The Queen sparked a diplomatic fall-out after refusing to permit the repatriation of the bones of a ‘ stolen ‘ Ethiopian prince buried in the Windsor Castle grounds.
After his father, Emperor Tewodros II, killed himself when British troops stormed his mountain-top palace in northern Ethiopia in 1868, Prince Alemayehu was brought to England.
Queen Victoria adored the orphaned seven-year-old but he later died in England at the age of 18 and was buried in catacombs next to St George’s Chapel in Windsor.
The Ethiopian government requested the return of his remains twelve years ago and has become increasingly frustrated by Buckingham Palace’s rebuffing.
Ethiopia’s ambassador to London, Fesseha Shawel Gebre, has urged the Queen to consider how she would feel if one of her deceased relatives were buried in a foreign land.
‘Would she happily lie in bed every day, go to sleep, having one of her Royal Family members buried somewhere, taken as [a] prisoner of war?’ he asked. ‘I think she wouldn’t.’Ethiopia’s ambassador to London, Fesseha Shawel Gebre
The Ethiopian government has vowed to repeat its demand at every meeting its ministers have with their British counterparts.
Even 140 years after his death, the story of Alemayehu retains huge importance in Ethiopia.
In 1868, a British force invaded Ethiopia after Tewodros took the British consul and several missionaries hostage. After his army was destroyed and his fortress captured, the Emperor shot himself.
According to British accounts, he instructed his wife to ensure their son should be taken to Britain after the battle, though Mr Fesseha claims the boy was ‘stolen’.
In England the prince, whose mother died of illness soon after the battle, was introduced to Queen Victoria who described him as a ‘pretty, polite, graceful boy’. He later enrolled at Sandhurst.
In 1879, he died, probably of tuberculosis. Following a request from Victoria, he was interred in catacombs near the chapel where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle married last year.
In 2007, the Ethiopian government wrote to the Queen requesting the return of his body so he could be buried beside his father. ‘Had he not been taken, had he not lost his father, he would have been the next king of Ethiopia,’ said Mr Fesseha.
According to the embassy, a letter from the Queen’s private secretary explained that, while the Queen sympathised, there were concerns about disturbing the remains of others buried alongside him.
It is understood more than 40 bodies were buried in the catacombs between 1845 to 1887 and, according to Palace sources, it would be impossible to identify and exhume the body without disturbing the ‘sacred space’.
‘I don’t think they have forgotten where they put it. There is a record.’Ethiopia’s ambassador to London, Fesseha Shawel Gebre
In March, the National Army Museum in Chelsea returned two locks of hair cut from the head of Tewodros after his defeat. Mr Fesseha said: ‘We are extremely friendly governments, so what is the reason to keep Prince Alemayehu’s body in the UK?’
A Palace spokesman said: ‘We are aware of this sensitive and complex issue and have communicated with the Ethiopian government over a number of years.’
The Foreign Office declined to comment.
By Mark Hookham For The Mail On Sunday