A Problem Child

Leopold George Duncan Albert was born at Buckingham Palace on 7 April 1853 and was the eighth child and youngest son of Queen Victoria and Albert, Prince Consort.

Leopold 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, George V of Hanover; his fourth cousin once removed, Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach; his first cousin once removed, Mary Adelaide of Cambridge; and his maternal uncle by marriage, Ernst of Hohenlohe-Langenburg.

Leopold was an intelligent child and his aptitude was noticed early on, however it also became obvious he had a serious health problem and he was eventually diagnosed with haemophilia. Haemophilia is an inherited genetic disorder which impairs the body’s ability to make blood clots, a process needed to stop bleeding, and results in people bleeding longer after an injury, easy bruising, and an increased risk of bleeding inside joints or the brain. There were no indications of haemophilia in the royal family prior to Leopold’s birth which has added fuel to the speculation Queen Victoria was not fathered by the Duke of Kent as history has stated, however this thinking has been dismissed.

Queen Victoria seems to have developed the Haemophilia B mutation spontaneously, possibly due to the fact her father was in his fifties when she was conceived as the probability of spontaneous mutation is known to increase with paternal age. Since genetic mutation is located on the X chromosome, a male has a 50% chance of becoming haemophiliac if his mother is a carrier. Since a female has two X chromosomes, one from each parent, the mutated chromosome will be cancelled out by the healthy chromosome so the female cannot become haemophiliac, however there is still a chance the mutated chromosome will be passed down to their offspring.

Leopold was the only one of Queen Victoria’s sons to be haemophiliac so he inherited the mutated X chromosome while his brothers didn’t. Two of Queen Victoria’s daughters, Alice and Beatrice also inherited the mutated chromosome as they went on to have haemophiliac sons and their daughters passed it on to the royal families of Spain, Germany and Russia. Since the daughter of a male haemophiliac will always inherit his mutation, Leopold’s daughter, Alice, was a carrier and she passed it down to her son, Rupert, who died from injuries sustained in a car crash. Leopold’s son, Charles Edward, inheriting his X chromosome from his mother, was unaffected.

A Willing Bride

Queen Victoria was disgusted by her son’s perpetual illnesses but at the same time, she was fiercely overprotective and wanted to control every aspect of his life. However, Leopold longed for a normal life like his older brothers and was determined to escape his mother’s clutches by marrying. Leopold struggled to find a bride who would overlook his condition until his mother suggested he meet Helen of Waldeck and Pyrmont. Helen was an intelligent woman who loved solving mathematical problems and reading philosophy, and her father had had made her superintendent of the infant schools in his principality where she devised the curriculum. However. more importantly, Helen was a genuinely kind person who had a great deal of interest in people’s welfare.

After a few meetings, the young couple found they had a lot in common and when Leopold finally proposed, Helen accepted much to his relief. Leopold and Helen were married on 27 April 1882 at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, and they settled into their new home at Claremont, Surrey. The marriage was a happy one and it wasn’t long before their first child, Alice, was born on 25 February 1883.

Tragically, the marriage was destined to be short-lived as Leopold fell while relaxing at his Cannes residence and died from a cerebral haemorrhage on 28 March 1884. Helen was pregnant with their second child, Charles Edward, who was born four months later. Leopold was the second of Queen Victoria’s children to die before her and he was buried in the Albert Memorial Chapel at Windsor.