by Susan Flantzer © Unofficial Royalty 2013
Note: Prince Alfred is “of Great Britain” because it was not until 1801, after his death, that his father’s title changed to “of the United Kingdom.”
Prince Alfred was born at Windsor Castle in Windsor, England on September 22, 1780, the ninth and youngest son and fourteenth child of King George III and his wife Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Alfred was probably a “blue baby” due to a heart defect and was always in delicate health.
Alfred was christened on October 21, 1780, in the Great Council Chamber at St. James’ Palace in London, England by Frederick Cornwallis, The Archbishop of Canterbury. His godparents were:
- The Prince of Wales, his brother, the future King George IV
- Prince Frederick, his second brother
- Charlotte, Princess Royal, his eldest sister, the future Queen of Württemberg
Alfred had fourteen siblings:
- King George IV (1762 – 1830), married Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, had issue: Princess Charlotte of Wales who died in childbirth as did her child
- Prince Frederick, Duke of York (1763 – 1827), married Frederica of Prussia, no issue
- King William IV (1765 – 1837), married Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, no surviving legitimate issue, has illegitimate descendants
- Charlotte, Princess Royal (1766 – 1828), married King Friedrich I of Württemberg, no surviving issue
- Prince Edward, Duke of Kent (1767 – 1820), married Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, had issue: Queen Victoria, present British Royal Family are his descendants
- Princess Augusta Sophia (1768 – 1840), never married, no issue
- Princess Elizabeth (1770 – 1840), married Friedrich, Landgrave of Hesse-Homburg, no issue
- King Ernest Augustus I of Hanover, Duke of Cumberland (1771 – 1851), married Friederike of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; had issue
- Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773 – 1843), married twice, both in contravention of the Royal Marriages Act of 1772 1) Lady Augusta Murray, had issue, marriage annulled 2) Lady Cecilia Buggin (later 1st Duchess of Inverness), no issue
- Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge (1774 – 1850), married Augusta of Hesse-Kassel, had issue, present British Royal Family are his descendants through his granddaughter Mary of Teck who married King George V of the United Kingdom
- Princess Mary (1776 – 1857), married Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester, no issue
- Princess Sophia (1777 – 1848), never married, possible illegitimate issue
- Prince Octavius (1779 – 1783), died in childhood
- Princess Amelia (1783 – 1810), never married, no issue
Smallpox, now eradicated, was a serious contagious disease that killed many and left many survivors scarred. The disease knew no class boundaries and royalty was as likely to suffer from it as the common folk. Smallpox was a leading cause of death in the 18th century. It killed an estimated 400,000 Europeans each year in the 18th century. By having their children inoculated against smallpox, King George III and Queen Charlotte were trying to protect them and starting down the long road that would eventually lead to the eradication of this terrible disease. During the 17th century, the British House of Stuart was greatly affected by smallpox. King William III’s parents William II, Prince of Orange and Mary, Princess Royal (daughter of King Charles I) both died of smallpox as did King William III’s wife and co-ruler Queen Mary II. Other Stuarts who died from smallpox were: Henry, Duke of Gloucester (son of King Charles I), Charles, Duke of Cambridge (son of King James II), and William, Duke of Gloucester (only surviving child of Queen Anne). In addition, King Charles II, Henrietta (daughter of King Charles I), King William III, and Queen Anne all had smallpox and survived.
Before Edward Jenner developed the smallpox vaccine that contained the cowpox virus in 1796 and that ultimately lead to the eradication of smallpox, there was another way to possibly prevent smallpox called variolation and it was first seen in China in the fifteenth century. Live smallpox virus in the liquid taken from a smallpox blister in a mild case of the disease was put into a cut of a healthy person who developed a very mild case of smallpox. However, there was some risk in using a live virus. About 3% of those inoculated developed a severe case of smallpox and died but that was preferable to catching smallpox with its mortality rate of 20–40% and scarred survivors. In 1722, King George I allowed the inoculation of two of his grandchildren, the children of the Prince and Princess of Wales, and they survived. The inoculation gained acceptance and was used until Edward Jenner developed his much safer vaccination using the cowpox virus instead of the smallpox virus.
Two of the 3% who died after receiving the smallpox inoculation were the two younger sons of King George III, Prince Octavius and Prince Alfred.
In 1782, Alfred received the smallpox vaccination by having two small holes made in each arm with the point of a lancet. The smallpox virus was then “inserted” by drawing a thread several times under the skin. After the inoculation, Alfred did not recover as he should have, so he was taken to Deal by the sea, in hopes that the sea air and saltwater would help. However, the air and water did not help. His face and his eyelids had eruptions from the smallpox inoculation and he had difficulty with breathing. There was not much improvement when Alfred returned to Windsor Castle in August. The doctors agreed that he would survive for only a few weeks more which came as a great shock to his family.
After suffering from prolonged bouts of fever, Alfred died on August 20, 1782, a month short of his second birthday. However, there was no formal mourning for Alfred as it was not customary for the deaths of those under the age of seven. Alfred was initially buried at Westminster Abbey in London, England. His remains were moved to the Royal Tomb House at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle on February 11, 1820, shortly after his father’s death. Alfred was the first of his parents’ fifteen children to die and his parents were devastated. Lady Charlotte Finch, the children’s governess, reported that Queen Charlotte “cried vastly at first and…though very reasonable – she dwelt on her good fortune in having thirteen healthy children…and she was very much hurt by her loss and the King also.”
King George said that if it had been three-year-old Prince Octavius who had died, he would have died too. Ironically, less than a year later, on May 3, 1783, Prince Octavius died also from complications of a smallpox inoculation. King George said, “There will be no Heaven for me if Octavius is not there.”
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