Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany (Leopold George Duncan Albert; 7 April 1853 – 28 March 1884) was the eighth child and youngest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Leopold was later created Duke of Albany, Earl of Clarence, and Baron Arklow. He had haemophilia, which led to his death at the age of 30.
Leopold was born on 7 April 1853 at Buckingham Palace, London. During labour, Queen Victoria chose to use chloroform and thus sanctioned the use of anesthesia in childbirth, recently developed by Professor James Young Simpson. The chloroform was administered by Dr. John Snow. As a son of the British sovereign, the newborn was styled His Royal Highness The Prince Leopold at birth. His parents named him Leopold after his grand-uncle, King Leopold I of Belgium.
He was baptised in the Private Chapel of Buckingham Palace on 28 June 1853 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Bird Sumner. His godparents were his first cousin once removed, King George V of Hanover; his fourth cousin once removed, Princess William of Prussia; his first cousin once removed, Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge; and his maternal uncle by marriage, Prince Ernst of Hohenlohe-Langenburg.
Leopold inherited the disease haemophilia from his mother, Queen Victoria, and was a delicate child. There was speculation during his life that Leopold also suffered mildly from epilepsy, like his grand-nephew Prince John of the United Kingdom.
The Prince’s intellectual abilities were evident as a boy; Poet Laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson and his friend, philosopher Dr James Martineau, were familiar with the Queen’s children and had noted that Leopold, who had often “conversed with the eminent Dr. Martineau, was considered to be a young man of a very thoughtful mind, high aims, and quite remarkable acquirements”
In 1872, Prince Leopold entered Christ Church, Oxford, where he studied a variety of subjects and became president of the Oxford University Chess Club. On coming of age in 1874, he had been made a privy councillor and granted an annuity of £15,000. He left the university with an honorary doctorate in civil law (DCL) in 1876, then travelled in Europe. In 1880, he toured Canada and the United States with his sister, Princess Louise, whose husband John Campbell, Marquess of Lorne, was Governor General of Canada. He was a prominent patron of chess, and the London 1883 chess tournament was held under his patronage. Incapable of pursuing a military career because of his haemophilia and the need to avoid even minor injuries, Leopold instead became a patron of the arts and literature and served as an unofficial secretary to his mother. “Leopold was the favourite son, and through him her relations with the Government of the day were usually kept up.” Later he pursued vice-regal appointments in Canada and the Colony of Victoria, but his mother refused to appoint him, to his great unhappiness.
Despite his inability (through illness) to pursue an active military role, he had an honorary association with the 72nd Regiment, Duke of Albany’s Own Highlanders, and from 1881 served as the first Colonel-in-Chief of the Seaforth Highlanders, when that regiment was formed through the merger of the 72nd regiment with the 78th (Highlanders) Regiment of Foot. A portrait of Prince Leopold in military uniform is held in the Royal Collection. The Seaforth Highlanders paraded at Prince Leopold’s funeral, a fact recorded by William McGonagall in his poem “The Death of Prince Leopold.
Prince Leopold, stifled by the desire of his mother, Queen Victoria, to keep him at home, saw marriage as his only hope of independence. Due to his haemophilia, he had difficulty finding a wife. Heiress Daisy Maynard was one of the women he considered as a possible bride. He was acquainted with Alice Liddell, the daughter of the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford for whom Lewis Carroll wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and was godfather of Alice’s second son, who was named for him. It has been suggested that he considered marrying her, though others suggest that he preferred her sister Edith (for whom he later served as pall-bearer on 30 June 1876).
Leopold also considered his second cousin Princess Frederica of Hanover for a bride; they instead became lifelong friends and confidantes. Other aristocratic women he pursued included Victoria of Baden, Princess Elisabeth of Hesse-Kassel, and Princess Karoline Mathilde of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg.
After rejection from these women, Victoria stepped in to bar what she saw as unsuitable possibilities. Insisting that the children of British monarchs should marry into other reigning Protestant families, Victoria suggested a meeting with Princess Helene Friederike, the daughter of Georg Viktor, reigning Prince of Waldeck-Pyrmont, one of whose daughters had already married king William III of the Netherlands. On 27 April 1882, Leopold and Helena were married, at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, and his income was raised by parliament to £25,000. Leopold and Helena enjoyed a happy (although brief) marriage. In 1883, Leopold became a father when his wife gave birth to a daughter, Alice. He died shortly before the birth of his son, Charles Edward.
Prince Leopold had haemophilia, diagnosed in childhood and in early years had various physicians in permanent attendance, including Arnold Royle and John Wickham Legg. In February 1884, Leopold went to Cannes on doctor’s orders: joint pain is a common symptom of haemophilia and the winter climate in the United Kingdom was always difficult for him. His wife, pregnant at the time, stayed at home but urged him to go. On 27 March, at his Cannes residence, the ‘Villa Nevada’, he slipped and fell, injuring his knee and hitting his head. He died in the early hours of the next morning, apparently from a cerebral haemorrhage. He was buried in the Albert Memorial Chapel at Windsor. The court observed official mourning from 30 March 1884 to 11 May 1884. His posthumous son, Prince Charles Edward, succeeded him as 2nd Duke of Albany upon birth four months later.
Having died six years after his older sister Alice, Leopold was the second of Queen Victoria’s children to die. His mother outlived him by seventeen years, by which time she had also outlived a third child, Alfred.
Leopold’s passing was lamented by the Scottish “poet and tragedian” William McGonagall in the poem “The Death of Prince Leopold”.
In 1900, Leopold’s son, Charles Edward, succeeded his uncle Alfred as Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.
Through Charles Edward, Leopold was the great-grandfather of Carl XVI Gustaf, the current King of Sweden.
The haemophilia gene is carried on the X chromosome, and is normally passed through female descent, as in the past few haemophiliac men survived to beget children. Any daughter of a haemophiliac is a carrier of the gene. Leopold’s daughter Alice inherited the haemophilia gene, and passed it to her elder son Rupert.