Prince Eddy, the Under-educated, Lethargic, ADHD, Definitely Not Jack the Ripper, Almost King
One of the strangest and most enigmatic ancestors of the current royal family is the perennially fascinating Price Eddy. This royal specimen was strange enough on his own to bring his parents to despair, however he was also at one point suspected to be a possible candidate for Jack the Ripper (there is absolutely no hard evidence to support this however). He was also basically uneducable, known to frequent brothels wherever he went (to be fair his father was not stranger to bawdy houses), and to be extremely close to a scandal involving Victorian “rent boys”.
Eddy was the eldest son of the eldest son of Queen Victoria, who was called Bertie in the family, and his beautiful but possibly empty-headed wife, the former princess of Denmark, Alexandria. Alexandria was known for her incredibly tiny waist, which she achieved by rigorous corseting, a habit that was not compatible with pregnancy, and which probably played a part in all of her children being born prematurely. Eddy himself was said to come two months early, after his mother insisted on going ice skating.
The baby was strong and healthy, although he had weighed less than four pounds when he was born, two months early, in the evening of 8 January 1864. That afternoon, Princess Alexandra, who was beautiful and charming and had been married for less than a year, had been taken to watch her adored Bertie playing ice hockey on a frozen pond at Virginia Water, near Windsor. Afterwards, what larks! she was whirled — in her pregnant state — across the ice on a sledge. So, although her desperate anxiety about the Schleswig-Holstein question was later said to have induced Alix to give birth so soon, perhaps one should rather blame the sledge. (Cook, p.256).
As a child Eddy was notable mainly for his “lethargy” and lack of enthusiasm for learning, His parents decided he needed his brother George, the future George V, to accompany him at all times if there were to be any hope of Eddy being able to sustain enough attention or energy to do anything.
Although there is not a great deal of free-standing, contemporaneous information about PE, he is mentioned often in the letters of family members, which limits the historically curious to a subjective view of his personality. In other words, it is difficult to suss out the real Eddy in the various characterizations left behind.
Even in infancy, this eldest son of Princess Alexandra had shown signs of being subnormal. He was not exactly an imbecile; merely slow-witted. As a boy he had been listless, slow to react and utterly unable to concentrate his attention on anything for long. (Quoted by Cook, p. 21).
Although it is no doubt of some comfort that the probable heir to the English throne was not exactly “an imbecile”, there is evidence that palace courtiers were concerned enough with the substandard performance of the heir that later suspicions arose that Eddy’s death was in fact a put-up job.
From infancy the Prince had been blighted with poor health. As he matured, his lack of character and his inordinate slowness were causes for greater concern. From birth he bore a hearing deficiency, a problem which accounted for his learning disability…Cook, p. 23
Andrew Cook disputes the claims that Eddy was hard of hearing, claiming that it seems impossible that Alexandria would have never been informed of this fact, however Alexandria herself was almost completely deaf by the age of 30 or so, much to the despair of whoever had to sit next to her at the dinner table. In fact, far from it being hard to believe, anyone familiar with Alexandria, and with the Danish Crown family in general, would find it completely easy to believe that Alix chose to ignore any details about the vagaries of her eldest son.
In Anne Edwards book, she further claims:
Since his mother was extraordinarily sensitive about it, suffering this same handicap, she was not told, and the condition was never medically treated. Prince Eddy was inclined to dark moods, and though his manners were correct, he was aloof and awkward, suffered a nervous tic, and possessed a piercing, unpleasant, high-pitched voice. Edwards, Anne. Matriarch: Queen Mary and the House of Windsor
I will give Pope-Hennessey, possibly my favorite historian of all time (sadly he suffered an early death, being murdered by some hooligans) the last word about PE’s character:
‘Dear’, ‘good’ and ‘kind’ were the adjectives most usually employed in reference to Prince Eddy by his relations. Anything superlative would have been, to say the least of it, exaggerated. Even his nearest and dearest, who were naturally bent on making the best of poor Prince Eddy, could not bring themselves to use more positive terms. Prince Eddy was certainly dear and good, kind and considerate. He was also backward and utterly listless. He was self-indulgent and not punctual. He had been given no proper education, and as a result he was interested in nothing. He was as heedless and as aimless as a gleaming goldfish in a crystal bowl.
We do have 2 first hand accounts left behind by Eddy’s tutors, included with a description of his “college years”.
To the Reverend Dalton’s now-familiar carping (“This weakness of brain, this feebleness and lack of power to grasp almost anything put before him” and so forth) Stephen eventually added his own, remarking that the prince hardly knew the meaning of the verb ‘to read. ‘This was hardly the most promising material that had ever been sent to Cambridge, but then, everyone involved knew that it didn’t really matter: the prince only audited the few courses he attended, and he was never obliged to take his exams. Instead, the two years he spent at Cambridge were for him the distilled pleasures of college life without any of the pressures. (from Prince Eddy and The Blackguards By Steve Donoghue
Frankly I feel he would have to get a pass on being uniquely terrible at his studies, considering the same issues have cropped up in the Royal family, and specifically in the House of Windsor, over the years. So in this case he can hardly be considered distinctive or even of particular dullness in comparison.
In His Own Words
I found it odd in light of all these insults about his intelligence, that if you read the letters left behind by Eddy, you get a picture of a fairly intelligent person, although naïve, romantically-minded, and self-indulgent to an extreme.
One example of a communication, to one of his crushes, is seen below,
He closed with: “I am writing in an odd way and have no doubt you will think so but I do it for a particular reason and want you to promise me to cut out the crest and signature … for … supposing someone got hold of the letter by any chance? You understand why I say this?” Lady St. Clair-Erskine did not cut out the crest and signature. Indeed, she preserved, intact, this and several other letters from her Royal admirer. “I wonder if you really love me?” he wrote a week later. And, when he learned of Lady St. Clair-Erskine’s engagement: “Don’t be surprised if you hear before long that I am engaged also [a reference to Princess May], for I expect it will come off soon. But it will be a very different thing to what it might have once been [perhaps a reference to Princess Hélène] but it can’t be helped.”
You probably know through the girls, who told me that dear Hélène, had been fond of me for some time. I did not realize this at first although the girls constantly told me she liked me, for she never showed it in any way. Well, soon after you left and as I knew my chances with Alicky were all over, . . . I saw Hélène several times at Sheen, and naturally thought her everything that is nice in a girl, and she had become very pretty which I saw at once and also gradually perceived that she really liked me . . . I naturally got to like, or rather love her, by the manner she showed her affection for me.
So, he can be seen here to be fairly literate, probably better at stringing together a few sentences than many survivors of the American educational system.
Inevitably Eddy had to marry, and the queen, after sifting through and auditioning various appropriate candidates settled on a poor relation, the granddaughter of the Duke of Cambridge, Princess May, or Mary as she was to be called as Queen.
This was certainly no love match,
Prince Eddy closed the door and faced Princess May. For the first time the two of them were alone. He stood staring at her for a long time in the flickering light from the fire, and her shyness returned. Nervously, she began to edge back to the door, but he took her hand and began what sounded like a short, memorized speech. “To my surprise, Eddy proposed to me during the evening in Mme. de Falbe’s boudoir — of course I said yes,” adding to her observations in her diary that she and Prince Eddy “flitted about in suppressed excitement,” and that later, when she told the other young ladies in her party about the engagement, she had picked up her skirts and “waltzed round and round” her bedroom. No comment exists in her diary of any fond feelings for Prince Eddy or mention of her own happiness. Instead, there is a sense of gloating, of a competition won.
Princess May actually knew Eddy from childhood, and we don’t know for sure if she was aware of the rumors about his “dissipations”. At this time in his life he “looked thin and stiff, somewhat like a tailor’s dummy in his clothes. His brown wavy hair had already begun to recede, and his fair moustache was so heavily waxed and so sharply turned up at the ends that it looked artificial. Though oddly doe-shaped, his eyes were a soft brown and his profile aquiline. He was, indeed, awkward in appearance, a fact emphasized more by his astonishingly long neck, the high white starched collar he still insisted upon wearing, his almost simian arms cuffed at his knobby wrists, and his stiff gait caused by gout — a most unusual complaint for one so young. Despite these distractions, his slow, languid manner and the way he had of smiling slyly and glancing out of the sides of his eyes gave Prince Eddy a sensual quality. Yet it is hard to imagine that Princess May, who had found him disagreeable as a child, could suddenly have fallen in love with him, dismissing all gossip, his far inferior mind, immaturity, and strangeness.” (Pope-Hennessey).
Personally, I don’t think he lives up to these harsh depictions of his appearance recorded by Pope-Hennessey, however he does exhibit the trademark dark-ringed bulging eyes and eye bags associated with all the children of the POW and Alexandria (and passed down to many of the grandkids), who are actually a pretty scary looking lot that could have been used as stand-ins for a Victorian horror movie.
One of the rumors about Eddy of course was his possible involvement in a male brothel scandal with one of his cruising buddies “Podge”, (a minor aristocrat mainly notable for being an ancestor of one of Queen Elizabeth’s best friends). No proof was ever presented that Prince Eddy had been with “Podge” at the brothel. However, there was never any official denial to allay public suspicions that the police had concealed evidence (an accusation broadly hinted at in the press). The Prince was a natural candidate for public conjecture because of the gossip and rumor that had steadily grown since his youth. You can read much more about this scandal in various sources, or just be lazy and check out Wikipedia.
On 7 January, 1892, the day before his birthday, and just a few months before the date of his impending wedding, Prince Eddy felt unwell while out shooting at Sandringham where the whole family, including May, had decamped for the holidays. Pope Hennessey has a real dislike of the design of Sandringham, and gives a depressing impression of the narrow and claustrophobic little room inhabited by Prince Eddy. “So restricted is the space in this room, that Prince Eddy, lying in bed by the window, could stretch out his arm and touch the mantelpiece with his hand.”
On the next day, which was Prince Eddy’s birthday, it was realized that he had caught influenza. “Froze hard in the night & a little snow fell,’ Prince George wrote in his Diary. ‘Answering telegrams for Eddy & writing letters all day. Princess May was helping, too, for she was already assuming in Prince Eddy’s life the practical role she had long played in that of her mother. The Prince of Wales was always asking her to ‘keep Eddy up to the mark’, ‘see that Eddy does this, May’ or ‘May, please do see that Eddy does that’. In London, in the first weeks of her engagement, Princess May’s courage had begun to falter, for she was beginning dimly to realize the dimensions of her task. She had gone to her mother and said: ‘Do you think I can really take this on, Mama?’ ‘Of course you can, May,’ Princess Mary Adelaide had sturdily replied.” Pope-Hennessey again.
On the morning of his birthday, Prince Eddy managed to walk slowly downstairs to look at his presents. “He returned to his room, unable to attend his birthday dinner, which was followed by an entertainment given by a ventriloquist and a banjo-player, and at which Uncle Teck proposed Prince Eddy’s health. There was still no sense of danger, still less of impending calamity, amongst the inmates of Sandringham House. Everybody one knew had had the influenza that winter; and ill-health, in some form or other, may almost be said to have formed an integral part of the younger Waleses’ design for living. Prince Eddy’s family and their guests were now all taking daily doses of quinine, as a precautionary measure. ‘Thanks so much for kind wishes,’ the Princess of Wales telegraphed to the Queen, who was at Osborne, and engaged in supervising rehearsals for a series of tableaux vivants: ‘Poor Eddy got influenza, cannot dine, so tiresome.” PH.
Anyway, to paraphrase Randy Newman, he died. It was a horrific scene with about 14 people crammed into his tiny room while he raved in a state of delirium, no doubt spraying influenza germs everywhere; but they didn’t really understand contagion in those days.
About a year later May married his brother George, and they went on to become George V and Queen Mary.
So, what more is there to say about Eddy? He was a lethargic, romantic guy with probably a case of ADD, maybe hard of hearing, possible had STDs, maybe sexually adventurous, probably liked carousing, certainly cossetted by his family, and no doubt a real worry to a lot of people at the time. He was defeated by flu. It is probably a good thing that he didn’t live to reproduce, although on the other hand I doubt he would have been as mean and abusive of a father as his brother George proved to be, and so in that case there might have been quite a different ending to the story. If we didn’t have the daunting parenting duo George V and Queen Mary, maybe there would never have been an abdication? The possibilities boggle the mind.
Anyway, that is the stuff of another article altogether.
A selection of references
Cook, Andrew. Prince Eddy: The King Britain Never Had (Revealing History) (p. 257). The History Press. Kindle Edition.
Edwards, Anne. Matriarch: Queen Mary and the House of Windsor. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Pope-Hennessy, James. Queen Mary. Hodder & Stoughton. Kindle Edition.