The British monarchy has rejected a request from Ethiopians to recover the remains of their ancestor, a prince who died in England in 1879 after being captured as a child in Ethiopia by the British army and buried at Windsor Castle. Prince Alemayehu died, according to historians, at the age of 18 in Leeds (northern England), of pneumonia. Queen Victoria, who liked him, wanted him to be buried in the royal crypt of St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, west London.
Ethiopia has repeatedly demanded, in vain, the return of the prince, taken by force by the British after their victory over the army of the Ethiopian empire in 1868. Descendants of Alemayehu reiterated this request to the BBC. “We want his remains back. […] because it is not the country where he was born”said one of them, Fasil Minas.
But Buckingham Palace rejected this request. “It is very unlikely that it will be possible to exhume the remains [d’Alemayehu] without disturbing the resting place of a large number of other people nearby”, a spokesperson said in a statement to the BBC on Monday, May 22. Queen Elizabeth II, who died in September 2022, is among many members of the royal family buried in St George’s Chapel. The statement said the royal household has in the past “acceded to requests for visits from Ethiopian delegations” in the chapel.
The memory of the prince remained vivid in Ethiopia. During a trip to London in 1924, Emperor Haile Selassie had placed on his tomb a plaque engraved in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia. In 2007, the President of Ethiopia, Girma Wolde-Giorgis, had asked Queen Elizabeth II that the prince be returned to his country.
Prince Alemayehu, born in 1861, had been captured with his mother, Empress Tiruwork, when the British conquered the imperial fortress of Mekdela on May 13, 1868. His father, Emperor Tewodros, had committed suicide rather than to go. The Empress had died during the journey.
Queen Victoria had taken a liking to him. “I feared he would never be happy […] alone in a foreign country, without parents”, she wrote in her diary. His life “was not happy, full of difficulties of all kinds, and he was so sensitive, believing that people were looking at him because of his color”had recognized the queen.