10th February 1840 was the wedding day of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, a small principality in Germany. It was a rare thing in royal politics, namely a true love match in which dynastic considerations played an insignificant part – a union between Great Britain and Saxe-Coburg-Gotha made no difference to the balance of power in Europe, although the marriages of the couple’s children would prove to have extremely important outcomes.
Victoria had already been Queen for more than two years when she first met Albert in October 1839. She was instantly smitten by him and proposed marriage after only four days – royal protocol demanded that a queen had to propose to a mere prince and not the other way round.
A fruitful marriage
Albert may have had other motives than pure love – he was, after all, only second-in-line to a very small duchy – but, once married, he became as besotted with Victoria as she was with him. The couple were to have nine children in all, the first (Princess Victoria) being born barely nine months after the wedding and the last (Princess Beatrice) coming along in April 1857. Up to this point there were not many months in which Victoria was not pregnant.
Husband of a queen
Albert had assumed that he would play a larger role in government than Victoria was prepared to give him, and this led to tension between them in the early years of their marriage. He had to develop a different sort of role for himself in which he became a patron of the arts and industry, as typified by his sterling work in promoting the Great Exhibition of 1851. It is also thanks to Albert that a number of customs associated with the celebration of Christmas became established in Britain, such as the Christmas tree.
There is a story that demonstrates how Albert came to see himself as husband and consort to the Queen of England. Having been excluded from a state meeting he stormed off to his room and locked the door. Victoria went after him and knocked on the door. “Who’s there?” he asked.
“The Queen of England”, said the Queen of England. He refused to answer and the same happened again when Victoria knocked for a second time. However, at the third knock and “Who’s there” she replied “It is Victoria, your wife”. That is when he opened the door.
The death of Albert
The marriage ended in 1861 with Albert’s death from typhoid fever following several months of illness from a stomach disorder. He was only 42 years old. Victoria’s grief was profound and, most would say, excessive, in that she withdrew completely from public life for several years, being mocked in some quarters as “the widow at Windsor”. She lived for another 39 years but never again wore anything other than black in mourning for Albert.
© John Welford