On this day 100 years ago, the Great War claimed the life of a young and popular member of the royal family - Prince Maurice of Battenberg. Maurice was the youngest son of Princess Beatrice and Prince Henry of Battenberg, and consequently the youngest grandchild of Queen Victoria. Born at Balmoral, Maurice inherited his father's dark good looks, and spent much of his childhood, with his three older siblings, in the company of his regal grandmama who made no secret of the fact the Battenberg offspring and particularly Maurice, were her favourite grandchildren. He attended Wellington College where he was a Lance Corporal in the OTC, and reputedly one of the finest marksmen at school.
As a young man, Maurice was handsome, dashing and popular. He slotted comfortably into the social scene, causing ripples of excitement when he appeared at balls during the 1914 Season. Photographs of him from this period show him at the races or at Cowes, top hat cocked at a rakish angle, cigarette in mouth, quite the man-about-town. His penchant for fast cars led to several brushes with the law, including two speeding fines, but a streak of recklessness only enhanced his charms. When he was caught speeding on the Hampton Court Road on 8 May, with a recorded speed of 34mph, the Prince was reported in the newspapers to have grumbled, ‘You fellows are always out trapping on race days,’ a comment that suggested he was not unfamiliar with driving at such speeds on non-race days.
He joined the King's Royal Rifle Corps in 1911, in honour of his elder cousin, Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein who had been a member of the same regiment and had died of enteric fever in 1900 while serving in the Boer War. It is characteristic that he was among the first to go to France, departing with his regiment on 12 August, just a week after the declaration of war. He took part in the Retreat from Mons and survived a number of near misses, including, reported The Bystander, on 7 October, 'a narrow escape from death, a bullet from a German rifle passing through the peak of his cap.' The men each side of him were hit, one fatally. His luck ran out on 27 October. While leading an advance at Zonnebeke during the 1st Battle of Ypres, he was hit by shrapnel from a shell and died within minutes. In The Tatler's 28 October issue it was noted by Eve, the magazine's gossip columnist, that Maurice had been mentioned in General French's despatches. By the next week, she was writing, 'Poor Prince Maurice of Battenberg was only twenty-four' (in fact he was twenty-three) - a the very outset of 'the morn and liquid dew of youth'.
Princess Beatrice with her four children, Ena (later Queen Ena of Spain), Alexandra, Leopold, and in the sailor suit, Maurice. Right picture shows Prince Maurice with his two elder brothers in full dress uniform.
Maurice was buried in Ypres cemetery, his mother, Princess Beatrice, refusing Lord Kitchener's offer to bring her son's body home, asking, 'Let him lie with his men'. She took solace in her continuing hospital work where she met and felt some solidarity with the many other women who had lost or had sons maimed in the war.
'Nothing could touch and help me more to bear this great trial, than to know that others feel for me', she wrote. 'To lose a beloved promising young man is a terrible trial, but I can look back with pride on him, and on his work nobly fulfilled, and life willingly given for his King and Country'.
Grave of Prince Maurice of Battenberg pictured in the Illustrated War News. His grave can be visited today at Ypres Town Cemetery.
Images taken from the collections of Charlotte Zeepvat and The Illustrated London News archive at Mary Evans. See more on Prince Maurice of Battenberg here: https://www.maryevans.com/lb.php?ref=29086
Blog article extracted and adapted from 'Great War Britain' by Lucinda Gosling (History Press).