King Charles Fails First Big Colonialism Test

King Charles Fails First Big Colonialism Test

King Charles has failed to defuse a bitter colonialism row after refusing a request to repatriate the remains of an Ethiopian prince transported to England at the age of 7 who was befriended by Queen Victoria, died at 18, and is buried at Windsor Castle.

Prince Alemayehu was taken to Britain by British soldiers with his mother, Empress Tiruwork Wube, in the late nineteenth century after his father, Emperor Tewodros, committed suicide when his forces were defeated by the British army. British-authored accounts claim that Tewodros ordered Alemayehu and Tiruwork to go to Britain to seek safety before killing himself, but many historians today characterize his transit to Britain as an abduction, and say that Alemayehu was essentially seized as a prize along with countless Abyssinian treasures in an orgy of looting.

The British expedition, which included a representative of the British Museum, seized an astonishing number of artifacts including gold crowns, manuscripts, necklaces and dresses, with elephants used to transport the treasures.

The British also took Prince Alemayehu and his mother, Empress Tiruwork Wube.

The Empress died on the voyage to England and Alemayehu was taken under the care of a naval captain, who, upon their return to England, presented the boy to Queen Victoria. She wrote about his plight sentimentally in her diaries—in one entry she describes him as “a pretty, polite, graceful boy”—but without ever seeming to acknowledge her and her military’s role in his misery.

He became a ward of Victoria when he was 11. She intervened frequently to try and help him, and ensured he received education at Cheltenham School and Rugby College and was enrolled at the officer training camp at Sandhurst. He would visit Balmoral and go out with the gamekeepers and said the countryside reminded him of his childhood home. He was paraded at court and in public and made frequent public appearances that drew enormous crowds. He was described as “public property” in some accounts.

However, his misery intensified as he grew older and he suffered with regular ill-health, possibly from tuberculosis. At the age of 18 he died of pleurisy and was interred, at the queen’s request, in the catacombs of St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.

A plaque, reading, “When I was a stranger, ye took me in,” marks his vault.

Victoria wrote in her diaries that his death was “too sad,” lamenting the fact that he had died “in a strange country without seeing a person or relative belonging to him, so young, and so good.”

His family have called for his remains be sent back to Ethiopia for several decades and in 2007, the then Ethiopian president Girma Wolde-Giorgis sent Queen Elizabeth a formal request for the return of the prince’s remains.

However, the Palace has once again rejected the calls, telling the BBC that removing his remains could affect royals buried in the same chapel, such as the bodies of Henry VI, Edward IV, Henry VIII and George V.

In a statement, a Palace spokesperson said: “It is very unlikely that it would be possible to exhume the remains without disturbing the resting place of a substantial number of others in the vicinity.”

They said they had “the responsibility to preserve the dignity of the departed.”

The statement added that in the past requests had been accommodated by the Royal Household for Ethiopian delegates to visit the chapel where Prince Alemayehu is buried.

However, the failure to exhume the prince will send an unwelcome signal to campaigners trying to get the royal family to acknowledge and atone for its imperial past.

Hopes had been raised that Charles would push this reckoning forward as king after he addressed the issue of slavery at a reception in Rwanda last year, saying: “I cannot describe the depths of my personal sorrow at the suffering of so many, as I continue to deepen my own understanding of slavery’s enduring impact.”

Alemayehu’s descendent Abebech Kasa told the BBC: “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.”

The Daily Beast

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