Prince Albert was the husband of Queen Victoria of Britain. He was born as a prince in Germany, and when he married one of the most powerful people on earth he was initially considered an interloper in British society.
Albert, who would eventually hold the title Prince Consort, became respected for his intellect and interest in helping society improve in the mid-1800s. He came to wield influence in British political and diplomatic affairs, and just before he died at a relatively young age he actually helped prevent what would have been an unnecessary war between Britain and the United States of America.
Early Life of Prince Albert
Albert was born on August 26, 1819 in Rosenau, Germany. He was the second son of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and was greatly influenced by his uncle Leopold, who became the king of Belgium in 1831.
As a teenager Albert traveled to Britain and met the Princess Victoria, who was his cousin and nearly the same age as Albert. They were friendly but Victoria was not overly impressed with the young Albert, who was shy and awkward.
The British were interested in finding a suitable husband for the young princess who was to ascend to the throne. British political tradition decreed that a monarch could not marry a commoner, so a British suitor was out of the question. Victoria's future husband would have to come from European royalty.
Albert's relatives on the continent, including King Leopold of Belgium, essentially steered the young man toward being Victoria's husband. In 1839, two years after Victoria became Queen, Albert returned to England and proposed marriage. The Queen accepted.
Marriage of Albert and Victoria
Queen Victoria married Albert on February 10, 1840 at St. James Palace in London. At first the British public and the aristocracy thought little of Albert. While he was born of European royalty, his family was not wealthy or powerful. And he was often portrayed as someone marrying for prestige or money.
Albert was actually quite intelligent and was devoted to helping his wife serve as monarch. And over time he became an indispensable aid to the queen, advising her on political and diplomatic affairs.
Victoria and Albert had nine children, and by all accounts their marriage was very happy. They loved being together, sometimes sketching or listening to music. The royal family was portrayed as the ideal family, and setting an example for the British public was considered a major part of their role.
Albert also contributed to a tradition familiar to us today. His German family would bring trees into the house at Christmas, and he brought that tradition to Britain. The Christmas tree at Windsor Castle created a fashion in Britain which was carried over to America.
Career of Prince Albert
In the early years of the marriage, Albert was frustrated that Victoria did not assign him tasks which he felt were up to his abilities. He wrote to a friend that he was "only the husband, not the master in the house."
Albert busied himself with his interests in music and hunting, and he did eventually become involved in the serious matters of statesmanship.
In 1848, when much of Europe was being shaken by revolutionary movement, Albert cautioned that the rights of working people had to be seriously considered. He was a progressive voice at a crucial time.
Thanks to Albert's interest in technology, he was the main force behind the Great Exhibition of 1851, a grand show of science and inventions held at a stunning new edifice in London, the Crystal Palace. The purpose of the exhibition was to showcase how society was being changed for the better by science and technology. It was a stunning success.
Throughout the 1850s Albert was often deeply involved in the affairs of state. He was known for clashing with Lord Palmerston, a highly influential British politician who served as foreign minister and also prime minister.
In the mid-1850s, when Albert cautioned against the Crimean War, some in Britain accused him of being pro-Russian.
Albert Was Given the Royal Title of Prince Consort
While Albert was influential, he had not, for the first 15 years of the marriage to Queen Victoria, received a royal title from Parliament. Victoria was disturbed that her husband's actual rank was not clearly defined.
In 1857 the official title of Prince Consort was finally bestowed upon Albert by Queen Victoria.
Death of Prince Albert
In late 1861 Albert was stricken with typhoid fever, a disease which was quite serious though not usually fatal. His habit of overwork may have weakened him, and he suffered greatly from the disease.
Hopes for his recovery dimmed, and he died on December 13, 1861. His death came as a shock to the British public, especially as he was only 42 years old.
On his deathbed, Albert had been involved in helping to lessen tensions with the United States over an incident at sea. An American naval vessel had stopped a British ship, the Trent, and seized two emissaries from the Confederate government.
Some in Britain took the American naval action as a grave insult and wanted to go to the war with the United States. Albert viewed the United States as a friendly nation to Britain and actively helped steer the British government from what surely would have been a pointless war.
Prince Albert Remembered
The death of her husband devastated Queen Victoria. Her grief seemed excessive even to people of her own time.
Victoria would live as a widow for 40 years, and was always seen wearing only black, which helped create an image of her as a sullen and remote figure. Indeed, the term "Victorian," often implies a seriousness which is in part due to Victoria's image as someone in deep grief.
There is no question that Victoria deeply loved Albert, and after his death he was honored by being entombed in an elaborate mausoleum at Frogmore House, not far from Windsor Castle. After her death, Victoria was entombed beside him.
The Royal Albert Hall in London was named in honor of Prince Albert, and his name is also affixed to London's Victoria and Albert Museum. A bridge crossing the Thames, which Albert suggested building in 1860, is also named from him.