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13 Biggest Mysteries Surrounding the British Royal Family

Updated: Jul. 23, 2021

Public as their lives are, members of the royal family have always managed to maintain at least a bit of mystery...

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Historical Collection 38 Edward V Reigned From April to June 1483 1470 - 1483

The disappearance of King Edward V and his brother

In April 1483, King Edward IV of England died, and his eldest son, Edward V, age 12, ascended the throne with his uncle, his father’s brother, the Duke of Gloucester, as “protector of the realm.” But soon after, the Duke sent Edward V and his next youngest brother, aged 10 (Richard, Duke of York) to the Tower of London (both a residence and a prison)—for their own “protection.” In June, the Duke declared himself King Richard III. Edward and his brother were never seen again. Two skeletons found in the Tower are believed to be the brothers, and Richard III has long been suspected of having his nephews murdered.

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History Elizabeth I (1533-1603) Queen of England and Ireland from 1558, last Tudor monarch. Version of the Armarda portrait attributed to George Gower c1588.
Universal History Archive/UIG/Shutterstock

Was Queen Elizabeth I a murderess?

In 1560, Amy Robsart turned up dead at the bottom of a staircase, her neck broken. Amy’s tragedy, however, was convenient for Queen Elizabeth I, who was thought to be in love with Amy’s husband, Robert Dudley. Rumors quickly spread—that Elizabeth had ordered the murder of Amy. Still, some believe Amy was suicidal or that she had a pre-existing condition (cancer that had spread to her bones) that made her more likely to gravely injure herself. Don’t miss these 12 royal scandals that shocked the world.

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Historical Collection 9 Queen Victoria Circa 1890 1819 - 1901

Is the royal family not actually descended from royal blood?

Queen Elizabeth II is the great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, who was the daughter of King George III’s fourth son, Edward, Duke of Kent. That Her Majesty The Queen is descended from Victoria isn’t in question. But since the day of Victoria’s birth, there have been questions as to Victoria’s royal lineage. Some believe her father wasn’t Edward, but rather a “friend” of Victoria’s mother. Two reasons (or should we say genetically inherited conditions): Victoria was the first member of the royal family to have children with hemophilia, and King George III was the last member diagnosed with porphyria. The current royal family refuses to indulge such speculation.

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History Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and King of Hanover (1771-1851), Fifth son of George III of Great Britain. On the death of William IV, Victoria succeeded in Britain but the Hanoverian succession was subject to Salic Law. As William IV's male heir, he became king of Hanover as Ernest Augustus I. Engraving.
Universal History Archive/UIG/Shutterstock

Did Queen Victoria’s uncle murder his valet?

Prince Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland (and later King of Hanover), was Queen Victoria’s father’s brother. In May of 1810, his valet, Joseph Sellis, was found, his throat cut, in his quarters in the Duke’s house. It was eventually ruled a suicide, but many believed it was the Duke who slit Joseph’s throat, either out of anger or romantic jealousy or even possibly in self-defense. It’s unlikely the truth will ever be known. Here’s more of what you may not know about the royal family.

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Historical Collection 33 Prince Albert Consort of Queen Victoria the Last Photograph Taken of Prince Albert 1819-1861

What really killed Prince Albert?

When Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, 42, died in December 1861, typhus was said to be the cause. But today, the actual reason is debated with some doctors hypothesizing Albert had been suffering for years with undiagnosed cancer of the stomach or bowels (he’d been complaining of digestive issues for years) and others believing Albert died of sepsis caused by underlying Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis (which would explain his month-long demise and the digestive issues). Because Queen Victoria forbade an autopsy, we may never know.

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Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyle

Why didn’t Princess Louise have children… or did she?

Queen Victoria’s fifth child, Princess Louise may have, at age 18, given birth to a son sired by her brother’s tutor. What is known is at the time, the royal obstetrician’s son adopted a newborn, named Henry, and told his children he was the son of Princess Louise. In 2004, Henry’s descendants were denied a sample of Henry’s DNA for testing and, unlike the files of her siblings, Princess Louise’s are closed to the public. So the mystery lives on…

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Historical Collection 9 With John Brown with John Brown at Balmoral 1863 1819 - 1901

Did Queen Victoria have a secret second husband?

After Prince Albert’s death in 1861, a distraught Queen Victoria declared an unprecedented two-year royal mourning period. In 1863, she may have begun a close, personal relationship with her servant, John Brown, lasting 20 years (until John’s death at age 56). To the chagrin of Victoria’s advisors, the public referred to Victoria as “Mrs. Brown,” and her children referred to John as “Mama’s Lover.” Victoria treated John like a member of the family, even gifting him a house. Her diaries are filled with gushing references to him, and her final wishes had her buried with mementos of both Albert and John.

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History Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence (1864-1892) Eldest son of Edward, Prince of Wales (Edward VII) in military uniform. English prince, grandson of Queen Victoria. Published c1890.
Universal History Archive/UIG/Shutterstock

Was someone in the royal family Jack the Ripper?

Prince Albert Victor, a grandson of Queen Victoria, was the eldest son of King Edward VII but predeceased his father at age 28 and so never became king. But Eddy, as he was nicknamed, will go down in history as someone people believe(d) was Jack the Ripper, the killer of at least five women in the Whitechapel section of London in 1888. Although news reports indicated Eddy was nowhere near Whitechapel at the time, questions arose and continue to this day because of Eddy’s mysterious life (it seems he was a closeted gay man) and death—he died of influenza in 1892, but some believe he died of syphilis and might have committed the murders while in the throes of syphilitic insanity. The question is, was Prince Eddy left-handed? Because Jack the Ripper seems to have been!

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Prince Alfred of Edinburgh, 1893

Did Queen Victoria’s grandson kill himself?

When Prince Alfred, the 24-year-old grandson of Queen Victoria died on February 6, 1899, the press reported a tumor had caused his death. But the circumstances strongly suggest he shot himself with a revolver during his parents’ 25th-anniversary celebration and died soon after. The young prince was known to have had an emotionally challenging childhood, and his short adulthood was described by his aunt Vicky, as “dissipated.”

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Portrait of Princess Alice

Was Queen Victoria’s daughter, Alice, cursed?

A lot of bad things happened to Queen Victoria’s second daughter, Princess Alice, and her progeny, leading some to believe she was cursed:

  • In May 1873, her two-year-old son, Friedrich, fell from the window of Alice’s second story bedroom. He might have survived, except he was a hemophiliac and suffered an unstoppable brain bleed.
  • In 1878, diphtheria struck virtually every member of Alice’s household, killing Alice’s four-year-old daughter Marie and then Alice, herself, who died on the anniversary of her father’s death.
  • In 1904, Alice’s daughter, Alix, who had married into Russia’s Romanov dynasty, gave birth to a son with hemophilia.
  • In 1918, Alix and her sister Elisabeth, who also married a Romanov, were murdered by the Bolsheviks (along with many other Romanov family members).
  • In 1978, Alice’s grandson Louis Mountbatten (the son of Alice’s daughter, Victoria) was assassinated by the IRA.
  • Mountbatten’s death may have been what drew together his nephew, Prince Charles, and his future wife, Lady Diana Spencer, as she was said to have been sympathetic to his mourning. That marriage was a dismal failure.
  • In 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales, died at 36 in a tragic car accident in Paris. Here are 10 conspiracy theories that still surround Diana’s death.

Let’s hope that’s where the curse ends…

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Historical Collection 169 King George V (1865 - 1936) in A Photographic Portrait Taken at Cowes During His Honeymoon in 1893 While Still Duke of York 1893

Was King George V murdered?

King George V, who’d been sick for more than a decade, died on January 29, 1936. Fifty years later, it was revealed the king actually died of a fatal overdose of morphine and cocaine, which had been administered to him by his doctor, Lord Dawson. Lord Dawson’s notes assert the king’s wife (Queen Mary) and eldest son (Prince Edward, Prince of Wales), had been consulted, but there’s no evidence of that, according to the New York Times. ‘In my opinion, the king was murdered,” the king’s biographer told the Times. Queen Elizabeth II has declined comment.

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Gurkha 200 Pageant Royal Hospital Chelsea, London, Britain - 09 Jun 2015
Tim Rooke/Shutterstock

Is Prince Harry really the son of Prince Charles?

In 1995, Princess Diana confessed to her affair with her riding instructor, James Hewitt, but by then, some already suspected the ginger-haired, strong-jawed Prince Harry (born 1984) couldn’t possibly be the son of the brunette, weak-chinned Prince Charles. Hewitt has always denied paternity, and some say the affair, which is the subject of a new musical, Diana, began only after Harry’s birth. Surely a paternity test would provide answers, but no one is ordering one. Check out these 15 things you didn’t know about Prince Harry.

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Britain Royal Ascot - Jun 2015
Will Oliver/EPA/Shutterstock

What’s going on with Prince Andrew and Sarah, Duchess of York?

The divorce of Prince Andrew, Duke of York, and his wife, Sarah, was made official in 1996, but apparently, the Duke and Duchess of York still live together. The relationship between the two has been deemed “strange” and a “mystery” to even those who are close to them. Stay tuned as this story continues to develop. Next, check out these rarely seen photos of the royal family throughout the years.