Sunday, 21 December 2008

Prince Albert- A Trivial Biography

Young Victoria- a movie telling the story of the turbulent first years of Queen Victoria's rule, and her enduring romance with Prince Albert is due to be released March 2008. I was booked for a day's filming for the scene showing her coronation but a number of the extras, including me, got chopped for budgetary reasons. I'm not bitter however and I thought I'd take a trivial look at the life of Queen Vic's beloved Bertie.

NAME Prince Albert. Full name Francis Charles Augustus Albert Emmanuel

WHAT FAMOUS FOR The Prince Consort and Husband of Queen Victoria
"A is Prince Albert once buxom and keen
Who came from Germany and got spliced to the Queen."
(Alphabetical Song on the Corn Law Bill-anon)

BIRTH b1819 in the German duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield

FAMILY BACKGROUND Albert was the second son of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. His family were connected to many of Europe's ruling monarchs. When Albert was four, his mother ran off with a German Baron. Albert and his elder brother, Ernest, spent their youth in a close companionship scarred by their parents' turbulent marriage and eventual separation; their adored mother, exiled from court and barred from seeing her children again due to her affair, died young, at the age 31, of cancer.

EDUCATION Albert received a good education, before attending the University of Bonn. There he studied natural science, political economy, and philosophy. His teachers included the philosopher Fichte and the poet Schlegel. He also studied music and painting and excelled in sports, especially in fencing and riding.
After Prince Albert's death Framingham School in Suffolk was founded as a memorial to him. I know that as my father was educated there.

CAREER RECORD As Prince Consort Albert had no status in the constitution and he occupied a somewhat irregular position. A lacky filling in the census form for the royal family described his job as "husband." However, Albert was a hard worker throughout his time in England, writing endless memos to all and sundry. A more accurate job description would have been Advisor and Private Secretary to the Queen.
Among the entries on his CV would have been
1841 Appointed Head of Commission to encourage the fine arts in Britain.
1847 Elected Chancellor of Cambridge University.
1851 Planned the Great Exhibition which made a profit of £186,000. It had 13,500 exhibitions and constituted at its time the largest assembly of people collected together for one purpose.

APPEARANCE Moustache and receding hairline. Large blue eyes. Dark hair. Broad shouldered. Victoria described him aged 20 as "beautiful blue eyes, exquisite nose and such a pretty mouth with delicate moustachios and slight but very slight whiskers."

FASHION Albert originated a fashion for wearing a watch chain across a waistcoat from one pocket hole to the other.
The traditional black band on a Panama hat was added in mourning for Prince Albert after he died. Its been retained ever since.

CHARACTER Very sensible, hard working, efficient, erm typically German. Attentive, kind, trustworthy and a little bit priggish.
Victoria on Albert "He is an angel and his kindness and affection to me is really touching." Aah!

RELATIONSHIPS The idea of a marriage between Albert and his first cousin Victoria had always been cherished by their uncle, King Leopold I of Belgium, as well as Victoria's mother (Leopold's sister), Victoire, Duchess of Kent, and in May 1836 Albert, along with his father and brother paid a visit to Kensington Palace, where Princess Victoria of Kent, 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, who disapproved of the match with his heir, and favoured Prince Alexander of Orange. But Princess Victoria knew of Leopold's plan, and William's objections went for naught.
In her diary Princess Victoria noted that she was attracted by his intellect and also by his “exquisite nose and delicate moustachios.” The parties undertook no formal engagement, but privately understood the situation as one which would naturally develop in time.
After Victoria came to the throne on June 20th 1837, 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 travelled 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. She summoned Albert one afternoon and with characteristic directness proposed marriage herself as she was sure Albert would never have taken such a liberty as to propose to the Queen of England. They became definitely engaged on October 15th 1839 and the Queen made a formal declaration of her intention to marry to the Privy Council on November 23rd.
They were married in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace on 10th February 1840 and had a two day honeymoon at Windsor Castle. It proved to be a good match and the couple were devoted to each other.
Victoria and Albert had nine children together. Apparently every fifth child born in this world is Chinese. However none of Albert's were. How strange.

FINANCIAL MATTERS Albert was astute financially, making a lot of money for the royal family. Their fortune today originated from Albert's efforts. For instance, the estates of the Duchy of Cornwall, the hereditary property of his son, the Prince of Wales, improved so greatly under his father's management that the rent receipts rose from £11,000 pounds to £50,000 per year. If Albert was alive today, he'd be very old, but would his financial skills would have come in handy in this current turbulent economic climate.

FOOD AND DRINK Victoria and Albert's wedding cake was 9 feet around, weighed 300 pounds and was 14 inches high. It was served at the wedding breakfast.
A giant wheel of Cheddar cheese was given to the Queen for a wedding gift. It weighed 1,200 pound and two Somerset villages combined to make it.

MUSIC AND ARTS Albert had very good taste in art, far better than his missus. The 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica illustrates his sense of the artistic . "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 sell; but the Prince Consort induced him to try, and he did so with such a rapid success that it revolutionised the china cupboards of Britain."
Albert was also a talented composer of both sacred pieces such as Te Deum in C, which was sang at Victoria's 60th celebration anniversary celebration of her reign and various piano songs that were said to be reminiscent of Mendelssohn and Schubert.

CHRISTMAS Prince Albert, introduced the German habit of erecting a Christmas tree. Published pictures, that were featured in the Illustrated London News, of the Royal Family around a Christmas tree draped with candles, presents and sweets, proved influential in igniting the spark of modern Christmas celebration as a family event.
Christmas pudding became a proper tradition in the 19th century when Prince Albert, a fan, introduced it to the royal Christmas.

PETS Albert and Victoria had a dog called Eos.

HOBBIES AND SPORTS Albert had a special interest in education and science and was the inspiration behind the Science Museum in London. His interest in applying science and art to manufacturing industry bore fruit in the 1851 Great Exhibition. The surplus of £186,000 that the Great Exhibition raised, resulted in a number of educational and cultural institutions. These included what would later be named the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal Albert Hall, which was originally conceived by him as a hall of art & sciences.

PHILOSOPHY & THEOLOGY Albert had a non denominational, relaxed attitude to religion. He stressed good works rather than professions of faith.
Many credit Prince Albert with introducing the principle that the British Royal Family should remain 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.

SCANDAL Originally British people were suspicious of Albert because of his German connections. A satirical verse at the time went:
"I am a German just arrived
With you to be mingling
My passage it was paid
From Germany to England
To wed your blooming Queen
For better or worse I take her
My father is a duke
And I'm a sausage maker."
Later on opinion was divided between those who regarded him as a meddling foreigner and those who valued his hard work.

MILITARY RECORD Albert showed his bravery by shielding the Queen when an assassin shot at her in an open carriage.
Though the English parliament refused to give the German Prince Consort a rank in the army, he did help reorganise the army training plan during the Crimean War and played a principal part in averting war with the USA in 1861.

HOMES Albert grew up Ehrenburg Palace in Coburg, Germany. Once married to Victoria they lived in a fairly posh abode- Windsor Castle
Their winter home was Osbourne Castle on the Isle of Wight. Albert designed it, together with Thomas Cubitt, as an Italian villa.

TRAVEL Albert and Victoria loved the Highlands of Scotland and brought Balmoral Castle rebuilding it in Scottish baronial style. The British Royal Family still spend some time each year there.

HEALTH AND PHYSICAL FITNESS Albert drove himself too hard trying to win over the public and his health consequently suffered. He had a chronic inability to stay awake once it got to late evening, which lead to a number of embarrassing incidents at various public functions.

DEATH Prince Albert died in 1861 of typhoid fever at Windsor Castle. He had gone up to Cambridge to admonish the future Edward VIII against laziness and fell ill there. The Queen’s court physician, Sir James Clarke, originally diagnosed no more than a nasty cold. It was only after the death of the Prince Consort that Clarke admitted that in hindsight maybe there were typhoid symptoms. Every day for 40 years after his death, Victoria ordered that Albert's clothes be laid afresh on his bed in his suite at Windsor Castle. Queen Victoria never really recovered from his death and was in continual mourning. The Albert memorial is a shrine to his memory at Windsor Castle.
Later Victoria was buried alongside him at Frogmore, Berkshire.

APPEARANCES IN MEDIA Among the films in which Prince Albert has been portrayed are: Victoria the Great 1937 Played by Anton Walbrook
Sixty Glorious Years 1938 Played by Anton Walbrook (again)
The Lady with a Lamp 1951 Played by Peter Graves
Young Victoria 2009 Played by Rupert Friend

ACHIEVEMENTS 1. The title of Prince Consort of Great Britain was conferred in 1857 on Albert
2. Albert is the only British Consort to have had a memorial (Albert Memorial) and a public building (Royal Albert Hall) dedicated to his name.
3. Prince Albert in Central Saskatchewan, Canada, was named after him, as was Lake Albert in Africa .
4. The Albert is a short kind of watch, which was named after Queen Victoria's hubby.

Sources The Faber Book of English History in Verse by Kenneth Baker, People's Almanac Presents the Book of Lists #3 by Amy Wallace, David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace, The Daily Mail December 23, 2008, Food For Thought (Extraordinary Little Chronicles of the World) by, erm, me and a few bits were nicked from Wikipedia

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