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Ethiopia wants the Queen to return royal bones

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia has called on Queen Elizabeth to return the bones of an orphan prince buried at Windsor Castle after he was spirited from his homeland by British soldiers nearly 140 years ago.

Queen Elizabeth II leaves after attending the traditional Easter Sunday Service at St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle, April 16, 2006. Ethiopia has called on the Queen to return the bones of an orphan prince buried at Windsor Castle after he was spirited from his homeland by British soldiers nearly 140 years ago. REUTERS/ Fiona Hanson/PA/Pool

Prince Alemayehu was just seven in 1868 when his father, Emperor Tewodros II, committed suicide after being defeated by British troops at the Battle of Magdala. The prince was placed on a ship to Britain and enrolled in boarding school.

He died aged 18 of suspected pleurisy, a lung condition, in the northern city of Leeds, after years of loneliness.

In the latest Ethiopian drive to reclaim stolen artifacts and relics, the government in Addis Ababa has written to Britain’s queen, asking her to send home Alemayehu’s remains.

Mulugeta Aserate, second cousin of Ethiopia’s last emperor Haile Selassie, who helped organize the appeal, said it was time the wrongs of the last millennium were put right.

“The prince was a prisoner of war,” he told Reuters. “His return would ease the minds of lots of Ethiopians who believe his rightful resting place should be here with his father.”

A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman declined to discuss the request. “We never comment on private correspondence to the queen and any response that may have been given,” she said.

The prince -- who claimed a bloodline stretching back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba -- was seized by a British force that invaded to free European diplomats, missionaries and adventurers jailed by Emperor Tewodros.


The emperor took his own life as the troops stormed his mountain fortress in Magdala. Alemayehu’s ailing mother, Queen Terunish, died a few days later as the soldiers moved to the Red Sea coast with the rest of the royal family.

After studying at Rugby School in the British Midlands, the prince began officer training at Sandhurst military academy. He died in November 1879 at the home of one of his tutors.

Queen Victoria had befriended the boy before his death.

“It is too sad!,” she wrote in her journal at the time. “All alone in a strange country, without a single person or relative belonging to him ... His was no happy life.”

The young prince was buried in the crypt of St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.

The letter is the latest in a string of requests by Ethiopia for the return of human remains and hundreds of illuminated manuscripts, gold crowns and other artifacts stolen by British troops during the 1868 expedition.

The National Army Museum in London still has a lock of Emperor Tewodros’ hair, cut from his corpse as a souvenir by an army artist. Queen Elizabeth’s own library in Windsor Castle holds six sacred illuminated manuscripts that were taken from Magdala before it was burned to the ground.

For years, Ethiopia fought a war of words to win back a 1,700-year-old obelisk that was carried to Rome by Italian fascist invaders in the 1930s. It was returned in April 2005.

In his letter to Queen Elizabeth, Ethiopian President Girma Wolde-Giorgis asked for the prince’s bones to be sent home before his country’s millennium celebrations this September.

Ethiopia observes an archaic calendar that is seven years behind most of the world -- so the year 2000 will not arrive until September 12, 2007.