the Final Solution, he recounts a story told to him by one Joseph Gorman.

the-dissolute-duke-of-clarence

You’re almost going to need a program to keep up with this, however, Gorman claimed to be the illegitimate son of Annie Crook’s child that she had with Eddy. His father, he said, was Walter Sickert a famous Victorian painter, and a man quite high on the list of Ripper suspects himself. Gorman said his father had the inside scoop and told him the truth.

According to this story, the prince himself did not wield the fatal blade; that grisly job was handed to Queen Victoria’s personal physician, Sir William Gull who acted with the connivance of the government and police; Oh, and the Freemasons. Why not throw them into the conspiracy?

The purpose of the murders was to silence anyone who knew about the duke’s love child with Annie Crooks. An outlandish speculation? As of 2001, Jack the Ripper: the Final Solution, was into its 20th edition and the Royal Conspiracy is the fourth most likely Ripper suspect according to a list maintained by casebook.org.

Struck Down in His Prime

Prince Eddy’s life seemed to be passing out of the sowing-wild-oats phase in 1891 when his engagement to Mary of Teck was announced. Eddy was pretty much ordered to marry Mary, his second cousin, and it seems they became quite fond of one another. But, fate had other plans.

In early January 1892, Eddy came down with a cold that wasn’t a cold; it was influenza that triggered pneumonia. Within days, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale and Earl of Athlone was dead at the age of 28.

Coat of arms of the Duke of Clarence.

Coat of arms of the Duke of Clarence.

Bonus Factoids

  • The Duke of Clarence title was first created in 1362 and has been held by five men. The first duke is rumoured to have been poisoned by his father-in-law. He was 29.
  • The second Duke of Clarence, Thomas of Lancaster made it to the age of 33 before being killed in battle in 1421.
  • The third duke, George Plantagenet switched sides in the Wars of the Roses in the 15th century and ended up on the loosing team. His brother Edward IV had him executed, purportedly by being drowned in a barrel of malmsey wine. He was 28 when he died.
  • Prince William, the third son of George III, became Duke of Clarence and St. Andrews in 1789. His older brothers died without male heirs so he became King William IV in 1830. He died of natural causes at the age of 71. He had eight surviving children but none of them were legitimate, so the crown passed to his niece, Victoria, in 1837.
  • Rumours circulated that the Duke of Clarence title was to be resurrected and given to Prince Harry on his marriage to Meghan Markle in May 2018. But, the title carries unfortunate echoes of misdeeds and early death, so Harry was given the Duke of Sussex title. How did that work out?

Sources

  • “Albert Victor Duke of Clarence and Avondale - 1864- 1892.”English Monarchs, undated.
  • “HRH Duke of Clarence.” Richard Pillinger, Royal Hussar Gazette, undated.
  • “The Trouble with Prince Eddy: Britain’s Fascinating ‘Lost’ King.” Alan Robert Clark, BBC History Extra, November 1, 2018.
  • “Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale and the Supposed Jack the Ripper Claims.” English Monarchs, undated.
  • “Who Are the Most Popular Ripper Suspects?” Larry S. Barbee, casebook.org, undated.
  • “Duke of Clarence: A Title Through Time.” The History Press, undated.

© 2018 Rupert Taylor

Comments

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on November 07, 2018:

Hello, Rupert, thanks for sharing. The infidelity of the royal family is too much to bear on hearing. Why such a high family fall into such low state?

Liz Westwood from UK on November 06, 2018:

I remember watching a series on Edward VII many years ago in which the Duke of Clarence featured. I always thought it strange that his brother, George V, inherited his older brother's fiance.

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