Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha..
..to most people he is seen merely as Queen Victoria’s husband, whose death led to her years of seclusion and whom she turned into an almost too good to be true character: angel Albert, the truest, purest icon whose virtues were so many that no other human – least of all her children – could ever hope to emulate him. To others he appears as a rather dour and humourless man; a puritanical figure without passion and with a permanently solemn expression. Prince Albert is one of the most fascinating and passionate royalties of his era, and one of the most amazingly ‘good’ men who ever lived. In fact, it seems that Queen Victoria’s adulation was pretty accurate and she was one of the most fortunate women to be married to such a man.
In an age where dynastic marriages were often loveless affairs and it was taken for granted that princes and kings had mistresses, it is hardly surprising that Prince Albert’s fidelity was seen as something unusual and, unfortunately, people who do not go along with crowd, are often viewed as odd or uninteresting. Prince Albert’s horror of infidelity could be traced back to his childhood when he witnessed first hand, at only five years old, the departure of his beloved mother who, having been mistreated by his father, embarked on an affair and was banished from the household. At the same time, Albert was a man of such sincerity that dishonesty or deceit were abhorrent to him; and he was a devout man. If he made vows, he honoured them. This did not make him dispassionate – on the contrary, his devotion to his wife and family shows the depths of his passion. He and Victoria often sent each other erotic works of art as presents; she was enthralled by her intimacy with him and, at the same time, he was passionate about his children’s upbringing. Again, in an age where few fathers took a great deal of interest in their children’s education, Albert developed a most forward-thinking curriculum, including not only academic learning but also gardening, creativity, cooking and, above all, a social awareness. His children meant everything to him and he was one of the few princes who paid as much attention to his daughters’ education as to his sons’.
Victoria and Albert’s family in 1846 by Franz Xaver Winterhalter left to right: Prince Alfred and the Prince of Wales;the Queen and Prince Albert; Princesses Alice, Helena and Victoria
During his early years in England he was treated appallingly not only by various ministers but particularly by member of his and the Queen’s family. Unruffled, he sought at every opportunity to make allowance for people’s prejudices, and he succeeded in restoring the relationship between Queen Victoria and her mother, as well as doing his utmost to create harmony with the Queen’s very unpleasant uncles. It was Albert’s influence that created a model for the monarchy, which had fallen into disrepute during the reigns of the Queen’s predecessors.
His passions, however, extended far beyond his family. Totally dedicated to the idea that with privilege comes responsibility, he was tireless in his concern for the people. He visited countless factories, mines and other places of work and drew up plans for improving working conditions and housing. His Great Exhibition, one of his greatest passions, was a marvel of the age and he had the foresight to realise that many people would not be able to afford the shilling brochure, so he ensured that a penny brochure was also available. He was passionate about technological advances which would make life easier for workers.
Spiritually and politically, he was passionate. Although a devout Lutheran, who personally found Catholicism conflicted with his own spirituality, he was against any form of intolerance. In the midst of a great anti-Catholic sentiment sweeping across the country, Prince Albert was prepared to stick his neck out against bigotry and it was largely thanks to him that the laws relating to the prohibition of Roman Catholic titles and the establishment of diocese in England were repealed. The idea of him being a puritan, though, is far from the truth. His understanding and gentleness in his descriptions of the promiscuous and unhappy Queen of Spain speak volumes about the heart of this beautiful man.
Time and time again, he was prepared to stand up to Parliament without undermining the constitution. Even on his death bed, he managed to avert a possible war between Britain and the USA as a result of the Trent Affair. As Daphne Bennett writes in her biography, King Without a Crown:
“It is fitting that the last public action of a man of peace was to avert so tragic a conflict.”
Perhaps it was Prince Albert’s passion that eventually wore him out. He died at only 42 years old, utterly exhausted by his fiery commitment to life and to the well-being of others!