Queen Victoria’s eighth child and fourth son came into the world at Buckingham Palace on April 7, 1853. After seven children, the Queen knew what to expect in childbirth, and she wasn't looking forward to it. So when her personal physician, Sir James Clark, made a radical suggestion, she was all for it—and so the Queen of England became an early adopter of chloroform to help ease the pain of childbirth. She was so delighted with the results that she publicly endorsed the drug’s use, much to the ire of the medical establishment of the time, which felt that pain in childbirth was divinely ordained. Her Majesty thought otherwise.
So it was with relative ease that Prince Leopold George Duncan Albert arrived in the royal family…perhaps the last time anything associated with his life would be easy. He was not an attractive child; and coming after handsome and sunny-natured Arthur, the Queen’s favorite, made his unattractiveness seem even worse. Fortunately, the two brothers loved each other dearly, and would be close all their lives.
But how long would that life be, in Leopold’s case? For not long after his second birthday, disturbing hints that his health was not good began to occur. Though it would be a few years before Leopold’s diagnosis would be confirmed, that year marked the appearance of symptoms of his hemophilia. Unfortunately, Leopold did not like to be coddled: despite his fragility he was an active, adventurous boy, which of course led to accidents. Something as small as a bruised knee could lay him up for weeks of agony and bed-rest, which would make anyone fractious and difficult to deal with. Moreover, he was intelligent (probably the cleverest of the royal sons) and liked to argue—which did not endear him to his mother.
Victoria was determined to keep her son more or less wrapped in cotton wool—a condition which Leopold gamely fought all his life, trying as hard as he could not to be an invalid despite his condition (which included, in addition to the hemophilia, occasional epileptic seizures). With his brothers’ help he fought to be allowed to attend Oxford, and though he wasn’t allowed to complete a full course of studies there, enjoyed a fair sample of university life and made many friends—including a certain Miss Alice Liddell, better known to the world as the heroine of Alice in Wonderland. He became a favorite uncle to his sister Alice’s children, and even visited his favorite sister Louise to tour North America while her husband served as Viceroy of Canada.
Leopold and his mother continued to rub each other the wrong way, but it didn’t keep Victoria from employing him as a private secretary, her interface with her ministers. Though the work eventually came to interest Leopold and he became especially good friends with Benjamin Disraeli, he wanted more from life than to be constantly at his mother’s beck and call, and again with the help of his brothers and sisters, convinced Victoria that he should be allowed to marry and live his own life apart from her. After a good deal of consideration (and, alas, some refusals from eligible princesses) he became engaged to Princess Helen of Waldeck-Pyrmont. They were married in 1882, just after Leopold’s 29th birthday, and though they were barely acquainted, quickly became devoted to each other. They had a daughter, Alice, in 1883, who incidentally was the longest lived of Victoria's’grandchildren, dying in 1981.
In March 1884, Leopold was visiting the south of France as he often did to escape England’s cold, damp winters. A slip on the tiled floor of the villa where he was staying led to a painfully bruised knee and more bed-rest…but this time, Leopold did not recover. He died in the night, whether due to an unknown deep hemorrhage, too much morphine, or an attack of epilepsy. His dear Helen gave birth to their second child, a son, four months later, who inherited his father’s title of Duke of Albany.