ALAS! noble Prince Leopold, he is dead!
Who often has his lustre shed:
Especially by singing for the benefit of Esher School,
Which proves he was a wise prince. and no conceited fool.
Methinks I see him on the platform singing the Sands o’ Dee,
The generous-hearted Leopold, the good and the free,
Who was manly in his actions, and beloved by his mother;
And in all the family she hasn’t got such another.
He was of a delicate constitution all his life,
And he was his mother’s favourite, and very kind to his wife,
And he had also a particular liking for his child,
And in his behaviour he was very mild.
Oh! noble-hearted Leopold, most beautiful to see,
Who was wont to fill your audience’s hearts with glee,
With your charming songs, and lectures against strong drink:
Britain had nothing else to fear, as far as you could think
A wise prince you were, and well worthy of the name,
And to write in praise of thee I cannot refrain;
Because you were ever ready to defend that which is right,
Both pleasing and righteous in God’s eye-sight.
And for the loss of such a prince the people will mourn,
But, alas! unto them he can never more return,
Because sorrow never could revive the dead again,
Therefore to weep for him is all in vain.
’Twas on Saturday the 12th of April, in the year 1884,
He was buried in the royal vault, never to rise more
Until the great and fearful judgment-day,
When the last trump shall sound to summon him away.
When the Duchess of Albany arrived she drove through the Royal Arch,–
A little before the Seaforth Highlanders set out on the funeral march;
And she was received with every sympathetic respect,
Which none of the people present seem’d to neglect.
Then she entered the memorial chapel and stayed a short time,
And as she viewed her husband’s remains it was really sublime,
While her tears fell fast on the coffin lid without delay,
Then she took one last fond look, and hurried away.
At half-past ten o’clock the Seaforth Highlanders did appear,
And every man in the detachment his medals did wear;
And they carried their side-arms by their side,
With mournful looks, but full of love and pride.
Then came the Coldstream Guards headed by their band,
Which made the scene appear imposing and grand;
Then the musicians drew up in front of the guardroom
And waited patiently to see the prince laid in the royal tomb.
First in the procession were the servants of His late Royal Highness,
And next came the servants of the Queen in deep mourning dress,
And the gentlemen of his household in deep distress,
Also General Du Pla, who accompanied the remains from Cannes.
The coffin was borne by eight Highlanders of his own regiment,
And the fellows seemed to be rather discontent
For the loss of the prince they loved most dear,
While adown their cheeks stole many a silent tear
Then behind the corpse came the Prince of Wales in field marshal uniform,
Looking very pale, dejected, careworn, and forlorn;
Then followed great magnates, all dressed in uniform,
And last, but not least, the noble Marquis of Lorne.
The scene in George’s Chapel was most magnificent to behold,
The banners of the knights of the garter embroidered with gold;
Then again it was most touching and lovely to see
The Seaforth Highlanders’ inscription to the Prince’s memory:
It was wrought in violets, upon a background of white flowers,
And as they gazed upon it their tears fell in showers;
But the whole assembly were hushed when Her Majesty did appear,
Attired in her deepest mourning, and from her eye there fell a tear.
Her Majesty was unable to stand long, she was overcome with grief,
And when the Highlanders lowered the coffin into the tomb she felt relief;
Then the ceremony closed with singing “Lead, kindly light,”
Then the Queen withdrew in haste from the mournful sight.
Then the Seaforth Highlanders’ band played “Lochaber no more,”
While the brave soldiers’ hearts felt depressed and sore;
And as homeward they marched they let fall many a tear
For the loss of the virtuous Prince Leopold they loved so dear.
Prince Leopold George Duncan Albert Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was born on the 7th April 1853, the eighth of Queen Victoria’s nine children and the youngest of her four sons. He was named after Victoria’s favourite uncle, King Leopold I of Belgium. From his earliest days his health was noted to be “delicate”, but it was not until he was two years old that he was diagnosed as a haemophiliac.
Haemophilia is a hereditary disease which stops blood from clotting. The result being that wounds bleed for a long time without healing. This made even minor cuts and bruises into serious medical crises. Victoria was a carrier of the disease, and she and her daughters would pass it throughout the royal houses of Europe in the coming years. Leopold suffered several bleeding crises through his childhood, and added epilepsy to his medical problems in 1866.
Periods of enforced bed-rest made the intelligent young prince concentrate on his studies. He spoke several foreign languages, played the flute, piano and harmonium, and also enjoyed drama and the visual arts. When he was nineteen, he petitioned his mother to be allowed to attend Oxford. The Queen was reluctant, feeling that his health was too fragile to allow him to stray from home. Eventually she relented, setting severe restrictions on how he should behave and insisting “that it is merely for study and not for amusement that you go there”. Nonetheless he seems to have enjoyed his student days, mixing with the likes of John Ruskin, Alice Liddell and Charles Dodgson (who immortalised Alice’s adventures under the pen-name of Lewis Carroll).
On emerging from university in 1876, Leopold became his mother’s unofficial private secretary. In this role he was soon given a cabinet key, allowing him access to sensitive government papers, much to the annoyance of his brother the Prince of Wales, who did not have this privilege. Though his health prevented him from taking on any active military service, he was created Honorary Colonel of the 3rd Battalion Seaforth Highlanders in 1881.
Association with Ruskin and, perhaps, his own unhappy personal circumstances had given Leopold a genuine concern for the poor and needy amongst his mother’s subjects. Nineteenth century royals were not expected to perform the volume of charity work that their modern descendants do, but Leopold threw himself into a variety of good causes including the arts, control of air and water pollution, and (naturally enough) help for the disabled.
In 1881 he was created first Duke of Albany. The following year he was married to Helene Whilhelmine of Nassau, daughter of the Prince of Waldeck in northern Germany. The marriage was a happy one, and after a year was blessed with a daughter – Alice – born on the 25th February 1883. Leopold continued to work for his mother, though campaigning unsuccessfully for an appointment in the colonies that would give him more independence.
In February 1884 he travelled to Cannes, staying with a friend at Villa Nevada. Helene, pregnant with their second child, was unable to accompany her husband. During a visit to the yacht club, Leopold slipped on a tiled floor and injured his knee. What nobody realised was that blood vessels in his head had burst as well. He was taken to his bed, but died that night of a brain haemorrhage. He was just 31 years old.
Carried back to the royal chapel at Windsor, he was buried in the manner described by McGonagall. In July, Helene gave birth to Leopold’s son – Charles Edward, second Duke of Albany. She outlived her husband by 38 years, dying in 1922. Though growing up and educated in England, Charles was destined to return to his German roots – becoming Duke of Saxe Coburg and Gotha in 1899 and ultimately becoming a supporter of Hitler. Alice would live until 1981, the last survivor of Queen Victoria’s forty grandchildren.