Tuesday, January 18, 2011

January 14, 1892 --- Death of the Duke of Clarence

"Eddy," Duke of Clarence, eldest son of the Prince of Wales, second in line to the throne, succumbs suddenly to influenza at 28. He had caught a chill while hunting which quickly led to pneumonia, delirium and death. His parents are devastated. The Prince told the young man's grandmother, Queen Victoria, "Gladly would I have given my life for his." 

While the family's grief is undeniably genuine, Eddy had been a major disappointment.  He was a sickly youth and a poor student - his tutor said he had an "abnormally dormant" mind!  As a soldier, all he cared about were the uniforms. A stiff prig, he had well earned the nickname "Collars & Cuffs"  His dissipated private life was a closely guarded secret.  Certainly no British newspaper dared mention Eddy's involvement in the Cleveland Street Scandal (q.v. January 16) but the London correspondent of the New York Times wrote: "This stupid perverse boy has become a man ... and is an utter blackguard. It is not too early to predict that such a fellow will never be allowed to ascend the British throne; that is as clear as anything can well be." Add to that the sensational claim (convincingly dismissed) that the Duke may have been somehow involved in the Jack the Ripper murders and one can understand the basis of the conspiracy theories that Eddy might have been "put out of the way." 

At the time of his death, Eddy's life seemed to be improving.   The courts of Europe had been frantically canvassed for a suitable bride.  More than one German princess, not a notably selective group, turned down a chance to be a future Queen of England.  There was great relief the previous December, when news was announced that Eddy was engaged to Princess May of the tiny principality of Teck.  Six weeks later, he was dead.  After a suitable period of mourning, the patient May - 24 and quite plain - took the hand of Eddy's younger brother, the future King George V.  In public, Eddy is widely mourned.  The poet laureate, Alfred Austin's tribute ode concluded: 
Youngest of England's ancient line, Hope of a people's heart, your promised King and mine.
While the stricken Queen thought Eddy's death an "awful blow to the country," the royal biographer Sir Philip Magnus would later call it a "merciful act of Providence."

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