Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel was born on 26 August 1819 near Coburg in the Saxon duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, to a family connected to many of Europe’s ruling monarchs. He was the second son of Duke Ernest 111 and his first wife, Louise. In 1825, Albert’s great-uncle, Frederick, died which led to a realignment of Saxon duchies the following year and Albert’s father became the first reigning duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
Albert and his elder brother, Ernest, spent their youth in a close companionship marred by their parents’ turbulent marriage and eventual separation and divorce. After their mother was exiled from court in 1824, she married her lover and never saw her children again, and died of cancer at the age of 30 in 1831. The brothers were educated privately at home and later Albert studied in Brussels before attending the University of Bonn, where he studied law, political economy, philosophy and the history of art. He played music and excelled at sport, especially fencing and riding.
The idea of marriage between Albert and his cousin, Victoria, was first documented in 1821 and by 1836 this idea had also arisen in the mind of their ambitious uncle Leopold, who had been King of the Belgians since 1831. At this time, Victoria was the heir presumptive to the British throne. Her mother, the Duchess of Kent, was the sister of both Albert’s father—the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha—and King Leopold. Other suitors were proposed and Victoria well aware of the various matrimonial plans critically appraised a parade of eligible princes and favoured Albert.
Victoria came to the throne aged eighteen on 20 June 1837 and she, resisted attempts to rush her into marriage. However in October 1839 Albert visited and mutual affection led to the Queen proposing to him on 15 October 1839 and they were married on 10 February 1840 at the Chapel Royal, St James’s. Just before the marriage, Albert was naturalized by Act of Parliament, and granted the style of Royal Highness by an Order in Council.
Initially Albert was not popular with the British public; he was perceived to be from an impoverished and undistinguished minor state, barely larger than a small English county The Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, advised the Queen against granting her husband the title of “King Consort” and Parliament also objected to Albert being created a peer—partly because of anti-German sentiment and a desire to exclude Albert from any political role. Albert’s religious views were a little controversial although he was a Protestant but some of his family were Roman Catholic. Melbourne led a minority government and the opposition took advantage of the marriage to weaken his position further. They opposed the ennoblement of Albert and granted him a smaller annuity than previous consorts, £30,000 instead of the usual £50,000. For the next seventeen years, Albert was formally titled “HRH Prince Albert” until, on 25 June 1857, Victoria formally granted him the title Prince Consort.
The position in which the prince was placed by his marriage, while one of distinction, also offered considerable difficulties. He was a husband but “not the master in the house.” as he put it and he had to manoeuver to dislodge a Baroness who ran the household. Within two months of the marriage, Victoria was pregnant. Albert started to take on public roles; he became President of the Society for the Extinction of Slavery (which was still legal in the southern United States and the colonies of France); and helped Victoria privately with her government paperwork. Thanks to incidents such as the shot fired at them by the insane Edward Oxford while out riding gained Albert public support as well as political influence, which showed itself practically when, in August, Parliament passed the Regency Act 1840 to designate him regent in the event of Victoria’s death before their child reached the age of majority. Nine children were born over the next seventeen years. All nine children survived to adulthood, which was remarkable for the era and which has been credited to Albert’s “enlightened influence” on the healthy running of the nursery.
After the 1841 election, Melbourne was replaced as P. M. by Sir Robert Peel, who appointed Albert as chairman of the Royal Commission in charge of redecorating the new Palace of Westminster which had burned down seven years before. Albert was also a private patron and collector buying pictures of the highest quality.
Albert and Victoria were shot at again on both 29 and 30 May 1842, but were unhurt. The culprit, John Francis, was detained and condemned to death, although he was later reprieved. Some of their early unpopularity came about because of their stiffness and adherence to protocol in public, though in private the couple were more easy-going. Their first time apart since marriage was not till 1844 when Albert returned to Coburg on the death of his father.
By 1844, Albert had managed to modernize the royal finances and, through various economies, had sufficient capital to purchase Osborne House on the Isle of Wight as a private residence for their growing family. Over the next few years a house modelled in the style of an Italianate villa was built to the designs of Albert and Thomas Cubitt with Albert laying out the grounds and improving the estate and farm. Albert managed and improved the other royal estates; especially the farm at Windsor and under his stewardship the revenues of the Duchy of Cornwall steadily increased.
Unlike many landowners who approved of child labour and opposed Peel’s repeal of the Corn Laws, Albert supported moves to raise working ages and free up trade. In 1846, Albert was heavily rebuked when he attended the debate on the Corn Laws in the Commons to give tacit support to Peel. During Peel’s premiership, Albert’s authority behind, or beside, the throne became more apparent. He had access to al the Queen’s papers; was drafting her correspondence and was present when she met her ministers, or even saw them alone in her absence. The clerk of the Privy Council, wrote of him: “He is King to all intents and purposes.”
In 1847, Albert was elected, in a close contest, Chancellor of Cambridge University and used this position to campaign successfully for reformed and more modern university curricula, expanding the subjects taught beyond the traditional mathematics and classics to include modern history and the natural sciences
That summer, Victoria and Albert spent a rainy holiday in the west of Scotland but heard from their doctor, that his son had enjoyed dry, sunny days farther east at Balmoral Castle. The tenant of Balmoral died suddenly in early October, and Albert leased it although he had never visited, and in September 1848 he, his wife and the older children went there for the first time. They came to relish the privacy it afforded.
The year of European revolutions in 1848 spread as the result of a widespread economic crisis. Throughout the year, Victoria and Albert complained about Foreign Secretary Palmerston’s independent foreign policy, which they believed destabilized foreign European powers further. Albert was concerned for many of his royal relatives, a number of whom were deposed. The family went to the safety of Osborne House. Although there were sporadic demonstrations in England, no effective revolutionary action took place, and Albert even gained public acclaim when he expressed paternalistic, yet well-meaning and philanthropic, views.
A man of progressive and relatively liberal ideas, Albert not only led reforms in university education, welfare, the royal finances and slavery, he had a special interest in applying science and art to the manufacturing industry The Great Exhibition of 1851 arose from the annual exhibitions of the Society of Arts, of which Albert was President from 1843, and owed most of its success to his efforts to promote it. Albert served as president of the Royal Commission for the Exhibition, and had to fight for every stage of the project. The Queen opened the exhibition in a specially designed and built glass building known as the Crystal Palace on 1 May 1851. It proved a colossal success and a surplus of £180,000 was used to purchase land in South Kensington on which to establish educational and cultural institutions and what became the Royal Albert Halll and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
In 1852, John Camden Neild, an eccentric miser, left Victoria an unexpected legacy, which Albert used to obtain the freehold of Balmoral and extensively improve it. The same year, he was appointed to several of the offices left vacant by the death of the Duke of Wellington, including the mastership of Trinity House and the colonelcy of the Grenadier Guards. With Wellington’s passing, Albert was able to propose and campaign for modernisation of the army, which was long overdue. Thinking that the military was unready for war, and that Christian rule was preferable to Islamic rule, Albert counselled a diplomatic solution to conflict between the Russian and Otterman Empires. Palmerston was more bellicose, and favoured a policy that would prevent further Russian expansion. Palmerston was manoeuvred out of the cabinet in December 1853 but returned after the Russian attack on the anchored Ottoman fleet at Sinop. The press response caused Palmerston’s popularity to surge as Albert’s fell and the Crimean War began.
During the war Albert arranged the marriage of his fourteen-year-old daughter, Victoria, to Prince Frederick William of Prussia, though Albert delayed the marriage until Victoria was seventeen. Albert hoped that his daughter and son-in-law would be a liberalising influence in the enlarging but very conservative Prussian state.
Albert promoted many public educational institutions such as the need for better schooling. His espousal of science met with clerical opposition; after he and Palmersto unsuccessfully recommended a knighthood for Darwin, after the publication of” On the Origin of Species”, which was opposed by the Bishop of Oxford.
Albert continued to devote himself to the education of his family and the management of the royal household. He was described as unusually kind and patient, and joined in family games with enthusiasm. He felt keenly the departure of his eldest daughter for Prussia when she married her fiancé at the beginning of 1858, and was disappointed that his eldest son, the Prince of Wales, did not respond well to the intense educational programme that Albert had designed for him. At the age of seven, the Prince was expected to take six hours of instruction, including an hour of German and an hour of French every day and when he[failed at his lessons, Albert caned him. Corporal punishment was common at the time, and was not thought unduly harsh.
In August 1859, Albert fell seriously ill with stomach cramps. In March 1861, Victoria’s mother and Albert’s aunt, the Duchess of Kent, died and Victoria was grief-stricken; Albert took on most of the Queen’s duties, despite continuing to suffer with chronic stomach trouble. The last public event he presided over was the opening of the Royal Horticultural Gardens on 5 June 1861. In August, Victoria and Albert visited the Curagh Camp, Ireland, where the Prince of Wales was doing army service. At the Curragh, the Prince of Wales was introduced, by his fellow officers, to Nellie Clifden, an Irish actress and shortly after Albert was informed that gossip was spreading in gentlemen’s clubs and the foreign press that the Prince of Wales was involved with Nellie. Albert and Victoria were horrified by their son’s indiscretion, and feared blackmail, scandal or pregnancy. Although Albert was ill and at a low ebb, he travelled to Cambridge to see the Prince of Wales on 25 November to discuss this indiscreet affair!. In his final weeks Albert suffered from pains in his back and legs
When the Trent Affair—the forcible removal of Confederate envoys from a British ship by Union forces during the American Civil War—threatened war between the United States and Britain, Albert was gravely ill but intervened to soften the British diplomatic response
On 9 December, one of Albert’s doctors, William Jenner, diagnosed him with typhoid fever. And he died at 10:50 p.m. on 14 December 1861 in the Blue Room at Windsor, in the presence of the Queen and five of their nine children. The contemporary diagnosis was typhoid fever, but modern writers have pointed out that Albert’s ongoing stomach pain, leaving him ill for at least two years before his death, may indicate that a chronic disease, such as Crohn’s disease, renal failure or abdominal cancer or, was the cause of death
The Queen’s grief was overwhelming, and the tepid feelings the public had felt previously for Albert were replaced by sympathy. The widowed Victoria never recovered from Albert’s death; she entered into a deep state of mourning and wore black for the rest of her life. Albert’s rooms in all his houses were kept as they had been, even with hot water brought in the morning and linen and towels changed daily-such practices were not uncommon in the houses of the very rich. Victoria withdrew from public life and her seclusion eroded some of Albert’s work in attempting to re-model the monarchy as a national institution setting a moral, if not political, example. Albert is credited with introducing the principle that the Royal Family should remain above politics something Victoria did not observe early in her reign.
Albert’s body was temporarily entombed in St George’s Chapel at Windsor. A year after his death his remains were deposited at Frogmore Mausoleum, which remained incomplete until 1871. The sarcophagus, in which both he and the Queen were eventually laid, was carved from the largest block of granite that had ever been quarried in Britain. Despite Albert’s request that no effigies of him should be raised, many public monuments were erected all over the country and across the British Empire.
This equestrian bronze at Holborn Circus is by Charles Bacon erected in 1874 and made of Scottish granite. It was put here as the area was redeveloped. The Prince is in Field-Marshal’s uniform raising his hat; the usual return salute of a Field Marshall in the 19th century. On either side of the oblong plinth are bronze figures of History towards City and Peace towards Westminster. The plinth depicts the Great Exhibition of 1851. It also shows Albert laying a piece of the Royal Exchange and the other side is the Great Exhibition. A seated angel, representing history, reads a book dated 1851-1862 although the Prince died in 1861. It was presented to the City of London by Charles Oppenheim of the diamond trading company De Beers, whose headquarters is on nearby Charterhouse Street. It cost £2,000.