|Prince Albert | 1819-1861
The marriage of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria is remembered as a love match unrivaled in the history of unions within the Royal Family. Much has been written about how Albert's death catapulted the Queen into unending despair, but what about his life? The man who helped dictate the impossibly high standards of morality that defined Great Britain's Victorian Era was not even British, and the English population was loath to let him forget it. The German Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha -- this "foreigner in the highest of high places" -- was often the object of derision in English high society, and at times a scapegoat during national political crises. Though Victoria was triumphant in having her husband titled Prince Consort in 1857, Albert's relationship with the Queen's subjects was not always an easy one.
Born three months apart in 1819, Victoria and Albert were first cousins; King Leopold I of Belgium was the uncle of both. From childhood their marriage was considered advantageous by both Leopold and Victoria's mother (Leopold's sister), and Albert never considered an outcome where the union did not take place. The young Queen Victoria, however, was initially reluctant to sacrifice her power and independence for marriage.
Below are excerpts from Lytton Strachey's Queen Victoria that illuminate the relationship of the Queen and her beloved Prince.
He was not in love with her. Affection, gratitude, the natural reactions to the unqualified devotion of a lively young cousin who was also a queen -- such feelings possessed him, but the ardours of reciprocal passion were not his. Though he found that he liked Victoria very much, what immediately interested him in his curious position was less her than himself.... [He] was aware of a new sensation -- the stirrings of ambition in his breast. His place would indeed be a high, an enviable one! And then, on the instant, came another thought.... He would not be there to please himself, but for a very different purpose -- to do good. He must be "noble, manly, and princely in all things...."
...[She] was suddenly prostrated by alarm, regret, and doubt.... She was to come under an alien domination -- she would have to promise that she would honour and obey... someone, who might, after all, thwart her, oppose her -- and how dreadful that would be! Why had she embarked on this hazardous experiment? ... No doubt, she loved Albert; but she loved power too. At any rate, one thing was certain: she might be Albert's wife, but she would always be Queen of England. He reappeared, in an exquisite uniform, and her hesitations melted in his presence like mist before the sun. On February 10, 1840, the marriage took place.
Victoria, overcome by a new, an unimagined revelation, had surrendered her whole soul to her husband.... [He] was good -- he was great! How could she ever have dreamt of setting up her will against his wisdom, her ignorance against his knowledge, her fancies against his perfect taste?...
The husband was not so happy as the wife. In spite of the great improvement in his situation, in spite of a growing family and the adoration of Victoria, Albert was still a stranger in a strange land, and the serenity of spiritual satisfaction was denied him. It was something, no doubt, to have dominated his immediate environment; but it was not enough.... Victoria idolised him; but it was understanding that he craved for, not idolatry; and how much did Victoria, filled to the brim though she was with him, understand him? How much does the bucket understand the well? He was lonely.
A shy young foreigner, awkward in ladies' company, unexpansive and self-opinionated, it was improbable that, in any circumstances, he would have been a society success. His appearance, too, was against him. Though in the eyes of Victoria he was the mirror of manly beauty, her subjects, whose eyes were of a less Teutonic cast, did not agree with her. To them -- and particularly to the high-born ladies and gentlemen who naturally saw him most -- what was immediately and distressingly striking in Albert's face and figure and whole demeanour was his un-English look..... These were serious disadvantages; but the line of conduct which the Prince adopted from the first moment of his arrival was far from calculated to dispel them. Owing partly to a natural awkwardness, partly to a fear of undue familiarity, and partly to a desire to be absolutely correct, his manners were infused with an extraordinary stiffness and formality.... Besides, he had no very high opinion of the English. So far as he could see, they cared for nothing but fox-hunting and Sunday observances.... Since it was clear that with such people he could have very little in common, there was no reason whatever for relaxing in their favour the rules of etiquette.
He had become the Queen's Private Secretary, her confidential adviser, her second self. He was now always present at her interviews with Ministers.... [There] was no public question in which his influence was not felt. A double process was at work; while Victoria fell more and more absolutely under his intellectual predominance, he, simultaneously, grew more and more completely absorbed by the machinery of high politics -- the incessant and multifarious business of a great State.
...[The] functions of the Crown were now, in effect, being exercised by a person unknown to the Constitution, who wielded over the Sovereign an undefined and unbounded influence. The fact that this person was the Sovereign's husband, while it explained his influence and even made it inevitable, by no means diminished its strange and momentous import. An ambiguous, prepotent figure had come to disturb the ancient, subtle, and jealously guarded balance of the English Constitution. Such had been the unexpected outcome of the tentative and fainthearted opening of Albert's political life.
For in spite of everything he had never reached to happiness. His work, for which at last he came to crave with an almost morbid appetite, was a solace and not a cure.... He was lonely, not merely with the loneliness of exile but with the loneliness of conscious and unrecognised superiority.... There was something that he wanted and that he could never get. What was it? Some absolute, some ineffable sympathy? Some extraordinary, some sublime success? Possibly, it was a mixture of both.... Doubtless he had made some slight impression.... But how far, how very far, was all this from the goal of his ambitions!