Prince Albert, husband to Queen Victoria, died on this day 150 years ago. He was only 42 years old and left behind a widow with nine children.
Prince Albert and Queen Victoria famously shared royal duties, with Albert taking on more and more of the load as Victoria was having babies. He didn’t become a favorite of the public, however, until after he had organized 1851’s Great Exhibition.
Albert’s rise in popularity coincided with England’s rise as a global industrial power, and by 1857 he was finally recognized officially as prince consort because of his administrative abilities.
He died just before 11 p.m. on 14 December 1861. The long-held belief is that he died of typhoid fever, but recent scholarship questions that. Albert’s physical condition was never exactly strong, and in the last few years of his life he was plagued with a variety of maladies, especially stomach trouble. These days there are some who suspect Prince Albert suffered from Crohn’s Disease.
Britain had not had a major royal death in nearly fifty years, and Queen Victoria’s desire to memorialize her husband was huge beyond huge. She spent the next forty years pining away for Albert, setting a new standard for mourning.
A ridiculous standard, or so her royal subjects concluded after a few years of it. She withdrew from the public and she withdrew from her duties as monarch. After a couple of years of polite understanding, the crowd got all “WTF?” and Queen Victoria’s popularity sank to the point where public officials were suggesting she abdicate and let her son, the wayward “Bertie,” take over (after she died he did, as King Edward VII).
It didn’t come to that. Her popularity returned thanks to a series of events that earned sympathy from the public. Her son, Bertie, almost died from typhoid fever in November of 1871 — close to the tenth anniversary of Prince Albert’s death. Then there was a lame attempt to assassinate the queen — or, more likely, some doofus got a shot off near her — in 1872. A few years later, in 1878, her daughter Princess Alice died — on the same day as Prince Albert, 14 December.
Queen Victoria went on to rule for 40 more years without Albert, until 1901. She did all right for herself. They don’t call it the Albertian Era, after all. But imagine if Prince Albert had lived.
Here are some links for further reading:
The brief profile of Prince Albert from the BBC.
Victoria Station, a site devoted to the era and its personalities.
An odd little story from The Daily Mail that uses a movie as a jumping off place to discuss rumors about Albert and Victoria.
A profile of Prince Albert from PBS.
An informative review of a new biography by Helen Rappaport.
And a very interesting podcast from HistoryExtra.com, an interview with biographer Helen Rappaport about the relationship between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.