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Prince Alfred of Great Britain

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Prince Alfred of Great Britain
Painting of Octavius as a young boy with short, wispy blonde hair, wearing a white garment with a pink sash
Portrait by Thomas Gainsborough, 1782
Born(1780-09-22)22 September 1780
Windsor Castle, Windsor, Berkshire, England
Died20 August 1782(1782-08-20) (aged 1)
Lower Lodge, Windsor Great Park, England
Burial27 August 1782
HouseHanover
FatherGeorge III
MotherCharlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz

Prince Alfred of Great Britain (22 September 1780 – 20 August 1782)[1] was the fourteenth child and ninth and youngest son of George III and his queen consort, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. In 1782, Alfred became unwell after his inoculation against the smallpox virus. His early death, along with the demise of his brother Prince Octavius six months later, deeply distressed the royal family. In his later bouts of madness, King George had imagined conversations with both of his youngest sons.

Life[edit]

Prince Alfred was born on 22 September 1780, at Windsor Castle.[2][3] He was the fourteenth child and ninth and youngest son of King George III and his queen consort, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz,[4] and as such, was a member of the House of Hanover. By the time Alfred was born, his eldest brothers were already near adult age.[5] The prince was baptised by Frederick Cornwallis, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the Great Council Chamber at St James's Palace on 21 October 1780. His godparents were his elder siblings George, Prince of Wales; Prince Frederick; and Charlotte, Princess Royal.[3][6][7] Alfred's birth brought joy to his family, especially to his older sister Princess Sophia, who, their sister Princess Elizabeth reported, called the new baby her "grandson".[8] From birth, Alfred was a delicate child. He suffered from "eruptions" on his face and, throughout his life, a cough.[9]

Death and aftermath[edit]

Portrait titled The Apotheosis of Prince Octavius. It depicts Prince Octavius and several angels on clouds, the largest of whom is motioning the prince towards his brother Alfred. Painted by Benjamin West in 1783.
The Apotheosis of Prince Octavius in 1783, by Benjamin West. Alfred (left) welcomes his brother Octavius (right) into Heaven.

During the time of Prince Alfred, smallpox was a disease dreaded by royalty and commoners alike,[10] and due to a lack of medical development, it was frequently fatal.[11] Around 1796, Edward Jenner introduced inoculation, a novel method of smallpox immunisation.[10] Queen Charlotte, Alfred's mother, was a lifelong advocate of inoculation, and she had the royal children undergo the procedure.[12] Variolation, its precursor, was popularised in Britain when the daughters of King George II, then Prince of Wales, underwent the procedure in 1721.[13]

In 1782, Prince Alfred was inoculated against smallpox. The inoculation had a negative effect on the Prince's health. Alfred's face and eyelids suffered from eruptions caused by the inoculation, and his chest was also in poor condition.[14] In June, he was taken to Deal with his governess Lady Charlotte Finch and nurse Mrs Cheveley to recover.[15][9] Physicians hoped that the sea air, bathing in the water, and horseback riding would improve his condition.[14][16] In letters to her friend Mary Hamilton, Lady Charlotte wrote that "there is no doubt of the seabathing agreeing with him [Prince Alfred]... and his appetite [is] so good that he must gain ground".[17] While he was there, Alfred endeared himself to many with his charm and good nature.[14] Despite this, he continued to break out in spots and his chest was troubling him.[14] In early July, Lady Charlotte reported that Alfred was beginning to recover but, later that month, his condition deteriorated to the point that he was unable to walk.[17] In August, Prince Alfred, Lady Charlotte, and Mrs Cheveley returned to Windsor Castle due to his worsening condition. Upon their return, doctors gathered to discuss the Prince's health and concluded that the boy had only weeks to live. After suffering bouts of fever and continuing problems with his chest,[18] Prince Alfred died between four and five in the afternoon on 20 August,[19][20][21] at Lower Lodge, Windsor Great Park, only one year old.[22]

Although the household did not go into mourning (it was not prescribed for royal children younger than seven),[22] his parents took the loss harshly. According to Lady Charlotte, Queen Charlotte "cried vastly" and was "very much hurt by her loss and the King also".[22] Later that August, the Queen sent Lady Charlotte a lock of Alfred's hair bound in a locket made of pearl and amethyst,[22] stating "Receive This ... as an Acknowledgement for Your very affectionate attendance upon my dear little Angel Alfred, and wear the inclosed Hair, not only in remembrance of that dear Object, but also as a mark of esteem from Your Affectionate Queen".[23] Alfred was buried at Westminster Abbey on 27 August,[2][24] though his remains were later moved to the Royal Vault in St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle on 11 February 1820.[25][26] Six months after Alfred's death, his elder brother Octavius succumbed to the smallpox virus, further devastating the King,[27][28][29] although he was more deeply impacted by the latter's death.[30][31] Horace Walpole relayed to Sir Horace Mann that the King had declared "I am very sorry for Alfred; but had it been Octavius, I should have died too."[32][33] Alfred's father continued to dwell on his sons' deaths, and the sight of Alfred's posthumous portrait in a family painting by Thomas Gainsborough nearly a year after the Prince's death sent his three eldest sisters into tears, and the King and Queen were also visibly touched.[34][35] During one of his bouts of madness in 1812, George had imaginary conversations with his two youngest sons.[27][note 1]

The first of George III and Queen Charlotte's children to die,[24][36] Alfred died in 1782, whereas his older sister Princess Mary, who was the last survivor of George III and Queen Charlotte's fifteen children, died in 1857.[37] Alfred is also unique among their first fourteen children for never being an older sibling while he was alive, as the only child younger than him was born after his death.[38]

Title and style[edit]

Throughout his entire life, Alfred was styled as His Royal Highness The Prince Alfred, with the title of a Prince of Great Britain and Ireland.[19]

Ancestry[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Jeremy Black lists these conversations occurring in 1812, while Kenneth Panton believes they happened the previous year, in 1811.[24]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Curzon 2020, p. XII.
  2. ^ a b Weir 2008, p. 300.
  3. ^ a b Hall 2010, p. 236.
  4. ^ Hedley 1975, p. 344.
  5. ^ Hadlow 2014, p. 192.
  6. ^ Sheppard 1894, p. 59.
  7. ^ Watkins 1819, p. 276.
  8. ^ Fraser 2004, p. 65.
  9. ^ a b Hadlow 2014, p. 291.
  10. ^ a b Riedel, Stefan (January 2005). "Edward Jenner and the history of smallpox and vaccination". Proceedings (Baylor University. Medical Center). Baylor University Medical Center. 18 (1): 21–25. doi:10.1080/08998280.2005.11928028. PMC 1200696. PMID 16200144.
  11. ^ Koplow 2003, p. 9.
  12. ^ Hedley 1975, p. 99.
  13. ^ Koplow 2003, p. 17.
  14. ^ a b c d Fraser 2004, p. 71.
  15. ^ Watkins 1819, p. 282.
  16. ^ Hadlow 2014, pp. 291–292.
  17. ^ a b Hadlow 2014, p. 292.
  18. ^ Fraser 2004, pp. 72–73.
  19. ^ a b "No. 12324". The London Gazette. 20 August 1782. p. 1.
  20. ^ Hedley 1975, p. 126.
  21. ^ Holt 1820, p. 251.
  22. ^ a b c d Fraser 2004, p. 72.
  23. ^ "RA GEO/ADD/15/443a-b - Letter from Queen Charlotte to Lady Charlotte Finch, probably August 1782". Georgian Papers Project. Royal Collection Trust. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  24. ^ a b c Panton 2011, p. 39.
  25. ^ "Royal Burials in the Chapel since 1805". College of St. George. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011.
  26. ^ "Royal Burials in the Chapel by location". College of St. George. Archived from the original on 22 January 2010.
  27. ^ a b Black 2006, p. 156.
  28. ^ Fraser 2004, pp. 74–77.
  29. ^ Hedley 1975, p. 127.
  30. ^ Black 2006, p. 256.
  31. ^ Curzon 2020, p. 86.
  32. ^ Walpole & Cunningham 1891, p. 363.
  33. ^ Hadlow 2014, p. 293.
  34. ^ Fraser 2004, p. 73.
  35. ^ Hadlow 2014, p. 296.
  36. ^ Hibbert 2000, p. 99.
  37. ^ Fraser 2004, pp. xii–xiii, 399.
  38. ^ Fraser 2004, pp. xii–xiii, 74–75.
  39. ^ von Ammon 1768, p. 5.

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]