Prince Alemayehu was rarely a happy person in his short life. On the occasion of his early death – the Ethiopian prince died of pleurisy in England in 1879 at the age of 18 – this was also noticed by the British Queen Victoria: his life was "full of difficulties of all kinds". However, Alemayehu had many problems with the government of the empire of which Victoria was the representative.
Political correspondent for the United Kingdom and Ireland.
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As a seven-year-old boy, the son of the Ethiopian Emperor Tewodros II was caught by the British conquering troops at the end of a military punitive expedition against his father at the conquered fortress of Magdala and, like the emperor's cultural treasure, was simply taken away. The cultural assets were transferred to the British Museum, the prince was given a guardian, the English adventurer Captain Tristram Speedy, and lived through and suffered through the English boarding school system. By the standards of the British aristocracy, he received an education befitting his status – not least at the school in rugby, where the ball game, known for its wealth of head injuries, was invented. The next step should have been the Army Academy at Sandhurst. But Alemayehu only lasted there for a year; Shortly thereafter, he became terminally ill and died.
It has been in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle for 144 years
In her affection, and perhaps in a twinge of guilty conscience, Queen Victoria decreed that the Abyssinian prince should be laid to rest in the royal St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. He has been lying in the crypt there for 144 years now. 14 years ago, the then Ethiopian President Girma Wolde-Giorgis asked for the first time that Alemayehu's bones be brought back home. The British government – at that time still governed by the agile Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair – but also Buckingham Palace reacted with delays or silence. Now, however, in response to a new request from Ethiopia, the palace gave an answer: a negative one.
An exhumation is out of the question, as it could disturb the peace of the bodies buried near the Ethiopian prince in the interior of the church, among them the kings Henry VI and Edward IV, as well as Henry VIII (who entered into six marriages and broke away from the Catholic Church) and George V, great-grandfather of the current King Charles III. A spokesman for the palace said it was highly unlikely that the prince's remains could be recovered without affecting the graves of "a significant number" of others. Incidentally, efforts have always been made to help Ethiopian delegations to visit the tomb in the chapel of Windsor Castle.
A gesture of reparation?
In the imagination of the then Queen Victoria, the burial of Alemayehu among her own ancestors can be understood as a gesture of reparation. In doing so, she recognized the son of the Ethiopian emperor as her equal, and had already kept an eye on his upbringing in England out of the corner of her eye. In a diary entry, she writes that he was a "handsome, polite, graceful boy": "He has nothing of a Negro about him."