If he had lived, Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, would be turning 195 years old today. Alas, the over-worked monarch died at the young age of 42 years. His demise was incredibly unfortunate for humanity and his death pivoted the image of the Victorian era forever.
You see, Albert, was a gentle, industrious soul who never abused the hero worship put on him by the Queen. As a consort, he was extremely limited by his initial role capacity and was deeply hurt his wife did not trust him with Monarchal duties. However, she relented to the man who was her rock and allowed him to slowly become involved in the politics of the crown. Once Victoria gave Albert permission, he flourished!
He was deeply affected by the wealth strata and ushered in social reform, from sanitation to improving the slums and quality of life. Do keep in mind, that he could never issue a direct order and had to work through the Queen, whom in turn, was becoming more of a figurehead and could not issue a decree without approval of Parliament. Yet, Albert worked his angles. He even fought and argued with Victoria on some of these points. He would get into such a snit and storm off, which frightened the Queen and she almost always relented. He rarely pulled these “tantrums” but he did so on the issues he was most passionate about.
He influenced Victoria with the idea of honesty and simplicity. Considering all the previous Monarchs, the Victorian Royal Family was down right “normal.” They did not drain the entire coffers of the kingdom. They did not have wild indiscretions flaunted around the press (in fact, as far as we know there were no affairs!) They ate simple English meals, relatively speaking. They were even economical with their candles! They both did not like attending or hosting large court parties, but did so on occasion out of a sense of obligation.–They sound kinda boring actually.
Education also fell under his passion for reform. The mandatory attendance and encouraging girls to attend classes were part of Albert’s plan for a better tomorrow. He advocated for students to study current affairs/modern history and trying to make science a curriculum requirement.
Aside from social reform, he adored the arts. He lovingly schooled Victoria in the ways of painting and music. Victoria, herself, was quite the artist, having drawn beautifully from a young age. Together they curated pieces into the Royal Collection, with mostly Albert’s prompting.
Albert, also enjoyed the nature and the outdoors. He drew up renovations for Balmoral Castle in Scotland to feed his need for privacy, to protect and de-stress the Queen. They loved to hunt, ride, and romp about the highlands in their kilts. Balmoral whetted Albert’s architectural fancy and he soon drew up plans for Osborne House on the Isle of Wight; completed in the Italianate style. What was impressive is all the new fangled sanitation considerations built into the house.
In addition, Albert spearheaded the Great Exhibition (Or as I prefer to call it, the Crystal Palace Exhibition–I love the look of that place!). It was officially known as The Great Exhibition of Works of Industry of All Nations. In short, it was one of the first Word’s Fairs and it was breath taking, illuminating, and progressive!
But wait–there’s more! Those are merely Albert’s public accomplishments, but behind the castle walls he was the love of Victoria’s life and a devoted father. He delighted in his children and their own accomplishments (even created rigorous curriculums for their tutors to teach the kids). He was known to get down on all fours and play with his daughters as well as his sons. Albert particularly dotted on his first daughter, Vicky. She was Daddy’s Girl, but in an intelligent and ambitious sort of way, much to the annoyance of the Queen.
Albert was a Type-A workhorse and father. Schedule and routines and plans were expected. He did not like disorder and strove to correct it (hence, the seed of his passionate reform). He slept little and tried to be all things to his family and essentially be the shadow king.
My favorite anecdote of Albert, is his sheer annoyance at the birth of six child. Up until that time his progeny have followed the order of girl, boy, girl, boy, girl . . .Girl?! What the crap?! Of all the nerve! He was not amused at this turn of events and literally fumed for a few days until he got over it (although poor Louise, didn’t think he ever really did and just put on a happy face in her presence.) His succeeding children after Louise went boy, boy, girl. Imagine how exasperated the Prince was. There was Louise, messing up the order. It might have been his German upbringing, but Albert lived for order.–While, it might sound a bit harsh, I think it was quite amusing, because I could see myself having the same type of reaction.
However, Albert did have his flaws. The predominant one was his eye toward woman’s fashion. Even during her reign Victoria was always on the Worst Dressed list. In no way did she set the fashion trends. The irony of it all, is that she relied on Albert to choose her wardrobe. Her clothes were just a means of pleasing the man she loved. However, he had gawd awful taste. The garish plum monstrosity in a highly unflattering cut. Sure! Why not? Albert loves it. Some tiny bizarre print that makes the Queen look like a hippo. Of course! It’s wonderful. Albert says so! Ugh. For someone with such a fine eye for detail whom could curate artistic beauty, he was horrid in his judgment of the royal wardrobe. I do have a theory he did it on purpose to detract the Queen’s beauty, so people would respect her as a Monarch, or in layman’s terms “so no other man will lay a hand on my woman.”
Albert was only with Victoria for a short 21 years of her 60 year reign. When he died of typhoid (some modern doctors say it was cancer), the light in the kingdom went out. The Queen shut herself in and withdrew from politics and life. She famously mourned for the rest of her life, causing a serious pall over the progressive and lighthearted spirit of her earlier years. It was her greatest regret that she could not give him the title of King he so deserved. Parliament would not allow it. Victoria did try more than once, because she knew the recognition and respect would mean so much to her Albert.)
Albert basically gave birth to everything I love about the Victorian era (save for the fashion!) Happy Birthday, Dear Prince! Huzzah!