The Usual Suspect; Smeared by a Sex Scandal and a Rumour That He Was Jack the Ripper, Prince Eddy Was Airbrushed from History. A New TV Show Asks Whether His Death Saved Britain from a Monster or Cheated It of a Good King

Daily Mail (London), November 19, 2005 | Go to article overview

The Usual Suspect; Smeared by a Sex Scandal and a Rumour That He Was Jack the Ripper, Prince Eddy Was Airbrushed from History. A New TV Show Asks Whether His Death Saved Britain from a Monster or Cheated It of a Good King


Byline: ANDREW COOK

The January weather was icy. The lake at the royal residence of Sandringham was frozen and fog lay heavy over the Norfolk flatlands. Queen Victoria's eldest and favourite grandson, 28-year-old Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, second in line to the throne, had suddenly been struck down with 'flu. Within six days, in January 1892, 'Prince Eddy' - as he was popularly known - was dead.

In London's West End, traders put up black mourning shutters. Dealing in the City virtually ceased as crowds gathered, stunned by the news.

Had he not died, Eddy, the present Queen's great uncle, would have been crowned king in 1911 instead of his younger brother, George V.

And yet the Royal Family never mention him.

In fact, until the 1970s, he had been virtually airbrushed out of history.

This omert- suddenly ended in November 1970, when an 85-year-old retired surgeon named Thomas Stowell published an article in The Criminologist magazine, provocatively entitled Jack The Ripper: A Solution?. Stowell gave a series of clues to the identity of the notorious Victorian East End murderer that left no doubt that he was pointing the finger at Prince Eddy. Although he died soon after his explosive article appeared, Stowell had given the green light to Ripper conspiracy buffs - Eddy's royal reputation was now fair game.

A series of increasingly farfetched books, TV documentaries and films appeared - one even graced by Sir John Gielgud, and others starring Michael Caine and Johnny Depp - making further wild claims against the dead Prince.

Several not only suggested that Eddy suffered from syphilis, which had turned him into the crazed killer, but also linked him to the 1889 Cleveland Street scandal, in which upper-crust figures had visited a male brothel in central London. In 1973, the BBC broadcast an investigation into the Ripper murders in which Joseph Sickert - a descendent of the painter Walter Sickert - claimed that the murders were carried out by Freemasons to conceal Prince Eddy's relations with loose women.

They, Sickert alleged, had covered up an illicit liaison between the Prince and a shop girl named Annie Crook. Eddy and Annie, a Catholic, had supposedly married in secret and had a child named Alice. Fearing that the discovery of this secret marriage to a Catholic could lead to the downfall of the monarchy, Freemasons in high places had plotted to silence anyone with knowledge of the affair.

But the big hole in Stowell's theory, on which this huge edifice of speculation was erected, was that Prince Eddy wasn't even in London when the Ripper murders had taken place. A simple check of the court circulars during the summer and autumn of 1888 show that he was either in Scotland with Queen Victoria, or taking part in public engagements and hunts many miles from the capital.

Of all the slanders against Eddy, the only charge of consequence made during his lifetime came from Lord Arthur Somerset, one of his father's, the Prince of Wales' courtiers. In 1889 a warrant was issued for Somerset's arrest over the Cleveland Street scandal. Somerset fled to France. To be sure of his immunity, he let the Government know that, should he ever appear in court, he would name someone he was shielding. It was clear that it was Prince Eddy's reputation that was being traduced by this blackmail. Although newly discovered letters between Prime Minister Lord Salisbury and his father, make clear that Eddy had no involvement in the scandal, Salisbury appears to have played safe and let Somerset off the hook.

Who, then, was the real Eddy? …

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