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Who was Prince Alemayehu? Buckingham Palace refuses to return prince’s remains to Ethiopia

The prince is interred at St George’s Chapel, where the Queen also lies buried  (Dominic Lipinski / WPA Pool / Getty Images)
The prince is interred at St George’s Chapel, where the Queen also lies buried (Dominic Lipinski / WPA Pool / Getty Images)

Buckingham Palace has formally declined Ethiopia’s request to have Prince Alemayehu’s remains sent back to his home country.

The request had been made by his descendants. Talking about it, one of his family members said: “We want his remains back as a family and as Ethiopians, because that is not the country he was born in.”

The prince’s remains are buried within the catacombs of St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle and, in a statement sent to the BBC, a Buckingham Palace spokesperson said removing them would affect others.

They explained: “It is very unlikely that it would be possible to exhume the remains without disturbing the resting place of a substantial number of others in the vicinity.”

They added that, while they wanted to honour Prince Alemayehu’s memory, they also had “the responsibility to preserve the dignity of the departed”.

This isn’t the first time his remains have been requested. Back in 2007, the country’s then-president had formally reached out to Queen Elizabeth II, but his requests weren’t fulfilled.

But who exactly was Prince Alemayehu? Here is everything we know.

Who was Prince Alemayehu?

Prince Alemayehu of Ethiopia, then known as Abyssinia, was the son of Emperor Tewodros II (known as Theodore) and Empress Tiruwork Wube.

His father, the emperor, wanted to strengthen his empire, so in 1862, he started reaching out to Queen Victoria in hopes of building an alliance with the UK. But his letters were never answered.

To retaliate, the emperor took some European missionaries, the head of the Ethiopian church, and the British consul hostage. This triggered a rescue mission involving more than 13,000 British and Indian troops.

European missionaries who were imprisoned by King Theodore II of Ethiopia (then Abyssinia) (Hulton Archive / Getty Images)
European missionaries who were imprisoned by King Theodore II of Ethiopia (then Abyssinia) (Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

In April 1868, the troops were successful in overwhelming the emperor’s defences in northern Abyssinia and freeing the hostages.

The emperor, not wanting to be a prisoner of the British, decided to take his own life, becoming a heroic figure among Ethiopians.

In the aftermath of the battle, the British collected thousands of cultural and religious artefacts from the empire, including manuscripts, necklaces, dresses, and crowns.

After his mother died, his guardian, Captain Tristram Charles Sawyer Speedy, took him to his home on the Isle of Wight. Queen Victoria agreed to support the prince financially, having been touched by the story.

For a while, the prince and his guardian lived on the Isle of Wight together. But, later on, they started to travel to other parts of the world, including India. However, the young prince always expressed a desire to return to his homeland.

Eventually, it was decided that the prince needed a formal education and he attended various schools, including Rugby. After he dropped out of officer training at Sandhurst, Prince Alemayehu went to live with his former tutor, Cyril Ransome (father of famous author of Swallow of Amazons, Arthur). However, very soon afterward, the prince caught pleurisy and died, in 1879. He was just 18 years old.

In her diary, Queen Victoria spoke of how saddened she was by his passing, saying: “Very grieved and shocked to hear by telegram, that good Alemayehu had passed away this morning. It is too sad! All alone, in a strange country, without a single person or relative, belonging to him.

“His was no happy life, full of difficulties of every kind, and was so sensitive, thinking that people stared at him on account of his colour... Everyone is very sorry.”