Once more the Windsors find themselves the centre of controversy as the young Prince Harry recently took it upon himself to appear at a fancy dress party dressed in a Nazi uniform. Lest we forget, he wasn't the first member of the British Royal family to have sported a swastika on his arm band.
Charles Edward, or to give him is full name Charles Edward George Albert Leopold, was the son of Leopold, Queen Victoria's fourth and youngest son and Helena of Waldeck. His father having died on the 28th March 1884 after a fall at the Villa Nevada at Cannes in France, Charles was born posthumously on the 19th July 1884 at Claremont House in Exeter. Charles Edward immediately inherited his father's title of Duke of Albany, but not of course his hemophilia. The young Duke was raised in England, and attended Eton until the death of his uncle Alfred Duke of Edinburgh on the 30th July 1900. At which point Charles Edward also inherited the title of Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in Germany.
Actually the title should have passed to the Duke of Connaught, but he didn't fancy living in Germany and so declined the honour in favour of his nephew. So it was the sixteen year old Charles who left England in
and went to live in Germany to assume his new reponsibilities, where he was known as Karl Eduard Herzog von Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha.
Once in Germany Charles Edward attended the Leichterfelde Military Cadet School and joined the German army and married a German princess, Victoria Adelaide of Schleswig Holstein, a niece of Kaiser Wilhelm's wife, the Empress Augusta Victoria, on the 11th October 1905 at Glücksburg Castle in Holstein and so became a member of the German aristocracy.
None of this mattered particularly at the time and as a member of the British Royal family Charles continued to be honoured back home in Britain, being awarded the Knight Grand Cross, Royal Victorian Order on the 27th January 1901 and invested as a Knight of the Order of the Garter on the 15th July 1902. But as his mother, Helen is recorded as saying when they first left for Germany, "I have always tried to bring Charlie up as a good Englishman and now I have to turn him into a good German". As a "good German" therefore Charles faced something of a predicament with the outbreak of World War I in 1914.
With his adopted country now at war with his country of birth Charles had to pick one side or the other, and as an officer in the German Army he naturally picked the German side. Germany of course lost the war, and with the collapse of the German Empire Charles was forced to abdicate as Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha on the 14th November 1918. Worse was to come as the British had already passed the Titles Deprivation Act 1917, to allow 'Enemy Peers and Princes' to be stripped of their titles and dignities. Although George V regarded stripping people of their titles as rather petty, popular opinion thought otherwise and by an Order in Council dated 28th March 1919 he ceased to be HRH Prince Charles of Great Britain and Ireland, Duke of Albany, Earl of Clarence and Baron Arklow and became just plain old Charles Edward.
Thus shorn of his titles of nobility, Charles became a leading member of the rightwing anti-republican Deutsch Nationale Volkspartei (DNVP), the Germany National Peoples Party. In July 1929 the DNVP formed an electoral alliance with the emerging Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP) or the National Socialist German Workers Party (that is Nazi party), which was later formalised in 1931 as the Harzburg Front. In June 1933, Adolf Hitler dissolved the DNVP and most of its members including our Charles Edward, joined the Nazis.
Charles Edward became an enthusiastic Nazi and a Gruppenführer in the Nazi Sturmabteilung (SA) or Stormtroopers. He was soon sent by Adolf Hitler to his native England as the president of the Anglo-German Fellowship. There he attended George V's funeral in 1936 dressed in his SA uniform and promoted the idea of Anglo-German talks to foster an alliance between the two countries. Nothing came of this idea after the abdication of Edward VIII, but Charles remained in Britain sending home regular reports. Since these tended to exagerate the strength of pro-German opinion back in Britain, they may well have played a small but important role in persuading Hitler that some kind of deal with Britain was possible and thus undermined the prosecution of the war in its early stages.
Charles returned to Germany with the outbreak of hostilities in 1939 and was captured by American forces at the conclusion of the war. Placed under house arrest he was later heavily fined by a denazification court and afterwards faded away into obscurity. He later died in poverty at Coburg on the 6th March 1954.
- Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
- Prince Charles Edward, Duke of Albany and Saxe-Coburg-Gotha
- Hitler and the Rise of National Socialism
- A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain at www.thepeerage.com