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  1. After surviving the usual childhood illnesses, as well as a stint in the Royal Navy, Albert Victor was virtually a shoe-in to one day become King Albert I. Unfortunately a winter chill changed everything.

    Born two months premature in January 1864 at Frogmore House in Windsor, at the time of Albert's birth his grandmother, Queen Victoria, was still on the throne. He wasn't Victoria's first grandchild, but he was the first of her eldest son Edward, Prince of Wales. Therefore Albert was second in line to the throne from birth.

    Prince Albert Victor as a young man in military uniformAlbert and his brother George, younger by seventeen months, were given the same tutor and same education. Neither of them did particularly well, something which could be blamed on poor teaching. But as he grew up Albert showed little interest in anything academic. He learned Danish, but struggled to pick up French and German, languages his parents and grandmother were fluent in. In 1877 both Albert and George were signed up to the navy and sent to the training ship HMS Brittania. Albert fell ill with typhoid but recovered, and by 1879 he was ready to be deployed. He and George spent 3 years travelling the world as crewmen on HMS Bacchante. By the time they returned the pair had seen more of the British Empire than their father and grandmother combined.

    On returning to Britain, Albert was enrolled in Trinity College Cambridge. He still wasn't particularly academic, but he was excused from taking exams so it hardly mattered. He was finally awarded an honorary degree by Cambridge in 1888, three years after he left. Instead of continuing his education he was enrolled in the army, in the 10th Hussars. He trained at Aldershot before being promoted to captain in 1887. But again his lack of talent prevented him going further than Major, and then his classmates proceeded to be promoted above him. He may also have contracted an STD by this point, as letters to his doctor refer to him taking medication that was generally used to treat gonorrhea.

    As an adult Albert was a diffident young man. He was considered to be perfectly affable and good natured, but with no talent and no occupation he quickly grew bored. He might have been given Prince Albert's name, but he was as far as one could get from the kind of King that his grandfather would have wanted. He had inherited his father's interest in card games and pretty women, but unlike Edward he lacked any kind of work ethic.

    In July 1889 the police raided a male brothel in Cleveland Street, London. During interrogation the names of the clients were soon divulged, including Albert's equerry, Lord Albert Somerset. Although Albert's name was never mentioned by any of those arrested, it wasn't long before the association between the two men led to a rumour that Albert also visited the same establishment. This wasn't helped by Somerset's lawyer, who claimed that if his client went to court he would reveal the name of one “P.A.V.” (Prince Albert Victor) who also visited Cleveland Street. Somerset himself fled abroad and refused to condone the rumours about Albert.

    In the end Albert's father the Prince of Wales intervened and made sure that none of the clients would end up in court. For some this is proof that Albert had indeed visited the brothel and his father covered it up as a result. It may be that Albert was bisexual, or followed expectations at the time and been firmly in the closet. Alternatively Somerset's lawyer may have spread the rumours himself to take the focus off his client. But the scandal was enough to prompt the family to step in and draw a line under the matter, and to start hunting for a suitable bride.

    A further scandal enveloped Albert's life long after his death. In the 1960s it was suggested that he could have been Jack the Ripper. However papers from the time show that Albert was no where near London during several of the murders. It's also generally accepted that killer had some kind of surgical skill, well beyond the capabilities of Albert.

    The search for a bride for Albert started as early as 1889. His cousin Princess Alix was considered to be the frontrunner. But when he proposed she declined. She would go on to fall in love with and marry Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. A year later Albert was quite over her, and instead had fallen in love with Princess Helene of Orleans. Originally Queen Victoria was against the match, but the young couple convinced her that they were in love. Always sentimental at heart when it came to love, and with a soft spot for Albert, Victoria decided to give her blessing.

    But other family members were less forthcoming. The Princess' father in particular was opposed to the match, and the Prince of Wales wasn't thrilled either. Helene had offered to convert from Catholicism in order to marry Albert, but her father refused to accept this as a condition. In a desperate attempt to get around her father, Helene even travelled to Rome to appeal to the Pope in person. Why she thought this would work is a mystery, naturally the Pope refused to give her permission to convert from the Church. Ultimately the pair gave up, Helene would go on to marry the Duke of Aosta in 1895.

    But a bride had to be found for Albert, and there was a shortage of suitable women. Apart from his European cousins, Queen Victoria reportedly complained that other potential continental brides were too stupid or too ugly to be considered. However waiting in the wings at home was another relation – Princess Mary “May” of Teck. Mary's mother was a cousin of Queen Victoria, as she was another granddaughter of King George III. Mary was beautiful, educated, down to earth and well liked. She took an active interest in charities and good works, and was considered to be a practical, sensible young woman. The hope was that she would help reform Albert, who was entertaining himself with actresses.

    The Prince was quite taken with his pretty potential bride, and proposed to her in December 1891. Unlike Princess Alix, there was no refusal from Princess Mary. A public announcement was made that the pair were engaged, and the wedding was set for February 1892. Together they moved on to Sandringham to spend the festive season with Albert's family, the Prince and Princess of Wales held Christmas at Sandringham every year. However early in the New Year Albert felt ill while out on a shooting trip in the cold January air. He quickly fell sick with the flu. He struggled through his birthday celebrations on 8 January, but took to his bed shortly after. As his temperature rose he reportedly cried out for Princess Helene. Flu developed in to pneumonia, and he died on 14 January 1892. His death shocked the nation. The sudden loss of a healthy twenty eight year old heir to the throne came out of the blue. He was buried in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle.

    In similar style to Arthur Tudor and Catherine of Aragon, Albert's younger brother Prince George took both the throne and the bride. Mary was still considered good enough to be a Queen Consort, and she had merely been engaged to Albert. George and Mary became close during their period of mourning, and were married in July 1893.


    Last month's Almost King was Henry Stuart.

     

  2. Like many princesses, Madeleine of Valois wanted to be a Queen. Sadly the man that fell for her was the King of a country whose climate wasn't ideal for a young woman in poor health.

    Born in August 1520, Madeleine was the fifth child and third daughter of King Francis I of France and his wife, Claude. By the time of her birth her eldest sister Louise was already dead, but the nursery still had Charlotte, Francis, and Henry. Madeleine herself was followed by Charles in 1522, and Marguerite in 1523.

    Madeleine of Valois in a black dress with white fur draped over her arms.In 1524, just over a year after Marguerite's birth, Claude died at the Château de Blois. Madeleine's sister Princess Charlotte died two months later. The Royal nursery, which was under the care of Madame du Brissac, now fractured. Madeleine and Marguerite were sent to live with their paternal aunt, another Marguerite de Valois, the Duchess of Alencon. A year later Madeleine's father King Francis was captured at the Battle of Pavia, and Young Francis and Henry were sent to Spain as hostages in his place.

    Through the political upheaval Madeleine continued to reside with her aunt, even when Marguerite married the King of Navarre. Marguerite was highly educated, and like her mother Louise of Savoy had gained a reputation as a mediator and diplomat. She was an ideal role model for a Royal princess; clever, witty, generous to the poor, and a patron of artists and writers. She wrote and published poems and plays, and kept up a prolific written correspondence. Although little is known specifically about Madeleine's own education, her aunt would have neglected her duty if she didn't ensure that her two nieces were well educated.

    In 1530 Madeleine moved again. Francis had married for a second time. His new bride was effectively foisted on him as part of the treaty negotiated with Emperor Charles. The new Queen of France was Charles' sister, Eleanor of Austria. A former Queen of Portugal by her first marriage, Eleanor was the niece of Catherine of Aragon. Although Francis married her and had her crowned at Saint-Denis, he was a reluctant groom and preferred the company of his mistress. Although her marriage was unhappy Eleanor was determined to make the most of her new life. She gathered her Royal step-children around her, including the two surviving princesses.

    At some point in her childhood Madeleine appears to have contracted tuberculosis. Her health was fragile, she wasn't strong enough to ride or hunt, and had to be transported in a carriage when the household was on the move. So when King James V of Scotland stated that he wanted to marry her, his proposal was shot down by Francis.

    The problem was that France and Scotland had signed the Treaty of Rouen, one of the terms of which was that a French Princess would be given as a bride to the Scottish king. Francis feared an early death for his daughter if he married her off, she was hardly likely to survive childbirth. Instead he negotiated for James to marry Mary de Bourbon, daughter of the Duke of Vendome. Although James initially agreed, even signing a marriage contract, he still wanted a Princess. He decided to pay a visit to France to view Mary, arriving at Dieppe in September 1536. Ultimately he decided that Mary wasn't the one for him. He'd been promised a Princess, and even the promise of a dowry worthy of one of the Royal blood wasn't enough.

    James had chosen his time badly. Shortly before his arrival the Dauphin Francis had died. The court was officially in mourning, but King Francis invited the Scottish king to meet with him at Lyons. When they met James reminded Francis that the Treaty of Rouen had stipulated a French Princess for a bride. Francis was now caught in an unenviable position; help James break the marriage contract with Mary, and agree to a new bride. Furthermore King Henry VIII, who was James' uncle, had sent word to Francis that he personally objected to any marriage between the two countries.

    Francis managed to juggle his competing issues. Mary was proposed as a bride for the Lorraine family. Henry VIII was facing problems at home so could be safely ignored. The Pope was contacted and agreed to a marriage between Scotland and France. All James needed to do now was pick which of the two French princesses he wished to marry. Francis may have been hoping he would pick Marguerite, who had none of the health problems that plagued her eldest sister.

    But James chose Madeleine. It may even have been a love match, when she was well Madeleine was reportedly charming and lively. She actively wanted to be a Queen, after all she was daughter of the Queen of France, step-daughter to the Queen of Portugal and had been raised by the Queen of Navarre. Her family however were deeply upset. Scotland was considered to be a harsh country. The people were uncivilised, and the climate was too cold and wet for someone with her health problems. She had grown up in the comfort and luxury of the French court, the Scottish one would never be able to match up.

    But Madeleine insisted, and so did James. The marriage contract was signed in November 1536. Madeleine was granted a large dowry, and James agreed she would be given a variety of properties as her dower. On 1 January 1537 the pair were married at Notre Dame cathedral, with King Francis escorting his daughter to the cathedral. The marriage was celebrated with a banquet, followed by several weeks of parties. Francis bestowed a collection of expensive gifts to his daughter and her new husband, from tapestries to beds, and silver plate to carpets.

    As the winter weather improved the Royal family began to move towards the coast for James and Madeleine's departure for Scotland. Madeleine fell ill with a bad fever on the way, and took a long time to recover. They finally reached the coast in May, embarking for Scotland several days later. Their journey was difficult, with bad storms delaying the start of the journey. The ships finally arrived at Leith on 19 May 1537.

    Sadly though Madeleine still hadn't recovered her health from her earlier fever. James wrote to Francis asking him to send over another doctor. She was moved to Fife, where the air was considered to be healthy, but insisted on returning to Edinburgh to be near her husband. She might even have convinced herself that she was on the mend. A letter to her father dated 8 June stated that she was feeling much better.

    Preparations were being made for her coronation. She was writing to Francis asking for some pearls and robes he had promised her, she may have wanted them for her official entry in to Edinburgh. But the return to better health was only brief. She fell ill again and died in James' arms on 7 July, having never had her coronation. She was nicknamed “The Summer Queen” on account of her brief reign as James' wife. Despite his love for his wife James still needed an heir. A year later he was walking down the aisle with another French woman, Mary of Guise. James' own early death meant that Mary had to step up to an unexpected political role, protecting the throne for their daughter Mary. As a result, and due to the shortness of their marriage, Madeleine tends to be forgotten as James' first Queen.


    Last month's Unlucky Princess was Margaret of Norway.

     

  3. Another one of those “could have changed the course of history” princes, Henry Stuart's arrival was greeted with immense relief by the Scottish court. But it wasn't long before his birth showed the stark division between his parents, which would set the scene for the rest of their marriage.

    Born in Stirling Castle on 19 February 1594, baby Henry was the first child of King James VI and his wife, Anne of Denmark. The couple had married in Oslo in November 1589. The years between the marriage and Anne falling pregnant had led to rumours that the couple could not conceive a child together. The birth of a living, healthy male child promptly put a lot of concerns to rest.

    The childhoods of James and Anne could not have been more different. James' mother Mary Queen of Scots had been arrested in June 1567 when her son was just a year old. Eventually she was imprisoned in England before being executed. His father Henry Darnley had been murdered months after his birth. A variety of Regents had come and gone from the young James' life, their own lives cut off by murder, execution, and illness. Thus James grew up with no real sense of a close, loving family life. Anne on the other hand had been initially raised in the home of her maternal grandparents in Mecklenburg, before returning to the Danish court. Her mother Sophia was a dedicated and diligent parent who personally nursed her children through a range of childhood illnesses.Henry Stuart, Prince of Wales

    Thus Anne might have expected to be able to create a warm, homely Royal nursery, starting with baby Henry. Instead James placed the infant in the care of the the Earl of Mar at Stirling Castle, and appointed his own childhood nurse to the household. Anne was furious that she was to have no say in the way Henry was raised, and consistently argued that she should be allowed custody of her own son. James not only refused, but gave instructions that Anne was not even allowed to have custody should James die while the boy was still in his minority. Anne had a miscarriage in 1595 that was reportedly caused by how upset she was over James' refusal.

    In 1603 Queen Elizabeth died, making James the new King James I of England. Anne finally got her chance to see her son again, refusing to move south to join the King unless she could have custody of Henry. James finally agreed, and mother and son travelled down from Scotland to London together. By this point Henry was an older brother to Elizabeth and Charles, a baby sister named Margaret had died a few months after her first birthday in 1600. Elizabeth joined her mother and brother on their journey to England, but Charles was a sickly child. Rather than risk his life and health with a strenuous journey, he was left in the care of Lord Fyvie until he was well enough to join the family a year later.

    Henry's education had begun in Scotland under the tutelage of Sir George Lauder, apparently with regular input from James, who took a keen interest in his son's learning. Henry was educated with his future in mind, studying current national affairs as well as the usual subjects. Unfortunately this put him on course to clash with his father. Not only did he disagree with his father on policy, he disliked his father's favourites and the running of the court. He was reportedly strict on his own household, fining members who were caught swearing, and ensuring the whole household attended regular church services.

    His position as heir to the throne also put Henry in the same danger as his father. The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 had the intention of killing both father and son in the explosion. Assuming that Charles would either be killed or too weak to pose a problem, the plotters intended to put Henry's sister Elizabeth on the throne. She was young enough for a Regency to be needed, she could be raised as a Catholic and married to a Catholic prince, and through her the country would return to Catholicism. The discovery of the plot led to a sense of national relief that the King and his heirs had survived, and created a boost of popularity.

    As he grew older the gulf between father and son also grew. Henry was handsome, physically strong, and intelligent. His younger brother Charles appears to have emulated him, and his attempts to keep up with his brother led to positive changes in his health over the years. Henry was confident and appears to have been a natural leader. He was interested in affairs of state, was kept abrest of activities in Ireland and the American colonies, and was not afraid to debate policy with his father. In one incident he and James argued while out hunting near the King's favourite lodge in Royston, Hertfordshire. The pair nearly came to blows before Henry decided to leave, and some members of the court followed him rather than stay with the King. They were already starting to mark the rising star, and the potential rewards that would follow when he inherited the throne.

    The matter of Henry's future marriage was a key policy area for many years. In 1605 James began to investigate a Spanish match for his eldest son. This was apparently at the suggestion of Queen Anne, who wanted highly prestigious marriages for her children. Spain had Infanta Anne, born in 1601, and Infanta Maria Anna, born in 1606, the original proposal may have been for Anne (who later became Queen of France). By 1612 the Spanish were refusing the match unless Henry converted to Catholicism. Even if James had been willing to support such a demand, Henry had been raised with a series of Calvinist preachers in his household and was a dedicated Protestant.

    The match may have been renegotiated were it not for Henry's early death. In October 1612 Frederick, Count Palatine of the Rhine, arrived at the English court as the betrothed of Henry's sister Princess Elizabeth. Their mother Anne disapproved of the match, she wanted Elizabeth to be a Queen. However Henry and Frederick appear to have become good friends in a short space of time. Elizabeth was close to her older brother, and was relieved that he got on well with her future husband.

    Sadly the friendship did not last long. During the celebrations for Frederick and Elizabeth, Henry suddenly fell ill with typhoid fever. He died on 6 November 1612 at St James' Palace, plunging the previously joyful court in to deep mourning. Charles and Elizabeth were devastated at the sudden loss of their brother, and Queen Anne was so upset that it permanently affected her health. Henry was buried in Westminster Abbey on 7 December, with Charles as chief mourner.

    Like the Black Prince and Arthur Tudor, Henry was considered one of the great losses to English kingship. Charles' problems as King may have been avoided had it been Henry on the throne. In reality Henry may have faced the same accusations of acting like a tyrant, depending on how his own policies turned out.


    Last month's Almost King was a trio - the sons of King Edward I.

     

  4. In 1543 King Henry VIII signed the Treaty of Greenwich, which included the betrothal of the future King Edward VI of England to his cousin, Mary the future Queen of Scots. Such a marriage could potentially have united the two crowns through the birth of one son and heir. Ultimately it failed as Edward died and Mary married the French Dauphin. But it wasn’t the first time such a marriage had been mooted, and it had also ended with an early death.

    The life of Margaret "the Maid of Norway" was brief and sad. Born in 1283, she was the only child of King Eric II of Norway and his wife Margaret of Scotland, whose father was King Alexander III of Scotland. When Margaret of Scotland married in 1281 the possibility that the Scottish throne might fall to her was being considered – she only had one younger brother still living. King Alexander was aware of the problems this could cause and set out several documents detailing who should inherit and when. 

    Margaret’s birth in 1283 was a mixture of joy and sadness for Alexander. It gave him another new heir but was followed by the death of her mother soon after she was born. Alexander was now reduced to a son and a baby granddaughter. He remarried in November 1285 to Yolande of Dreux. But King Alexander died in five months later in March 1286 after a riding accident. Out riding at night he appears to have missed the edge of a steep embankment. His body was found the next morning with a broken neck. Scotland held it’s breath as Queen Yolande was reportedly pregnant. The chronicles don’t mention what happened to her baby, leaving historians to presume she miscarried. When it became clear that Alexander’s only direct biological heir was three-year-old Margaret, the Bruce family rebelled. 

    Alexander had seen the problems that his death could cause, and had appointed a group of Guardians to rule until Margaret came of age. After the Bruce rebellion fizzled out the Guardians were reluctant to move to punish them. They seem to have been equally as reluctant to summon their toddler Queen. In the end King Eric appealed to King Edward I of England. 

    Edward I proposed the union of the two countries. His eldest son and heir, Edward of Carnarvon, would marry Margaret. Together they would be King and Queen of England and Scotland, and their future son would inherit both thrones. Having spent most of his reign battering the Welsh, the thought of adding the Scottish crown to the Plantagenet domains was just too tempting for the King. Especially since both Prince Edward and Princess Margaret were still children and therefore a long regency would be needed.

    Margaret of course was being raised in the Norwegian court by her father. Eric wouldn’t remarry until ten years after his wife’s death. Actual records about Margaret’s life are scarce, but she would have been cared for in a nursery, albeit without the company of siblings.

    In late August 1290 she was finally dispatched from Norway, bound for the island of Orkney. But on the journey over the North Sea the young princess fell ill. Her escort reached Orkney and disembarked for more comfortable quarters (and hopefully better care) but it was in vain. Margaret died on 26 September aged just 7 years old. She never saw Scotland or met her intended bridegroom. Her death plunged Scotland in to a constitutional crisis as two separate branches of the extended Royal family fought over the throne. Her body was taken back to Norway where her grieving father had her buried next to her mother in Christ Church cathedral, Bergen. Her grave, and that of her mother, was lost when the church was destroyed in 1531.


    Last month's Unlucky Princess was Ingeborg of Denmark.

  5. Edward I and his wife Eleanor of Castile are known for having a large brood of children. Eleanor is believed to have given birth to sixteen children. However many of these children died young, and it took a long time before they had a surviving male heir. Edward of Carnarvon was the youngest of the sixteen and the fourth boy born to the couple. Had they survived, any of his brothers would have been King of England instead of him.

    John

    Naming the eldest son after their paternal grandfather was very common, but it might have been best to skip it in the case of baby John. Edward’s grandfather King John had been disaster. But that doesn’t seem to have stopped Edward and Eleanor using the name, perhaps they thought they might be able to ensure that King John II would be a better monarch? When baby John was born on 13 July 1266 he was the fourth child and first boy. However his three sisters had all died by the time of his birth. Eleanor’s first daughter had been stillborn in 1255, Katherine had died in 1264 at just three years old, and Joanna had died in 1265 before her first birthday.

    John seems to have been healthier than his sisters as he lived longer than any of them. But he died weeks after his fifth birth, in August 1271. At the time of his death his parents were on Crusade, John had been left in the care of Richard, Earl of Cornwall, the younger brother of Edward’s father King Henry III. The extended family arranged for John to be buried in Westminster Abbey.Prince Henry

    Henry

    Henry was born sometime in the spring of 1268 at Windsor Castle. At the time of his birth his older brother John was still alive, making Henry the “spare” to the heir. He was named for his English grandfather. The family don’t appear to have recycled first names but had John died before Henry then he may have taken his brother’s name as well as his place in line for the throne.

    Henry’s parents left on crusade in 1270, leaving Henry also in the care of Great Uncle Richard. After John’s death in 1271 Henry became the new heir to the throne. John's death was followed by Richard in April 1272, at which point Henry seems to have been moved to live with his paternal grandmother Eleanor of Provence. This was followed by the death of King Henry III in November 1272, while Edward was still in the Middle East. Henry was now just one step away from the throne. Had Edward died in Crusade a long regency would have ensued before King Henry IV would have been of age. In 1273 he was betrothed to Joan of Navarre, who would have been Queen of England (she instead became Queen of France). Toys were provided for the growing boy including a small trumpet and a set of toy arrows.

    Sadly Henry predeceased his father too. He fell sick in 1274 while residing at Guildford. Having spent several years in the care of his paternal grandmother Eleanor of Provence it was fitting that she looked after him in his final illness. Edward and Eleanor have come in for criticism for not making the short journey from London to Guildford to visit him. However they had been abroad for most of Henry's short life, his grandmother was the better person to be with him. His mother was also pregnant at the time and it may have been fear of infection that kept the Royal parents away from their son. Like his brother he was buried in Westminster Abbey.

    AlphonsoAlphonsoOfEngland

    Alphonso, Earl of Chester, has his own earlier blog post on this site. He was born in November 1273 while his parents were residing in Gascony. With big brother Henry still alive at the time there was nothing to suggest that Alphonso would one day be King, he was the spare to the heir. But Henry's death in October 1274 propelled the 11 month old forward in the line of succession.

    Given that Alphonso was the last surviving son to be born in to the family for 11 years (a baby boy died shortly after birth sometime in 1280 or 1281, 5 daughters were born between Alphonso in 1273 and Edward in 1284), precautions must have been taken for his health. The Royal nursery appears to have been situated in the Tower of London while the Royal couple resided in Westminster. This gave the King and Queen easy access to their children while keeping them away from the crowds at court.

    And like Henry with his toy arrows, Alphonso received his own set of playthings including a model castle and possibly some toy soldiers. As he grew older he was given more grown-up presents, including hawks and greyhounds for hunting. A wife was also proposed for him. Rather than pick up the dropped Joan of Navarre, Alphonso was betrothed to Margaret of Holland. A beautiful psalter was created as one of the wedding gifts for the future happy event.

    Bad luck struck the family once more in August 1284, when Alphonso died suddenly while his parents were in Wales. The family were devastated, not only was Alphonso starting to reach the age when he could have been groomed for government, but his death left the only son as a tiny 4 month old boy, Edward. The psalter created for his wedding was instead gifted to his sister Margaret when she married John of Brabant, and now resides in the British Library.

    Altogether there were three boys who could have been, between them, King John II, King Henry IV, or King Alphonso I. Instead England got King Edward II. It didn't work out well.


    Last month's Almost King was William Adelin