Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Remembering Prince Leopold, Duke Of Albany

Photo: Hilton Archives 1880
After reading biographies on Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, I moved onto one of their nine children.

According to historians, Prince Arthur (the 7th child) was Victoria's favorite son, while Prince Alfred ("Affie," the 4th child) was Prince Albert's. Without a doubt, my favorite of the sons is Prince Leopold (their 8th child), who was born on April 7, 1853.


Like her husband, Albert, Victoria loved all her children; and they loved her, but sometimes she was more monarch then mother. Once a private secretary recalled seeing a stampede of royal children fleeing her approach, shouting, "The Queen! The Queen!"

At 4 years old he handwrote a letter to his parents, signing it "From dear Leopold." In another early letter, dictated to sister, Alice, he said, "Everything what I think, when I want to tell it, I forget it."*
She had a strong, domineering nature and a fiery temper, and she often tried to bend her sons and daughters to her will without considering their own temperaments, talents or desires. Such a dynamic was especially hard on her youngest son, Prince Leopold, and it caused periodic friction between mother and son. Furthermore, the stress likely took a toll on Leopold's health.
Prince Leopold with his older brother, Prince Arthur and with his beloved dog 
                 
Although Victoria knew Leopold was a clever child, why she was so critical and overlooked his many fine qualities is puzzling to a reader. She thought him a plain-looking child ... at one time calling him the ugliest of the brood and was annoyed by his posture, which as it turns out, was probably due to stiff joints. 

Prince Leopold had Albert's keen intelligence and aspiration to live a useful life. A polymath, he was a talented pianist and tenor singer. He could draw, as well as, tended his own gardens at Buckingham Palace and Osbourne. Leopold liked people (which was returned); had his mother's feisty and sensible personality; and loved to travel to see the world when permitted to do so.

With his sister, Princess Louise, Leopold visited Canada and the United States in 1880. Even as a child he was a sympathetic listener, and as an adult became a "highly praised public speaker."*
With Queen Victoria in 1862 - Leopold was away in Cannes for his health when his father died. The 8 year old returned to a house in mourning. The life he knew before going away was gone.
Unfortunately, Prince Leopold inherited the condition of hemophilia B, so his blood was missing the plasma protein(s) that allows it to clot. Throughout his life, he had episodes of severe bleeding from bumps and injuries, sometimes lying him up unable to walk for months. He also had extended periods of good health. It is striking how some of his more serious attacks (that included internal bleeding) followed emotional trauma, which occurred after the Queen blocked his path to jobs that Leopold could have done with aplomb.

Too often Victoria stifled Leopold, using his health as an excuse to keep him tied to her. But by nature, Leopold was perhaps the Queen's most independent child, and he resisted her attempts to keep him at home as an invalid. As author, Charlotte Zeepvat says, "Full of spirit, he resented his illness and wanted to fight against it."* He was smart, curious and needed to take on challenges outside of the castle. The Prince wanted to lead the life of a normal man of his class.

It is touching how his older brothers and sisters rallied for him. At one time or another, Vicky from Prussia, Bertie, Alice, Affie, Helene, Louise and Arthur all wrote letters to the Queen in support of something their younger brother wanted to pursue. Sometimes Victoria's other children and her prime ministers understood Leopold better than she did.

Only when Queen Victoria saw that her son wouldn't be put-off, did she allow him to attend Oxford University and earn an honorary degree in civil law. He thrived in his studies, despite his mother's habit of yanking him out of classes to accompany her to Balmoral.
At Oxford 1873: Photo taken by Carroll Lewis,  author of "Alice In Wonderland"
Attending Oxford University was one of the happiest periods of Prince Leopold's life. Throwing himself into university life, he studied a variety of subjects and joined a number of clubs. He loved going to concerts, operas and plays, liked actresses and met many artistic and literary elites in Victorian England. Some became lifelong friends.

Indeed, Prince Leopold stayed in touch with people from different stages of his life, from former nursery staff and old tutors to his Oxford friends. He also loved children and was a devoted uncle and godfather to his nieces and nephews, as well as, to the offspring of close friends, who named their sons, Leopold, in honor of him.
Sister Alice's daughter, Alix of Hesse, the future and last Express of Russia with her Uncle Leopold in 1879.
Death touched him at an early age. At 8 years old the Prince lost his father and equerry on the same day, December 14, 1861 while the little boy was recuperating from illness in France. Years later, his sister, Alice's 2-year old son, Frittie (also a hemophiliac and Leopold's godson) died of a fall from a window. The child would have lived had he not had hemophilia. That death was followed by Alice's daughter, Marie (another godchild) from diphtheria and during the same period {1878}, by Alice, herself, also of diphtheria. At Oxford, a close friend and possibly Leopold's first love, Edith Liddell (the younger sister of Alice Liddle, who was the inspiration for "Alice In Wonderland") died young. Leopold was a pallbearer.

After college, Queen Victoria thought her son should remain unmarried and at home with her. Off and on, Leopold acted as her unofficial private secretary, advising her on domestic and foreign policy. He grew to love foreign affairs, communicating with prime ministers Disraeli and Gladstone.

But Leopold had other hankerings. Not only did The Prince covet foreign appointments and peerages like his brothers, he longed for a wife and family of his own. He was a gentle, sensitive soul with qualities that would make him a loving husband. But due to his hemophilia and a suspicion (possibly false) of mild epilepsy, Leopold had trouble finding a bride. Over a two year search, several German princesses, plus an English heiress rejected him, and it was Queen Victoria (to her credit!) who had the idea of having him meet with Princess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont, whose German family made a favorable impression on Victoria a decade earlier.
Prince Leopold with Princess Helena and his first child, daughter Alice, named after his sister. His sister's widower, Louie of Hesse was the Prince's best man and the godfather of Alice.

Luckily they hit it off ... marrying (7 months after meeting) on April 27, 1882. (It didn't hurt that they had two mutual contacts who praised Leopold to the German princess.) 

Helena was highly intelligent, warm, supportive, "full of fun and humor;" and they had a happy although all too brief marriage. Leopold delighted in fatherhood to daughter, Alice, born in February, 1883. They lived in a relaxed and comfortable home, Claremont House, that Leopold took pleasure in decorating. 

Their marriage "showed every sign of lasting and growing;"* and it breaks a reader's heart to learn that Leopold died on March 28, 1884 in Cannes, France after slipping on a tile floor and banging his knee. He went to Cannes (a warm climate) on doctor's orders to ease joint pain (a common malady with hemophiliacs) that was often brought on by the winters in the UK. Helene planned to go too, but pregnant with their second child, required bedrest. She urged Leopold to go, and they wrote each other every day. In his last letter (written before he fell asleep on March 27) he asked her to join him if she could.
Leopold had "cheated death so many times,"yet sadly not this last time. Sources speculate that the Prince died from the effects of morphine (administered to dull his pain) combined with a glass of claret (he was served with his dinner). Another said by falling, he ruptured small veins in his head causing a cerebral hemorrhage, but the exact cause of death remains unclear. He had hurt his knee at 3:30 pm; was given morphine a couple of times in the evening. At about 3:00 am he had a seizure and died. Just 30 years old ... a promising life cut tragically short.

Robert Hawthorne Collins, a former tutor and close friend, wrote: "May we meet that gentle, loving boy again! I can think of nothing more joyful in the hereafter."

Always aware of his mortality, Prince Leopold had a thirst for life. When he befriended individuals he wanted to introduce them to all the people and places he loved. You can't help being charmed by him, rooting for him and having your heart broken by how much he had to overcome. Most of all, he is inspiring. Not always a healthy man, but a positive and kind person, who persevered to live a full life.
Princess Helena with daughter Alice and son, Charles Edward, born posthumously after Leopold's death on July 19, 1884. (Leopold got lucky with her, the right girl!)

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