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Buckingham Palace reject request to repatriate Prince Alemayehu’s body to Ethiopia

 (Sepia Times/Universal Images Group)
(Sepia Times/Universal Images Group)

Buckingham Palace has rejected a request to unearth the bones of a 19th Century Ethiopian Prince buried at Windsor Castle.

Prince Alemayehu, died an orphan in London, aged 18, after being taken back to the United Kingdom by Victorian explorer Captain Tristram Speedy in a journey that killed his mother.

His descendants had demanded Queen Elizabeth II return the body from Windsor Chapel and were hoping for fresh talks under King Charles III.

“We want his remains back as a family and as Ethiopians because that is not the country he was born in,” one of the royal descendants Fasil Minas told the BBC.

But a Palace spokesperson, moved to deny the request, saying: “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 added that Windsor wanted to celebrate Prince Alemayehu’s memory, but that they also had “the responsibility to preserve the dignity of the departed”.

The statement claimed the Royal Household had “accommodated requests from Ethiopian delegations to visit” his final resting place in the chapel.

His father, Emperor Tewodros II, committed suicide rather than be captured by the British at the Battle of Magdala in 1868.

This last defiant act has immortalised him as a national hero for many Ethiopians.

It is believed that his infant son Alemayehu was kidnapped as British forces ransacked the Ethiopian royal treasures including fine silks, gold regalia and jewellery, which needed 15 elephants and 200 mules to move.

Then Prime Minister William Gladstone criticised the plundering of Maqdala as a “reprehensible and lamentable episode” but some of the treasures are still on display at the British Museum today.

The young Prince was taken to Britain and sent to boarding school and officers’ training school at Sandhurst, but died at the age of 18 from a lung condition.

He was buried at Windsor Castle, with Queen Victoria describing his short life as “too sad”.

“Very grieved and shocked to hear by telegram, that good Alemayehu had passed away this morning. It is too sad! All alone, in a strange country, without a single person or relative, belonging to him,” she wrote in her diary.

“His was no happy life, full of difficulties of every kind, and was so sensitive, thinking that people stared at him on account of his colour... Everyone is very sorry.”

Mulugeta Aserate, second cousin of Ethiopia’s last emperor Haile Selassie said it was time the wrongs of the last millennium were put right.

“The prince was a prisoner of war,” he told Reuters in 2007.

“His return would ease the minds of lots of Ethiopians who believe his rightful resting place should be here with his father.”

A brass plaque reading “I was a stranger and ye took me in” commemorates Alemayehu’s resting place in the catacombs of St George’s Chapel.