The Stolen Ethiopian Prince buried in Windsor.

His story has been written by the victors of the Battle of Magdala,  but is the truth inhumed beneath the battleground? There’s an Ethiopian prince buried in Windsor Castle at St Georges Chapel. He still can’t get home.  He died in 1879 and is said to be Queen Victoria’s favorite prince. He is HIH Prince Alemayhu of Ethiopia son of King Tewdros II pictured on left. His  tragic life is my chosen subject on BBC radio 4’s Great Lives. My quest  into his life begins with his death.

As one taken from his family through deception by the British government  I have an interest in Prince Alemayhu.  When I discovered him I can’t admit that I wasn’t excited to find a kindred spirit. Like his my childhood is documented by the British government who refused to return me to my Ethiopian mother and hid the letters of her pleading for my return. Not an hundred years earlier government refused to return Prince Alemayhu and,  after his death it came to light, they’d hid such letters from him.

The narrative  established for me was that my Ethiopian mother and family  didn’t want me. Effectively the same narrative was established for  the prince.   Both were proven to be untrue.  I have utilised my  life to prove my case. Prince Alemayhu didn’t have that opportunity.  To the story.  His  father The King of Ethiopia  committed suicide as the British troops descended upon his castle atop a hill in Magdala. The  British army then took his son Prince Aleymahu – he was seven years of age –  from Ethiopia to England.

What follows is the official british narrative that having lost the battle in which thousands of his countrymen died,  and before committing suicide,  King Tewdros II made his wish known  to the victors  that his son should be taken by them to England.  To believe this without question is insulting to say the least and willfully naïve at best yet  this is what British history documents.

Within living memory of Prince Alemayhu’s passing journalist Hannah Pool was taken from Eritrea on the premise established by  nuns that her parents were dead. This was untrue. There are many more African adoptees that are told untruths or convenient half truths  about their birth parents which serve to force closed the door of an alternative and altogether more human narrative.

If you wouldn’t mind me swerving from the central story I’ll try and explain what I mean by “an alternative and more human narrative”.  When a mother gives up her child for legitimate adoption one could say it’s one of the most selfless and painful acts of humanity for a woman  and yet more often than not the birth mother is castigated. Neither Hannah, Prince Alemayhu or myself were fostered or adopted in such a way still the fact remains.

Returning to the main story  the circumstantial evidence of Alemayhu’s  taking  suggests there were more vainglorious reasons rooted in the pomposity of Victorian culture, a pomposity  most eloquently documented by Dickens.  Though race was not his subject if I recall.  Where are the other examples in Ethiopian history of Ethiopian Kings willingly giving their children to the British?  There are none to my knowledge.

However there is plenty of evidence of  British soldiers raiding and looting  Africa. Is it more likely Prince Alemayhu was one of the more vulgar exploits and spoils of The Battle of Magdala,  to impress Queen victoria, in a primal exaltation of war.  The army raided King Tewdros’s castle taking gold, historical texts and even the clothing of his wife the Empress who died months later. These garments are displayed today in the British Museum.

It is told  that the Ethiopian teacher who was to travel to England with The Prince was sent back from by the seven-year-old boy   who is by turn blamed for isolating himself on his journey to England. The story is virtually water tight and silent to an unquestioning eye and unlistening ear.   All this happened  not as long ago as you might think.  Think of it as a past only as far as your  grandfather’s parent.

But human chattel is more difficult to curate than the clothes of human chattel. In the story the boy loses favour with the British administration who were commissioned to pay for him. Is it a coincidence that  this happens as he becomes an adult, an orphaned black man burned under the white heat from the sunlit magnifying glass of scrutiny that deemed him an unworthy exotic by virtue of his cast.  Within eleven years of arriving in England at seven years old Prince Alemayhu of Ethiopia was dead and buried.

It’s documented that he died of pleurisy. I have the  honour  of  documenting his the youngest example of a Great Life on radio 4’s brilliant series Great Lives presented by Mathew Parris On BBC Radio 4 Tuesday December 18th GMT.    I am joined by  Elizabeth Laird who wrote a fictional account of  Prince Alemayhu’s life in the book The Prince Who Walked with Lions

Try reversing the telescope.  Imagine every fact of his tale as having happened to the English where one hundred years ago an Ethiopian Army were victorious in the Battle of Windsor on English soil. The Castle of Windsor fell and The Prince and artifacts were taken to Ethiopia  where The Prince of Wales – the heir –  died at eighteen.  Would the English want to  redress  the Ethiopian narrative that they had willingly given the English prince to the victorious King of Ethiopia who had buried their Royal highness  outside the Coptic Church in Addis Ababa?   Prince Alemayhu was forcefully adopted then abandoned by a country.  If adoption is one of the greatest examples  of humanity  then  abuse in adoption  is one of the worst.  We are, above all, our stories.

photographs: The first picture is of King Tewdros II and the others are of Prince Alemayhu.




16 thoughts on “The Stolen Ethiopian Prince buried in Windsor.

  1. I heard you on the radio lastevening and have read the above.
    Your description of events and actions has a definite and inaccurate slant and does not contain any character analysis of the unfortunate prince himself. You do not give any credit to caring individuals in his story but I share your view of the State’s regards for this awkward boy.
    Also, you must recognise that the Abyssinians in the homeland powerstruggle were delighted to have seen the last of Tewodros and his sons. Johannes and Menelik would not invite competition.
    Successive British governments recognised the awkwardness of Alemayhu’s position. All were at a loss to fit him for something useful. He was neither military nor academic and he did not have an independent income.
    I think it unlikely that he would have had any desire to return to Abyssinia.
    If we accept the precepts of the Jesuits, the prince would have beeen seriously and irrecoverably damaged by his 7th birthday. His experiences at Gaffat Tewodros and Magdala would have been enough to turn the brain of any small boy.

    Have you considered using your position and energy to do something about Gaffat Tewodros – the only place actually bearing his name?
    Unlike Magdala, the place was merely abandoned and not destroyed.
    Johannes walde Georgis.
    01329 285825

    • Very interesting view
      It is hard to believe any child who has many relatives to stay in the hands that took the life of their parents.

      As for Alemayehu being cared for, if it is so, than how come all his photos look so sad.
      It doesnt require a genius to figure this one out….forgive me, the young prince belongs in his homeland, then and now.

      • First thank you for the author of the article for his articulated view.

        Rachel, you said …”how come all his photos look so sad”.
        This is always my question, virtually in all photos of him, he looks very touching sad. You can read from his sad. This is my question life in this matter. We don’t know the details. It can be attributed from different situation as Johannes said.

        Always they say what they want us to hear

      • First thank you for the author of the article for his articulated view.

        Rachel, you said …”how come all his photos look so sad”.
        This is always my question, virtually in all photos of him, he looks very touching sad. You can read from his sad. This is my question life in this matter. We don’t know the details. It can be attributed from different situation as Johannes said.

        Always they say what they want us to hear.

  2. Johannes,

    Many thanks for your impassioned response. Alemayhu suffered at the hands of a kind of Victorian Orientalism? You speak of the “caring nature” of those who looked after him as if their behaviour somehow aleviated his abduction when in fact it justified it and therefore was not caring at all. Because of the eveidence I do not, I can not, trust the British account of his life that spends a questionable amount of time saying how kind his carers were. Ofcourse. His carers wrote the story. I do not disparage Alemayhu’s charachter, as they do, because his character is not in question. He was a child.

    But then the same thing is happening today. African children are taken from their homes brought to England and smuggled under a flawed idea that it is best for them and the only solution. This has its roots in the story of Alemayhu – more abduction than adoption.

    It’s said that Alemayhu was a bad student and a difficult and uneducatable child. Really? And what would you expect of a child in the situation he was in. Clearly he did not live up to the ideals of those experimenting upon him. All I am doing is reviewing a narrative that remains unquestioned by British History and which in the name of humanity deserves further scrutiny. There are Indian Princes who were neatly packaged and shipped to England, alongside diamonds such as the Koh-Hi-Noor which is still part of the crown jewels….

    • Not really a blogger, hence missed message.
      It is not good to confuse Officialdom with individuals.
      A recent Ethiopian Government minister made the inexcusable error of describing the prince’s time “in captivity” in England.
      It was simply not the case.
      When he was with the Speedy’s, on the Isle of Wight, he was loved and admired by the world’s great and the good and by his Cotton ‘grandparents. You are surely aware of the social circle of the place and the time.
      If his tree is still in the back garden, it would be a good thing to have a recognition preservation order on it. Somewhere I have some seeds – when I find them I’ll send you a cone.
      Could you get an Ethiopian Blue Plaque for the house?
      Had he stayed in Abyssinia he would have been done away with by one faction or the other, hence Sir Robert bringing him to England.
      Had there been behavioural psychologists at the time, I have no doubt that he could have had a confident, safe and fulfilling career.
      Have you visited any of the places associated with Speke and Grant in England?

      I am intrigued by his decision to visit the cold outside lavatory at night rather than use his chamber pot, which was the customary convenience.
      I see that you are to visit Winchester College of Art at the end of Jan. Perhaps we could meet then?

        • Just one point. I strongly believe that any of the Ethiopia’s powerful men who came after Tewodros would have found a fitting place for Prince Alemayehu. After all he was all the Prince had blood ties with the nobles of all important regions at that time. Remember he was not just Tewodros’s favorite son but also the grandson of the powerful man of Semein and nephew of the nobles of Wollo and Yajju. It is wrong to think that Yohanese and Menelik would regard him as competitor.

  3. There has been much said of Speedy’s love of Prince Alemayhu. Love without understanding can be a dangerous thing. It occurs at the heart of nationalism. There has been much said of Speedy’s great character but great characters can be plain wrong.

    You say Prince Alemayhu would have been done away with by one faction or another. In one fell swoop you negate his entire extended family. These are the same porous excuses used today when extracating children from one country to another in “the best interest of the child” when in fact there are other more visible motivations.

    Prince Alemayhu was manipulated to death adn the idea of his life is manipulated while he is dead. We must agree to disagree on wether the british had his best interests at heart after killing his countrymen, stealing his fathers and mothers clothing and causing his fathers suicide.

  4. Taking the child of a king (after robbing his wifes clothes) brings into doubt the nobility so readily bestowed on Napier and Speedy.

  5. You are intrigued about him using the outside toilet rather than the chamber pot. It’s obvious isn’t it? Cleanliness and privacy.

  6. Lemn Sisay: First and foremost, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your great poems and wonderful pieces.
    But when it comes to Prince Alemayehu’s case, I will differ from your point of view. First of all, your comparison of Prince Alemayehu with your story and the current situation is based on weak premises.

    Lemn: I do not want to argue on this issue but (even though Ethiopian history was my minor study at AAU) I would like to share you some facts regarding that historical moment. You also omitted these facts on your article.

    – Following the fall of King Tewodros’s kingdom, his immediate families were hunted and killed by King Yohannes follower and others who lost their family because of the King.
    – One of the most known survivor of King Tewodros’s son was Ras Meshesha who escaped from MeQedela with King Menelik.
    – Prince Alemayehu’s mother, Queen Atitegeb was dead during her way to London, via Eritrea.
    – It was not only Prince Alemayehu who has been taken to London at that time. His 2 other Ethiopians were with him. One of them Dr. Martin became successful Med. Doctor and served his country during King Menelik era.
    – King Tewodros has no plan to govern Ethiopia by monarch or extended family, he rather against the monarch administration.

    These are some of my points, I would like to share with you. From this stand points; Ethiopia would have been hell to Dejazemach Prince Alemayehu Kassa if he returned back to his origin. I personally believe, King Yohannes IV won’t accept if Prince Alemayehu to come and reside in the north part of the country.

    Therefore; we need to understand the situation of 1870ies. Even though, we think the Prince wants to return to Abyssinia, he won’t be welcomed by regional Kings or King of Ethiopia. The bottom line, we need accept these documented facts before making further argument on this issue.

  7. Lemn my father’s cousin is related to lijj alemayhew on his mother side. The young prince used to write letters to his grandma in gondar how much he missed Ethiopia and wanted to come home. Then letters were so sad to read he is still talked about by the whole family. Lijj alemayhew went to Harrow public school

  8. This is my first hearing of the kidnapping of the young prince as I am a student of history and especially Ethiopian.I am astonished.I only have to see the photos of the serpent “speedy” to know the true story. The sadness in the eyes of the prince reveal.I will be haunted by this forever. I pray his remains will be returned to his homeland

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