Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (Leopold Charles Edward George Albert, German: Leopold Carl Eduard Georg Albert; 19 July 1884 – 6 March 1954) was the last reigning duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha from 30 July 1900 until 1918. A male-line grandson of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, he was also until 1919 a Prince of the United Kingdom and from birth held the British titles of Duke of Albany, Earl of Clarence and Baron Arklow.
|Duke of Albany|
|Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha|
|Reign||30 July 1900 – 14 November 1918|
|Born||Prince Charles Edward, Duke of Albany|
19 July 1884
Claremont House, Surrey, England
|Died||6 March 1954 69) (aged|
Coburg, West Germany
near Schloss Callenberg, Germany
Princess Victoria Adelaide of Schleswig-Holstein
|House||Saxe-Coburg and Gotha|
|Father||Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany|
|Mother||Princess Helen of Waldeck and Pyrmont|
|Years of service||1904–1918, 1933–1945|
|Unit||1st Foot Guards|
National Socialist Flyers Corps
|House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha|
|Victoria and Albert|
Charles Edward was a controversial figure in the United Kingdom due to his status as the sovereign Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, which was part of the German Empire, during World War I. On 14 November 1918, however, after a revolution in Germany, he was forced to abdicate as Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and lost his rights to the ducal throne.
In 1919, Charles Edward was deprived of his British peerages, his title of Prince and Royal Highness and his British honours for having fought in the German Army (eventually as a General) during WWI; he was labelled a "traitor peer".
Charles Edward later joined the Nazi Party as well as the Sturmabteilung (SA, or Brownshirts), in which he reached the position of Obergruppenführer. Charles Edward served in a number of positions in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, including President of the German Red Cross from 1933–45. He was the maternal grandfather of Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and the younger brother of Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone.
After paying the fines imposed by the denazification court and losing properties to the Soviet army, he died in poverty in 1954.
Early life in the United Kingdom
Prince Charles Edward was born at Claremont House near Esher, Surrey. His father was Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, the eighth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. His mother was Princess Helen of Waldeck and Pyrmont, the fourth daughter of George Victor of Waldeck and Pyrmont and of his first wife Princess Helena of Nassau. As his father had died before his birth, Prince Charles Edward succeeded to his titles at birth and was styled His Royal Highness the Duke of Albany.
After falling ill, the young Duke was baptised privately at Claremont on 4 August 1884, two weeks after his birth, and publicly in Esher Parish Church on 4 December 1884 four months later. His godparents were Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom (his paternal grandmother), the Prince of Wales (his paternal uncle), Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein (his paternal aunt), the Marchioness of Lorne (his paternal aunt), Princess Frederica of Hanover (his father's second cousin), Alexis, Prince of Bentheim and Steinfurt (his uncle, who was unable to attend the event) and George Victor, Prince of Waldeck and Pyrmont (his maternal grandfather, who also could not attend).
Charles Edward was educated as a Prince of the United Kingdom for his first 15 years. As a grandson of Queen Victoria, the Duke was a first cousin of King George V and of several European royals: Queen Maud of Norway, Grand Duke Ernest Louis of Hesse, Empress Alexandra of Russia, Queen Marie of Romania, Crown Princess Margaret of Sweden, Queen Victoria Eugenia of Spain, Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany, Queen Sophia of the Hellenes, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and Josias, Hereditary Prince of Waldeck and Pyrmont (the last two through his mother). Such was the interest Wilhelm II showed in his young cousin's upbringing that Charles Edward was known among the Imperial Court as "the Emperor's seventh son". His mother drummed into him endlessly the importance of "becoming a good man, so you bring no shame on Papa's name".
His education began under the tutelage of "Miss Potts" at Claremont, then he went to prep school, firstly at Sandroyd School and then "at Lyndhurst under the care of Mr W. F. Rawnsley, which was a very happy period of Charlie's life." According to his sister, after Lyndhurst he went to Eton, where he was in Arthur Benson's House.
Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
In 1899 the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, urged by Kaiser Wilhelm II, decided on how to deal with the succession of Duke Alfred, who was in ill health. His only son, Prince Alfred ("Young Affie"), had died in February 1899. The Duke of Connaught, the Queen's third son, served in the British military, causing Wilhelm II to oppose him as a ruling prince of Germany. His son, Prince Arthur of Connaught attended Eton with Charles Edward. Wilhelm II demanded a German education for the boy, but this was unacceptable to the Duke of Connaught. Thus young Arthur also renounced his claims to the Duchy. Next in line was sixteen-year-old Charles Edward, who thus inherited the ducal throne of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, when his uncle Alfred died in July 1900.
His sister Alice wrote: "It was a very great heartbreak for my mother that my brother had to succeed to Coburg. 'I have always tried to bring Charlie up as a good Englishman,' she once said, 'and now I have to turn him into a good German.'" The Dowager Duchess of Albany "reluctantly" decided that "Charlie should accept – and he was too young to resist."
With his mother and sister Charles Edward moved to Germany, although he spoke no German. Following an education plan by Wilhelm II, he attended the Preußische Hauptkadettenanstalt (Prussian Central Cadet Institute) at Lichterfelde, studied at Bonn University and became a member of Corps Borussia Bonn. He also joined the 1st Garderegiment zu Fuß at Potsdam and spent some time at the German court in Berlin. His uncle, Edward VII, made him a Knight of the Garter on 15 July 1902, just prior to his 18th birthday.
From 1900 to 1905 Charles Edward reigned through the regency of Ernst, Hereditary Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, the husband of Duke Alfred's third daughter Alexandra. The regent acted under the strict guidance of Emperor Wilhelm II.
Upon coming of age on 19 July 1905, he assumed full constitutional powers. He proved loyal to the Emperor and was deemed a constitutionally-minded prince. However, he soon deviated from his early liberal views and gave in to autocratic impulses, also becoming dependent on advisers at his two courts at Gotha and Coburg, between which political differences and rivalries had developed. He liberally supported the court theatres in both towns. Taking an interest in Zeppelin and aeroplane technology, Charles Edward supported the newly created aircraft industry at Gotha (see Gothaer Waggonfabrik). Like all Dukes of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, he divided his time between the two towns. Among his residences Schloss Friedenstein, Ehrenburg Palace, and Schloss Callenberg, he favoured the last. He also took great interest in the renovation of Veste Coburg which had been abandoned as a ducal residence in the 17th century. This work, which strained the ducal finances, was ongoing from 1908 until 1924.
Marriage and family
Wilhelm II chose Princess Victoria Adelaide of Schleswig-Holstein, the niece of his wife, Empress Augusta Victoria, as Charles Edward's bride, who was his first cousin. She was the eldest daughter of Friedrich Ferdinand, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein, and Princess Karoline Mathilde of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg. They married on 11 October 1905, at Glücksburg Castle, Schleswig-Holstein, and had five children, including Sibylla, the mother of Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.
World War I
World War I caused a conflict of loyalties for Charles Edward, but he finally decided to support the German Empire. He broke off relations with his family at the British and Belgian courts. This did not suffice to overcome doubts about his loyalties in Germany. Charles Edward served on the staff of an infantry division of the German army at the beginning of the war, fighting Russians in Prussia. In 1915, he had to stop due to rheumatism. Although he never held a command, he visited both the western and eastern fronts numerous times. Soldiers from his duchies were awarded the Carl-Eduard-Kriegskreuz. In 1915, King George V, his cousin, ordered his name removed from the register of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.
In March 1917, the Landtag of Coburg excluded members of the ducal family from the succession if their country was hostile to (i.e. at war with) Germany. In July 1917, still unaware of the change in law at Coburg, in an effort to distance his dynasty from its German origins, George V changed the name of the British Royal House from the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the House of Windsor as an anti-German gesture. That year, the UK Parliament passed the Titles Deprivation Act which empowered the Privy Council to investigate "any persons enjoying any dignity or title as a peer or British prince who have, during the present war, borne arms against His Majesty or His Allies, or who have adhered to His Majesty's enemies."
Under the terms of that act, an Order in Council on 28 March 1919 formally removed Charles Edward's British peerages. He and his children also lost their entitlement to the titles of Prince and Princess of the United Kingdom and the styles Royal Highness and Highness. Nevertheless, they retained the style of Highness as members of a sovereign ducal house in Germany.
Private citizen and Nazi politician
The Russian Revolution of 1917 caused Charles much concern and he watched anxiously during the ensuing power struggles between the left- and right-wing parties in Germany. On the morning of 9 November 1918, during the German Revolution, the Workers' and Soldiers' Council of Gotha declared him deposed. On 11 November, his abdication was demanded in Coburg. Only on 14 November, later than most other ruling princes, did he formally announce that he had "ceased to rule" in both Gotha and Coburg. He did not explicitly renounce his throne but no longer had a right to rule.
Effectively exiled from the United Kingdom and fearful of the communist threat, he started looking for a new political home. He also worked towards the restoration of the monarchy, thus supporting the nationalistic-conservative and völkisch right.
In 1919, his properties and collections in Coburg were transferred to the Coburger Landesstiftung, a foundation that still exists today. A similar solution for Gotha took longer, and only after legal struggles with the Free State of Thuringia was it set up in 1928/34. The Gotha foundation was expropriated by the Soviet authorities after 1945. After 1919, the family retained Schloss Callenberg, some other properties (including those in Austria), and a right to live at Veste Coburg. They also received substantial financial compensation for lost possessions. Some additional real estate in Thuringia was restored to the ducal family in 1925.
Now a private citizen, he became associated with various right-wing paramilitary and political organisations. He supported Hermann Ehrhardt both morally and financially after the Freikorps' commander's participation in the failed Kapp Putsch.
He met Adolf Hitler for the first time on 14 October 1922, at the Nazis' second Deutscher Tag held at Coburg. In 1923, he joined the Bund Wiking as Oberbereichsleiter in Thuringia. When the Wiking joined Der Stahlhelm, Charles Edward became a member of the Stahlhelm's national board.
In 1932, Charles Edward's daughter Sibylla married Prince Gustaf Adolf, Duke of Västerbotten, the eldest son of the Crown Prince of Sweden and second-in-line to the Swedish throne. The marriage meant that Sibylla would, in the normal course, become Queen of Sweden. The engagement was announced on 16 June 1932 and the wedding was celebrated on 19 October 1932. That same year (1932), Charles Edward took part in the creation of the Harzburg Front, through which the German National People's Party became associated with the Nazi Party. He also publicly called on voters to support Hitler in the presidential election of 1932. Charles Edward formally joined the Nazi Party in March 1933 and that same year became a member of the SA (Brownshirts), rising to the rank of Obergruppenführer by 1936. From 1936 to 1945, he served as a member of the Reichstag representing the Nazi Party, and was president of the German Red Cross from December 1933 to 1945. By the time he took over that position, the German Red Cross had already been under the Nazis' control.
In 1934, he visited Japan, where he attended a conference on the protection of civilians during war and delivered Hitler's birthday greeting to the Emperor. By 1936, he had agreed to be a spy for Hitler while attending the funeral of George V at Sandringham, but he was unreliable, according to a historian, "telling them what they wanted to hear". Records indicate that Charles Edward received a monthly payment from the Führer of 4,000 Reichsmark (worth about £16,000 in 2015). Hitler sent Charles Edward to Britain as president of the Anglo-German Friendship Society. His mission was to improve Anglo-German relations and to explore the possibility of a pact between the two countries. He attended the funeral of his first cousin, George V, as Hitler's representative in the uniform of a Sturmabteilung (SA), complete with a metal helmet, his British uniforms having been taken away when he was stripped of his British titles. The Prince sent Hitler encouraging reports about the strength of pro-German sentiment among the British aristocracy and about the possibility of a Britain-Germany pact. Hitler also used him to encourage the pro-Nazi sentiments of the Duke of Windsor and his wife. After the Abdication Crisis, he played host to the former King-Emperor and his wife during their private tour of Germany in 1937.
In 1940, Charles Edward travelled via Moscow and Japan to the US, where he met President Roosevelt at the White House. In 1943, at Hitler's behest, Charles Edward asked the International Red Cross to investigate the Katyn massacre.
World War II
When World War II ended, the American Military Government in Bavaria, under the command of General George S. Patton, placed Charles Edward under house arrest at his family's vast Veste Coburg, because of his Nazi sympathies, which had been made obvious when he joined the SA. As well, "Carl Edward's British network was very useful for Hitler," according to the German historian Karina Urbach, a senior fellow of the Institute of Historical Research. In a discussion with a journalist, Urbach said that she found evidence of Carl Edward donating generously to the Nazi party for years, financing political murders and being aware of the death camps in Buchenwald. In 1945, the Führer ordered that he not be allowed to be captured because of the great deal of inside information that he possessed. According to The Guardian he was aware of the death camps' work and the programme that killed 100,000 disabled people.
He was later imprisoned with other Nazi officials. His sister, Princess Alice, learning of his incarceration, came to Germany with her husband, the Earl of Athlone (then Governor General of Canada), to plead for his release with his American captors. They dined with the American generals holding her brother, who declined to release him.
Charles Edward was imprisoned until 1946 and was originally charged with crimes against humanity. Although, at his trial, he was exonerated of complicity in war crimes, he was judged to have been "an important Nazi". In 1950 (or August 1949, according to his Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry), after several appeals, Charles Edward was sentenced by a denazification court as a Mitläufer and Minderbelasteter (roughly: follower and of lesser guilt).
Charles Edward also lost significant property as a result of his participation in World War II. Gotha was part of Thuringia and was therefore situated in the Soviet occupation zone. The Soviet Army confiscated much of the family's property in Gotha. However, Coburg had become part of Bavaria in 1920 and was occupied by American forces. The family were able to retain the substantial property located there, and in other parts of Germany and abroad.
In April 1946, his daughter Sibylla gave birth to a son, the future King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, who became, upon birth, third-in-line to the Swedish throne. In January 1947, Sybilla's husband died in a plane crash, and in October 1950, King Gustaf V of Sweden died, at which point Charles Edward's grandson became the Crown Prince of Sweden.
Late life and death
He spent the last years of his life in seclusion, forced into poverty by the fines he had been required to pay by the denazification tribunal and because much of his property had been seized by the Soviets. In 1953, he watched the coronation of his cousin's granddaughter, Elizabeth II, at a local cinema.
Charles Edward died of cancer in Coburg in his flat in Elsässer Straße on 6 March 1954 as a "penniless criminal" according to one report. He was the penultimate ruling prince of the German Reich to die; only Ernst II of Saxe-Altenburg outlived him – see (in German) List of Princes of the German Empire. He is buried at the Waldfriedhof Cemetery (Waldfriedhof Beiersdorf) near Schloss Callenberg, in Beiersdorf near Coburg.
- Ernestine duchies:
- United Kingdom:
- GCVO: Honorary Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, 27 January 1901 (Expelled in 1915)
- KG: Royal Knight of the Garter, 15 July 1902 (Expelled in 1915)
- Baden: Knight of the House Order of Fidelity, 1904
- Belgium: Grand Cordon of the Order of Leopold, 1905 – wedding gift of King Leopold II
- Denmark: Knight of the Elephant, 16 June 1906
- Austria-Hungary: Grand Cross of St. Stephen, 1906
- Kingdom of Bavaria: Knight of St. Hubert, 1907
- Kingdom of Bulgaria:
- Kingdom of Prussia:
- Kingdom of Saxony: Knight of the Rue Crown
- Sweden: Knight of the Seraphim, 20 October 1932
- Nazi Germany: NSDAP Long Service Award, 1st Class (25 years)
Charles Edward was never granted arms in the United Kingdom. Also, he did not inherit the arms of his father since royal arms, as a differenced version of Arms of Dominion, are granted individually and not inherited. On his accession as Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, he used the arms of that duchy, both the greater and lesser versions.
One variant that he used was a shield of the arms of Saxony, with a differenced version of the arms of the United Kingdom, charged with the label borne by his father on his father's arms (essentially, the arms of his father in reverse). This was similar to the arms borne by his uncle, Alfred, as Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, which can be seen on his stall plate as a Knight of the Swedish Order of the Seraphim.
In the media
In December 2007, Britain's Channel 4 aired an hour-length documentary about Charles Edward called Hitler's Favourite Royal, including re-coloured original footage and photos from all stages of his private and public life, his troubled conversion to the National-Socialist regime and other aspects. Various international historians commented on the events and issues revolving around his life, reminding the public of his existence and reviving public debate.
|Johann Leopold, Hereditary Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha||2 August|
|(1) unequally, renouncing his rights to the headship of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha), 9 March 1932, Baroness Feodora von der Horst; divorced 1962; had issue|
(2), 5 May 1963, Maria Theresia Reindl; no issue
|Princess Sibylla of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha||18 January|
|20 October 1932, Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden, Duke of Västerbotten, and had issue, including Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.|
|Prince Hubertus of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha||24 August|
|killed near Mosty, no children|
|Princess Caroline Mathilde of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha||22 June|
|married Friedrich Wolfgang Otto, Count of Castell-Rüdenhausen (27 June 1906 – 11 June 1940) on 14 December 1931, divorced on 2 May 1938, and had issue.
She married Flight Captain Max Schnirring (20 May 1895 – 7 July 1944) on 22 June 1938, and had issue.
She married Karl Otto Andree (10 February 1912 – 1984) on 23 December 1946 and divorced on 10 October 1949.
|Friedrich Josias, Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha||29 November|
|(1), 25 January 1942, Countess Viktoria-Luise of Solms-Baruth; divorced 19 September 1947; had issue|
(2), 14 February 1948, Denyse Henrietta von Muralt; divorced 17 September 1964; had issue
(3), 30 October 1964, Katrin Bremme; no issue
|Ancestors of Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha|
Notes and references
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Media related to Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha at Wikimedia Commons
- Newspaper clippings about Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in the 20th Century Press Archives of the ZBW