In A Nutshell
Charles Edward (1884–1954), Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (two duchies located in Germany), was the posthumous son of the haemophiliac Prince Leopold and favorite grandson of Queen Victoria. He experienced an idyllic upbringing as an English royal, yet, through a series of unfortunate events he fell in with Hitler and the Nazi Party before dying an ignominious, pauper’s death.
The Whole Bushel
Charles Edward was virtually forced into inheriting the duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (the home of Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert) at the age of 16 (being yanked from his school at Eton). His senior uncles and cousin renounced their claims, one of them supposedly threatening to beat him if he did not accept the dukedom. So he did, and reigned dutifully for 14 years.
Then World War I happened. While he was deeply sympathetic to England and no fan of Kaiser Wilhelm II, who liked to bully him, he felt honor-bound to serve his duchy and Germany as a whole. Then he watched as his family changed their name to the English-sounding “Windsor,” denounced him as a traitor and stripped him of his English titles. An embittered Charles Edward became evermore dedicated to his adopted German nation, but with defeat and the abolishment of the German nobility, he lost his remaining titles. To add insult to injury, the anarchic post-war circumstances saw Communists seize his home, naturally leaving him a little miffed.
Do you know who else didn’t like Communists? Adolf Hitler.
In addition to the anti-Communist stance, Charles Edward was drawn to the Nazis by the confident militarism which echoed Imperial times, and he become a full-fledged supporter, joining the party in 1935. However, he didn’t do a great deal—just heading up the German Red Cross (where he was a symbolic leader likely not involved in the “euthanasia” program targeting the disabled) and the Anglo-German Fellowship. In the latter role, he returned to England in 1936 and was welcomed by the far-right Cliveden Set and its leader Lady Astor, to whom Churchill later delivered the immortal insult “My dear you are ugly, but tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be ugly.” (No one gets between Winston and his alcohol.) Charles Edward also struck up something of a friendship with Edward VIII, who was something of a Nazi sympathizer, but this was all for naught when Edward abdicated to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.
In wider English society, however, he was loathed (in hindsight, wearing his SA “Brownshirt” uniform complete with swastika to the funeral of King George V wasn’t the best idea) and he eventually returned to Germany, losing a son and son-in-law in the fighting. When the war ended, he was imprisoned as a Nazi sympathizer and placed in the harshest of internment camps. Even the lobbying of his sister Alice (who, in contrast to her brother, was an upstanding English royal and sister-in-law to George V’s widow) and her influential husband failed to attain his release. At his trial he pleaded not guilty and remained unabashedly pro-Hitler. Though exonerated of any war crimes, he was judged an important Nazi and virtually bankrupted by heavy fines. In the Soviet zone of occupation, Communists took his stuff, again, and he was reduced to living in a simple cottage.
A broken man, Charles Edward suffered severe ill health, including arthritis and a malignant facial tumor which left him blind in one eye. He died at the age of 69 in 1954. Shortly before his death, he viewed the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, a first-cousin twice-removed, and once again saw the family he had been so thoroughly separated from.