Prince Albert

26 August, 1819-14 December, 1861

Albert Francis Charles Augustus Emmanuel, Prince of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, to give him his full name, was the younger son of Ernest I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. He is known to history simply as Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria.

Albert was born at Schloss Rosenau in 1819. In a peculiar twist of fate, the midwife assisting at Albert's birth was the same woman who assisted at the birth of his future wife, Queen Victoria, in that same year. At the time of his birth, Albert's father Ernst was Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield, but the German duchies underwent reorganisation in 1826, and Ernst lost Saalfield and gained Gotha.

Albert's parents divorced after a split in 1824, and it seems likely he never saw his mother again. He was raised in Christoph Florschutz and Brussels, and went to the University of Bonn to study law, political economy, art history, and philosophy.

It is at this stage of his life that ambitious relatives took control. Albert's uncle Leopold, King of Belgium, and his aunt, Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield, Duchess of Kent, set their sights on an alliance with the Duchess's daughter, Alexandrina (later to become known by her second name, Victoria). Leopold and the Duchess arranged for Albert and his brother to visit the Duchess in 1836, against the wishes of King William IV, who preferred a marriage between the young Victoria and Alexander of the Netherlands.

To say that the two cousins hit it off is a understatement. Victoria was plainly smitten by Albert, and though no formal betrothal was announced, it was widely accepted that they would marry. Alexandrina took to the throne as Queen Victoria in 1837, but affairs of state move slowly, and it was not until 1839 that a marriage was arranged, which took place on 10 February, 1840 at St James Palace in London.

Public sentiment in England was not favourable towards Albert. Though he was addressed as Royal Highness, he was not granted the official title of Prince Consort (that would only come in 1857). Parliament refused to make him a peer, and he was granted a much smaller annuity than other previous consorts.

Albert gradually gained public support, however, and took an important role both in running the royal household, assisting Victoria with government duties, and in work with public bodies such as the Society for the Extinction of Slavery and, later, the Society for the Improvement of the Condition of the Labouring Classes.

Albert played a large roile in modernising the royal estates and introducing modern agricultural methods. He strongly supported the Corn Laws, and gained a reputation as a social reformer. He became Chancellor of Cambridge University and campaigned for educational reform. He was one of the strongest supporters of the highly successful Great Exhibition of 1851. The proceeds of the exhibition went to purchase land in South Kensington which became used for educational and cultural institutions, among them the Victoria and Albert Museum.

During the latter years of his life Albert was constantly ill. In November, 1861 he made a trip to Cambridge to remonstrate with his son, the Prince of Wales, about rumours of a scandalous affair the prince was having with an Irish actress, Nellie Clifden. His health declined rapidly after the trip, and he was diagnosed with typhus, though it seems clear he must have been quite ill before the onset of the typhus, possibly with cancer or renal failure. Albert died on 14 December 1861. He was eventually buried in the Frogmore mausoleum in Windsor Great Park, lying beside Victoria in a tomb carved from the largest block of granite ever quarried in Britain.

Even after his death, Albert played an important role in history and Victorian culture; the Queen was grief-stricken and wore mourning black in public for the rest of her life. She fell out with the Prince of Wales, blaming him in some part for Albert's death, though in retrospect this seems harsh. She played a role in erecting a series of memorials to her husband, the most famous being the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park. The statue of Albert on the memorial looks towards South Kensington and the Royal Albert Hall.

Time period(s): Victorian

Tags: Prince Albert   Queen Victoria   Victoria and Albert Museum   South Kensington   Great Exhibition   Cambridge University   Corn Laws  

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