Leopold Charles Edward George Albert was born at Claremont House near Esher, Surrey, on 19 July 1884 and was the youngest child and only son of Leopold, Duke of Albany, and Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont.
Charles Edward was born four months after the death of his father and was styled HRH The Duke of Albany from birth. The young duke was baptised privately at Claremont on 4 August 1884 and publicly in Esher Parish Church on 4 December 1884 four months later. His godparents were: Queen Victoria (paternal grandmother); Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (paternal uncle); Princess Helena (paternal aunt); Princess Louise (paternal aunt); Frederica of Hanover (his father’s second cousin); Alexis, Prince of Bentheim and Steinfurt (his mother’s brother-in-law); and George Victor, Prince of Waldeck and Pyrmont (his maternal grandfather).
Charles Edward was raised as a Prince of the United Kingdom and he was taught by his mother to never bring shame to his father’s name. In 1899, Charles Edward became heir to the dukedom of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha after the death of his cousin, Alfred, Hereditary Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and left England to continue his education in Germany. Charles Edward didn’t have long to wait before gaining his inheritance as his uncle, Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, died in 1900.
Charles Edward’s mother was disappointed her son would become a German as she had raised him to be a proper Englishman, but she did not stand in his way and the whole family moved to Germany. Charles Edward was taken under the wing of his cousin, Wilhelm II, who devised an educational programme for him and then sent him to a military academy for training. On 19 July 1905, Charles Edward reached his majority and the regency of Ernst, Hereditary Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, came to an end. At the behest of Wilhelm II, Charles Edward married Victoria Adelaide of Schleswig-Holstein, the niece of Empress Augusta Victoria, on 11 October 1905 at Glücksburg Castle. Their first child, Johann Leopold, was born on 2 August 1906, and he would be followed by two more sons and two daughters, including Sibylla, the mother of Carl XVI Gustaf, the current King of Sweden.
When the First World War broke out, Charles Edward decided to ally with Germany, breaking his relationship with the British royal family, and served on staff with an infantry division of the German army. The British royal family changed its name from the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the more English sounding House of Windsor in July 1917. As a consequence, Charles Edward’s name was removed from the register of the Most Noble Order of the Garter and he and his children lost any entitlement to their British titles and styles.
After the war ended, Charles Edward was forced to abdicate from the dukedom of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, however he never actually renounced his throne. The former duke’s possessions were seized, however they managed to retain Schloss Callenberg, Veste Coburg and received financial compensation for lost possessions. Now a private citizen, Charles Edward feared the Communist threat and he began to work towards the restoration of the German monarchy and associated with various right-wing paramilitary and political organisations.
Charles Edward met Adolf Hitler for the first time on 14 October 1922, formally joining the Nazi Party ten years later where he actively campaigned for voters to support Hitler in the presidential election of 1932. By 1936, Charles Edward had been promoted to the rank of Obergruppenführer in the SA after becoming president of the Anglo-German Friendship Society. Charles Edward’s mission was to improve Anglo-German relations and he attended the funeral of George V in the uniform of a Stormtrooper. Charles Edward sent Hitler encouraging reports about the strength of pro-German sentiment among the British aristocracy and about the possibility of a Britain-Germany pact. After the Abdication Crisis, he played host to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor during their private tour of Germany in 1937.
After the outbreak of the Second World War, Charles Edward was too old for active service but his three sons all served in the Wehrmacht and his second son, Hubertus, was killed in action in 1943 after a plane crash. When the war ended, Charles Edward was placed under house arrest by the Americans for his Nazi sympathies and later interred in an encampment once the extent of is actions was revealed. According to the investigation conducted into Charles Edward’s war crimes, he donated considerable sums of money to the Nazi cause and was aware of the true purpose behind the death camps.
Despite pleas from his sister, Alice, for his release, Charles Edward was imprisoned until 1946 but a subsequent trial exonerated him from actual war crimes. In 1950, Charles Edward was convicted by a denazification court for being a Nazi sympathiser and the large fine imposed by the court bankrupted him. Charles Edward’s judgement was lenient, partly due to his failing health but more importantly because his grandson had become heir to the Swedish throne after the untimely death of his father in a plane crash that same year. Having the heir to the throne’s grandfather sentenced to death for Nazi war crimes would have caused great embarrassment to the Swedish royal family.
Forced into poverty, Charles Edward spent his remaining years in seclusion and died of cancer on 6 March 1954. He was buried in the Waldfriedhof Cemetery, near Schloss Callenberg, in Coburg.