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Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha

Prince Albert (Francis Charles Augustus Albert Emmanuel Wettin) (August 26, 1819 - December 14, 1861) was the husband and consort of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, who on February 10, 1840 awarded him the new title Prince Consort, which he held until his death.

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Birth and family background He was born at Schloss Rosenau, near Coburg (Bavaria, now in western Germany), as the second son of the duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Thanks to the close relationships among the royal families of Europe, Albert's father's sister married the Duke of Kent, and she was Queen Victoria's mother, meaning that he and Victoria were first cousins. They were born in the same year.

Early life and marriage Albert and his elder brother, Ernest, were close companions in youth and were well educated, 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, 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, whose heir she was and who disapproved of the match and favored Prince Alexander of Orange. But Leopold's plan was known to Princess Victoria, and William's objections were fruitless.

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." No formal engagement was entered into, but the situation was privately understood as one which in time would naturally develop.

After the Queen came to the throne, 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 October 15, and on the February 10, 1840 the marriage was celebrated at the Chapel-Royal, St James's.

The position in which the prince was placed by his marriage, while it was one of distinguished honor, was also one of considerable difficulty; 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 was never fully dissipated till after his death.

The Great Exhibition of 1851

Prince Albert was indeed a man of cultured and liberal ideas, well qualified to take the lead in many reforms which the United Kingdom of that day sorely needed. He was specially interested 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 England would be overrun with foreign rogues and revolutionists who would 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 was 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.

A sense of the artistic was at this time generally wanting among the British people. 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 be saleable; but he was induced to try, and he did so with such a rapid success that it revolutionized the china cupboards of Britain.

The exhibition was opened by the Queen on the 1st of May, 1851, and was 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 was involved in promoting many similar, smaller public, educational institutions. It was chiefly at meetings in connection with these that he found occasion to make the speeches that were 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, were so greatly improved under his father's management that the rent receipts rose from 11,000 pounds to 50,000 pounds a 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 the grounds at Balmoral and Osborne were laid out entirely in conformity with his designs.

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 been raised 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 the 14th of 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 was also commemorated in the queen's institution of the Albert medal[?], (1866), in reward for gallantry in saving life, and of the order of Victoria and Albert[?] (1862).

He is generally considered to have introduced the principle that the British Royal Family should be 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.

See also: Prince Albert piercing



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