Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Alexander Cambridge, 1st Earl of Athlone

Major General Sir Alexander Cambridge, 1st Earl of Athlone, formerly Prince Alexander of Teck (14 April 1874 - 16 January 1957), was a member of the British Royal Family who served as the Governor-General of the Union of South Africa from 21 January 1923 to 21 December 1930 and then as Governor General of Canada from 21 June 1940 to 12 April 1946. He was the youngest brother of Queen Mary, consort of King George V.

His Serene Highness Prince Alexander Augustus Frederick William Alfred George of Teck, KG, PC, GCB, CVMO, DSO was born at Kensington Palace in London, the youngest child of Francis, Duke of Teck and his wife, Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge. His father the product of a morganatic marriage between Duke Alexander of Württemberg and Countess Claudine Rhédey von Kis-Rhéde, created Countess von Hohenstein. His mother was the younger daughter of Prince Adolphus, 1st Duke of Cambridge, the seventh son of King George III.

Following his education at Eton College, Prince Alexander of Teck attended the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 7th Hussars (the Queen's Own) in 1894. He received the Distinguished Service Order (D.S.O.) for his conduct during Matabele campaign in the 1898-1901 Boer War.

On 10 February 1904 he married HRH Princess Alice of Albany (23 February 1883-3 January 1981), the daughter of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, the youngest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and his wife, Princess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont, at St. George's Chapel, Windsor. Prince and Princess Alexander of Teck had three children:

Originally, Prince Alexander of Teck had been appointed Governor General of Canada in 1914. However, when World War I began, he convinced his brother-in-law King George V to release him for military service. At the outbreak of war, he was a major in the 2nd Life Guards, with whom he served throughout the war. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1915, brigadier in 1917, and honorary major general in 1918. During the closing months of the war, he served as head of the British Mission to the Belgian army.

In June 1917, at the request of George V, he relinquished the style Serene Highness and the title Prince of Teck in the Kingdom of Württemberg, and adopted the surname Cambridge (because of his descent from the Duke of Cambridge). A few days later, the king created him Earl of Athlone and Viscount Trematon. His wife, a male-line grand daughter of Queen Victoria, became known as HRH Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone." His children assumed the courtsey titles Lady May Cambridge and Viscount Trematon.

In 1923, Lord Athlone was appointed governor general of the Union of South Africa, in succession to his cousin, HRH Prince Arthur of Connaught. In that capacity, he helped the resolve the controversary surrounding a proposal by Prime Minister James Hertzog that South Africa should have its own flag, in addition to the British Union Jack. In recognition, George V made him a Knight of the Order of the Garter (KG) in April 1928. A suburb in the South African city of Cape Town was also named after him.

Upon his return to Britain, Lord Athlone became governor and constable of Windsor Castle and Chancellor of the University of London. He and Princess Alice visited Saudi Arabia in 1938, the first official visit to the kingdom by members of the British Royal Family.

In June 1940, he became Governor-General of Canada at the age of 68, following the sudden death of Lord Tweedsmuir while in office. There had been calls from government and the media for a Canadian Governor General, but Prime Minister Mackenzie King did not feel the time was right for this. Canada had been at war since 1939 and the country was adjusting to the difficulties of committing military personnel and materiel to the war against Nazi Germany.

The trip to Canada with his wife, Princess Alice, was complicated by the war, and their ship zigzagged across the Atlantic to avoid submarine attack. But they arrived safely in Halifax.

As World War II continued, the Earl of Athlone was very active in supporting the war effort by continuously inspecting troops, training schools and military hospitals. Princess Alice was Honorary Commandant of the Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service, Honorary Air Commandant of the Royal Canadian Air Force (Women's Division) and president of the nursing division of the St. John Ambulance Brigade. Lord Athlone travelled throughout Canada to encourage Canadians, and to let them know that Canada's Sovereign stood with them in fighting totalitarianism.

The Earl of Athlone and Princess Alice hosted Prime Minister Mackenzie King, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American President Franklin D. Roosevelt at La Citadelle in Québec on two separate occasions in 1943 and 1944. These meetings, known as the Quebec Conferences, helped decide the strategies of the Western Allies that would lead to victory over Nazi Germany and Japan in 1945.

Not everything was focussed on the war, though. The Earl of Athlone created the Athlone-Vanier Engineering Fellowship at the Engineering Institute of Canada, recognizing academic excellence, leadership and management potential. He also enjoyed the social activities around Ottawa, hosting tobogganing parties, skiing in Gatineau Park and learning how to skate.

The Governor General's office situated in the East Block on Parliament Hill was closed and moved to Rideau Hall in 1940. However, Rideau Hall's main function during this period was as a temporary home for many stateless members of royal families displaced by the War, many of whom were relatives of the Lord Athlone and Princess Alice. Among the house guests were Crown Prince Olav and Crown Princess Martha of Norway, Grand Duchess Charlotte and Prince Felix of Luxembourg, King Peter of Yugoslavia, King George of the Hellenes, Empress Zita of Austria-Hungary and her daughters, and Queen Wilhelmina, Princess Juliana, Princess Beatrix, and Princess Margriet of the Netherlands. Princess Margriet was born in Ottawa at the Civic Hospital, where the delivery room was temporarily declared Dutch soil to ensure that the Princess was born in the Netherlands. To this day, Holland sends tulips to Ottawa to commemorate the assistance Canada gave to Holland.

Lord Athlone took part in the celebrations marking both victory in Europe and victory over Japan in 1945. And when he received an Honorary Degree from McGill University, he spoke about the future of young Canadians -- one not marked by war, but by reconciliation and reconstruction, in which Canada would play a leading role.

Lord Athlone witnessed major changes in Canada as it emerged from the war. The country was an independent nation with a strong, vital economy and active in world affairs. After the war, they returned to Britain and resided in Kensington Palace. The Earl of Athlone died at Kensington Palace in 1957. He was buried at Frogmore Royal Burial Ground, Windsor. With his death, the earldom of Athlone became extinct. His wife survived until 1981, the oldest surviving grandchild of Queen Victoria.

With text from

Preceded by:
Lord Tweedsmuir
Governor General of Canada Followed by:
Earl Alexander of Tunis
Preceded by:
New Creation
Earl of Athlone Followed by: