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Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha

Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha

German politician
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro German politician
Countries Germany
Occupations Politician
A.K.A. Carl Eduard
Gender male
Birth July 19, 1884 (Esher, Elmbridge, Surrey, South East England)
Death March 6, 1954 (Coburg, Upper Franconia, Bavaria, Germany)
Mother: Princess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont
Father: Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany
Siblings: Princess AliceCountess of Athlone
Spouse: Princess Victoria Adelaide of Schleswig-Holstein
Children: Johann Leopold, Hereditary Prince of Saxe-Coburg and GothaPrincess Sibylla of Saxe-Coburg and GothaPrince Hubertus of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1909–1943)Princess Caroline Mathilde of Saxe-Coburg and GothaFriedrich Josias, Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
The details

Charles Edward (baptised 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 held the British titles of Duke of Albany, Earl of Clarence and Baron Arklow from birth.

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), where 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 King 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 Great Britain

Prince Charles Edward was born at Claremont House near Esher, Surrey. His father was Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, the fourth son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. His mother was Princess Helena, Duchess of Albany (née Princess Helena 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 mother's brother-in-law; could not attend) and George Victor, Prince of Waldeck and Pyrmont (his maternal grandfather; could not attend).

Charles Edward was educated as a Prince of the United Kingdom for his first 15 years. He attended Eton College. As a grandson of Queen Victoria, the Duke was a first cousin of George V, Emperor of India and of the following European royals: Queen Maud of Norway, Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse, Empress Alexandra of Russia, Queen Marie of Romania, Crown Princess Margaret of Sweden, Queen Victoria Eugenia of Spain, Queen Sophia of the Hellenes, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, Josias, Hereditary Prince of Waldeck and Pyrmont (the last two through his mother) and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. Such was the interest Wilhelm showed in his young cousin's upbringing that Charles Edward was dubbed "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".

Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha

Charles Edward on a 5 Mark coin from 1907

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 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. Following an education plan by Wilhelm II, he attended the Preußische Hauptkadettenanstalt [de] at Lichterfelde, studied in Bonn 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. He was unable to speak German at the time. Kaiser Wilhelm sent him to the Bavarian equivalent of Sandhurst for training.

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 advisors 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 airplane 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.

On 14 November 1918, after the revolution, Charles Edward was forced to abdicate as Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and lost his rights to the ducal throne.

Marriage and family

The Duke and Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, 11 October 1905.

Wilhelm II picked out Princess Victoria Adelaide of Schleswig-Holstein, the niece of his wife, Empress Augusta Victoria, as Charles Edward's bride. 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 Germany. 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 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

Charles Edward in 1933, as SA-Gruppenführer
Charles Edward (left) meeting the British Ambassador to Germany, Sir Neville Henderson, in 1939. He had been at Eton with Henderson and this photograph may have been taken at a meeting of the Anglo-German Fellowship that Henderson addressed in May 1937, shortly after his appointment as British Ambassador.

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.

His properties and collections in Coburg were transferred in 1919 to the Coburger Landesstiftung [de], 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 and 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. Until 1922, Charles Edward was the head of the Preußenbund [de].

He met Adolf Hitler for the first time on 14 October 1922 (at the Nazis' second Deutscher Tag [de] held at Coburg). In 1923, he joined the Bund Wiking [de] as Oberbereichsleiter in Thuringia. When the Wiking joined the Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten, Charles Edward became a member of the Stahlhelm's national board.

In 1932, Charles Edward's daughter Sybilla 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. He also served as a member of the Reichstag representing the Nazi Party from 1936–45 and as president of the German Red Cross from December 1933–45. By the time he took over this 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, for example but he was unreliable, according to a historian, "telling them what they wanted to hear". Hitler also used him to encourage pro-Nazi sentiment among the Duke of Windsor and his wife. Records indicate that Charles Edward received a monthly payment of 4,000 Reichsmark (worth about £16,000 in 2015) from the Führer. 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 Stormtrooper (SA) general of the German army, complete with a metal helmet; (his British uniforms had been taken away when he was stripped of his English 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. After the Abdication Crisis, he played host to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, 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

Burial site near Schloss Callenberg

Although Charles Edward was too old for active service during World War II, his three sons served in the Wehrmacht. His second son, Hubertus, was killed in action in 1943 in a plane crash near Mosty.

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 home, the vast Veste Coburg, because of his Nazi sympathies, which had been made obvious when he joined the SS. 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 program 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, Major-General 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. In spite of being a cousin of King George VI, he was held in the harshest internment camps.

Charles Edward was imprisoned until 1946. He was originally charged with Crimes against humanity and the trial was held. Though he was exonerated of complicity in actual war crimes, he was judged to have been "an important Nazi". Only his failing health saved him from remaining in prison. Another factor for leniency towards him was the fact that in April 1946, his daughter Sybilla had given 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. In that same year 1950 (or August 1949, according to his ODNB entry), after several appeals, Charles Edward was sentenced by a denazification court as a Mitläufer and Minderbelasteter (roughly: follower and of lesser guilt), fined (DM 5,000) and almost bankrupted. Had he been convicted for the greater charge of "crimes against humanity," he would have been liable for a death sentence, and even otherwise, to criminalize the future king's grandfather for "crimes against humanity" would lead to major embarrassment in the immediate term and could have ramifications in years to come. The lesser sentence was therefore handed out.

Apart from being fined DM 5000, 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.

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 Russians. 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 second-to-last ruling prince of the German Reich to die (only Ernst II of Saxe-Altenburg outlived him, see List of Princes of the German Empire (German). He is buried at Cemetery Waldfriedhof (Waldfriedhof Beiersdorf) near Schloss Callenberg, in Beiersdorf near Coburg.

More than twenty years after his death in indigent circumstances, his grandson became King of Sweden as King Carl XVI Gustaf.

Titles, styles, honours and arms

Royal Monogram of Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha

Titles and styles

  • 19 July 1884 – 30 July 1900: His Royal Highness The Duke of Albany
  • 30 July 1900 – 28 March 1919: His Royal Highness The Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
  • 28 March 1919 – 6 March 1954: His Highness The Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha


  •  Austria-Hungary: Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Stephen of Hungary - 1906
  •  Belgium: Grand Cordon of the Order of Leopold (wedding gift of King Leopold) - 1905
  •  Bulgaria:
    • Knight of the Order of Bravery III grade, 1st class
    • Order of Saints Cyril and Methodius
  •  Denmark: Knight of the Order of the Elephant - 16 June 1906
  •  German Empire:
    • Knight of the Order of the Black Eagle
    • Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Red Eagle
    • Pour le Mérite
    • Grand Cross of the Iron Cross
    • Honorary Member of the Order of St. John
    •  Bavaria: Knight of the Order of St. Hubert
    •  Saxony: Knight of the Order of the Rue Crown
    •  Saxe-Coburg and Gotha: Joint Grand Master of the Saxe-Ernestine House Order
  •  Sweden: Knight of the Royal Order of the Seraphim - 1932
  •  United Kingdom:
    • Knight of the Garter - 15 July 1902 (Expelled in 1915)
    • Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order - 27 January 1901 (Expelled in 1915)


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.

Coat of Arms of Charles Edward

In the media

In December 2007, British 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.


Name Birth Death Marriages
Johann Leopold, Hereditary Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha 2 August
4 May
(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
28 November
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
26 November
killed near Mosty, no children
Princess Caroline Mathilde of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha 22 June
5 September
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 remarried 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
23 January
(1), 25 January 1942, Countess Viktoria-Luise of Solms-Baruth; divorced 19 September 1947; had issue
(2), 14 February 1948, Denyse Henrietta de Muralt; divorced 17 September 1964; had issue
(3), 30 October 1964, Katrin Bremme; no issue


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Early life in Great Britain Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha Marriage and family World War I Private citizen and Nazi politician World War II Late life and death Titles, styles, honours and arms In the media Issue Ancestry
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