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Why British refused to return the remains of Prince Alemayehu of Ethiopia

It is not just looted diamonds and valuable artefacts that former colonial powers want to hold on to; they can also be possessive about old bones and mortal dust. Evidence: Buckingham Palace has recently rejected demands for the return of the remains of Prince Alemayehu of Ethiopia from the catacombs of St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.

Alemayehu’s is a typical Victorian tale of colonial depredation dressed up in royal kindness. In the 1860s, his father, Emperor Tewodros II, had been given the royal ignore by Queen Victoria when he sought alliance with the British. Angered, he took some Britons hostage. A quick reprisal from a huge British military expedition, which incidentally included Indian soldiers, followed. Tewodros preferred suicide to capture and the British were free to plunder countless historical artefacts and untold wealth. For good measure, they also took away Alemayehu and his mother, who unfortunately died during the journey to Britain.

Queen Victoria, never short on the maternal instinct, felt for the orphan prince. She appointed a certain Captain Speedy as his guardian and supported him financially. But Alemayehu was unhappy; bullied and badgered at Rugby and Sandhurst, he yearned for home. Unfortunately, he fell ill and died when just eighteen. The queen, while allowing his burial at Windsor, mourned—as if it was not the doing of her own colonial officials—that the prince had been “all alone, in a strange country, without a single person or relative, belonging to him”.


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