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  • Writer's pictureVictoria Regina

The life of Prince Leopold

On this day, 7th April 1853, Prince Leopold, eighth child of Queen Victoria, was born at Buckingham Palace. He was baptised in the Private Chapel at Buckingham Palace on 28th June 1853, when he was given the names Leopold George Duncan Albert.

Prince Leopold by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1854 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

Sketch of Prince Leopold by Queen Victoria, dated June 1855 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

Soon after his birth it became apparent that Queen Victoria disliked Leopold. She often made drawings of her children and would portray them to look angelic. However, she would always portray the young Prince as if he was disfigured or grotesque. In her journal, Victoria describes her son as "the ugliest and least pleasing of the whole family" As the excerpt continues, she says "he walks shockingly and his manners are despairing; as well as his speech, which is quite dreadful" However, aged five, Leopold was diagnosed with the blood clotting disease, haemophilia. The diagnosis immediately changed Victorias view of her son, doing everything she could to protect him.

Prince Leopold, dated 1st December 1858 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

As a result, he lived a relatively isolated life. He was limited to non physical activities and despite his talent, most people refused to play piano with him out of fear of injuring him. Although he occasionally went to play with his siblings, he spent a lot of time recovering from bleeding attacks and extreme joint pain caused by the disease.

Prince Leopold in December 1865 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

After the death of Prince Albert in 1861, Victoria lost all interest in her children. She hired Archibald Brown, brother of John Brown, to care for the young Prince. Despite his illness, Archibald would deliberately hit Leopold with spoons, particularly on his head, banished his pets and refused to help him to the toilet when he was too ill to go himself. His main company was his older and closest sister, Princess Louise, who often visited him during times of recovery.

Prince Leopold at Oxford, by Hills and Saunders, dated April 1873 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

In 1872, Leopold joined Christ Church, Oxford, where he studied a variety of subjects and became president of the Oxford University Chess Club. He left the university in 1876 with an honorary doctorate in civil law. In 1880, alongside Louise and her husband, John Campbell, Leopold toured Canada and the United States.

Due to his haemophilia, Leopold couldn't join the military like his older brothers had. however he was given an honorary association with the 72nd Regiment, Duke of Albany's Own Highlanders, and from 1881 served as the first Colonel-in-Chief of the Seaforth Highlanders. He also became a patron of the arts and literature and preformed the role of unofficial secretary to his mother.

Prince Leopold, dated June 1865 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

Like his siblings, Leopold saw marriage as the only way to get away from Victoria's control. Several suitors were put forward but his haemophilia made it difficult to find a wife. After being rejected by at least eight women, Victoria suggested a meeting with Princess Helena Frederica of Waldeck-Pyrmont.

Prince Leopold and Princess Helena, February 1882 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

The two immediately got on and got married at St George's Chapel, Windsor on 27th April 1882 (I'll be talking about the day in more detail in a few weeks). Less than a year after their wedding, on 25th February 1883, Helena gave birth to the couple's first child, Princess Alice.

In February 1884, doctors insisted Leopold stay at his French residence, Villa Nevada, to avoid the cold winter climate of England and the joint pain he suffered as a result. Although reluctant to leave his pregnant wife behind, Helena insisted and the Prince finally agreed.

Prince Leopold by Alexander Bassano, dated March 1882 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

On 27th March, he slipped and fell, injuring his knee and hitting his head. In the early hours of the 28th he suffered a cerebral haemorrhage and died soon after, aged just 30. He was the second of Queen Victoria's children to die.

He was buried in the Royal Vault at St, George's Chapel, Windsor on 5th April 1884. His body was later moved to the Albert Memorial Chapel at St George's Chapel, on 23rd June 1885. His wife Princess Helena gave birth to their second child, Prince Charles Edward, just four months later.

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