Canadian Royal Heritage Trust

A National Educational Charity

Tragic Princes

by Claudia Willetts

There were several princes in early British history who predeceased their parents. William I the Conqueror’s son King Henry I had an only son, William Atheling (Prince in Anglo-Saxon England). Thomas Costain narrates in The Conquerors, that William had been accepted as successor by parliament in Normandy, and shortly afterward, the King and his family decided to return to England. The King sailed in the first ship, allowing the heir to travel on the finest galley in the navy, La Blanche Nef (The White Ship). It sailed in good weather, but soon crashed on a reef and began at once to sink. Though it was not far out, there weren’t enough lifeboats. The heir was put into the largest, and would easily have reached safety, if he had not heard the pleas of a sister whom he loved. He ordered the boat back, but so many other frantic passengers leaped in, that the boat overturned, spilling everyone into the sea and drowning William, to the lasting sorrow of his father.

The Black Prince was the eldest of the many children of King Edward III, who reigned 1327-1377. The Prince was famous in his lifetime for two military victories in Aquitaine, at Crecy and at Poitiers, during the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, as described by Barbara Emerson in The Black Prince. His life began to go downhill thereafter, when he became ill at age thirty-eight with dysentery and cirrhosis of the liver, though he didn’t die until age forty-five, a year before his father. Michael Packe in King Edward III, says that grief at the Black Prince’s passing was expressed nationally and internationally. He was eulogised as a gallant and noble prince like Alexander the Great, and the flower of chivalry, representing a combination of courage and courtesy, pride and magnanimity.

The death of Prince Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, son of King James I, at age nineteen was wholly unexpected, according to Roy Strong in Henry, Prince of Wales and England’s Lost Renaissance. Nothing would have led anyone to believe that this athletic and masculine figure would succumb to illness, beginning with a fever, now suspected to be typhoid, ending in death eleven days later. He had possessed brilliant promise, writes JH Plumb in Royal Heritage: The Story of Britain’s Royal Builders and Collectors, moulding himself on the Renaissance concept of the ideal prince. He excelled at the important martial arts and patronised the fine arts. He was the first English prince to create a cabinet of works of art such as pictures, bronze sculptures, books and coins, brought together to create a sense of regal taste and artistic splendour He was also interested in architecture, landscape gardening, theatre and science. His brother Charles, later King Charles I, inherited and expanded his collections, proving a greater connoisseur than he.

Prince Frederick Lewis, Prince of Wales was an example of the Hanoverian propensity of fathers disliking their sons, writes Peter Quennell in Caroline of England: An Augustan Portrait. For no apparent reason, he was alienated and estranged from his family. His parents King George II and Queen Caroline, were neglectful, and he was undutiful, but the evidence seems insufficient to explain the bad opinion in which he was held during his life and after his death. He fell ill, recovered, and then died suddenly in a spasm of coughing, unlamented by either his family or the public. His son though, succeeded to the throne as King George III. Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson in Blood Royal: The Illustrious House of Hanover reminds us that he was immortalised in a well-known Jacobite jingle: “Here lies poor Fred, who was alive and is dead…There’s no more to be said.”