Eyewitness: 1860 'Baron Renfrew' charms Pittsburgh's ladies

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Future king's visit

to pittsburgh

a poorly kept secret

The real identity of the 18-year-old Englishman traveling to the United States under the title Baron Renfrew had to be one of the worst-kept secrets of the 19th century.

The baron, who had been christened Albert Edward at Windsor Castle shortly after his birth in 1841, was the Prince of Wales and heir to the British throne. Pittsburgh was one of his stops 150 years ago on an unofficial tour of North America. He arrived Oct. 1 at Allegheny City's railroad depot on what is now Pittsburgh's North Side.

He was the first member of the Royal Family to visit the former British colonies, and the Daily Pittsburgh Gazette reported that he made a favorable impression.

He stayed overnight in the city's finest hotel, the Monongahela House on Smithfield Street. The next morning he traveled by open coach to the Pennsylvania Railroad station, giving residents plenty of opportunity to observe him, but not get too close. As he left the hotel, a cavalry escort from the Duquesne Greys militia and Young's Brass Band, "defiling on each side of the carriage, formed an escort of honor to the Prince and checked the inconsiderate curiosity of the crowd."

"As the cortege passed along the streets, it is needless to say the Baron Renfrew was the person upon whom all attention centered," a reporter for the Gazette wrote on Oct. 3.

"The ladies in particular smiled benignly on him and waved their handkerchiefs, and he invariably responded to their attentions by bowing and lifting his hat."

Men were free to cheer, according to the newspaper, while the women showed "in their countenances that enthusiasm which was maintained by the other sex in a more boisterous way."

Enthusiasm between the baron and the ladies ran both ways. Novelist Henry James later called the Prince of Wales, "Edward the Caresser," a reference to his illicit romances with dozens of women.

"His face did not indicate a great amount of intellectuality nor the want of it," according to the paper. "His features were good, with a little cast of the German in them, and his person was graceful."

The reporter also seemed struck by his ordinariness. "He ... looked much like other young men brought up in good society, and there was nothing about him to indicate he is the heir apparent of the English throne."

"When the royal party arrived at the depot of the Pennsylvania Road, they were conducted to a special train which had been provided for the occasion," according to the paper. "Here the multitude gathered round and made a last effort to get a good view of the Prince. About one o'clock the band struck up the British national air, 'God Save the Queen,' and in a few moments afterward, while the band still played, the cars started carrying with it the illustrious guest of our city."

As the train left, Edward made a final appearance on the rear platform, standing there "until the crowd lost sight of him." It was a silent goodbye to what the reporter called "the Smoky City."

Pittsburgh would have to wait 128 years for another visit by a Prince of Wales. In March 1988, Prince Charles, the son of Queen Elizabeth and current heir to the throne, was the keynote speaker at a Remaking Cities conference.

Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1159. Past stories in the "Eyewitness" series can be read at www.post-gazette.com/pgh250


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