Claremont and Charles Edward Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha

house2Today you can only visit the National Trust Claremont Gardens – the impressive house is privately owned as Claremont Fan Court School. It was in 1774 that Clive of India bought the estate and commissioned Capability Brown to build a new house, the house that now stands, and to landscape the gardens. In 1816 it was bought for the nation as a wedding present for George IV’s daughter Charlotte to Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. It should be remembered that all the royal households throughout the continent were closely connected and inter-married as is our own Queen and Prince Phillip and in previous time Queen Victoria of the House of Hanover while her husband Albert was of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, two large German Duchies. Queen Victoria was a frequent visitor to Claremont both as a child (Leopold was her uncle) and as an adult and the house was owned by royalty for many years.

charlesedward1Queen Victoria ‘s son had a grandson Charles Edward whose uncle was Edward VII and whose cousins were George V and Kaiser William, the Kaiser or Emperor of World War I. Charles Edward was born at Claremont House and was in line to inherit the estate.

Under direct orders from his grandmother Queen Victoria in 1900 Charles inherited the ducal throne of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and later that year became a German citizen. In 1902 Edward VII made him a Knight of the Garter . Upon coming of age in 1905 he married a German princess, a niece of Kaiser Wilhelm’s wife to become a member of the German aristocracy and assume full constitutional powers as Duke Carl Eduard of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

When 1914 -1918 World War I broke out it was a dilemma for Charles Edward as he was so closely related to both the British royalty and the German Emperor. He decided to support Germany and became a general in the German army. Here was a close member of the British royalty and Knight of the Garter fighting for the Germans. In 1917 an act of Parliament took away his titles and honours. Also our royal house then was the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and it was only then that the name of the royal house was changed to the House of Windsor as we know it today. Charles Edward was branded a traitor and exiled from England.

charlesedward21917 had seen the Russian Revolution and the rise of Marxism and in from the post first world war years witnessed the power struggles between the left and right wing parties in Germany . Charles Edward in fear of the Communist threat now surrendered his rights in Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the soldier’s council and cast about for a new hero and found Adolf Hitler. He became associated with various right-wing paramilitary and political organizations and in 1932 took part in the movement whereby the German National Party became associated with the Nazi Party. He joined the Nazi Party and was a leading member of the SA ‘Brownshirts’. He also served as a member of the Reichstag from 1937 to 1945 and as president of the German Red Cross from 1933 to 1945.

In 1936 Adolf 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. At that time Charles Edward dressed in his SA uniform attended the funeral of King George V and later had meetings with the future king Edward VIII on the possibility of a pact between Germany and Britain . Although nothing came of the talks he continued to send Hitler encouraging reports about the strength of pro-German sentiment among the British aristocracy. It was certainly true that there was considerable support and sympathy for Hitler amongst the aristocracy and upper classes of Britain . These reports clearly tended to exaggerate the strength of pro-German opinion back in Britain and they may well have played a small but important role in persuading Hitler that some kind of deal with Britain was possible and thus undermined the prosecution of the war in its early stages. After the abdication crisis of 1936, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor had stayed with Charles Edward during their official tour of Germany in 1937.

charleshitlerFrom 1933 to 1945 Charles Edward was appointed president of the German Red Cross from 1933 to 1945 and in this role must have become embroiled in Hitler’s policies for cleansing his adopted homeland of what he considered to be undesirables. It is difficult to see that he did not know of the euthanasia programme that killed 100,000 disabled people in Germany and of the existence of the ‘Final Solution’.

When World War II ended Charles Edward was placed by the Americans under house arrest in Germany because of his Nazi sympathies. In 1946, he was sentenced to a ‘de-nazification’ court and heavily fined. Many of his former properties in Saxony, and Coburg were seized by the Soviet army. The former Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha spent the last years of his life in seclusion. In 1953, he even had to travel to a local cinema to watch the coronation of his close relation Queen Elizabeth II. He died a penniless convicted criminal in 1954 as the older one of only two surviving male grandchildren of Queen Victoria

So as you pass Claremont or enjoy its Landscape Gardens think of its royal connections, of Queen Victoria , of Charles Edward born and growing up in the house and his totally estranged life in Germany as a principal member of the Nazi party. Remember why now we have a House of Windsor.

Martin Warwick

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