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Ernst I Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld
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Alfred of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha; Duke of Edinburgh


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Maria Alexandrovna Romanov Duchess of Edinburgh

Alfred of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha; Duke of Edinburgh

  • Born: 6 Aug 1844, Windsor Castle, Windsor, Berkshire, England
  • Marriage: Maria Alexandrovna Romanov Duchess of Edinburgh on 23 Jan 1874 in Winter Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia
  • Died: 30 Jul 1900, Rosenau Castle, Coburg, Upper Franconia, Bavaria at age 55

  General Notes:

The Prince Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (Alfred Ernest Albert) was the third Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha reigning between 1893 and 1900. He was also a member of the British Royal Family, the second son and fourth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. He was created Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Kent and Earl of Ulster in the peerage of the United Kingdom on 24 May 1866. He succeeded his paternal uncle Ernst as the reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in the German Empire on 23 August 1893.

Early life

Alfred was born at Windsor Castle. His mother was the reigning British monarch, Queen Victoria, the only daughter of Prince Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent and Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. His father was Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the second son of Ernst I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. As a son of the monarch, he was styled His Royal Highness The Prince Alfred at birth, and was second in the line of succession behind his elder brother, Prince Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales. He was known to his family as "Affie", because he was so affable.

Alfred was christened by William Howley, Archbishop of Canterbury at the Private Chapel in Windsor Castle on 6 September 1844. His godparents were his maternal great-uncle, the Duke of Cambridge (represented by his son, Prince George of Cambridge); his paternal aunt, Alexandrine, Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (represented by his maternal grandmother, the Duchess of Kent); and Queen Victoria's half-brother, Prince Carl of Leiningen (represented by the Duke of Wellington).

Entering the Royal Navy

In 1856 it was decided that Prince Alfred, in accordance with his own wishes, should enter the Royal Navy. A separate establishment was accordingly assigned to him, with Lieutenant Sowell, R. E., as governor. He passed the examination for midshipman in August 1858, and was appointed to the HMS Euryalus. In July 1860, while on this ship, he paid an official visit to the Cape, and made a very favourable impression both on the colonials and on the native chiefs. On the abdication of King Otto of Greece, in 1862, Prince Alfred was chosen to succeed him, but political conventions of long standing rendered it impossible for the British government to accede to their wishes.

Prince Alfred, therefore remained in the navy, and was promoted lieutenant on 24 February 1863, serving under Count Gleichen on HMS Racoon, and captain on 23 February 1866, being then appointed to the command of the frigate HMS Galatea.

In 1868, Alfred survived an assassination attempt while picnicking on the beach in the Sydney suburb of Clontarf while in New South Wales.

Heir to the British throne

Alfred remained second-in-line to the British throne from his birth until 8 January 1864. His older brother Edward and his wife Alexandra of Denmark had their first son Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence on this date. Any legitimate children of his older brother took priority in the succession list. Alfred became third-in-line heir to the throne.

As Edward and Alexandra continued to have children, Alfred was further demoted in the order of succession:

* On 3 June 1865 when the future George V of the United Kingdom was born, Alfred became fourth in line.
* On 20 February 1867 when Princess Louise, Princess Royal and Duchess of Fife was born, Alfred became fifth in line.
* On 6 July 1868 when Princess Victoria Alexandra of the United Kingdom was born, Alfred became sixth in line.
* On 26 November 1869 when Maud of Wales was born, Alfred became seventh.
* On 6 April 1871 when Prince Alexander John of Wales was born, Alfred became eighth in line. However, Alexander died the following day and Alfred resumed being seventh.
* On January 14, 1892, when Prince Albert Victor died, he once again became sixth in line to the throne.

Duke of Edinburgh

In the Queen's Birthday Honours on 24 May 1866, the prince was created Duke of Edinburgh and Earl of Ulster and Kent, with an annuity of £15,000 granted by Parliament. He took his seat in the House of Lords on 8 June.

Military career

While still in command of the Galatea, the Duke of Edinburgh started from Plymouth on January 24, 1867 for his voyage round the world. On 7 June 1867, he left Gibraltar and reached the Cape on 24 July and paid a royal visit to Cape Town on 24 August 1867 after landing at Simonstown a while earlier. He landed at Glenelg, South Australia, on October 31.

Being the first English prince to visit Australia, the Duke was received with great enthusiasm. During his stay of nearly five months he visited Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Tasmania.

On March 12, 1868, on his second visit to Sydney while picnicking in the beachfront suburb of Clontarf, he was wounded in the back by a revolver fired by Henry James O'Farrell. The Prince was shot just to the right of his spine, and was tended for the next two weeks by six Florence Nightingale trained nurses led by Matron Lucy Osburn who were newly arrived in Australia (February 1868).

On the evening of 23 March 1868, the most influential people of Sydney voted for a memorial building to be erected, "to raise a permanent and substantial monument in testimony of the heartfelt gratitude of the community at the recovery of HRH". This led to a public subscription which paid for the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital's construction.

Prince Alfred soon recovered from his injury and was able to resume command of his ship and return home in early April 1868.

Henry James O'Farrell was arrested at the scene, quickly tried, convicted and hanged on 21 April 1868.

Prince Alfred reached Spithead on 26 June 1868, after an absence of seventeen months. He was also the first member of the Royal Family to visit New Zealand, arriving in 1869 on HMS Galatea. The Duke's next voyage was to India, where he arrived in December 1869. Both there and at Hong Kong, which he visited on the way, he was the first British prince to set foot in the country. The native rulers of India vied with one another in the magnificence of their entertainments during the Duke's stay of three months.


On 23 January 1874, the Duke of Edinburgh married Her Imperial Highness The Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, the second (and only surviving) daughter of Tsar Alexander II of Russia and his wife Marie of Hesse and by Rhine, daughter of Ludwig II, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine and Wilhelmine of Baden, at the Winter Palace, St. Petersburg. To commemorate the occasion, a small English bakery made the now internationally popular Marie biscuit, with the Duchess' name imprinted on the its top. The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh made their public entry into London on 12 March. The marriage, however, was not a happy one, and the bride was thought haughty by London society. She insisted on taking precedence before the Princess of Wales (the future Queen Alexandra) because she and her father the Tsar considered the Princess of Wales' family (the Danish Royal family) as inferior to their own. Queen Victoria refused this demand and granted her precedence immediately after the Princess of Wales. Her father gave her the then staggering sum of £100,000 as a dowry plus an annual allowance of £28,000.

Flag Rank

The Duke of Edinburgh devoted himself to his profession, showing complete mastery of his duties and unusual skill in naval tactics. He was stationed in Malta for several years and his third child, Victoria Melita, was born there in 1876. He was promoted rear-admiral on 30 December 1878; vice-admiral, 10 November 1882; admiral, 18 October 1887; and received his baton as Admiral of the Fleet, 3 June 1893. He commanded the Channel fleet, 1883-1884; the Mediterranean fleet, 1886-1889; and was commander-in-chief at Devonport, Plymouth, 1890-1893. He always paid the greatest attention to his official duties and was most efficient as an admiral.

Percy Scott wrote in his memoirs that "as a Commander-in-Chief, the Duke of Edinburgh had, in my humble opinion, no equal. He handled a fleet magnificently, and introduced many improvement in signals and manoeuvring." He "took a great interest in gunnery." "The prettiest ship I have ever seen was the [The Duke of Edinburgh's flagship] Alexandra . I was informed that £2,000 had been spent by the officers on her decoration."

Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha

On the death of his uncle, Ernst II, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha on August 22, 1893, the vacant duchy fell to the Duke of Edinburgh, since the Prince of Wales had renounced his right to the succession. At first regarded with some coldness as a "foreigner," he gradually gained popularity. By the time of his death in 1900, he had generally won the good opinion of his subjects. The Duke was exceedingly fond of music and an excellent violinist, and took a prominent part in establishing the Royal College of Music. He was also a keen collector of glass and ceramic ware, and his collection, valued at half a million marks, was presented by his widow to the Veste Coburg, a big fortress near Coburg. When he became Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, he surrendered his British allowance of £15,000 a year and his seats in the House of Lords and the Privy Council, but he retained the £10,000 granted on his marriage in order to maintain Clarence House as his London residence.

Later life

The Duke's only son, the Hereditary Prince Alfred, became involved in a scandal involving his mistress and shot himself in January 1899, in the midst of his parents' twenty-fifth wedding anniversary celebrations. He survived, but his embarrassed parents sent him off to Merano to recover, where he died two weeks later, on 6 February. The Duke of Saxe-Coburg died of throat cancer on 30 July 1900 at Schloss Rosenau his summer residence outside Coburg. He was buried at the ducal family's mausoleum on the public cemetery of Coburg. He was succeeded as the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha by his nephew, Prince Charles Edward, Duke of Albany, the posthumous son of his youngest brother, Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany because Alfred's next brother, the Duke of Connaught and his son, Prince Arthur of Connaught, had renounced their succession rights to the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

Alfred married Maria Alexandrovna Romanov Duchess of Edinburgh, daughter of Tsar Alexander II Romanov of Russia and Maximilienne Wilhelmine Marie of Hesse and by Rhine, on 23 Jan 1874 in Winter Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia. (Maria Alexandrovna Romanov Duchess of Edinburgh was born on 17 Oct 1853 in Tsar's Village, Pushkin, St. Petersburg, Russia and died on 24 Oct 1920 in Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland.)

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