On 6 August 1844, Queen Victoria gave birth to her fourth child whom they named Alfred Ernest Albert. The labour was long and gruelling, and her suffering was “severe.” Prince Albert was by his wife’s side throughout the labour. He would be nicknamed “Affie.” At the time of his birth, he was second in the line of succession behind his elder brother.
Soon Prince Albert was plotting the future. Four-year-old Victoria, Princess Royal would marry into the Prussian royal family, the Prince of Wales was, of course, to be King one day and Alfred… he would be Duke of Coburg one day if Albert’s brother Ernst did not produce any heirs. Alfred grew up as a favoured child of Queen Victoria, and she described him as a “sunbeam in the house” and “so like his precious father.”
Alfred was baptised by the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Private Chapel in Windsor Castle on 6 September 1844. His godparents were Prince George of Cambridge, the Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and the Prince of Leiningen.
At the age of 12, Alfred entered the Royal Novy, and he passed the examination in August 1858. He was then appointed as a midshipman on the HMS Euryalus, and a heart-broken Victoria wrote to her eldest daughter, “Papa is most cruel upon the subject. I assure you, it is much better to have no children than to have them only to give them up! It is too wretched!” When Prince Albert died in 1861, Prince Alfred was in Mexico with the navy, and he was not able to return home until February. In 1862, Alfred was chosen to succeed the childless King Otto of Greece, but this plan was blocked by the British government. Alfred remained in the navy for now and was promoted to lieutenant in 1863, to captain in 1866 and finally appointed to the command of the frigate HMS Galatea in 1867.
On 24 May 1866, Prince Alfred was created Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Ulster, and Earl of Kent. He became the first member of the royal family to visit Australia in 1867, and he was received with great enthusiasm. However, during a visit to Sydney Prince Alfred was shot in the back and the bullet lodged in his abdomen. Alfred survived the attack though he later described not being able to breathe for three days. The assailant was caught and executed. Alfred returned home in June 1868. He continued to travel the world and visited Hawaii, New Zealand, Japan, India and Sri Lanka.
By 1870, Alfred was drinking heavily, and he was involved with a young woman in Malta when he was stationed there. On 23 January 1874, Alfred married Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia at the Winter Palace in St Petersburg. Queen Victoria refused to go and wrote, “I dislike now witnessing marriages, very much, and think them sad and painful, especially a daughter’s marriage.” Maria and Alfred returned home in March, but the marriage was not a happy one. Maria had expected precedence over the Princess of Wales and all of Queen Victoria’s daughters, but Queen Victoria refused her demands, granting her only precedence after the Princess of Wales.
Maria and Alfred would go on to have six children: Alfred, Hereditary Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1874 – 1899), Marie (1875 – 1938), Victoria Melita (1876 – 1936), Alexandra (1878 – 1942), unnamed son (1879 – 1879) and Beatrice (1884 – 1966). Alfred continued in the navy – finally being promoted to Admiral of the Fleet on 3 June 1893.
On 22 August 1893, Alfred’s uncle Ernst II, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha died without an heir. Alfred’s elder brother had renounced his rights to the succession, and so Alfred became the new Duke. He retained Clarence House as his London residence, and though initially received coldly by the people, he gained popularity. In February 1899, Alfred’s only son died after shooting himself. He survived for two weeks, finally dying in Italy where he was sent to recover. Alfred himself would die the following year of throat cancer, just before his 56th birthday. He was the third of Queen Victoria’s children to die, and she cried out upon hearing the news, “My 3rd Grown-up child, besides 3 very dear sons-in-law. It is hard at 81!”
Alfred was succeeded as Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha by his nephew Charles Edward, the son of Prince Leopold, who would be the last ruling Duke.