Alfred Ernest Albert, Duke of Edinburgh and Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha 1844-1900, second son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, was born at Windsor Castle on 6 Aug. 1844. In 1856 Lieutenant (afterwards Sir John) Cowell of the royal engineers was appointed his governor, and in October 1857 he was established at Alverbank, a cottage near Gosport, where he was prepared for the navy by the Rev. William Rowe Jolley, a chaplain and naval instructor. It was the wish of the prince consort that the boy should pass the usual entry examination, which he did in August 1858, when he was appointed to the Euryalus, a 50-gun screw frigate, specially commissioned by Captain John Walter Tarleton, well known as a good and careful officer. The Euryalus went in the first instance to the Mediterranean, and afterwards to the Cape of Good Hope and Natal, giving the young prince the opportunity for an excursion into the Orange Free State. On his return to Cape Town he tilted (on 17 Sept. 1860) the first load of stones into the sea for the breakwater in Table Bay. From the Cape the Euryalus went to the West Indies, and returned to England in August 1861. The prince was then appointed to the St. George with Captain the Hon. Francis Egerton for service in the Channel, North America, West Indies, and the Mediterranean, being, by the special desire of his father, treated on board as the other midshipmen; on shore he occasionally took his place as the son of the queen. It was not, however, considered necessary, or indeed advisable, to subject him to the prescribed limits of age and service.
In the winter of 1862-3 a prospect of securing a foreign throne was suddenly presented to Prince Alfred, and as suddenly withdrawn. The citizens of the kingdom of Greece, having deprived their despotic king, Otho, of the crown, marked their confidence in England by bestowing the dignity on the queen of England's second son by an overwhelming majority of votes, cast on an appeal to universal suffrage (6-15 Dec. 1862). The total number of votes given was 241,202; of these Prince Alfred received 230,016. His election, which was hailed throughout Greece with unqualified enthusiasm, was ratified by the National Assembly (3 Feb. 1863). The queen was not averse to Prince Alfred's acceptance of the honour, but Lord Palmerston, the prime minister, with Earl Russell, the foreign secretary, knew that the proposal contravened an arrangement already entered into with Russia and France, whereby no prince of any of these countries could ascend the throne of Greece. Accordingly, the crown was refused. At Lord Russell's suggestion, however, negotiations were opened with Prince Alfred's uncle, Duke Ernest of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, with a view to his filling the vacant office, but it was deemed essential that Duke Ernest, who was childless, should, if he assented, renounce at once his duchy of Saxe-Coburg in favour of his nephew, Prince Alfred. This condition Duke Ernest and his council declined to entertain, and the Greek throne was finally accepted (30 March 1863) by (William) George, second son of Prince Christian of Sleswig-Holstein-Glücksburg, who, in accordance with an earlier treaty, soon became king of Denmark (15 Nov. 1863). Meanwhile Alexandra, the sister of the newly chosen king of Greece and daughter of Prince Christian, married, on 10 March 1863, Prince Alfred's brother, the Prince of Wales. One result of these transactions was the formal execution by the Prince of Wales, who was the next heir to his uncle Ernest of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in the succession to the throne of that duchy, of a deed of renunciation, which transferred his title in the duchy to Alfred, his next brother (19 April 1863). After more than thirty years the deed took effect (Malmesbury, Memoirs, p. 567; Duke Ernest of Saxe-Coburg, Memoirs, iv. 85-90; Finlay, History of Greece, vii. 289 seq.).
Meanwhile, Prince Alfred steadily pursued his career in the British navy. On 24 Feb. 1863 he was promoted to be lieutenant of the Racoon with Captain Count Gleichen [see Victor, Suppl.] In her he continued for three years, and on 23 Feb. 1866 he was promoted to be captain (passing over the intermediate rank of commander). At the same time he was granted by parliament an income of 15,000l. a year, dating back to the day of his majority (6 Aug. 1865), and on the queen's birthday (24 May 1866) he was created Duke of Edinburgh and Earl of Ulster and Kent. The orders of the Garter, Thistle, and St. Patrick, Grand Cross of the Bath, St. Michael and St. George, Star of India, Indian Empire, and all the principal foreign orders were conferred on him. In March 1866 he was elected master of the Trinity House; in June he received the freedom of the city of London.
In January 1867 he commissioned the Galatea, and in her visited Rio Janeiro, the Cape, Adelaide, Melbourne, Tasmania, and Sydney. At this last place he was shot in the back by an Irishman named O'Farrell (12 March 1868). The wound was fortunately trifling, but the indignation excited was very great, and O'Farrell was tried, convicted, and executed in the course of a few weeks. The Galatea returned to England in the summer of 1868. After a short stay she again sailed for the far East, visiting India, China, and Japan, where the duke was honourably received by the Mikado. The Galatea returned to England and was paid off in the summer of 1871. In February 1876 the duke was appointed to the ironclad Sultan, one of the fleet in the Mediterranean under Sir Geoffrey Thomas Phipps Hornby [qv.]. With Hornby he proved himself an apt pupil. He attained a particular reputation for his skill in maneuvring a fleet, and that not as a prince, but as a naval officer.
On 30 Dec. 1878 he was promoted, by order in council, to the rank of rear-admiral, and in November 1879 was appointed to the command of the naval reserve, which he held for three years. During that period he mustered the coastguard ships each summer, and organised them as a fleet in the North Sea or the Baltic. On 30 Nov. 1882 he was promoted to be vice-admiral, and from December 1883 to December 1884 commanded the Channel squadron. From 1886 to 1889 he was commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean, and it was specially at this time that his skill in handling a fleet was most talked of. It was commonly said that, with the exception of Hornby, no one in modern times could be compared with him. On 18 Oct. 1887 he was made an admiral, and from 1890 to 1893 he was commander-in-chief at Devonport. On 3 June 1893 he was promoted to the rank of admiral of the fleet.
A little more than two months afterwards, 22 Aug. 1893, on the death of his father's brother, he succeeded him as reigning duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, in virtue of the renunciation in 1863 by his brother, the Prince of Wales, of the title to that duchy. The question was then raised whether as a German sovereign prince he could retain his privileges as an English peer or his rank as an English admiral of the fleet. This last he was permitted to hold by an order in council of 23 Nov. 1893, but it was understood that he had no longer a voice or seat in the House of Lords. He relinquished, too, the income of 15,000l. which had been settled on him on attaining his majority, but kept the further 10,000l. which was granted on his marriage in 1874, as an allowance to keep up Clarence House, London, where he resided for a part of each year. In Germany there were many who affected to resent the intrusion of a foreigner among the princes of the empire; but among his own subjects he speedily overcame hostile prejudices, adapting himself to his new duties and new surroundings, and taking an especial interest in all that concerned the agricultural and industrial prosperity of the duchies. A keen sportsman, a man of refined tastes, passionately fond of music, and a good performer on the violin, he was yet of a somewhat reserved disposition which prevented him from being so popular as his brothers; but by those who were in a position to know him best he was admired and esteemed. He died suddenly at Rosenau, near Coburg, on 30 July 1900 of paralysis of the heart, which, it was understood, saved him from the torture of a slow death by an internal disease of a malignant nature. He was buried on 4 Aug. in the mausoleum erected by his uncle Duke Ernest II in the cemetery at Coburg.
Duke Alfred married, at St. Petersburg on 23 Jan. 1874, the Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna, only daughter of the Tsar of Russia, Alexander II, and left by her four daughters, three of whom married in their father's lifetime, in each case before completing their eighteenth year. The eldest daughter, Princess Marie Alexandra Victoria (b. 29 Oct. 1875), married, 10 Jan. 1893, Ferdinand, crown prince of Roumania; the second daughter, Princess Victoria Melita (b. 25 Nov. 1876), married, on 19 April 1894, her first cousin Louis, grand duke of Hesse; the third daughter, Princess Alexandra Louise Olga Victoria (b. 1 Sept. 1878), married the Hereditary Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg on 20 April 1896; the fourth daughter, Princess Beatrice Leopoldine Victoria, was born on 20 April 1884.
Duke Alfred's only son, Alfred Alexander William Ernest Albert, born on 15 Oct. 1874, died of phthisis at Meran on 6 Feb. 1899. The succession to the duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha thus passed, on the renunciation both of Duke Alfred's next brother, the Duke of Connaught, and of his son, to Duke Alfred's nephew, the Duke of Albany, posthumous son of his youngest brother, Leopold, duke of Albany, Queen Victoria's youngest son.
A portrait of the duke by Von Angeli, dated 1875, is at Windsor, together with a picture of the ceremony of his marriage at St. Petersburg, which was painted by N. Chevalier.
Times, 1 Aug. 1900
Army and Navy Gazette, 4 Aug.
Milner and Briarley's Cruise of Her Majesty's ship Galatea, 1867-8
Sir Theodore Martin's Life of the Prince Consort
Prothero's Life and Letters of Dean Stanley
Contributor: J. K. L. [John Knox Laughton]