Photos of the young prince Alemayehu are as sad as his short life. The orphan died at the age of only 18. His family wants to bring his remains back to Ethiopia, but there are problems.
Windsor – Buckingham Palace has rejected a request to return the remains of an Ethiopian prince whose remains are buried in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. Prince Alemayehu (18, † 1879) was brought to Britain at the age of only seven – some say kidnapped. Queen Victoria (81, † 1901) took care of the orphan, provided for his education and had to bury him at the age of 18. His family is hoping for a positive response from the newly crowned King Charles III (74) after several attempts since 2006 have failed.
"He had a sad life. When I think of him, I have to cry," says his descendant
"We want his remains back as a family and as Ethiopians, because this is not the country where he was born," descendant Fasil Minas told the BBC. "It was not right for him to be buried in the United Kingdom," he added. "He had a sad life," says another descendant. If the return of his remains were agreed, the family could see it as if he had finally come home. But things are not so simple.
A spokesperson for Buckingham Palace told the BBC: "It is very unlikely that it would be possible to exhume the remains without disturbing the resting place of a significant number of other people nearby," says the commissioner. The authorities in the chapel are aware of the need to honor the memory of Prince Alemayehu, but also have "the responsibility to preserve the dignity of the deceased," the statement continued.
How did the young prince get to Britain?
Prince Alemayehu's father, Emperor Tewodros II (50, †1868), wanted to deepen diplomatic relations with Queen Victoria and took the British consul hostage when she did not respond. The beginning of a military expedition that ended with the voluntary death of the emperor for fear of captivity by the British after their victory.
After the Battle of Maqdala in 1868, the British plundered thousands of cultural and religious artifacts. These included gold crowns, manuscripts, necklaces and dresses, which are now scattered in European museums and libraries, as well as in private collections.
The British took Prince Alemayehu and his mother, Empress Tiruwork Wube († 1868), an alleged descendant of the biblical King Solomon, with them to protect them from enemies or to kidnap them.
Harassment and hostility accompany Alemayehu's school career
The predicament of the seven-year-old orphan touched Queen Victoria. She financed his education and travels and handed him over to the guardianship of Captain Tristram Charles Sawyer Speedy (74, 1910), who had accompanied the prince from Ethiopia. He was sent to the British public school rugby, but he was not happy there. He later transferred to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, where he was harassed. He longed to return, they say.
Eventually, Alemayehu was educated in a private home in Leeds, where he presumably died of pneumonia at the young age of 18. At the request of Queen Victoria, he was buried in St. Geroge's Chapel at Windsor Castle, where Queen Elizabeth II was laid to rest.
The royal family had responded to requests from Ethiopian delegations for a visit to the chapel
Prince Alemayehu at the age of seven (from 1868): His body is reclaimed by King Charles, but Buckingham Palace refuses to return it (photomontage). © IMAGO/Heritage Art/Heritage Images
Queen Elizabeth (96, † 2022) expressed herself a little more clearly in the first request from the Ethiopian president in 2006, according to The Guardian. According to the Ethiopian embassy, Lord Chamberlain replied on behalf of the Queen: "Her Majesty is in favour of repatriation [...], but it is not possible to identify the remains of the young Prince Alemayehu." At least Ethiopian delegations were able to visit the tomb in St George's Chapel.
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Charles III will no longer be able to get away with this. On the contrary, a complete reappraisal is required. Professor Alula Pankhurst, a specialist in British-Ethiopian relations, believes that the return of the body "would be an opportunity for Britain to rethink its past". It is a reflection and reappraisal of an imperial past. By the way: Who was quick to spread the news of the BBC via his Instagram account was the photographer friend Missan Harriman (46) of Prince Harry (38) and Meghan Markle (41), whom he recently congratulated on her "golden" appearance at the Women Visions Award. Sources used: bbc.com, theguardian.com, Instagram @misanharriman