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Buckingham Palace Refuses to Return Remains of Ethiopia’s Prince Alemayehu

Prince Alemayehu, who died an orphan in the UK aged only 18, was buried at Windsor Castle in the 19th century

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Sadaf Hasan
Sadaf Hasan
Aspiring reporter covering trending topics

UNITED KINGDOM: Buckingham Palace has denied a request to return the remains of an Ethiopian prince who was buried at Windsor Castle in the 19th century.

Prince Alemayehu was sent to the UK when he was seven years old, where he arrived as an orphan after his mother passed away on the journey.

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Queen Victoria took an interest in him and made arrangements for his schooling and, eventually, his burial when he died at the age of 18.

His family, however, desires that his remains be returned to Ethiopia.

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As a family and as Ethiopians, “we want his remains back because that is not the country he was born in,” one of the royal relatives, Fasil Minas, told the media.

He said, “It was not right” to have him buried in the UK.

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However, a spokeswoman for Buckingham Palace told the media that transferring his remains would have an impact on other people buried in the catacombs of St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.

“It is very unlikely that it would be possible to exhume the remains without disturbing the resting places of a substantial number of others in the vicinity,” said the palace.

The statement went on to say that while the chapel’s administrators were aware of the need to respect Prince Alemayehu’s memory, they also had “the responsibility to preserve the dignity of the departed.”

Additionally, it stated that the Royal Household has previously “accommodated requests from Ethiopian delegations to visit” the chapel.

Due to imperial action and a diplomatic blunder, Prince Alemayehu ended up in the UK at such an early age.

The prince’s father, Emperor Tewodros II, tried to form an alliance with the UK in 1862 in an effort to expand his empire, but Queen Victoria would not respond to any of his letters arguing his case.

After becoming furious at the lack of action, the emperor held some Europeans, hostage, including the British consul. This sparked a massive military operation involving 13,000 British and Indian soldiers to bring them back.

There was a representative from the British Museum on the force as well.

They besieged Tewodros’ mountain castle at Maqdala in April 1868, overpowering the walls in a couple of hours.

The emperor made the decision to end his life rather than become a prisoner of the British, and as a result, he became a hero to his people.

Following the battle, the British stole countless religious and cultural treasures. These comprised clothes, jewels, books, and gold crowns.

Historians say that hundreds of mules and dozens of elephants were required to transport the treasures, which are now dispersed throughout European museums, libraries, and private collections.

Prince Alemayehu and Empress Tiruwork Wube, his mother, were also taken away by the British.

According to Andrew Heavens, whose book The Prince and the Plunder details Alemayehu’s life, the British might have thought that doing this would keep them safe and shield them from Tewodros’ foes who were close to Maqdala, who might arrest them and possibly kill them.

The prince’s situation and orphan status caught Queen Victoria’s attention once he arrived in Britain in June 1868. The two met at the queen’s vacation residence on the Isle of Wight, which is located off the south coast of England.

She consented to give him financial assistance and placed him under the supervision of Captain Tristram Charles Sawyer Speedy, the man who had travelled to Ethiopia with the prince. After living together for a while on the Isle of Wight, Captain Speedy took him on trips to other countries, including India.

The prince, however, was mandated to receive a formal education.

He was assigned to the British public school rugby team, although he did not enjoy it there. He eventually transferred to the Royal Military College in Sandhurst, where he experienced bullying.

The prince reportedly had a “hankering” to go home, as correspondence cited by Heavens says, but the idea was quickly quashed.

“I feel for him as if I knew him. He was dislocated from Ethiopia, from Africa, from the land of black people, and remained there as if he had no home,” Abebech Kasa, another Ethiopian royal descendent, said.

Alemayehu eventually received tutoring in a Leeds home. He did, however, fall ill, perhaps with pneumonia, and at one time he refused to receive medical attention, believing he had been poisoned.

The prince died in 1879 at the young age of 18 after spending ten years in exile. His illness was the subject of news articles across the country, and Queen Victoria expressed her sorrow at his passing in her diary.

“I was 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,” she stated.

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

Afterwards, she made arrangements for his burial at Windsor Castle.

The demand for the body to be returned is not new. The nation’s then-President Girma Wolde-Giorgis filed a formal request for the body’s return to Queen Elizabeth II in 2007, but those attempts were unsuccessful.

“We want him back. We don’t want him to remain in a foreign country. He had a sad life. 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,” Abebech said. She had hoped that the recently crowned King Charles III would respond favourably to her request.

According to Professor Alula Pankhurst, an expert on British-Ethiopian relations, “restitution is used as a way to bring reconciliation, to recognise what was wrong in the past.”

The return of the body, in his opinion, would allow Britain to “rethink its past. It’s a reflection and coming to terms with an imperial past.”

Also Read: Charles’ Coronation: Public Invited to Join a “Chorus of Millions” to Swear Allegiance


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