Queen Victoria's first meeting with her German cousin Albert was less than auspicious, weighted with family expectations that they would someday marry. Luckily, by his second visit in 1839, Albert had grown handsome, and Victoria found him absolutely charming. They rode together in Windsor Castle's Great Park, close enough to hold hands, and then spent the evening dancing to Mozart and Haydn. She described him in her journal: "Albert really is quite charming, and so extremely handsome . . . a beautiful figure, broad in the shoulders and a fine waist; my heart is quite going." Attracted by his good looks, encouraged by her uncle Leopold, and advised by the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, Victoria called her cousin to the Blue Closet, her most private retreat in the castle, and proposed a mere five days after his arrival. Their family's greatest hopes were realized: Victoria and Albert married on February 10, 1840, the queen dressed head to toe in British fashions.
From the start, the queen was insistent that her husband should have no role in the government of the country. But within six months, on Lord Melbourne's repeated suggestion, the prince was allowed to start seeing the dispatches, then to be present when the queen saw her ministers. During her first pregnancy, the prince received a "key to the secret boxes." As Victoria was further confined by eight subsequent pregnancies (Victoria gave birth to four sons and five daughters), Albert undertook many of her responsibilities. By 1845 observer Charles Greville wrote, "He is the King to all intents and purposes." In fact, Victoria wished to give him the title King, but her subjects would not accept the idea. Unpopular in upper-crust circles because he was German, Albert eventually did come to be admired for his honesty, diligence, and devotion to his family; regardless, he would never be king. In 1857, Parliament finally granted him the lesser title Prince Consort.
After a visit to Cambridge to reproach young prince Bertie for his indiscretion with an Irish actress, Albert fell ill with typhoid and never recovered. He died in 1861 at the age of 42, a devastating loss that sent the queen into a deep depression. Albert's clothes continued to be laid out on the bed each night, while each morning the basin in his room was filled with fresh water. Victoria slept under a photograph taken of his head and shoulders as he lay dead. Amid considerable criticism, she did not appear in public for three years. Finally, under the influence of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, Victoria resumed public life, opening Parliament in 1866. She did find some consolation in the company of her faithful servant, Scotsman John Brown, leading some to dub her "Mrs. Brown." But she never stopped mourning her beloved Prince Albert, wearing black until her death 40 years later, in 1901.
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