Friday, January 23, 2009

Lord of Athlone

Major-General Alexander Augustus Frederick William Alfred George Cambridge, 1st Earl of Athlone was a member of the Royal Family of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms, the younger brother of Queen Mary. He held the titles of a Prince of Teck in the Kingdom of Württemberg until 1917, when he relinquished his German titles and assumed the name Cambridge and was created Earl of Athlone. Alexander also served as Governor-General of the Union of South Africa from 21 January 1924 to 21 December 1930, as Governor General of Canada from 21 June 1940 to 12 April 1946, and was Chancellor of the University of London from 1932 to 1955.

Alexander was born on 14 April 1874 at Kensington Palace in London.[1] His father was Prince Francis, Duke of Teck, the son of Duke Alexander of Württemberg and Claudine Rhédey von Kis-Rhéde (created the Countess von Hohenstein). His mother was the Duchess of Teck (née Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge), the youngest daughter of Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge and a granddaughter of King George III. Alexander was styled His Serene Highness Prince Alexander of Teck at birth.[1][2] He was educated at Eton College, Berkshire.

Following his education, Alexander attended the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 7th Queen's Own Hussars in 1894. He served in the Second Matabele War and was mentioned in dispatches. In the Second Boer War he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).

In 1914, at the beginning of World War I, Alexander had been nominated as Governor General of Canada, however, he was called up for active service with his regiment. At the outbreak of war, he was a major in the 2nd Life Guards, with whom he served throughout the war. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1915, brigadier in 1917, and honorary major general in 1918.He was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in June 1917. During the closing months of the war, he served as head of the British Mission to the Belgian army.

On 16 November 1903 Alexander became engaged to his second cousin once removed, Princess Alice of Albany (23 February 1883 – 3 January 1981), the daughter of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany and a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, and they were married on 10 February 1904, at St. George's Chapel, Windsor.

Alexander and Alice had three children:

Princess May of Teck, later The Lady May Cambridge (23 January 1906–29 May 1994), married 23 October 1931 Colonel Sir Henry Abel Smith (26 January 1900-24 January 1993)
Prince Rupert of Teck, later styled Viscount Trematon (24 April 1907–15 April 1928)
Prince Maurice of Teck (29 March 1910–14 September 1910).

During World War I, anti-German feeling in the United Kingdom led Alexander's brother in law, King George V to change the name of the royal house from the Germanic House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the more English-sounding House of Windsor. The King also renounced all his Germanic titles for himself and all members of the British Royal Family who were British citizens.

In response to this, Alexander renounced his title, through a Royal Warrant from the King, dated 14 July 1917, of a Prince of Teck in the Kingdom of Württemberg and the style His Serene Highness. Alexander, along with his brother, Prince Adolphus of Teck, adopted the name Cambridge, after their grandfather, Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge. He briefly became Sir Alexander Cambridge.

A few days later, the King created his brother-in-law Earl of Athlone and Viscount Trematon. Alexander was now styled The Right Honourable The Earl of Athlone. His elder daughter was now styled Lady May Cambridge, and his surviving son adopted the courtesy title of Viscount Trematon. Alexander's wife, Alice, retained her title of a British princess with the style Her Royal Highness and became known as Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone.

In 1923, Lord Athlone was appointed Governor-General of the Union of South Africa, in succession to his cousin, HRH Prince Arthur of Connaught. In that capacity, he helped to resolve the controversy surrounding a proposal by Prime Minister James Hertzog that South Africa should have its own flag, in addition to the Union Flag. In recognition, George V made him a Knight of the Order of the Garter (KG) in April 1928. Athlone, a suburb of the South African city of Cape Town, was also named after him.

On 26 April 1924 Lord Athlone officially opened Pioneer Park, one of the premier public parks in Johannesburg at the time.

In June 1940, Lord Athlone was appointed Governor General of Canada at the age of 68, following the sudden death of Lord Tweedsmuir while in office. There had been calls from government and the media for a Canadian governor general, but Prime Minister Mackenzie King did not feel the time was right for this while Canada was still at war with Germany. Lord Athlone, accompanied by Princess Alice, travelled to Canada to take up his position, zig-zagging across the Atlantic in RMS Queen Mary to avoid submarine attack, arriving safely in Halifax.

As World War II continued, Lord Athlone was very active in supporting the war effort by continuously inspecting troops, training schools, and military hospitals. Princess Alice was Honorary Commandant of the Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service, Honorary Air Commandant of the Royal Canadian Air Force (Women's Division), and president of the nursing division of the St. John Ambulance Brigade.

Earl of Athlone, Princess Alice and Mackenzie King at the opening of Parliament 6 September, 1945As governor general, Lord Athlone hosted Prime Minister Mackenzie King, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Quebec Citadel on two separate occasions in 1943 and 1944. These meetings, known as the Quebec Conferences, helped decide the strategies of the Western Allies that would lead to victory over Nazi Germany and Japan in 1945.

Not everything was focused on the war, though. Lord Athlone created the Athlone-Vanier Engineering Fellowship at the Engineering Institute of Canada, recognizing academic excellence, leadership, and management potential. He also enjoyed the social activities around Ottawa, hosting tobogganing parties, skiing in Gatineau Park and learning how to skate.

In 1946, he was replaced as Governor General of Canada by Lord Alexander of Tunis. Lord Athlone returned to the United Kingdom to retirement at his residence in Kensington Palace. He attended the coronation of his great-niece, Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 and other major royal events.

Lord Athlone died at Kensington Palace on 16 January 1957. He was buried at Frogmore Royal Burial Ground, Windsor. As both his sons had pre-deceased him, the Earldom of Athlone became extinct upon his death. His wife survived until 1981, the oldest and last surviving grandchild of Queen Victoria.