Who was the real Prince Leopold? The true history behind The Irregulars
Harrison Osterfield’s wayward prince appears in the Netflix supernatural drama, and he’s based on a real person.
New Netflix supernatural series The Irregulars takes something of a sideways swing into period drama, reimagining Victorian London as a cesspit of occult magic and psychic monsters (not to mention the inclusion of a certain fictional Sherlock Holmes).
However, among the series’ gang of street kids who help Holmes and Watson solve crimes, one character stands out as genuinely taken from history – Harrison Osterfield’s Leo, who is based on real-life royal Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, the youngest son of Queen Victoria.
“He's an interesting guy, I think,” series creator Tom Bidwell told RadioTimes.com of his decision to include Leopold.
“He just brings an extra element to the show. He's a kind of juxtaposition to a lot of the attitudes of our gang. He comes from a very different world. “
In the world of the Irregulars, Leo is depicted as a restless young royal, whose haemophilia (a disease that prevents his blood from clotting, meaning even minor injuries can be life-threatening) leaves him trapped in Buckingham palace under the auspices of petty apparatchiks.
But who was the real Leopold? How closely does The Irregulars’ version tie in with the real history, and what happened to him in real life? Read on to find out.
The real Prince Leopold
Born in 1853, Leopold was the youngest (and rumoured favourite) son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and was really a haemophiliac (which he inherited from his mother, who was a carrier of the disease). As in The Irregulars, his disease limited his life somewhat, with the young Leopold unable to serve in the military (as had been tradition) and instead turning his interests to the arts and other scholarly pursuits.
In The Irregulars Leopold is seen as very academic, and this does reflect the real Leopold, who was President of the Oxford University chess club, a patron of arts and literature and something of an unofficial secretary to his mother the Queen.
The Irregulars also includes a recurring theme where Leopold is smothered and kept at home by palace officials and his worried mother, and apparently this was reflected in real life as well. While he did tour the world and have something of a public life Leopold was often kept at home by Victoria, and sought marriage to help gain some independence.
After a few false starts the real Leopold ended up marrying Princess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont, a character who does actually appear in The Irregulars in later episodes.
Prince Leopold illness and death
Sadly, Leopold and Helena’s marriage wasn’t to last long, with Leopold succumbing to injuries sustained in a fall when he was just 30 years old, leaving behind his wife and two children (one of whom, his son Charles Edward, was born after his death).
“Another awful blow has fallen upon me and all of us today,” Queen Victoria wrote in her journal at the time.
“My beloved Leopold, that bright, clever son, who had so many times recovered from such fearful illness, and from various small accidents, has been taken from us! To lose another dear child, far from me, & one who was so gifted, and such a help to me, is too dreadful!”
How accurate is Leopold in The Irregulars?
As noted, the real Leopold’s haemophilia and love life are partially reflected in the Netflix series, but the vast majority is invention. For one thing, there’s nothing to suggest Leopold spent time running around London fighting fictional supernatural creatures, and the details of his life at the palace have obviously been exaggerated for dramatic effect.
Still, going forward it’s possible that Prince Leopold’s short life could continue to inspire the stories of The Irregulars.
“That world that he comes from, it allows us to open up our world a little bit more,” Tom Bidwell tells us.
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“Not just in terms of scale, or contrast, but also in terms of a new direction to go in story, maybe not necessarily in season one. If we get the chance to make future seasons, you have the royal family and the higher echelons of society. You've got a lot to play there.”
From the sounds of it, Leo’s adventures are only just beginning…
The Irregulars arrives on Netflix on Friday, 26th March. Want something else to watch? Check out our Sci-Fi page, our guides to the best series on Netflix and best movies on Netflix or our full TV Guide.