Duke Alfred of Saxe-Coburg and GothaAlfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Duke of Edinburgh (6 August 1844- 30 July 1900), was the second son and fourth child of Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. He was created Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Kent and Earl of Ulster in the peerage of the United Kingdom on 24 May 1866. He succeeded his paternal uncle Ernst as the reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in the German Empire on 23 August 1893.
His Royal Highness The Prince Alfred Ernest Albert of Great Britain and Ireland, KG, KT, KP, CGMG, GCIE, GCVO, RVO, PC was born at Windsor Castle. He was christened by William Howley, Archbishop of Canterbury at the Private Chapel in Windsor Castle on 6 September 1844, with his maternal great uncle, the Duke of Cambridge (represented by this son, Prince George of Cambridge), his paternal aunt, Alexandrine, Duchess of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (represented by his maternal grandmother, the Duchess of Kent), and Queen Victoria's half-brother, Prince Carl of Leiningen (represented by the Duke of Wellington), as sponsors. Prince Alfred, who was known to his family as "Alfie," was quite close to his older brother, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (the futured Edward VII).
In 1856 it was decided that Prince Alfred, in accordance with his own wishes, should enter the Royal Navy, and a separate establishment was accordingly assigned to him, with Lieutenant Sowell, R. E., as governor. He passed the examination for midshipman in August 1858, and was appointed to the HMS Euryalus. In July 1860, while on this ship, he paid an official visit to the Cape, and made a very favourable impression both on the colonials and on the native chiefs. On the abdication of King Otto of Greece, in 1862, Prince Alfred was chosen to succeed him, but political conventions of long standing rendered it impossible for the British government to accede to their wishes.
Prince Alfred, therefore remained in the navy, and was promoted lieutenant on 24 February 1863 and captain on 23 February 1866, being then appointed to the command of the frigate HMS Galatea. In the Queen's Birthday Honors in May 1866, the prince was created Duke of Edinburgh and Earl of Ulster and of Kent, with an annuity of £15,000 granted by Parliament. He took his seat in the House of Lords on 8 June. Having created him a Knight of the Garter on 24 May 1863, the Queen also conferred upon the Duke of Edinburgh the Knighthoods of the Thistle (Scotland) and St. Patrick (Ireland), as well as Grand Crosses of the Orders of the Bath, the Star of India, St. Michael and St. George, the Indian Empire, and the Royal Victorian Order. In addition, he held the principal foreign orders of chivalry including: the Order of the Black Eagle of Prussia, the Order of the Golden Fleece of Spain, the Annunziata of Italy, the Legion of Honor of France, St. Stephen of Austria, St. Andrew of Russia, and the Ostmanieh of the Ottoman Empire.
While still in command of the Galatea the Duke of Edinburgh started from Plymouth on January 24, 1867 for his voyage round the world. On 7 June 1867, he left Gibraltar and reached the Cape on 24 July, and landed at Glenelg, South Australia, on October 31. Being the first English prince to visit Australia, the duke was received with the greatest enthusiasm. During his stay of nearly five months he visited Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Tasmania; and it was on his second visit to Sydney that, while attending a public picnic at Clontarf in aid of the Sailors' Home, an Irishman named O'Farrell shot him in the back with a revolver. The wound was fortunately not dangerous, and within a month the Duke was able to resume command of his ship and return home. He reached Spithead on 26 June 1868, after an absence of seventeen months. The Duke's next voyage was to India, where he arrived in December 1869. Both there and at Hong Kong, which he visited on the way, he was the first British prince to set foot in the country. The native rulers of India vied with one another in the magnificence of their entertainments during the Duke's stay of three months.
On 23 January 1874, the Duke of Edinburgh married Her Imperial Highness The Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna, the only daughter of Tsar Alexander II of Russia and his wife, Marie Alexandrovna, daughter of Ludwig II, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine, at the Winter Palace, St. Petersburg. The Duke and Duchess of Endiburgh made their public entry into London on 12 March. The marriage, however, was not a happy one, and the bride was thought haughty by London society. The Duke and Duchess had six children:
- Prince Alfred ("Young Alfie") (15 October 1874-6 February 1899), Hereditary Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha from 22 August 1893.
- Princess Marie (29 October 1875-18 July 1938; married 10 January 1893 King Ferdinand I of Romania (1865-1927); and had issue.
- Princess Victoria Melita ("Ducky") (25 November 1876-2 March 1936; married (1) 19 April 1894 (divored 21 December 1901) her paternal first cousin Ernst Ludwig, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine (1868-1937), and had issue; (2) 8 October 1905 her maternal first cousin the Grand Duke Kyrill Vladimirovitch of Russia (1876-1938), and had issue.
- Princess Alexandra (1 September 1878-16 April 1942; married 20 April 1896 Prince Ernst of Hohenloe-Langenburg (1863-1950), and had issue.
- An unnamed daughter (13 October 1879, stillborn).
- Princess Beatrice (20 April 1884-13 July 1966; married 15 July 1909, Don Alfonso, Infante of Spain, 3rd Duke of Galliera (1886-1975), and had issue.
On the death of his uncle, Ernest II, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, on August 22 1893, the vacant duchy fell to the Duke of Edinburgh, since the Prince of Wales had renounced his right to the succession. At first regarded with some coldness as a "foreigner," he gradually gained popularity, and by the time of his death in 1900 he had generally won the good opinion of his subjects. The Duke was exceedingly fond of music and an excellent violinist, and took a prominent part in establishing the Royal College of Music. He was also a keen collector of glass and ceramic ware, and his collection, valued at half a million marks, was presented by his widow to the "Veste Coburg", near Coburg. When he became Duke of Saxe-Coburg he surrendered his British allowance of £15,000 a year and his seats in the House of Lords and the Privy Council, but retained the £10,000 granted on his marriage in order to maintain Clarence House as his London residence.
The Duke's only son, the Hereditary Prince Alfred became involved in a scandal involving his mistress and shot himself in January 1899, in the midst of his parents' twenty-fifth wedding anniversary celebrations. He survived, but his embarrassed parents sent him off to Meran to recover, where he died two weeks later, on 6 February. The Duke of Saxe-Coburg died of throat cancer on 30 July 1900 at Schloss Rosenau at Coburg. He was buried at the ducal family's cemetery outside Cobrug. He was succeeded as the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha by his nephew, Prince Charles Edward, Duke of Albany, the posthumous son of his youngest brother, Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany. (Alfred's next brother the Duke of Connaught and his son, Prince Arthur of Connaught, had renounced their succession rights to the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha).