Albert Victor was born two months prematurely and this may have contributed to him having learning difficulties as he was not a good student and paid little attention when in class. On Queen Victoria’s wishes, the new prince was named Albert Victor, however he was known as Eddy in the family.
Albert Victor was christened in the private chapel of Buckingham Palace on 10 March 1864 and his godparents were: Queen Victoria (his paternal grandmother); Christian IX of Denmark (his maternal grandfather); Leopold I of Belgium (his great great-uncle); Louise Caroline of Hesse-Kassel (his maternal great-grandmother); Alexandrine of Baden (his great-aunt by marriage); William of Hesse-Kassel (his maternal great-grandfather); Victoria, Princess Royal (his paternal aunt); and Prince Alfred (his paternal uncle).
Since Albert Victor was only seventeen months older than his nearest brother, George, they were educated together, however neither prince excelled academically. The tutor advised the Prince of Wales not to split the boys up as it was George who was encouraging Albert Victor to apply himself. Once their formal education in the schoolroom came to an end, the princes were sent to the Royal Navy’s training ship, HMS Britannia and then spent three years travelling the world on HMS Bacchante.
When the brothers returned to England, Albert Victor was sent to Trinity College, Cambridge, but Albert Victor did not have the intellect required to do well at such an establishment and he was exempted from having to take examinations. After Cambridge, the prince was gazetted as an officer in the 10th Hussars and he was awarded an honorary degree by the university in 1888. In March 1887, Albert Victor was posted to Hounslow where he was promoted to captain, however he was also undertaking more official duties for the royal family.
In July 1889, the prince was caught up in a scandal when the Metropolitan Police uncovered a male brothel in London’s Cleveland Street and rumours circulated Albert Victor had been a client. The prince had never been publicly named but Lord Arthur Somerset, an equerry to the Prince of Wales, had been and it is suspected he may have named the prince to divert attention away from himself. Despite numerous anonymous letters being sent to the Prince and Princess of Wales implicating their eldest son, nothing was ever proven. As a result of the scandal, many historians have implied Albert Victor was bisexual and he had frequented the establishment at Cleveland Street but others disagree.
In October that same year, Albert Victor was sent on a seven-month tour of British India which the press surmised was to get him out of the country but the trip had actually been planned earlier in the year. Albert Victor arrived in Bombay on 9 November 1889 where he travelled extensively throughout the country and was royally entertained by maharajahs. While on the trip, Albert Victor met Margery Haddon, the wife of a civil engineer, who later claimed the prince was the father of her son, Clarence. The allegations were reported to Buckingham Palace and Special Branch who could find no evidence to substantiate her claims and she was dismissed as a deranged alcoholic. Later, Albert Victor admitted to having had an affair with her but he denied he was the father of her child.
Clarence Haddon later published a book, My Uncle George V, claiming he was Albert Victor’s son and that he had been born in London in 1890. In 1933, Clarence was arrested for trying to blackmail George V and when his personal documents were revealed to the court, they proved beyond doubt he had actually been born in 1888, long before Albert Victor had met Margery. Haddon was found guilty but his sentence was held over on condition he stop claiming to be Albert Victor’s son, however he breached the conditions and was jailed for a year.
On 24 May 1890, Albert Victor was created Duke of Clarence and attention now turned to finding him a bride. The first proposal was made to his cousin, Alix of Hesse, but she rejected his advances as she was already in love with Nicholas, the future Tsar of Russia. The second prospect was Hélène of Orléans, the daughter of Philippe, Count of Paris, a pretender to the French throne who was living in England, however Queen Victoria was opposed since she was a Catholic. Albert Victor had fallen in love with Hélène though and she offered to convert to the Church of England if the queen gave them her blessing, but her father refused to countenance the marriage.
After the courtship with Hélène came to an end, Queen Victoria had another candidate in mind, Mary of Teck, the daughter of her first cousin, Mary Adelaide. The queen considered Mary to have all the attributes she felt necessary to marry a future king and she encouraged her grandson to propose. Albert Victor obeyed, proposing to May as she was known, on 3 December 1891 and the wedding was set for 27 February 1892.
As plans for the wedding got underway, Albert Victor suddenly fell in with influenza at Sandringham and he died on 14 January 1892. The Prince and Princess of Wales were devastated by his death and Alexandra kept the room in which he died as a shrine, echoing the actions of her mother-in-law on the death of her beloved Prince Albert. The prince was buried in the Albert Memorial Chapel, close to St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, and May placed her bridal bouquet on top of his coffin. Of course, May would would go on to marry George who took Albert Victor’s place in the line of succession and reign as George V.
Albert Victor’s name was first linked to Jack the Ripper in a biography of his father by Philippe Jullian which was published in 1962. Jullian indicated the prince had been suspected of being Jack the Ripper, however he offered no sources for these allegations. The instigator of the gossip was believed to have been Thomas E A Stowell, who also told two other writers, Colin Wilson and Harold Nicolson, who Jullian later cited in his book.
Stowell later published an article in The Criminologist claiming Albert Victor had been driven to commit the murders as a consequence of madness brought on by syphilis. Stowell’s claims were dismissed by historians who pointed out there was no evidence Albert Victor had ever suffered from syphilis and he had strong alibis for the murders. Stowell later backtracked but he died before revealing his sources and his papers were burned by his son.