The Royal Conspiracy is one of the most publicly well known theories related to the Jack the Ripper case. It has been the subject of books, films, television shows, games and even comics. It is the solution to the case found in From Hell, the Michael Caine series, Murder by Decree and a Study in Terror.
The most common version is that a group of high ranking members of British Society (often said to be Masons) are tasked by the Royal Family or British Government to cover up an illegal marriage between the Queen’s Grandson the Duke of Clarence Prince Albert Victor (or Prince Eddy as he was known) and a Catholic prostitute from Whitechapel, and an illegitimate child produced as a result of this marriage. There is often thrown in the idea of revenge as the Prince is often said to have contracted syphilis from these liaisons.
Even though the story dates back almost to the time of the crimes in the form of rumours and innuendos (with supposed references to people involved in the case claiming the killer was “one of the highest in the land” or a “very hot potato”). This is of course based on gossip, hearsay and rumours, until the 1960’s when we have Prince Albert Victor being directly accused of the crimes. In 1970 these claims are expanded upon by Dr Thomas Stowell, who dies shortly after making them and is never able to reveal his evidence. Finally in 1973 Joseph Gorman-Sickert (the alleged son of artist Walter Sickert and Alice Crook, the daughter of Annie Crook and the Duke of Clarence) tells the story we all know so well today, which is further expanded on in 1978 in Stephen Knight’s book The Final Solution.
Gorman-Sickert and Knight’s tale is that Prince Eddy spent time “slumming it” with Walter Sickert in the 1880’s. In Cleveland Street where Sickert had a studio, Eddy met a girl in a tobacconist shop and fell in love. The girl, Annie Crook, was a commoner and a Catholic and soon fell pregnant and entered into a marriage with the Prince. When the Queen discovered this, she ordered Prince Eddy never see the girl again as she was terrified that a Catholic wedding for her heir presumptive would cause a revolution and destabilise the vulnerable government. Lord Salisbury the Prime Minister was ordered to handle the scandal and he had the police raid Cleveland Street and take away the Prince and Annie. The child Alice was with a friend of Walter Sickert’s when this happened – Mary Kelly – who took her to the East End.
The Queen called on her physician, Sir William Gull to deal with the problem of Annie Crook (whom he caged in an asylum and lobotomised) and also the emerging problem of Prince Eddy’s syphilis. The story would have ended there except Mary Kelly, her tongue loosened by drink, told the tale of Annie and the Prince and the identity of the baby and was pressed by three of her friends (Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman and Elizabeth Stride) into blackmailing the government. Gull was once again called upon to “solve” the problem. He and a coachman named John Netley (who had ferried around the Prince for his illicit liaisons) ventured into the East End and killed the women according to Masonic ritual.
Catherine Eddowes murder was a case of mistaken identity, as she used the name “Mary Ann Kelly” when arrested on the night of her death. After her death, the graffiti message left in Goulston Street was left to point to Masonic involvement (the “Juwes” referred to were the murderers of Hiram Abiff, the architect of King Solomon’s Temple) and that Charles Warren erased the words because as a Mason he realised their significance. The mutilations and disembowelment found in the murders were also supposed to reflect the way the “Juwes” were executed.
When the Queen discovered what Gull had done his death was faked and he was locked in an asylum under the assumed name “Thomas Mason”. Prince Eddy succumbed to neurosyphillis in 1892 and he too was caged in an asylum, his death of influenza in 1892 a coverup. Netley is later said to have tried to murder Alice twice with his coach, and eventually drowned himself in the Thames. The government selected Montague John Druitt to be a scapegoat for the crimes and he was murdered to make it look like suicide. Gorman-Sickert also mentioned a third conspirator who kept watch during the crimes who he said was Sir Robert Anderson. However, Knight believed that it was in fact Gorman-Sicket’s father Water Sickert. This caused Gorman-Sickert to later recant all the claims made.
So is there any truth to the conspiracy and is it even plausible? Knight had to fill in many of the gaps of Gorman-Sickert’s tale as, in Knight’s words it “did not come in clear, precise, chronological order but I had to glean it from rambling and sometimes vague discussion” and Gorman-Sickert later claimed he made it all up (though Knight believes this was to protect his father).
As for the key players, Annie Crook did exist and had a child named Alice and Joseph Gorman-Sickert was her son. However, there is no evidence that he was Walter Sickert’s son. There is also some question as to whether Prince Eddy was in the country during the likely dates of Alice’s conception, putting doubt as to whether he could be her father. Finally, the marriage and illegitimate child would not have put the Royal house in much jeopardy as the marriage would have been illegal under the Royal Marriages Act 1772, as it not receive permission from the sovereign to take place and any child produced would be considered illegitimate and not be in the line of succession. There is no evidence that any of the Ripper’s victims knew each other and would they have even have been believed?
What about the killers? As a surgeon Gull certainly had anatomical knowledge, medical experience and knowledge of use of a knife. Enough to be able to carry out mutilations quickly and in near darkness. Except the previous year Gull had suffered a stroke that had left him partially paralysed and unable to speak. He recovered but between this time and his death in 1890 he had numerous other similar episodes, so his ability during the murders to be able to commit them is highly unlikely. There is no evidence that he was a Freemason (nor is there any evidence that Lord Salisbury or Sir Robert Anderson were either). John Netley did exist, but there is no known connection between him and the other suspect and he did not drown in the Thames, he died following a fall from his coach.
The Masonic references and connections are flimsy at best and the murderers of Hiram Abiff (Jubela, Jubelo, and Jubelum) are not known as the “Juwes”, but as “The Ruffians” and the other Masonic connections Knight points out (Mitre Square being significant to Masons because of the name for example) are most likely coincidences and half baked assumptions.
So is the Royal Conspiracy plausible? Not really – there is no evidence to support a conspiracy taking place, no reason it would take place and the whole theory is based solely on a few coincidences and the ramblings of a deluded man.