The remains of an Ethiopian royal who was interred at Windsor Castle in the 19th century has been withheld by Buckingham Palace.
A descendent of Prince Alemayehu, an orphan who was loved and financially nurtured by Queen Victoria and passed away at the age of 18, has reportedly demanded that his remains be returned to Ethiopia. This is according to Mail Online.
The removal of the body, according to Buckingham Palace, would have an impact on other people buried in the catacombs of St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.
The chapel staff understood the need to honor Prince Alemayehu’s memory, the Palace said, but they also acknowledged that they had “the responsibility to preserve the dignity of the departed.”
After his father, Emperor Tewodros II, committed suicide in 1868 as British troops besieged his mountaintop residence in northern Ethiopia, Prince Alemayehu was taken to England.
Queen Victoria adored the seven-year-old orphan who attended Sandhurst Military Academy and received his education. However, he unfortunately passed away from pneumonia at the age of 18 in 1879 and was interred in catacombs close to Windsor’s St. George’s Chapel.
In 2019, the Queen forbade the return of his remains, but in the aftermath of a new biography of him, campaigners are now again calling for their return.
One of his descendants Fasil Minas told the BBC: ‘We want his remains back as a family and as Ethiopians because that is not the country he was born in’, and added ‘it was not right’ for him to be buried in the UK.
But a Buckingham Palace spokesman said: ‘It is very unlikely it would be possible to exhume the remains without disturbing the resting place of a substantial number of others in the vicinity [in the catacombs of St George’s Chapel].’
The statement added that the palace also had a ‘responsibility to preserve the dignity of the departed’.
King Tewodros II, also referred to as “Mad King Theodore,” wished to be friendly with the British and wrote a letter to Queen Victoria in 1855. He is the father of Alamayu.
Tewodros held the British consul and a number of missionaries hostage in a high mountain cell when she ignored both that and a subsequent letter and didn’t respond.
To free the 44 prisoners, a British army of around 40,000 soldiers was dispatched. In April 1868, they successfully laid siege to Tewodros’ mountain fortress at Maqdala in northern Ethiopia.
Tewodros committed suicide as the mission’s triumphant end drew nigh. Alamayu’s mother, Tewodros’s wife, passed away while descending the mountain, leaving her son a fatherless child.
The British also took thousands of cultural and religious artefacts including gold crowns and necklaces, alongside the prince.
According to historian Andrew Heavens, this was done in order to keep them safe from the Tewodros’ enemies, who had been close to Maqdala.
Following his arrival in June 1868, he met the Queen at her holiday home on the Isle of Wight, off England’s South Coast. She later wrote in her diary that he was ‘a very pretty sight, a graceful boy with beautiful eyes and a nice nose and mouth, though the lips are slightly thick’.
Alamayu was put under the guardianship of Captain Tristram Charles Sawyer Speedy, who had accompanied the prince from Ethiopia.
Whilst the Queen had wanted him to remain on the Isle of Wight, he went first with Speedy to India before the Treasury ordered that he be properly educated.
He was sent to Cheltenham and Rugby and then on to Sandhurst, but struggled with his studies.
The prince caught pneumonia when he fell asleep outside one night. After refusing to eat, he passed away whilst living in Headingly, in Leeds.
After learning of his death, Victoria wrote: ‘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 king.’
Near his burial spot is a plaque bearing the inscription: ‘I was a stranger and you took me in.’
The Ethiopian government first demanded the return of Alamayu’s remains in the 1990s. But Palace officials have previously insisted that they cannot recover them without disturbing those of others.
Campaigner Alula Pankhurst, who sits on Ethiopia’s cultural restitution committee, told The Times that the argument is just an ‘excuse for not dealing with it.’
‘Bringing this young man home means unearthing uncomfortable truths that people don’t want to think about.
In 2019, Ethiopia’s ambassador to London, Fesseha Shawel Gebre, urged the Queen to consider how she would have felt if one of her relatives was buried in a foreign land.
‘Would she happily lie in bed every day, go to sleep, having one of her Royal Family members buried somewhere, taken as prisoner of war?’ he asked. ‘I think she wouldn’t.’
He insisted that the boy was ‘stolen’.