Prince Albert Victor had it all. He was a grandson of Queen Victoria, next in line to the throne after his father, and full of strapping good looks that drove England wild. Then suddenly, it all went so wrong. Today, there may be no English prince as controversial, scandalous, or ultimately as tragic as Prince Albert Victor.
Prince Albert Victor Facts
1. He Was Born Into Power
Most of us can only dream of the life Prince Albert Victor was born into. In 1864, he came into the world in the royal residence of Frogmore House as the eldest son of Albert, Prince of Wales and his wife Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, his grandmother was freaking Queen Victoria of England. In short, it seemed like Albert was in for a life of comfort and joy—but that’s not at all what he got.
2. He Had A Disturbing Energy
Even in his own time, Prince Albert Victor was something of an unsettling enigma. Since he spent most of his life cloistered either in school, the military, or his palace, people in the public barely knew him. Yet even so, there was a strange energy about him that, as one commenter put it, made people whisper, “He will never come to the throne.” Well, he never did—and the reasons why are tragic.
3. He Was “Abnormal”
As Prince Albert grew up, he started exhibiting disturbing behavior. His tutor John Neale Dalton couldn’t seem to get anywhere with the young boy, and even once called his mind “abnormally dormant,” especially in comparison to his younger brother George. Now, Albert wasn’t the first royal to show lax academic prowess, but there were signs something much worse was going on…
4. He May Have Suffered From Genetic Issues
Although some historians have blamed Albert’s tutor John Dalton for being a shoddy instructor, others believe his schoolboy difficulties stemmed from genetic issues. Some suggest Albert may have suffered from the deafness that also afflicted his mother, or even petit mal seizures that delayed his intellect—which makes the next part of his life more than a little ironic.
5. He Was Stunning
To be fair, despite his dismal school record and lack of encyclopedic knowledge, Prince Albert Victor had a lot of other things going for him besides his royal titles. Long-limbed and slim, he was strikingly handsome in a rakish way, and he had absolutely no problem using his good looks to charm people. Take that, nerds.
6. He Had A Male “Companion”
Like every good little royal, Albert’s parents expected him to study at a prestigious college, and he was all set to go to Cambridge. It was a date with destiny. In order to buff up on his subjects, his family selected a new tutor and companion for him, the handsome and sensitive poet James Kenneth Stephen. To say their relationship was complicated would be an understatement.
7. There Was An Older Man In His Life
Now, mentor-mentee relationships can get tangled at the best of times, but Prince Albert and Stephen took it to the next level. Stephen, a cousin of the writer Virginia Woolf, suffered from the bi-polar disorder that ran through their family and was often in a mentally fragile state. Meanwhile, although Prince Albert Victor was ostensibly Stephen’s student, he was also his devastatingly beautiful boss. Yeah…this went weird (and steamy) places.
8. He May Have Had A Clandestine Romance
To this day, no one can say for sure what went on behind those closed study room doors, but historians have a few scandalous ideas. Stephen was clearly emotionally attached to Prince Albert, and some experts even suggest he harbored intimate feelings toward the prince, which the royal heir may have even returned. Still, that doesn’t mean it was an idyllic relationship.
9. His Tutor Insulted Him Deeply
If Stephen nursed a crush on the young prince, he also had harsh words for him. By the time Prince Albert was supposed to head to Cambridge, even his devoted tutor despaired of his book smarts, once sniping, “I do not think he can possibly derive much benefit from attending lectures at Cambridge…He hardly knows the meaning of the words to read.” Ouch.
10. He Was A Party Animal
Despite Stephen’s doubts, Prince Albert and his entourage went to Cambridge anyway—and he received a shocking “education.” Sure, the prince floundered in his studies like everyone predicted, but he proved very successful in society. He became a special friend of the don Oscar Browning, who was notorious around campus for his wild parties and his habit of making “pets of those undergraduates who were handsome and attractive.” Ooh, spicy. And that wasn’t all…
11. He Kept His Private Life Locked Tight
Prince Albert Victor’s college years are shrouded in some mystery, with many historians bemoaning how little information we have about his personal life at the time—so much so that some claim he spent these years completely chaste. Except, well, there might be a scandalous reason for the lack of dirt: He had something to hide.
12. His Letters Reveal An Embarrassing Secret
In 1885 and 1886, just as he was finishing his career at Cambridge, Prince Albert started up a lengthy correspondence with his doctor. The letters reveal a scandalous detail. The prince’s missives indicate he was taking regular medicine for “gleet.” What’s that, you ask? Oh, you know, just a term for gonorrhea discharge. Yep, our boy was getting it on, and getting more than he bargained for in the process.
But believe me when I say the controversy got dialed up to 11.
13. He Had A Schoolboy Crush
Although there is evidence that Prince Albert enjoyed the company of a hot male tutor or two, he also wasn’t immune to feminine wiles—it’s just that he had horrible luck when it came to women. In 1889, the royal family started looking for potential brides for their son and heir, and landed on Prince Albert’s sweet, beautiful cousin Princess Alix of Hesse. This did not go his way.
14. His Cousin Rejected Him
Although Prince Albert got some warm, fluttery feelings when he thought about his pretty cousin (ew), her response was ice cold. Despite the fact that Albert was poised to be the King of England one day, Princess Alix didn’t share his crush and turned down his offer of engagement flat. Then again, maybe she had another reason to reject him…
15. He Was In A Huge Scandal
In 1889, one of the most infamous scandals England had ever seen broke out, and Prince Albert was right in the middle. That summer, officers raided a male “night” house in Cleveland Street, and the workers inside named one of Prince Albert’s equerries as a regular client. After that, it wasn’t long before society whispered that the prince was also a regular visitor; not a good look in the hetero-normative Victorian era. Then it really all blew up.
16. He Was Under Suspicion
The whispers caught on like wildfire, and soon “The Cleveland Street Scandal” became a matter of national concern. Citizens inundated Prince Albert’s parents with anonymous, frantic letters decrying their son’s possible role in the mess, and the authorities even started pricking their ears up at the accusations. Until suddenly, the prince caught a dubious break.
17. His Family Staged A Cover-Up
That December, with scandal still raging, Prince Albert’s family showed their power in a disturbing way. His father completely shut down the entire Cleveland Street investigation, forcing the prosecutors to drop their cases on all the house’s clients and leaving all the claims against Prince Albert up in the air. Right, that’s not suspicious at all.
Whether or not the rumors were true, though, Prince Albert simply wasn’t able to stop getting in trouble…
18. He Went On An Extravagant Tour
In the fall of 1889, right in the midst of the Cleveland Street Scandal, Albert escaped away on a planned tour to British India. While there, he kicked his feet up and let a series of maharajas entertain him lavishly and take his mind off the absolute dumpster fire he had left back home in England. Only, he seems to have enjoyed his time there a little too much.
19. He Took Another Man’s Wife
While on tour, Prince Albert Victor met and struck up an affair with a married woman named Margery Haddon, the wife of a civil engineer in India. The dalliance came back to haunt him. Years later, Margery traveled to England and claimed that she had given birth to Albert’s son. Although this is almost certainly untrue, it did force the Prince’s lawyers to admit he had “some relations” with the woman, tarnishing his name even further.
The thing is, Albert’s bedroom life was just getting started.
20. He Fell In Love With A Princess
By 1890, Prince Albert was back in England and had been around the block when it came to scandalous affairs. It’s no wonder, then, that he tried to settle down and make an honest man of himself, even starting a romantic flirtation with Princess Helene of Orleans. Helene was beautiful, had a great pedigree, and—best of all—she actually returned his feelings. Yet there was one huge problem.
21. He Had A Romeo And Juliet Story
Unfortunately for Prince Albert, Princess Helene was Roman Catholic. While this may not seem like a huge deal today, it was definitely a big deal back then. The British royal family was staunchly Protestant, and many of Albert’s relations would be aghast at the thought of him entertaining the possibility of loving a Catholic. But Albert and Helene were young, in love, and willing to do anything for passion…so they came up with a daring plan.
22. He Had A Family Feud
In order to sidestep the religion issue, Helene offered to convert, and everything seemed like it was going to end up okay in the end. Prince Albert’s parents were on board, and he even wrote to his brother confessing, “You have no idea how I love this sweet girl now, and I feel I could never be happy without her.” But then it took a tragic turn.
Helene’s piously Catholic father put the kibosh on the whole thing, refusing to allow her to leave the faith. Of course, this just pushed the couple to even more desperate measures.
23. He Tried To Defy The Pope
These two crazy kids were so frantic to marry each other, they didn’t take no for an answer. Princess Helene went over her father’s head and went right to the top, securing an audience with Pope Leo XIII himself to beg him to let her convert. Sadly, the Holy Father was on Team Dad too, and told her he would never condone her defection or marriage.
That was very much the end of that. Once more, Prince Albert’s dreams of happiness went right out the window, and he went right on the rebound…
24. He Had A Mysterious Illness
In 1890, Prince Albert Victor started suffering from a mysterious but powerful illness, and a series of doctors tried to treat him around the clock for something they variously named a “fever” or “gout.” However, historians think there might have been a risqué culprit behind his sickness: Yet another bout of venereal disease. Oh Albert, keep it safe or keep it in your pants.
25. He Had A Steamy Affair
Around this time, seedy scandal struck again. In the late months of 1891, people started gossiping that the young prince was having yet another affair. Even more scandalously, the apple of his eye was reportedly none other than the commoner chorus girl Lydia Miller. Now, this would have been enough for the rumor mill to churn on for weeks…but it also took an incredibly dark turn.
26. His Lover Met A Tragic End
Shortly after igniting their affair, Prince Albert and Lydia Miller crashed and burned in one tragic end; poor Lydia took her own life, taking her own life after she drank carbolic acid. Although not directly related to their fling, the fateful event immediately triggered an inquest into her demise—and once more, Prince Albert was right in the center.
27. He Was In The Middle Of A Scandalous Court Case
With the court looking into Lydia’s fate, Buckingham Palace worked overtime trying to cover up yet another one of Albert’s youthful indiscretions. Many people believe the royal family set up a Lord Charles Montagu to take the fall as Lydia’s sole lover, taking the heat off their precious son in the inquest. Yeah, not a good look…and it didn’t even work.
28. His Name Was On Everyone’s Lips
They say all publicity is good publicity, but I think the royal family would majorly disagree with you on that one. Despite the palace’s best efforts, everybody who was anybody knew about Prince Albert’s involvement with the fallen Lydia Miller. As one commenter put it, it was, “a scandal of the first magnitude…on the lips of every clubman.”
So did Prince Albert finally learn his lesson and spend a few months after this latest scandal underground? Heck no. Not in the slightest.
29. He Transformed Into A Fairy-Tale Prince
Prince Albert was quickly becoming the bad boy of Victorian England, and he and the rest of the royal family needed to come up with a Hail Mary idea fast. Their solution? Try his hand again at marriage to distract the public with a royal wedding. They set their sights on Mary of Teck, a proper British Princess and Albert’s second cousin. Sounds great right? Wrong.
30. He Made A Surprise Proposal
Prince Albert and Mary had a whirlwind courtship, even by royal standards. After all, even though Albert was supposed to be England’s most eligible bachelor, he was also dragging a helluva lot of baggage behind him. So before the year 1891 was up, Albert proposed, surprising Mary out of her socks. Yet even at that moment, he was hiding a huge secret.
31. He Was Hiding The Truth From His Fiancée
Sensible, sweet Mary was extremely excited to wed the prince, except she didn’t exactly know all the information. Earlier that year, right before the betrothal negotiations, Prince Albert had written to Lady Sybil St. Clair Erskine and proclaimed that he was in love again. Although he didn’t say with whom, his next letter made it very clear…
32. He Was A Huge Flirt
Prince Albert Victor apparently couldn’t play coy to save his life, because chances are the person he was in love with was Lady Sybil herself. In his next letter a week later, he “casually” mentions, “I wonder if you really love me a little?…I should be very pleased if you did just a little bit.” God, poor Mary of Teck. Unfortunately, that’s not the first time you’ll hear me say that.
33. He Wanted A Quickie Wedding
Despite Prince Albert’s shady dealings in his private messages, the royals set a date for his wedding just months away on February 27, 1892. With such a short time frame to plan such a big event, the palace aides were likely rushing to get everything sorted. Yet just six weeks after Prince Albert and Mary’s betrothal, catastrophe struck.
34. His Name Was Totally Different
Although Prince Albert’s full official title was Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, those closest to him knew him by a different name entirely. To distinguish the young royal from all the other Alberts multiplying in his family, everyone just affectionately called him “Eddy.” Man, you think you know somebody.
35. People Thought He Was An Infamous Murderer
It’s hard to really express just how bad Prince Albert Victor’s reputation was in England in the late 1800s, and how much it worsened as the years wore on. Case in point: For a time, people actually thought that he was the notorious Jack the Ripper, the terrifying assailant who was terrorizing the night workers of the Whitechapel district in London during Albert’s life. No, really. As for the evidence…
36. There Is Some Bloody Evidence Against Him
According to the people who stumped for this grisly theory, Prince Albert was the perfect suspect: He already had a (potential) history of visiting houses of ill repute, and he had enough royal clout to get coppers off his trail. People were so certain of this, it took years of serious historical research to completely disprove these rumors—after all, Albert wasn’t even in London when some of the killings took place.
37. He Caught The Plague
In the late 1800s, an influenza epidemic was sweeping through Europe, and Prince Albert got supremely and tragically unlucky. In January 1892, just over a month before he was due to wed Mary of Teck, the young royal developed a horrific case of pneumonia. For days, he struggled to survive, and his family waited on tenterhooks.
38. His Final Moments Were Hopeless
In the end, even though the prince was healthy, strapping, and had just turned 28 years old, the writing was on the wall. His family crowded around his bed, praying for his recovery at first but then praying for his soul. Eventually, Prince Albert succumbed to his illness, passing in Sandringham House on January 14, 1892. Except when it comes to this dark twist, that’s just the beginning.
39. He Threw The Country Into Mourning
As it turns out, the deceased Prince Albert left a wake of destruction and tragedy that rivaled any of the scandals he made when he was alive. Firstly, the entire nation was shell shocked that he was really gone, and shops shuttered their windows and doors in mourning. Yet inside the royal family, things were even darker.
40. His Mother Had A Breakdown
Prince Albert Victor had always been close to his mother Alexandra, and her reaction to his passing was harrowing. She never got over the loss of her eldest son, and continued to keep his bedroom in mint condition as a kind of shrine to his life long after he had rotted in his grave. But compared to other mourners, Alexandra got off incredibly easy.
41. His Tutor Never Forgot Him
Remember Prince Albert’s teenage tutor, the romantic James Kenneth Stephen? Well, he sure didn’t forget about Prince Albert…and that wasn’t a good thing. See, just after he had completed his duties as tutor, Stephen suffered a traumatic head injury that left him more mentally imbalanced than before. So when Stephen heard of the prince’s passing, he did not respond well.
42. He Drove A Man To The Edge
From the moment Prince Albert passed, Stephen committed himself to one disturbing act. Perhaps suffering a psychotic break—and not helped by his emotions for the fallen prince—Stephen refused every single bit of food from the day of Albert’s passing onward. 20 days later, Stephen himself died of forced starvation. Oh, and then there was Albert’s bride…
43. His Bride Grieved For Him
Throughout this total and complete chaos, poor Mary of Teck’s life had unraveled before her eyes. While one day she was planning her fairy tale royal wedding, now she was planning her fiancé’s funeral. She was suddenly in the lurch, having lost both a husband and a potential crown—and she came up with a heartbreaking tribute.
44. His Fiancée Gave A Heart-Wrenching Goodbye
Prince Albert Victor got a funeral deserving of the eldest son of the British royal family. As attendants laid his body to rest, Mary of Teck made sure to put a bouquet of orange blossoms on the coffin as it lowered into the ground. This was actually an incredibly touching gesture: The bouquet just so happened to be her bridal wreath.
45. He Caused Hysteria
Look, the truth is, everybody lost their darn minds when it came to Prince Albert dying. Need more proof? The sculptor Albert Gilbert created the prince’s effigy, a stunning piece of work that depicts Albert surrounded by angels. Except, uh, Gilbert was so obsessed with getting every detail right, he bankrupted himself before he could finish his masterpiece and had to flee the country. Seriously, everybody calm the heck down.
46. His End Was An “Act Of Providence”
You don’t get much darker than Albert’s legacy. Although his family covered up so many of his secrets, in death his scandals came right back into the light. And remember, there were many. By 1964, one biographer called his end a “merciful act of providence” because it allowed the more responsible King George V to reign. And some storm clouds still linger…
47. His Legacy Is In Tatters
Although historians have worked hard to rehabilitate Prince Albert’s image today, he can never seem to shake off all the controversies he courted. To this day, conspiracy theories abound that Albert actually succumbed to that recurrent venereal disease, or—even more absurdly—that the politician Lord Randolph Churchill had him shoved off a cliff to remove him from the succession. C’mon now.
48. His Brother Betrayed Him
Believe it or not, the biggest blow to Prince Albert Victor’s legacy came from inside his own family. When he succumbed to his illness, the rights of succession naturally passed to his younger brother George, who eventually became King George V. But that wasn’t all George took from him: Just a year after his brother’s passing, George also wed Mary of Teck. Yep, he took Albert’s bride from his cold, dead hands.
I wish I could say it didn’t get more twisted than this, but it totally does.
49. He Had One True Love
In the days following Prince Albert Victor’s passing, his sisters revealed his deepest secret. Instead of lavishing the forlorn Mary of Teck with sympathies, Princesses Maud and Louise made it very clear that they thought Albert’s not-so-old flame Princess Helene of Orleans was his one true love, and the most deserving of their empathy. Hmm…Maybe Mary of Teck did the right thing after all.
And then Albert sent poor Mary a cruel message from beyond the grave.
50. His Corpse Has A Scandalous Keepsake
Maud and Louise later told Princess Helene that Albert Victor was “yours in death” because “he is buried with your little coin around his neck.” Yeah, you read that right. It was practically the eve of Albert’s wedding, and he was still wearing his ex-girlfriend’s keepsake. All I can say is: live fast, die young, and leave one bad reputation.