Prince Alemayehu started life as heir to one of the largest fortunes in the world before a cruel set of events changed the course of his life. Alemayehu’s privilege couldn’t save him from his dark fate. So how did a prince fall so far, and what became of him after he lost it all? Keep reading to find out.
1. He Was Born Into Some Serious Royalty
Born April 23, 1861, Prince Alemayehu was the only child of Emperor Tewodros II and his second wife Empress Tiruwork Wube of Ethiopia. Despite the couple’s stormy union (sordid details to follow), the prince’s father doted on him and claimed him as his heir. But just because Tewodros was nice to Alemayehu, don’t go thinking he was a good guy…
2. His Dad Was A Tyrant
After the untimely passing of his first wife, Emperor Tewodros became, for lack of a better word, vengeful. His grief sent him to a disturbing place. Alemayehu’s worldview was likely shaped by the knowledge that his father once ordered 500 prisoners beheaded in retaliation for the murder of his close friend, not to mention the beheading another 7,000 prisoners. Seems kind of extra.
And when the Emperor married Prince Alemayehu’s mother Tiruwork, it all seemed to get ten times worse.
3. His Mother Hated His Father
While Alemayehu was dearly loved by his parents, their union was more horror story than fairy tale. Before their marriage, Emperor Tewodros threw Empress Tiruwork’s father and brothers in prison. Even worse, he refused to release them once they had married, although he did agree to ease their conditions. Needless to say, family reunions in Prince Alemayehu’s household must have been very awkward—until they tried a desperate solution.
4. His Parents Had Brutal Fights
Empress Tiruwork was ready to leave Tewodros before the wedding bells had even stopped ringing. However, they still managed to have one child together, the ill-fated Prince Dejazmatch Alemayehu, or just “Prince Alemayehu” to his friends. Were the newlyweds happy after he was born? Very likely. Were they happy with each other? Incredibly unlikely. Just a hunch.
Then again, they did have one thing to console them.
5. He Was Enormously Wealthy
There’s rich, and then there’s royally rich. Prince Alemayehu and his family were most definitely the latter. Not only was the prince set to become the next emperor, but he was also set to inherit the immense collection of religious artifacts, jewelry, and manuscripts that come with being a member of one of the wealthiest dynasties in Africa (wild guess as to who has those treasures now).
Still, Alemayehu had to share that wealth with some rivals.
6. He Was His Father’s Favorite
The prince was not the emperor’s only child. He had an older half-brother, Meshesha Tewodros, who was born out of wedlock, and a half-sister Woizero Alitash Tewodros. Fortunately for the prince, neither one of them was too much of an issue for him, as they had their own drama going on. Unfortunately, Alemayehu had his own personal drama to deal with.
7. He Was Destined For Greatness
Despite Emperor Tewodros’s erratic and aggressive demeanor, he adored young Prince Alemayehu, and began preparing him to become his successor. Part of his education included watching the emperor devise plans for their battle with the British, who were advancing towards their fortress. You know what they say about the best-laid plans…
8. He Witnessed Major Conflict
By the time the prince turned seven, the emperor had made enemies with most of those around him. This included the British, who decided to invade Tewodros’s fortress in retaliation for the emperor taking British delegates and missionaries as prisoners. Alemayehu’s father was cornered—and his next move changed the course of the young prince’s life forever.
9. He Witnessed Bloodthirsty Destruction
It is likely that Alemayehu, who was being educated in the art of conflict by the emperor, had a front row seat to his father’s slow realization that he was unable to stave off the attack any longer. The Maqdala Fortress would fall. Tewodros had dreamed of the Maqdala becoming a seat of research and knowledge. Now, he watched as that dream went up in flames—but the worst was still yet to come.
10. He Suffered His First Great Loss
As his final vengeful act against the British, and to ensure they could not take him as a prisoner and face whatever humiliation they had planned for him, Emperor Tewodros chose to end his own life. This would be the first of many tragedies to befall young Alemayehu. Thankfully he still had his mother by his side. For now.
11. He Had No Way Out
Reeling from the loss of his father and their defeat by the British, the prince was on his own. Sadly, at only seven years old, there wasn’t much he could do. The ravenous British took full advantage of a weakened Ethiopia. They began doing what they do best—looting anything that would make a great centerpiece for a curated museum exhibit.
12. He Had Issues With His Inheritance
Upon Tewodros’s end, the British began removing religious artifacts, manuscripts, and jewelry from the fortress. Alemayehu could only watch as his enemy hauled away his fortune, piece by piece. Some claim Britain used up to 15 elephants and 200 mules to transport the goods. Please, a moment of silence for the young prince’s inheritance that is currently being showcased at the British Museum. Oh, and by the way: it still gets worse.
13. The British Kidnapped Him
Under the guise of “protecting” and “educating” Prince Alemayehu, the British decided to take the young prince back to Britain with them. To the British, removing a seven-year-old from his home and family somehow seemed like the only logical way to prove they have defeated Emperor Tewodros. Only, they didn’t stop their ravaging there.
14. His Mother Tagged Along
Fortunately—or unfortunately—the British decided they would “invite” Empress Tiruwork to join the saddest, and most obvious kidnapping of 1868. While being taken against their will, members of the Ethiopian Imperial Court ended up joining their squad on the boat to England. The more the merrier! So off they went, into the sunset and towards their new home. Then came the real twist.
15. He Did Not Get Far
Here’s where the story goes from sounding like royal history recap to a bleak, Tolstoyan tragedy. Alemayehu’s mother, Empress Tiruwork, fell deathly ill. Sir Robert Napier, their British “caretaker,” went to Tiruwork’s family to ask the best way he could help her. Honestly, that’s a surprisingly empathetic attempt to help her. The problem is, her family’s response was utterly disturbing.
16. His Mother’s Family Had Some Nerve
Remember, Tiruwork only married the emperor in the first place to get her male relatives released from captivity. How did they repay her? By telling Lord Napier to “do what you want with her.” Not cool, guys. Not cool. The empress was livid, but that wasn’t her only issue. Someone had their eye on young Prince Alemayehu—and the empress was in the mood for a fight.
17. His Secret Admirer
Unbeknownst to Prince Alemayehu, Captain Speedy, an Aramaic speaking adventurer, was petitioning Empress Tiruwork for permission to be the prince’s guardian as she fought her illness. The empress, angry by his incessant pestering, reached out to Lord Napier, who ordered Captain Speedy to stop his bullying. Captain Speedy retreated…but not for long.
18. He Suffered Yet Another Blow
All this intrigue was happening as the journey to Britain progressed. But, shortly after departing for the coast, and before even leaving African soil, the empress’ health began to swiftly decline. On May 16, 1868, Empress Tiruwork succumbed to her illness, leaving her young son Alemayehu behind, orphaned and in the hands of the British.
Prince Alemayehu’s life was spiraling downward with each passing day—but he still never could have imagined just what he was in for.
19. His Life As An Orphan Began
At the very least, the British troops gave the empress full royal honors during her funeral. That doesn’t mean they released Alemayehu, though. They still saw him as living proof of the British defeating Emperor Tewodros. As such, they committed to exiling him from his homeland and taking him from the only remaining family he had.
Alemayehu simply had to accept his horrible fate—but he had one more Hail Mary coming.
20. His Grandmother Had An Important Message
Prince Alemayehu’s grandmother, aware the British would not leave her grandson with her in Ethiopia, personally sent Queen Victoria a note asking her to treat Alemayehu like her own child. She and Alemayehu had to cross their fingers and hope it would be enough. It wasn’t.
21. No One Wanted Him
It was long past time that Prince Alemayehu caught a break—but don’t get your hopes up. While you’d think someone, anyone, would take the newly orphaned prince in…they didn’t. After all, this wasn’t a fairy tale, it was real life. Besides, we promised you a tragic story—and you won’t be disappointed. So, who exactly was going to take care of a seven-year-old prince who did not speak a word of English? That answer was crushing.
22. His Guardian Was Chosen
Maybe it was the looting, or perhaps the kidnapping, but someone thankfully took pity on the prince and decided to find him a guardian. Re-enter: Captain Speedy. Yes, that very same gentleman who tried to convince the prince’s mother to give him guardianship. The very same one she denied. Well, second time was the charm, and the British assigned him to take the prince under his wing. Was this a good idea? Probably not. After all, Speedy had a….complicated…past.
23. His Guardian Was A Questionable Choice
Captain Speedy wasn’t just some nobody. He actually had a history with Alemayehu’s father, but not all of it was good. At best, we would call them “frenemies.” But while they had their ups and downs, some claimed it was actually Emperor Tewodros’s dying wish to have Captain Speedy take care of Prince Alemayehu. Maybe he had a point—after all, Speedy took him to very high places.
24. His Homeland Ties Were Severed
While Captain Speedy seemed to have Prince Alemayehu’s best interest at heart, his first order of business was a classic case of actions speaking louder than words. Prior to leaving Ethiopia, Captain Speedy removed the loyal members of the Ethiopian Imperial Court from the royal entourage. In one fell swoop, he severed the only connection the young prince had to his homeland.
No one would have predicted the prince’s reaction to his new guardian.
25. He Had A Surprising Reaction To His Guardian
Over time as an exile from his homeland, Prince Alemayehu grew very fond of Captain Speedy and his wife Cornelia Cotton. After a brief stay with the couple in India, he lived with them on the Isle of Wight. And as it happened, the prince had a very famous neighbor there: Queen Victoria of England, whose Osborne House was also on the isle.
Even better, Captain Speedy introduced Alemayehu to the queen, and she in turn took a great interest in the prince. It seemed like fate might have finally started going easy on Alemayehu—but there was no saving him now.
26. He Greatly Impressed Queen V
Maybe it was the note from the prince’s grandmother, or maybe it was the sheer guilt of looting his inheritance. Either way, Queen Victoria decided to take charge of his education. The queen developed an immediate fondness for young Alemayehu and ensured he was well taken care of in his new home, England. She had an…interesting way of showing her admiration.
27. He Was Well Educated
Prince Alemayehu studied at the most elite schools and with acclaimed tutors, personally appointed by the Queen. Since the prince was running low on funds—Britain had stolen everything he owned, after all—Queen Victoria footed the bill for him. It was the least she could do! But despite her efforts, there was still something deeply wrong with the lost prince.
28. He Was Pretty Chill
Those who met young Prince Alemayehu remembered his solemn and quiet nature. Images captured of him, both with Captain Speedy and growing up over the years during his time in England, showed him with stoic and serious expressions. Descriptions of him as he grew from a young boy into a man were of someone who was “deeply sad” and appeared lost.
For those who knew his origins, it couldn’t have been surprising—but Alemayehu’s melancholy began affecting his life in the worst ways.
29. His Journey To Being Westernize
Prince Alemayehu’s journey in this new world of his began at the Rugby School. He made friends and learned English, all while ruminating on his past life and adjusting to his unfamiliar future. Trying to make new friends by sharing his story of being taken captive, while most definitely fascinating, was probably not the icebreaker his upper-crust classmates were expecting.
30. He Was Not A Happy Prince
Queen Victoria noted just how good and kind young Alemayehu was as she grew closer to him over the years. And, in perhaps a (surprising) moment of self-awareness, she wrote of how sad it was that he was so far from his family, and that his unhappiness was palpable. Additionally, she recognized that he faced the many hardships that came with looking different from those around him.
Victoria, like everyone else, could see the eyes that stared at Alemayehu. She felt for him—but not enough to save him.
31. Victoria Admired Him—For The Wrong Reasons
We’ve established Queen V had a soft spot for Alemayehu. In one of her diary entries, she describes Alemayehu as “a pretty, polite, graceful boy…there is nothing whatever of the Negro about him.” So now you know how much Victoria’s respect was worth… The queen was most definitely wearing colonizer-tinted glasses when putting pen to paper.
32. He Was A Part Of A Royal PR Campaign
Queen Victoria took it upon herself to welcome “wards” from across her empire. Along with Alemayehu, the queen housed, educated, or had close relationships with Sarah Forbes Bonetta, Princess Gouramma of Coorg, Maharaja Duleep Singh, and Albert Victor Pōmare. The queen had pictures of them taken for royal family albums.
Years before Facebook caught on, she was creating albums to help project a new image of the royal family. Now we know who to blame for the royal tour photo ops and Christmas cards. Thanks, Victoria.
33. He Was Camera Shy
Despite the ulterior motives for her PR campaign, Victoria chose to work with the best photographers. This included the famed Julia Margaret Cameron, who photographed Alemayehu in July 1868. The photographer Jabez Hughes also captured images of Alemayehu with Captain Speedy. It’s clear the prince was a serious and shy child, judging from the collection of images from this time in his life. Not that he had much to be happy about…
34. He Nearly Became a Military Man
Upon completing his education at Rugby School, Prince Alemayehu began attending the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Reports of him being very unhappy were unsurprising. The school was not what he expected, and even worse, he had to leave his new home just as he had begun to get used to it. But despite the distance, tragedy still managed to find him. Yes, again.
35. He Wasn’t Big On School
After completing his first term at Sandhurst, Prince Alemayehu left school entirely. He reached out to Cyril Ransome, an old tutor, who took him in at his home in Far Headingley, Leeds, West Yorkshire. Within one week of arriving, he contracted pleuritis, a disease that left Alemayehu unable to breathe without piercing pains in his chest. It was a fight for his life—and he would lose horrifically.
36. His Final Tragedy
Over the course of the next six weeks, under the care of some of the most well-known physicians available, the prince would fight his final battle. Prince Alemayehu succumbed to his tragic fate on November 14, 1879, at the young age of 18 years old without ever stepping foot in his homeland of Ethiopia again. However, the controversy surrounding the young prince continued after his end.
37. His Passing Impacted the Queen
Queen Victoria, who loved to write regularly in her diary, was very fond of Prince Alemayehu and lamented his untimely passing. As she wrote, “Very grieved & shocked to hear by telegram, that good Alemayou [sic] passed away this morning. It is too sad! All alone, in a strange country, without a single person or relative, belonging to him, so young, & so good, but for him one cannot repine. His, was no happy life, full of difficulties of every kind, & he was so sensitive, thinking people stared at him on account of his colour, that I fear he would never have been happy. Everyone is sorry.”
For all that outward mourning, however, Queen Victoria still did him dirty in the end.
38. He Can’t Get Away
Logic dictates Prince Alemayehu’s remains should return to his ancestral homeland and family for a proper burial. However, Queen Victoria chose not to use her vast fleet of ships, extreme wealth, or cross-continental connections to return the prince to Ethiopian territory. She had other plans…
39. Queen Victoria aka The Crypt Keeper
That’s right, Queen Victoria decided the best thing would be for Prince Alemayehu to be buried in…England. The place where he was so miserable. Prince Alemayehu of the Ethiopian Empire was buried on November 21, 1879, at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, with his trusted and loyal Captain Speedy in attendance.
His remains lay in a crypt in Windsor Castle to this day. This has caused a whole new kind of controversy.
40. His Country Wants Him Home
There is outrage among Ethiopians that England still refuses to return Prince Alemayehu’s remains to his homeland, with claims of being unable to identify his remains as the reason. In 2007, the Ethiopian Government formally requested for the return of the prince’s remains from Windsor Castle. They got crickets as a response.
A follow-up request came from Dr. Hirut Kassaw, Ethiopia’s Minister of Culture and Tourism, in 2019. He was not the only member of his family waiting to return home. But the British didn’t just steal Alemayehu from his home—they took a piece of his father, too.
41. His Father Was Always Close
All those years earlier, an army artist decided to take a grisly souvenir. He cut a lock of hair off of Emperor Tewodros’s cold body and held onto it as a keepsake. The hair then made its way back to England, along with all the other items taken, and was part of The National Army Museum collection from 1959 to just recently. In 2019, England finally allowed the lock of hair to return to Ethiopia. Will a DNA test of the emperor’s hair help to finally bring Prince Alemayehu home?
42. He Has Brag-Worthy 23&Me Results
Prince Alemayehu was born carrying the lineage of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. No that is some serious royal blood. Unfortunately, Alemayehu’s infamous relations, and the legacy they carried, were not enough to keep him from his tragic fate.
43. His Inheritance Is Still #Trending
The Ethiopian government doesn’t just want Alemayehu back—they want a lot more than that. They have also requested the prince’s rightful inheritance, which includes manuscripts, books, and holy relics taken during the Battle of Maqdala. Many hope for the return of the looted items, with Ethiopians viewing the treasures with “anger as well as fervid desire to leave no stone unturned to secure their restitution…”
44. A Pop Culture Icon
The life, legend, and lore of Prince Alemayehu still find their way into popular culture today. Being defeated and kidnapped by the British, losing his wealth—not to mention a guardian named “Captain Speedy”—provides ample material to work with. Prince Alemayehu’s life story has been shared in several mediums, including a play, Abyssinia, and a film by Selem Bekele called Prince of Nowhere. There is no doubt this will not be the last we hear of young Prince Alemayehu.