Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (Francis Charles Augustus Albert Emmanuel, of the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha branch of the House of Wettin) (26 August 1819 - 14 December 1861) was the husband and consort of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. He was the only husband of a British queen regnant to have formally held the title of Prince consort 1. Upon Queen Victoria's death in 1901, the name of the British Royal House changed from the House of Hanover to the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.2
Birth and family background
His Highness Francis Charles Augustus Albert Emmanuel, Prince of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Duke of Saxony was born at Schloss Rosenau, near Coburg (now in Bavaria), as the second son of Ernst I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, later Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and his first wife, Princess Dorothea (Louise) Pauline Charlotte Fredericka Augusta of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. His father's sister, Victoire of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, married Prince Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent, the fourth son of King George III of the United Kingdom and Queen Charlotte. She was the mother of the future Queen Victoria. Thus, Albert and Victoria were first cousins. They were born in the same year.
Early life and marriage
Albert and his elder brother, Ernest, spent their youth in a close companionship scarred by their parents' turbulent marriage and eventual separation; their adored mother, exiled from court and barred from seeing her children again due to an affair, died young, at age 31, of cancer. The brothers received a good education, attending the university of Bonn. There Albert studied natural science, political economy, and philosophy. His teachers included Fichte and Schlegel. He also studied music and painting and excelled in gymnastics, especially in fencing.
The idea of a marriage between Albert and his cousin Victoria had always been cherished by their uncle, King Leopold I of Belgium, and in May 1836 the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and his two sons paid a visit to Kensington Palace, where Princess Victoria of Kent, as she then was, lived, for the purpose of meeting her.
The visit did not by any means suit Victoria's uncle, King William IV, who disapproved of the match with his heir and favored Prince Alexander of Orange. But Princess Victoria knew of Leopold's plan, and William's objections went for naught.
Princess Victoria, writing to her uncle Leopold, said that Albert was "extremely handsome" and thanked him for the "prospect of great happiness you have contributed to give me in the person of dear Albert. He possesses every quality that could be desired to render me perfectly happy." The parties undertook no formal engagement, but privately understood the situation as one which would naturally develop in time.
After Victoria came to the throne on 20 June 1837, her letters show her interest in Albert's being educated for the part he would have to play. In the winter of 1838 - 1839 the prince traveled in Italy, accompanied by the Queen's confidential adviser.
In October 1839 he and Ernest went again to England to visit the Queen, with the object of finally settling the marriage. Mutual inclination and affection at once brought about the desired result. They became definitely engaged on 15 October 1839 and the Queen made a formal declaration of her intention to marry to the Privy Council on November 23. The couple married on 10 February 1840 at the Chapel Royal, St James's Palace. Four days before the wedding, his future wife granted Prince Albert the style of Royal Highness and made him a member of the Privy Council. However, the British prime minister at the time, Lord Melbourne, advised the Queen against granting her husband the title of "King Consort."
Apparently Prince Albert did not wish to become a British peer, unlike Prince George of Denmark, the husband of the future Queen Anne, who was created Duke of Cumberland by King William III in April 1689. He wrote, "It would almost be step downwards, for as a Duke of Saxony, I feel myself much higher than as a Duke of York or Kent."3 Although he was formally titled "HRH Prince Albert," he was popularly known as "HRH the Prince Consort" for the next seventeen years. On 25 June 1857, Queen Victoria formally granted him the title Prince Consort.
The position in which the prince was placed by his marriage, while one of distinguished honor, also offered considerable difficulties; and during his lifetime the tactful way in which he filled it was inadequately appreciated. The public life of the Prince Consort cannot be separated from that of the Queen, so most of what he accomplished was tied to her accomplishments.
Nonetheless, he was thought to have undue influence in politics, and the prejudice against him never fully dissipated till after his death.
The Great Exhibition of 1851
Prince Albert, a man of cultured and liberal ideas, proved well qualified to take the lead in many reforms which the United Kingdom of that day sorely needed. He had an especial interest in applying science and art to the manufacturing industry. The Great Exhibition of 1851 originated in a suggestion he made at a meeting of the Society of Arts and owed the greater part of its success to his intelligent and unwearied efforts.
He had to fight for every stage of the project. In the House of Lords, Lord Brougham denied the right of the crown to hold the exhibition in Hyde Park; in the House of Commons, members prophesied that foreign rogues and revolutionists would overrun England, subvert the morals of the people, filch their trade secrets from them, and destroy their faith and loyalty towards their religion and their sovereign.
Prince Albert served as president of the exhibition commission, and every post brought him abusive letters, accusing him, as a foreigner, of being intent upon the corruption of England. He was not the man to be balked by talk of this kind but quietly persevered, trusting always that bringing the best manufactured products of foreign countries under the eyes of the mechanics and artisans would improve British manufacturing.
The British people at this time generally lacked a sense of the artistic. One day the prince had a conversation with a great manufacturer of crockery and sought to convert him to the idea of issuing something better than the eternal willow-pattern in white with gold, red, or blue, which formed the staple of middle and lower class domestic china. The manufacturer held out that new shapes and designs would not sell; but the Prince Consort induced him to try, and he did so with such a rapid success that it revolutionized the china cupboards of Britain.
The Queen opened the exhibition on 1 May 1851, and it proved a colossal success; and the surplus of 150,000 pounds sterling it raised went to establish and endow the South Kensington Museum (afterwards renamed "Victoria and Albert") and to purchase land in that neighborhood.
Other public activities
Prince Albert involved himself in promoting many similar, smaller public, educational institutions. Chiefly at meetings in connection with these he found occasion to make the speeches collected and published in 1857. One of his memorable speeches was the inaugural address he delivered as president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science when it met at Aberdeen in 1859.
The education of his family and the management of his domestic affairs furnished the prince with another very important sphere of action, in which he employed himself with conscientious devotedness.
The estates of the Duchy of Cornwall, the hereditary property of his son, the Prince of Wales, improved so greatly under his father's management that the rent receipts rose from 11,000 pounds to 50,000 pounds per year. Prince Albert, indeed, had a peculiar talent for the management of landed estates. His model farm at Windsor was in every way worthy of the name; and he designed the layout of the grounds at Balmoral and Osborne.
As the prince became better known, public mistrust began to give way. In 1847, but only after a significantly keen contest with Earl Powis, he was elected chancellor of the University of Cambridge; and he was afterwards appointed master of Trinity House. In June 1857 the formal title of Prince Consort was conferred upon him by letters patent, in order to settle certain difficulties as to precedence that had arisen at foreign courts.
But in the full career of his usefulness he was cut off. During the autumn of 1861 he was busy with the arrangements for the projected international exhibition, and it was just after returning from one of the meetings in connection with it that he was seized with his last illness. Beginning at the end of November with what appeared to be influenza, it proved to be an attack of typhoid fever, and, congestion of the lungs supervening, he died on 14 December.
The Queen's grief was overwhelming, and the sympathy of the whole nation erased the tepid feelings the public had for him during his lifetime. Queen Victoria wore mourning for him for the rest of her long life.
The magnificent mausoleum at Frogmore, in which his remains were finally deposited, was paid for by the queen and the royal family; and many public monuments were erected all over the country, the most notable being the Royal Albert Hall (1867) and the Albert Memorial (1876) in London. His name also lives on in the queen's institution of the Albert medal, (1866), in reward for gallantry in saving life, and in the Order of Victoria and Albert (1862).
Many credit Prince Albert with introducing the principle that the British Royal Family should remain above politics. Before his marriage to Victoria the Royal Family supported the Whigs; early in her reign Victoria managed to thwart the formation of a Tory government by Sir Robert Peel by refusing to accept substitutions which Peel wanted to make among her ladies-in-waiting.
According to repeatedly reported stories, the Prince Albert piercing is named after Prince Albert, who allegedly used this body piercing to enable him to make his clothes fit more neatly. The truth of these stories is undetermined.
Images on postage stamps
The only image of Price Albert to appear on British postage stamps was on the Prince consort essays produced by Henry Archer as part of his trials which led to the introduction of perforations on the early stamps of Queen Victoria.
There are two Albert medals struck in his honour, one presented by the RSA and one for lifesaving.