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Buckingham Palace Refuses to Return Remains of Ethiopian Prince Buried at Windsor Castle

Ryan McLachlan
Photo Credit: Hulton Archive / Getty Images, Andrewkbrook1 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
Photo Credit: Hulton Archive / Getty Images, Andrewkbrook1 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Buckingham Palace said it will not return the remains of Prince Alemayehu, an Ethiopian prince who was buried in Windsor Castle in the 19th century. Alemayehu was taken to England following the Abyssinia Expedition and died there at the age of 18. The Ethiopian government and descendants of Alemayehu’s family have requested the prince’s remains be returned, however, Buckingham Palace insists that it is impossible to do so.

Abyssinia Expedition

Tewodros II, Alemayehu’s father, ruled Abyssinia – part of modern Ethiopia – beginning in 1855. In 1862, he asked the British government for an alliance that would give him the weapons and tacticians he needed in his wars against neighboring territories. The British did not answer. Angered by the lack of a response, Tewodros took European hostages, including the British Consul, Captain Charles Cameron.

Alemayehu in July 1868 at Captain Tristram Speedy's home on the Isle of Wight.

Prince Alemayehu, July 1868. (Photo Credit: Julia Margaret Cameron / Sepia Times / Universal Images / Getty Images)

There was a public outcry in Britain, and after negotiations failed, the British sent an extensive military force to rescue the hostages. The fighting ended once the hostages were released and word spread that Tewodros had ended his own rather than be captured. The British then took his son, Alemayehu, and wife, Empress Tiruwork Wube.

They also looted so many royal treasures that 15 elephants and almost 200 mules were needed to carry everything back to Britain.

Prince Alemayehu in Britain

During the journey to Britain, Tiruwork Wube died, and upon arrival in June 1868, Alemayehu’s status as an orphan caught the attention of Queen Victoria. Soon after, the queen met Alemayehu at her holiday home on the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England. She also decided to support him financially and placed him in the care of Captain Tristram Charles Sawyer Speedy, who had accompanied the prince from Ethiopia.

Prince Alamayou as a young man, wearing Western clothing

Prince Alamayehu as a young man, wearing Western clothing (Photo Credit: Brotherton Library, University of Leeds / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Captain Speedy took Alemayehu traveling around the world, including to India. He soon decided, however, that it was time for Alemayehu to receive a formal education. After it was learned that Alemayehu didn’t enjoy his first placement, he was sent to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. Due to the amount of bullying he received, it was determined that he would be tutored at a private home in Leeds.

Alemayehu reportedly wished to return home, which he never would. He became ill with what is believed to have been pneumonia or pleurisy. In 1879, at the age of 18, Prince Alemayehu died.

His death saddened Queen Victoria. The queen was so upset that she arranged for Alemayehu to be buried in the catacombs of St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, which also holds members of the royal family. His vault has a plaque reading, “When I was a stranger, ye took me in.”

Demands for the return of Alemayehu

Calls have been made for some time for the royal family to return Alemayehu’s remains to Ethiopia. In 2007, President Girma Wolde-Giorgis sent a formal request to Queen Elizabeth II for Alemayehu to be returned, but the request was denied. Again, another request was recently made, however, the answer is the same.

The interior of St Georges Chapel, Windsor Castle

A view of the Quire in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. (Photo Credit: Dominic Lipinski – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

In a statement from Buckingham Palace released to the BBC, a spokesperson said that the removal of Alemayehu’s remains from the catacombs of St George’s Chapel would likely affect others buried there. The statement also indicated that they were sensitive to the want and need to honor Alemayehu’s memory and that they had “the responsibility to preserve the dignity of the departed.”

The Palace added that the requests had been granted for Ethiopian officials to visit. This has not been enough for some, however, including descendants of Alemayehu’s family. Fasil Minas, a descendent of the Abyssinian royal family, told the BBC, “We want his remains back as a family and as Ethiopians because that is not the country he was born in.”

Abebech Kasa, another descendant, also told the BBC they want Alemayehu’s remains returned because they don’t belong in a foreign country. She added, “When I think of him, I cry. If they agree to return his remains, I would think of it as if he came home alive.”

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While some have taken the hardline that this is Britain and the royal family not coming to terms with their imperial past, others recognize the possible effects removing his remains could have within the catacombs of St George’s Chapel. Either way, Prince Alemayehu will remain at Windsor Castle for the foreseeable future.

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Ryan McLachlan

Ryan McLachlan is a historian and content writer for Hive Media. He received his Bachelor of Arts in History and Classical Studies and his Master of Arts in History from the University of Western Ontario. Ryan’s research focused on military history, and he is particularly interested in the conflicts fought by the United Kingdom from the Napoleonic Wars to the Falklands War.

Ryan’s other historical interests include naval and maritime history, the history of aviation, the British Empire, and the British Monarchy. He is also interested in the lives of Sir Winston Churchill and Admiral Lord Nelson. Ryan enjoys teaching, reading, writing, and sharing history with anyone who will listen.

In his spare time, he enjoys watching period dramas such as Murdoch Mysteries and Ripper Street and also enjoys reading classical literature and Shakespeare. He also plays football and is an afternoon tea connoisseur.