Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1819–1861), prince consort, consort of Queen Victoria, was born on 26 August 1819 at the ducal summer residence of the duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, the Rosenau, on the southern edge of the forest of Thuringen, about 4 miles from Coburg. On 19 September 1819 in the marble hall at the Rosenau he was baptized Franz Karl August Albrecht Immanuel with water from the River Itze, which flowed through the duchy. His name was immediately Anglicized by his family to Albert, the only one of his given names that was ever used. The reigning duke was his father, Ernest (1784–1844), who had named his first son and heir, born a year earlier, after himself. The mother of the boys, who would be their only children, was the former Princess Louise (1800–1831) of neighbouring, but larger and richer, Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. Seventeen years younger than her husband, she had married him at sixteen on 31 July 1817.
The duke's rakish ways were unreformed by his marriage. After the birth of his sons he resumed his earlier sports of hunting and wenching. Louise consoled herself with flirtations, the last with a young lieutenant, Baron Alexander von Hanstein. On 4 September 1824 the unhappy duchess was banished from Coburg and left her small sons forever. The legal separation which Ernest had demanded was followed by formal divorce in 1826, after which Louise married Hanstein. She died of uterine cancer in August 1831.
By 1826 the duchy and the princelings had new names, as the death of the last eligible male descendant in Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg meant a rearrangement of mini-states. Ernest added Gotha in exchange for Saalfeld (which went to the duke of Meiningen), creating the hyphenated designation by which the young Albert was later identified. Although abandoned at five, Albert understood—much later—the circumstances of his mother's departure and never doubted her affection; her loss could hardly have been repaired by the attentions of Christoph Florschütz, who in his mid-twenties had been engaged as tutor to the brothers. Albert became quiet and subdued, subject to fits of weeping which he confessed candidly in a journal begun, precociously, when he was less than six. Early on, Florschütz was not quite the benign influence he was later to become. On 26 March 1825 Albert wrote that he had ‘made so many mistakes’ in a letter that ‘the Rath’—his tutor—‘tore it up and threw it into the fire. I cried about it’ (Grey, 34).
Albert's awkwardness with, and dislike of, his father, whom he had good reason to blame for a lonely and insecure childhood, was blunted by time, as were his impressions of Florschütz, who became, as Albert grew up, an affectionate companion and devoted teacher. Tutorial impatience, however, emerges in Albert's notation when not yet six, ‘I cried at my lesson today, because I could not find a verb: and the Rath pinched me, to show me what a verb was. And I cried about it’ (Grey, 34).
At first Albert fled from strangers, retreating into the arms of his brother, the two sharing an affection not reciprocated by their aloof father. Florschütz was to supervise the studies of both boys for fifteen years in ducal residences from which their father was often absent. Until Albert was eleven (and Ernest twelve), Florschütz stolidly tutored the boys each day, taking his midday meal with them. Only their grandmother and stepgrandmother furnished a softer presence. When the boys visited Louise's stepmother, they encountered music and theatre and even novels. Grandmother Augusta, a political liberal, flexible even in her Lutheranism, educated Albert in her own way. Two men were even more influential. Prince Leopold (1790–1865), widower of Princess Charlotte of Wales, was Duke Ernest's youngest brother. After Louise's departure from Coburg, Leopold sent his private secretary, the one-time physician Baron Christian Friedrich Stockmar, to report on the welfare of the children. He had recommended Florschütz and returned regularly to check on his charges, as Duke Ernest was, in Leopold's tart words, ‘much occupied with his new and splendid possession of Gotha’ and seeking a replacement duchess.
By 1831 the ambitious Leopold had been offered the throne of the new Belgian state. From Brussels he was also able to continue his oversight of the daughter of his sister Victoire, the widowed duchess of Kent. The Princess Victoria [see Victoria (1819–1901)], only a few months older than Albert, appeared likely to be queen in Great Britain after her childless uncle, now William IV. Through Stockmar, Leopold also kept watch over Ernest and Albert, who studied, exercised, played, dined, and even slept under the supervision of Florschütz. At six, Albert had lessons for one hour per day; two additional hours were added at seven, and at ten masters in mathematics and German were brought in. At twelve, instruction in history, philosophy, geography, Latin, and religion was extended to five hours. Exercises and games, sometimes with visiting cousins or local boys, filled what was left of the day. Lessons in shooting were deemed important, and Albert became an excellent marksman.
Early in the Florschütz programme, it became obvious that Albert did not have the hardy constitution of his elder brother, although he was slightly taller and seemed sturdy. He needed to retire earlier, and sometimes fell asleep in corners before bedtime. In later years he would find late-starting social occasions tedious and the effort to pretend otherwise wearying. The major event of the home years was the confirmation of the brothers on Palm Sunday (12 April) 1835. By then Florschütz was enriching the traditional German curriculum with English and French, and cultivating the boys' interests in science. They began rock-collecting outings, classified specimens, and were instructed on occasion by a mineralogist imported from Frankfurt. Encouraged by Grandmother Caroline, they also moved beyond their tutor. Each loved music. They studied with a local church organist, using their own pennies for lessons when Duke Ernest refused to ‘waste money’ on the frivolity. Both sang and learned the rudiments of composition.
Following Lutheran confirmation, the duke took his sons on the traditional visit to Berlin for presentation to the Prussian court. (Prussia and Austria dominated the German confederation.) With Florschütz replacing the duke, the miniature grand tour continued on to Dresden, Prague, Vienna, and Budapest, each with its ritual of dinners, parades, presentations, and concerts, Albert dutifully writing to his stepmother (Ernest had married his own niece, Princess Mary of Württemberg, in 1832) that the regimen took ‘a giant's strength’ but that he was bearing up under the fatigue.
The next rite of passage was tutelage by Dr Seebode, director of the high school at Coburg, in lieu of residence there. That became preparation for a stay in Belgium with Leopold, who wanted to validate the reports of Stockmar about the readiness of Albert for the goal both had set for him. By early 1836 it was clear that his English cousin would soon be queen. The childless William IV was often ill, and fading. The crucial matter was whether he would survive into May 1837, when his niece would be eighteen, and of age. If not, the duchess of Kent would be regent for her daughter, and very probably would arrange her marriage. Given the duchess's ambition, a political solution might supplant the family strategy for which Leopold hoped. Albert's future lay in his being a marriageable protestant princeling. The Coburg succession was Ernest's. Without possessions or promise of title, there was almost no occupation possible for Albert other than a military commission in some appropriate service, or becoming a royal—or at worst aristocratic—husband. The future queen of England remained the ideal match. Leopold, however, was cautious about overt intervention. Although a father figure to Victoria, he was out of favour in England because, although a reigning sovereign of another state, he continued to pocket the £50,000 a year granted when he was married to Princess Charlotte of Wales. Unacceptable as it was to parliament, the stipend was legally his. He was also married, out of political necessity, to a French Catholic bride.
Although he could not be seen pulling the strings, with prospective consorts already making approaches now that Princess Victoria was nearly seventeen, Leopold rushed Duke Ernest to England with his sons. At the invitation of William IV, the prince of Orange had preceded them with his two sons, and the king, who disliked the duchess of Kent and the entire Coburg clan, tried in vain to prevent the visit.
On 18 May 1836, six days before her seventeenth birthday, the princess met her Coburg cousins for the first time. Three months her junior, Albert was handsome in a still immature way, but easily fatigued by ceremony. ‘You can well imagine’, he wrote to his stepmother, who did not accompany the duke, ‘that I had many hard battles to fight against sleepiness during these late entertainments’ (Grey, 131). Victoria confided to her journal that Albert was ‘extremely good-looking’, enjoyed—as she did—music, and seemed full of gaiety. Yet at her birthday ball, exhausted by the continual late hours, he ‘turned as pale as ashes’ (Woodham-Smith, 120), Victoria wrote, and took to his bed for a night and a day.
While the first encounter with the prince seemed unpromising on the surface, Victoria wrote to Leopold on Albert's departure, ‘I have only now to beg you, my dearest Uncle, to take care of one, now so dear to me’ (Letters of Queen Victoria, 1.62). The visiting tsarevich Alexander, tall and manly and heir to Nicholas I, was of the wrong faith and would some day rule Russia, where the future queen could not live. She could not even consider a home in cousin Ernest's Coburg or in the Netherlands of the Oranges, however protestant—and its princes looked ‘Kalmuck’ (Mongol) to her. Despite his apparent delicacy, Albert held unexpectedly high cards—and Victoria was highly susceptible to a pleasing male exterior. Her intimation to Leopold implied no obligation: another potential suitor might emerge. Still, Leopold felt it expedient to acquaint Albert with his prospects and seek the counsel of Stockmar.
Albert's ten months in Brussels were preparation for entrance into the University of Bonn for the 1837–8 academic year. No tutorial expertise was spared, and the director of the Royal Observatory, the mathematician and astronomer Laubert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet, oversaw the education of the young Coburgers. Although Florschütz remained in attendance with Albert's Swiss valet, Cart, the prince's schooling in Bonn was supervised by Baron von Wiechmann, a retired colonel, with instruction at the university supplied by August Wilhelm von Schlegel, the poet and critic, privately derided by his students for his vanity, and Immanuel Hermann von Fichte, the anthropologist and philosopher, among others in a distinguished professoriat. Albert and Ernest also involved themselves in fencing, songfests, dramatics, and student friendships—although they lived in a house rented for their small entourage rather than common undergraduate digs. It was the happiest year of both brothers' lives.
William IV died on 20 June 1837, four weeks after Victoria's coming of age. Albert wrote to her in rather stiff English to wish for a ‘long, happy, and glorious’ reign, and prayed her to think sometimes ‘of your cousins in Bonn’. In cautious code about their future he added, ‘I will not be indiscreet and abuse your time’ (Grey, 147–8). As politicians and aristocrats sought to broker the inevitable royal marriage, however, Albert's name arose publicly, and, both to deflect matchmakers and to furnish herself with time to enjoy her elevated new status without domestic hindrance, the queen announced that she had no present interest in matrimony.
With Albert's situation in Bonn compromised by the rumours, Leopold advised him to delay his return to the university and ‘disappear’ into unpublicized but useful travel. Albert concurred that the reasons were ‘imperative and conclusive’. Leaving on 28 August 1837, Ernest, Albert, and Florschütz travelled south into Switzerland, Austria, and Italy, going as far as Venice. Once home he prepared an album of scenes from the journey, a dried ‘Rose des Alpes’, and a scrap of Voltaire's handwriting he had obtained at Ferney, and posted it to Victoria. Years later she described it as ‘one of her greatest treasures’.
The brothers returned to Bonn in early November to resume their studies while Albert, as he wrote to his father, began to reconsider ‘the arrangement of my mode of life’ (Grey, 165). As the academic year ended in mid-1838, the duke left for London to attend his niece's coronation. Neither he nor Stockmar saw there any improvement in Albert's prospects. At best no new rival had materialized. Enjoying power, position, and the freedom both afforded, Victoria seemed uninterested in marrying, and had even begun to complain coldly of the interference of Uncle Leopold, who was trying to rule her ‘roast’ (roost).
Albert's situation was precarious. Even his potential as protestant husband in a lesser court was compromised by his marital limbo in London. In Belgium, Leopold discussed the dilemma with the prince, who told him that he was prepared to submit to reasonable delay ‘if I have only some certain assurance to go upon’. If after waiting for three years ‘I should find that the Queen no longer desired the marriage, it would place me in a very ridiculous position, and would, to a certain extent, ruin all the prospects of my future life’ (Grey, 218).
In Victoria's family letters Albert went unmentioned. Events in her own life, however, pushed her from her independent perch. She was nineteen, inadequately educated for her role, and both imperious and unsophisticated. Her relations with the witty, widowed prime minister, Viscount Melbourne, who had already been the subject of extramarital scandal, were themselves a potential scandal. Although he seemed avuncular, Melbourne was too much in her presence for wagging tongues. Further, the impolitic ‘bedchamber’ crisis and the embarrassing Lady Flora Hastings affair, which both broke in the spring of 1839, showed the queen as precipitate and petty, much in need of guidance she did not have. And looming across the North Sea was her allegedly wicked uncle, the duke of Cumberland, who in 1837 had become king of Hanover, since Salic law prevented her own succession there. Should she die without issue, he would succeed her.
Someone with an appropriate bloodline, preferably of mature years, was needed to rescue the girl-queen from herself and ensure the succession. Victoria wanted no husband to reign over her. Preferably, then, since a consort seemed inevitable and, in early 1839, soon, why not young Albert, who was handsome and merry, and—given his penniless and youthful state—malleable? The ‘roast’ would then remain her own.
In August 1839 Victoria was revisited by her Coburg uncles amid press speculation that the gathering was preliminary to the arrival of Ernest and Albert. She had tried to delay both confrontations on grounds of exhaustion—‘from all I have gone through’, she explained to Leopold (Letters of Queen Victoria, 1.232). However, the queen's uncles, Ferdinand, Ernest, and Leopold, overcame her resistance, and young Ernest and Albert arrived at Windsor on 10 October after a rough channel crossing and without their baggage, which had gone astray. ‘Having no clothes’, Victoria wrote to Leopold on 12 October, ‘they could not appear at dinner but nevertheless débutéd after dinner in their négligé’. Ernest had ‘grown quite handsome’ but the young queen was overwhelmed by his brother, writing breathlessly with many underlinings, ‘Albert's beauty is most striking, and he is so amiable and unaffected—in short, very fascinating; he is excessively admired here’ (ibid., 1.237). From Victoria's side the matter was no longer a political arrangement. She had fallen in love.
Had the king of the Belgians been privy to Victoria's journal he would have had no doubts. ‘It was with some emotion that I beheld Albert—who is beautiful’, she wrote (Esher, 2.262). Her heart, she added, was ‘quite going’. On 14 October she told Melbourne that she had changed her mind about marrying, and the prime minister wrote to Lord John Russell with real relief, ‘I do not know that anything better could be done. He seems a very agreeable young man, he certainly is a very good looking one, and as to character, that, we must always take our chance of’ (Woodham-Smith, 184).
Etiquette forbade the prince from speaking his mind before being spoken to, but from his side, relief as much as romance was involved. Soon after noon the next day, Victoria sent for Albert and asked him ‘to consent to what I wished’, and they embraced. ‘Oh! how I adore and love him’, she told her diary, ‘I cannot say!! how I will strive to make him feel as little as possible the great sacrifice he has made; I told him it was a great sacrifice,—which he wouldn't allow’ (Woodham-Smith, 184).
Albert responded, forgetting his English lessons, that he would be happy ‘das Leben mit dir zu zubringen’ (‘to share life with you’), realizing that his new role would be an awkward one. On 16 October he wrote to Baron Stockmar of his joy in being ‘the object of so much affection’, and Stockmar responded with pleasure accompanied by earnest counsel. In reply Albert agreed that winning ‘the respect, the love, and the confidence of the queen and of the nation’ was crucial to his position (Grey, 235–6). Victoria was won, but the public, in the form of press comment, was quick to express doubts about the influence of a foreign prince upon a young sovereign. Albert understood, he confided to his stepmother, that ‘life has its thorns in every position, and the consciousness of having used one's powers and endeavours for an object so great as that of promoting the welfare of so many will surely be sufficient to support me’ (ibid., 238).
Albert had his first sense of his new role from the standpoint of the crown when, on 27 October, he was still a guest at Windsor and with the betrothal not yet public knowledge. Victoria wrote in her journal, ‘I signed some papers and warrants etc. and he was so kind as to dry them with blotting paper for me. We talked … and he clasped me so tenderly in his arms, and kissed me again and again’ (Woodham-Smith, 188).
On 14 November Albert returned to Coburg to conclude his affairs prior to a wedding in early February, discovering new disappointments about his status and authority by letter even before the queen read her declaration of intent to the privy council on 23 November. The government would not agree to make him a peer; the prime minister insisted on imposing his own private secretary, George Anson, upon Albert, and parliament began wrangling over an annual allowance drastically reduced from that granted to Leopold in 1816: to Victoria's outrage the grant was pared to £30,000.
The dismayed prince was permitted little more than to import a personal establishment of librarian, groom, and valet. Even a bill for his naturalization was hotly debated (but passed), while legislation about his precedence after the queen was dropped after objections by the stuffy royal dukes. More stinging rebuffs came from the press, which questioned his protestantism (as other Coburgs had married Catholics in furthering their ambitions), his German background (in a street ballad he was ‘Prince Hallbert’), and his mercenary motives (in another broadside he was after ‘England's fat queen and England's fatter purse’).
The best Victoria could do was to bestow on him the ribbon of the Garter before the wedding on 10 February 1840, held in the Chapel Royal of St James's Palace, at which he wore a British field marshal's uniform without insignia, since he was invested with no rank. Even the wedding journey was abbreviated—two days at Windsor. ‘You forget, my dearest love’, Victoria admonished with much underlining, ‘that I am the Sovereign, and that business can stop and wait for nothing. Parliament is sitting’ (Letters of Queen Victoria, 1.269). Albert and his Coburg entourage entered for the ceremony to the incongruous strains of ‘See the conquering hero come’. He was pale and twenty.
On the morning after the bridal night (‘we did not sleep much’, Victoria noted in her diary), the queen awakened to revel in the ‘beautiful angelic face’ at her side. Her sensual Hanoverian temperament bloomed, and Albert remained sensitive to it. ‘My dearest Albert put on my stockings for me’, she confided to her diary on 13 February. ‘I went in and saw him shave; a great delight for me.’ Laurence Housman would imagine the scene in his charming series of royal vignettes, Victoria Regina (1934). From the start, two tables set up in the queen's rooms enabled them to work side by side, but the work remained the sovereign's. Sometimes she involved him enough to record a journal entry, ‘Rested and read Despatches—some of which I read to Albert.’ Despite instant mutual affection, Albert and Victoria's temperaments were opposed and often collided, requiring forbearance which the young pair often did not have. Albert's Germanic discipline and reaction against the sexual profligacy of his father were at odds with Victoria's enthusiasm for food and drink, dancing and balls, court society and long nights. ‘Prince Albert slept’ was a common entry in the journals and letters of guests at Buckingham Palace who remained into the late hours. Albert's initial frustration and unease at his peripheral place, as Victoria clung to the prerogatives and powers which had been hers before the marriage, caused him to complain to a schoolfriend, ‘I am only the husband, and not the master in the house’ (Grey, 320). Quickly, biology altered the marital and political balance. Within weeks of the wedding, Victoria was pregnant.
‘I must say that I could not be more unhappy’, she complained to the dowager duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. In her journal she had written that pregnancy was ‘the ONLY thing Idread’. Dread also ensured Albert his first victory in parliament. A Regency Bill empowered him, without an advisory council, to act in the event of the impairment of the queen or the survival only of a minor child. The prince crowed to his brother that it gave his position ‘a fresh significance’. The red dispatch boxes arrived daily, whether or not the queen was up to them, and Albert's informal authority and influence grew. He had already begun to find a cultural role as one of the directors of the Ancient Concerts, presided—and spoke briefly—at a public meeting on abolition of the slave trade, and became a patron and purchaser of art and sculpture, influencing taste by his own. But his real work became the administration of what would be an informal dual monarchy.
In his final year at Bonn he had studied English language and history. Now he began the study, in earnest, of English law and constitutional history. He also pursued foreign affairs, a subject of little interest to him earlier. Before his marriage he had seldom even read a newspaper beyond the Augsburger Allgemeine.
As another pregnancy quickly followed the first—Victoria, the princess royal, was born three weeks early, on 21 November 1840—Albert realized his domestic base was less secure than his political one had become. The household was still being run by the capable, if domineering, Baroness Lehzen, the queen's former governess—to Albert in letters to his brother the ‘old hag’ (‘die Blaste’). Proper care of ‘Vicky’ became the cause about which Albert planned Lehzen's removal, but he bided his time.
In 1841 a Conservative government under Sir Robert Peel replaced Melbourne's whigs. Peel, to whom Albert would become almost as close as Victoria had been to Melbourne, placed the prince at the head of a royal commission appointed in October 1841, taking advantage of the rebuilding of the houses of parliament, gutted by fire in 1834, to promote and encourage the fine arts in the United Kingdom. The new Palace of Westminster, designed by Charles Barry, on which work began in 1837, would be the first major ‘Victorian’ building. Its decoration, overseen by leading men in the political and cultural milieu, was, Albert felt, his real initiation into public life. Compared to the suave Melbourne, Victoria found Peel, son of a cotton manufacturer, ‘awkward’. To Albert he became informal mentor.
On 9 November 1841 Albert Edward [see Edward VII], to be created prince of Wales, was born, the first such since the future George IV in 1762. With Victoria recovering slowly early in 1842 from the difficult pregnancy and birth, and in post-partum depression, Albert began blaming Lehzen for meddlesome nursery management and urging her retirement. Victoria was distraught at relinquishing a confidant and companion with whom she had shared much of her life, but Stockmar and Albert made it clear that Lehzen's presence exacerbated tensions in the relationship between husband and wife. The baroness loyally departed in September 1842, taking her pension of £800 a year to Bückeburg in Hanover, where she lived until 1870.
Supreme in the royal household, Albert began putting affairs into Germanic order. Although Lehzen had no official status and was innocent of administrative detail, she had accrued a proliferation of duties and responsibilities. Beneath her sightless gaze, wasteful sinecures and perquisites flourished. With Anson as deputy, Albert consolidated household functions within existing regulations, squeezing corruption as well as inefficiency out of the system. Pursuing his interest in agriculture, he set up a model dairy farm at Windsor that was soon making a profit, and he multiplied the revenues from the duchy of Cornwall estates held in trust for the prince of Wales. Not all of the reforms sat easily with Victoria, who was comfortable with the traditional ways and, moreover, saw her authority being eroded, but, as Albert confided to the duke of Wellington, his goal was to be the natural head of the family, superintendent of her household, manager of her private affairs, her sole confidential adviser in politics, and only assistant in her communications with the officers of the Government, her private secretary and permanent Minister. (Helps, 76) And he would do so without English title or rank, submerging, as he put it, ‘his directing individuality’ in the queen's position and personality.
While the prince wished Victoria to perceive his actions as a sacrifice of personal ambition on her behalf, he was acquiring power in ways that became public: she held audiences with Albert at her side, and even at the opening or proroguing of parliament had him seated with her. Yet within the domestic apartments at Buckingham Palace or Windsor, royal tempers often flared. ‘Victoria is too hasty and passionate’, Albert explained. ‘She will not hear me out but flies into a rage and overwhelms me with reproaches of … want of trust, ambition, envy, etc. etc.’ (Longford, 161). He would often resort to long silences, then write admonitory notes in which he would address her as ‘Dear Child’. Still, the marriage prospered as Victoria began to see advantages in a managing husband in whom she could take pride and who responded to her physical and emotional needs.
Although much of what has been called Victorianism emanates from the climate of evangelical Christianity—the strict, even dreary, moral fervour and the ethic of hard work—its equivalent at court was due more to Albert than to Victoria. With the loose reputation of the Regency to assuage in the new reign, and his own experience of Ernestine laxity in Coburg, the prince wanted to emphasize family and religious values. Even what became accepted as the Victorian Christmas was largely imported from Germany, the illustrated press making much of Albert's Christmas trees and gift-giving.
Short of abstinence—and Victoria was too sensual a being for that—the royal couple had no idea how to limit their family, and despite the queen's revulsion for pregnancy a surfeit of royal children followed the princess royal and the prince of Wales. Alice was born in 1843, Alfred in 1844, and Helena in 1846. Louise followed in 1848 and Arthur in 1850. Leopoldwas born in 1853 and Beatrice, the last child, in 1857. Each necessary withdrawal from public life on Victoria's part increased Albert's actual and visible roles.
The burgeoning brood of children impelled Albert's search for private royal retreats free from the public gaze and from the bureaucracy of the Office of Woods and Forests, which oversaw not only Buckingham Palace and Windsor but the summer retreat at crowded Brighton, the rococo Royal Pavilion. Buckingham Palace, aside from its bleak formality, was subject to the fetid air of London. Unsuitable for family living, Windsor Castle was also known as a cave of the winds. In addition, an antique yacht was available, the Royal George, a cumbersome sailing ship in the new age of steam. The managerial prince, prone to seasickness anyway, suffered badly on his first voyage to Scotland and refused to embark for home on it. A modern vessel, the Albert, was constructed for royal use. The pavilion was abandoned and most of its furnishings sold at auction, the prince arranging to purchase, after driving a hard bargain, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. There, supervising London master builder Thomas Cubitt, Albert had erected an Italianate home with campanile tower that might have graced the Bay of Naples rather than the Solent. The family moved in, construction still unfinished, in May 1845, with the prince, not yet twenty-six, still overseeing building and landscaping.
The visits of the royal couple to Scotland led to a second personal estate. Victoria enjoyed the bracing air. Her overactive thyroid, evidenced by her bulging eyes, left her always feeling too warm. For Albert, the lakes, hills, and woodlands off the Dee recalled his native Thuringia. When Balmoral Castle became available after the queen's first visit to it in 1848, it was a castle only in the Scottish sense of a large home, although it had turrets and round towers and gables. The royal couple paid for it from their privy purse, eased by the unexpected inheritance in 1852 of £250,000 from John Camden Neild. Some funds were returned by Victoria in the form of increased legacies to minor beneficiaries, and to restore the chancel of the church in which Neild was buried, and the remainder became the core of the building funds for the Frogmore mausoleum at Windsor; but in effect it freed royal funds for expanding and extending Balmoral. Stockmar, hearing the news from Albert, wished the otherwise uncharitable Neild ‘a joyful resurrection’.
There would be less joy in government circles. The Isle of Wight was a longish journey by railway and steam packet. 600 miles from London by rail and coach, Balmoral was a night and a day away. Custom required a minister in residence while the queen was distant from parliament. The cabinet dreaded inhospitable Balmoral, but the queen had a right to live anywhere in her kingdom she wished.
Among royal travels were visits to stately homes of the influential peerage and, in 1843, visits to the French and Belgian courts. In October the pair were in Cambridge, where Albert received an honorary degree and began a fruitful association with a university he considered intellectually superior to somnolent Oxford. In December they visited Chatsworth, where the duke of Devonshire displayed his new greenhouse, designed by Joseph Paxton. Seeing it illuminated, Victoria described it as ‘the finest thing imaginable of its kind’, while Albert called it ‘magnificent and beautiful’, a work of genius. In 1851 he would employ Paxton to rescue the Great Exhibition.
The death of Duke Ernest in early 1844 caused Albert to revisit Coburg, with the queen, again pregnant, remaining at home. Extravagant mourning was customary, and Albert indulged in continental fashion, weeping and displaying his emotions in a manner considered unmanly by Englishmen. Revisiting his childhood evoked more genuine feeling, but Albert was relieved to get away from the financial importunities of his dissolute brother, the new duke, and return to Windsor, where on 6 August Victoria gave birth to Alfred, the future duke of Coburg.
As further royal children arrived, the press carried hostile comments and satirical cartoons, criticizing the cost of maintaining establishments for the growing family as each child came of age, yet the brood also created a sense of stability and continuity. State visits to Prussia and France were successes, except for a battue of game at which Victoria and Albert were guests, a style of shooting which was more slaughter than sport, and left newspapers carping about Albert's inability to adapt to the ways of English gentlemen. Never taking to Albert except during his highly visible but temporary successes, the press appeared to seek opportunities to strike at his foreignness—and would have been all the more outraged had it been more generally known that in the privacy of their personal apartments he and the queen usually conversed in German, in which Albert was always more comfortable.
During Peel's ministry, the prince was the primary intermediary between prime minister and queen. In meetings with ministers, the clerk of the privy council, Charles Greville, wrote on 16 December 1845, wife and husband received them together, and each said ‘We’—‘We think, or wish, to do so and so’. They were ‘one person, and as he likes business, it is obvious that while she has the title he is really discharging the functions of the Sovereign. He is King to all intents and purposes’ (Woodham-Smith, 239). Albert's informal authority became a royal embarrassment only when, on 27 January 1846, Peel's resolutions on financial policy were debated in the Commons while the prince was in the gallery. Lord George Bentinck, representing the conservative faction of Peel's party, accused him from the floor of appearing in the house to
give éclat, and, as it were, by reflection from the Queen, to give the semblance of a personal sanction of Her Majesty to a measure which, be it for good or evil, a great majority at least of the landed aristocracy … imagine fraught with deep injury, if not ruin to them.
The seemingly unconstitutional partiality was questioned further in the press. Although Victoria considered the criticism outrageous, Albert never went to the house again.
After Peel's death in July 1850, the queen wrote to King Leopold that Albert ‘feels as if he has lost a second father’. Another senior figure who meant much to Albert was the duke of Wellington, who died in September 1852. The royal couple's seventh child and third son, Arthur, had been born on the hero of Waterloo's eighty-first birthday, on 1 May 1850, and named for him. On the duke's impending retirement as commander-in-chief of the army that year, he proposed that Albert—who was a field marshal by grace of the queen—accept the post, with an experienced general as chief of staff, but the prince, now wary of overt intrusion into governmental affairs, wisely declined. Apart from the indelicacy of the appointment, he was already busy on the major project of his life, which would be realized as the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Albert had become president of the Society of Arts on 2 June 1843. Founded in 1754 ‘for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce’, it had been in decline under the torpid presidency of the duke of Sussex. The prince's involvement was more than nominal. The Scientific Societies Act of 1843 (6 & 7 Vict. c. 36), to exempt from rates ‘Land and Buildings occupied by Scientific and Literary Societies [provided that they] … shall be supported wholly or in part by annual voluntary contributions’, was promoted by Albert and later known as the Prince Consort's Act.
In 1844 the secretary of the society, Francis Whishaw, proposed to revive the Society of Arts through annual exhibitions of manufactures, modelled upon French and north German precedents. It took until March 1847, even with Albert's encouragement and connections, to mount an exhibit at the society's premises in John Adam Street, London. Each display had been national in character, and Francis Fuller of the society's steering committee suggested in June 1849 to Thomas Cubitt, who was still working on Osborne House, that the London exhibition become international, and that, ‘if Prince Albert would take the lead’, it could be brought off. Cubitt took the idea to Albert. By the end of the month the prince had convened a committee to outline the more ambitious undertaking.
A memorandum almost entirely drafted by the prince declared that the productions of ‘Machinery, Science, and Art … are of no country, but belong, as a whole, to the civilised world’, and that it would be of advantage to Britain to have its products seen ‘in fair competition with that of other nations’. Financing, initiated by donations of £1000 from the queen and £500 from the prince, came painfully slowly, and it was largely left to Albert to raise the money; he was caricatured in Punch, cap in hand, as ‘The Industrious Boy’. A month later, in July 1850, when the project seemed doomed by lack of support and by the public outcry about desecrating the elms of Hyde Park, the proposed venue, Punch satirized the building plans with ‘a simple design for the proposed building’, a smoke-belching monstrosity. Albert lamented to Stockmar, still his sounding board, ‘If we are driven out of the Park, the work is done for!! Never was anything so foolish’ (Martin, 2.286).
While Albert suffered, as he confided to Stockmar, ‘from sleeplessness and exhaustion’ fending off adversaries, appealing for funds, and reviewing 245 unattractive architectural plans, Joseph Paxton unveiled his own design in the Illustrated London News on 6 July 1850. Based upon the Chatsworth conservatory but vast in scope, it was immediately admired. Nine days later Albert's committee accepted it, and the 1848 foot long structure of iron and glass went up over 18 acres of park, safely enclosing within its 293,655 panes of glass the threatened elms. A prefabricated engineering marvel, it was the most advanced building of the nineteenth century. A ‘Crystal Palace’, Punch declared with uncharacteristic enthusiasm.
The selection, transport, and arrangement of over 100,000 exhibits from 13,937 exhibitors was a diplomatic as well as a logistical challenge, and took all the managerial skills of Henry Cole, the prince's deputy. Cole, however, recognized that it was the ‘generalship’ of the prince in adjudicating the dizzying problems, raising the funds, and settling the controversies among participants that made the Great Exhibition of 1851—the first world fair—a spectacular success. He was the only one, Earl Granville, then vice-president of the Board of Trade, wrote, ‘who has considered the subject both as a whole and in its details’. To his grandmother in Coburg, to whom he wrote often, Albert confided, ‘I am more dead than alive of overwork. The opponents of the Exhibition work with might and main to throw all the old women into panic and to drive myself crazy’ (Martin, 2.359). To the king of Prussia, Albert noted sardonically, ‘Mathematicians have calculated that the Crystal Palace will blow down in the first strong gale. Engineers that the Galleries would crash in and destroy the visitors’ (Jagow, 176). The 4500 tons of iron framework held, and 6,063,986 enthralled visitors, equal to a third of the kingdom, poured through over 140 days (no Sundays) from 1 May 1851 until the formal closing on 15 October. At thirty-two, Albert had achieved a visionary triumph—and turned a profit of £186,000 even after reducing entrance fees. And he had confounded such persistent critics as Lord Brougham, who claimed that a man in Albert's ‘peculiar position’ (of royal spouse) ‘should have the sense to know that repose and inaction is his only security against ridicule’.
Inaction was impossible for Albert. Aside from his role in the dual monarchy he put his nervous energy to work on new problems and new concepts. The Crystal Palace, for example, had to be dismantled and moved, rather than demolished. The London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway purchased it for £70,000 and moved it to the Kent countryside at Sydenham, where it continued as an exhibition hall until destroyed by fire in 1936. Albert wanted to use the considerable profits to acquire property in South Kensington to further the goals of the Great Exhibition. Sceptics would denounce his plan as ‘Albertopolis’, but the educational, cultural, and scientific institutions initiated by the prince's foresight would materialize into a great complex of museums, colleges, and concert halls, keeping Victoria busy at dedications for decades. The Great Exhibition would be the summit of Albert's public career, but at a cost. He had often complained of a ‘weak stomach’, and was subject increasingly to severe stomach cramps, blamed by himself on the tension of his crush of responsibilities and by his biographers on his Teutonic conscientiousness about detail. He drove himself nevertheless. With the collapse of the Chartist movement in the later 1840s, foreign policy came to dominate the succeeding decade and the attention of the prince. By early 1850 reaction to the revolutions of 1848 was sweeping Europe. Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte seized imperial power in historically hostile France, and Austria and Prussia resumed their old monarchist ways. Tsarist Russia sought further expansion at the expense of Ottoman territories in the Balkans. On almost every issue the queen and Albert seemed at odds with Lord Palmerston, the dominant influence on foreign policy until his death in 1865, who had the overt or covert support of the liberal-minded press. In a revealing memorandum Albert insisted, ‘Nowhere does the Constitution demand an indifference on the part of the sovereign to the march of political events.’ He saw no special ‘House of Coburg’ interests at stake, only those of England. Why are Princes alone to be denied the credit for having political opinions based upon an anxiety for the national interests and honour of their country and the welfare of mankind? Are they not more independently placed than any other politician in the State? The sovereign—and he continued to use the masculine form—was ‘necessarily’ a politician.
By late 1853 the press and the politicians had orchestrated emotional commitments which pitted Britain against Russian aggrandizement. The queen's warnings that the nation was unprepared and that war was not in Britain's interest were interpreted as Albert's ventriloquism. Palmerston fed newspapers with what the Daily News called ‘Courtly distastes and Coburg intrigues’. The press charged Albert with meddling in public affairs, with promoting the interest of his Coburg relations, with behaving as a German rather than as an Englishman, and with conspiring—as a Russian agent—with foreign princes. Rumours spread early in 1854 that Albert had even been arrested for treason. ‘You will scarcely credit’, he wrote to Stockmar on 24 January, ‘that my being committed to the Tower of London was believed all over the country—nay, even “that the Queen has been arrested!”’ (Martin, 2.562). Lord Aberdeen, then prime minister, felt impelled to declare to parliament the prince's ‘unimpeachable loyalty’.
The Crimean War officially began on 28 March 1854, by which time newspapers had other distractions, and Albert arose amid the bellicosity from the nadir of his reputation. Citing British unpreparedness, he pressed for realistic training with simulated combat and for a military instructional camp, which led to the establishment of Aldershot. Now representing an ally of France against Russia, Victoria and Albert exchanged state visits and military inspections with Napoleon III, leading to a period of rapprochement; and there was also a truce with Palmerston, who became prime minister for the first time at seventy-one in 1855. Mutual admiration even developed, Palmerston confiding that until his premiership, with its opportunities to see the prince (with Victoria) on a regular basis, ‘I had no idea of his possessing such eminent qualities …, and how fortunate it has been for the country that the queen married such a prince’ (Martin, 2.429). In 1856 the queen wrote, ‘Albert and I agreed that of all the Prime Ministers we have had, Lord Palmerston is the one who gives the least trouble and is most amenable to reason and most ready to adopt suggestions’ (Longford, 247). Part of the reason was that Palmerston had yielded foreign affairs, where he had been a firebrand, to Lord Clarendon, an experienced diplomat, and ‘everything is quite different’.
With peace and the stabilization of Turkey, Albert turned his attention to the education of the prince of Wales, who seemed unadaptable to a training of Albertine intellectual rigour, and to the betrothal of Princess Victoria to the future crown prince of Prussia, Frederick. While he hoped for placid, happy childhoods, out of the public eye at Balmoral or Osborne, for his family, exceptions were made of the heir, Albert Edward (Bertie), and ‘Vicky’, who was to be a political bridge to Germany. The queen was made desolate when Albert, as head of the family, permitted their second son, Alfred, to be sent to sea as a naval cadet at fourteen.
Albert's external domestic concentration in the middle 1850s remained English culture—the scientific and artistic complex planned for South Kensington, the National Gallery, and his efforts to raise public consciousness about the appalling cost to the nation of child labour (‘an evil’) and the failure of the educational system to reach half of Britain's children. Military matters again intervened with the outbreak of the Sepoy mutiny in India in 1857, causing Albert as well as the queen to press Palmerston about the government's apparent eagerness to relax military preparedness. Both supported conciliation rather than punishment in India, and Albert's role was significant in the royal proclamation establishing new governance for India. He and the queen rejected the government's draft and proposed a text that should breathe feelings of generosity, benevolence, and religious feeling, pointing out the privileges which the Indians will receive in being placed on an equality with the subjects of the British Crown, and the prosperity following in the train of civilisation. (Martin, 4.285) The later 1850s were years of increasing depression for Albert. He parted from the newly wed princess royal ‘in tears and snowdrift’ early in 1858. In mid-pregnancy later that year Vicky suffered a fall upon which was blamed the foetal positioning which necessitated a forceps delivery, and led to an injured and useless left arm for the future William II of Germany. Albert pretended all was well. William was ‘a living child, … a strong, healthy boy’. With the birth of their youngest daughter, Beatrice, the miseducation of Bertie, the dynastic exile of Vicky—and her difficulties—and the increasing illness of the queen's mother, Victoria herself underwent a long period of emotional imbalance. She and Albert endured arguments, long silences, and further chastising notes that unreasonably absolved him of any guilt. The queen's long-postponed letters patent on 25 July 1857 creating him prince consort improved nothing. Albert's title was ridiculed in the press, and the prince confided to his brother, ‘This ought to have been done, as you thought yourself, at our wedding, but you also know in what state affairs were at the time.’ Still, Albert explained, the matter had become urgent as his children as adults would otherwise outrank their father, ‘a foreign prince’.
Foreign affairs continued to deteriorate as Napoleon III agitated for Italian unification at the expense of Austria, and sought Nice and Savoy for his pains. Victoria and Albert supported existing regimes and boundaries, seeing European stability as the highest good, but the country feared war from across the channel as France pressed its territorial claims. In 1860 Albert, with Victoria, revisited Coburg for what he was certain would be the last time. Only forty, the prince consort looked more like sixty. He no longer went shooting or even deer-stalking, blaming press of business, and was paunchy and overweight from lack of exercise. His hairline had receded and his moustache and sidewhiskers had become heavier. He remained prone to stomach pain and exhaustion, but loved his work, even when comparing himself, in a letter to Vicky, to the mill donkey near Osborne turning its wheel round and round. He knew he was doing his job well, the job he created for himself, and he lavished his hours on it. ‘Lese recht aufmerksam, und sage wenn irgend ein Fehler da ist!’ he would advise the queen about draft memoranda—‘Read carefully, and tell me if there is any fault in this!’ Or ‘Ich hab Dir hier ein Draft gemacht, lese es mal! Ich dächte es wäre recht so.’ (‘Here is a draft for you; read it. I should think this will do.’) Under such conditions he was still Victoria's ‘beloved and perfect Albert’. On 1 October 1860 the queen's journal opens, ‘Before proceeding, I must thank God for having preserved my adored one!’ Visiting Coburg, Albert had met with a carriage accident when his horses took fright and galloped off into the bar of a railway crossing. The prince jumped for his life and was only cut and bruised. Having perceived Albert's persistent despondency from letters and from the prince himself, the now aged Stockmar confided to Duke Ernest, ‘God have mercy on us! If anything serious should ever happen to him, he will die.’ Stockmar may have known, as a physician, the import of Albert's chronic cramps and chills, symptoms which were largely concealed from Victoria.
On Albert's last afternoon in Coburg, Ernest took his brother for a walk. ‘At one of the most beautiful spots’, Ernest recalled, ‘Albert stood still, and suddenly felt for his pocket handkerchief.’ The duke assumed that Albert's facial bruises had begun to bleed afresh, and went to help, but Ernest discovered instead ‘that tears were trickling down his cheeks … [and] he persisted in declaring that he was well aware that he had been here for the last time in his life’ (Ernest II, duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Memoirs, 1888, 4.55).
At the same time the prince of Wales was on his first trip abroad, to Canada and the United States. His parents feared a public relations catastrophe, but it was a triumph. Only nineteen, and impervious to formal education, Bertie had proved to be socially adept. But Albert thought that his son could benefit from military training at the Curragh military grounds near Dublin. The royal pair even went to Ireland to observe the results, which would demonstrate that their son could wear a uniform admirably but was unfit to command a company, let alone a battalion.
After their annual early autumn stay at Balmoral in 1861, Victoria and Albert returned to Windsor to disquieting news that Bertie, whose education had been overseen meticulously if ineffectively, had acquired some unexpected instruction overseen by his brother subalterns. A young woman had been procured for his bed, and Bertie had imported her afterwards to amuse him further at his mockery of a university stint at Cambridge.
Albert worried that the prince of Wales would have to be hastened into an early marriage to channel such libertine impulses. Rushing an anguished letter to Bertie, Albert proceeded to a prearranged inspection at Sandhurst and a railway journey to Cambridge to have it out with his son. At a low ebb physically, made worse by worry and sleeplessness, Albert confessed to Victoria, ‘Ich hänge gar nicht am Leben; du hängst sehr daran’ (‘I do not cling to life; you do; but I set no store by it’). ‘I am sure that if I had a severe illness’, he continued in German, ‘I should give up at once, I should not struggle for life. I have no tenacity of life’ (Martin, 5.415).
The prince consort returned in the cold, drenching rain of late November. He was so weak that the court physician, Edward Jenner, decided to stay the night. On 27 November, two days later, the queen wrote to Vicky that ‘a great sorrow and worry’, and ‘a cold with neuralgia’, had broken ‘Dearest Papa’ down. ‘I never saw him so low.’ Jenner, she added on 30 November, expected Albert to be ‘quite well in two or three days—but he is not inclined himself ever to admit he is better!’
Later, on the 30th, the queen received a draft message from Palmerston which was to be rushed to Washington. Civil war in America had broken out in April and Britain had issued a proclamation of neutrality that in effect assisted the slave-owning south. Opinion was divided; many, especially in the cotton-manufacturing north of England, largely liberal in politics, supported their economic interest over an ethical one. Palmerston himself, and his chancellor of the exchequer, W. E. Gladstone, favoured the south both to protect industry and to weaken a burgeoning manufacturing colossus and commercial rival. To seek formal recognition by European powers, particularly Britain and France, the Confederacy sent two envoys, James Mason and John Slidell, via the West Indies on the British packet Trent. When a Federal warship intercepted the Trent, boarded it, and removed the rebel emissaries, the Palmerston government denied that a belligerent had the right to search a neutral vessel, and declared the seizure a gross breach of international law. As press indignation grew about the insult to the flag, Lord John Russell, then foreign minister, drafted a bellicose, uncompromising message for Palmerston to the American secretary of state, demanding release of the men and an apology. A threat to break diplomatic relations was implicit. Reinforcements were shipped to Canada.
When Victoria brought the draft to Albert he read it and exclaimed, ‘This means war!’ The strident tone reflected Palmerstonian eagerness to confront the growing power of the United States, but not the anti-slavery views of Victoria and Albert. In the early morning light of 1 December, the prince tottered to his study and rewrote the ultimatum to give Washington a way out without concessions to the Confederacy, suggesting that the American captain had been overly zealous and had acted on his own initiative. Any other interpretation might have committed Britain to war.
The prince could eat no breakfast—he could no longer hold food down. He could hardly find the strength to write. But he brought his drafts to Victoria, observing, ‘I am so weak; I have hardly been able to hold the pen.’ In the margin of Albert's manuscript the queen wrote, later, ‘This draft was the last the beloved Prince ever wrote’ (Longford, 422). The conciliatory language was accepted as ‘excellent’ by Palmerston, and altered only in being recast in officialese. Washington backed down, apologized for the initiative of Captain Charles Wilkes, and released Mason, Slidell, and two companions.
In the first days of December, Albert's condition worsened. Jenner and his colleague, Dr James Clark, offered such reassurances that when the sincerely concerned Palmerston suggested that another physician be consulted, Victoria was uninterested. The lack of alarm at Windsor was apparent in the casualness of the prince's treatment, or lack of it. When he could, he paced about his dressing room and sometimes changed bedrooms. ‘His manner was so unlike himself and he sometimes had a strange, wild look’, Victoria wrote in her journal on 5 December. Two days later Jenner told the queen that he and Clark had found a slight eruption on the lower part of the stomach, unmistakable signs, they claimed, of ‘gastric and bowel fever’. It was a euphemism for typhoid.
Albert grew more listless; his mind wandered. Palmerston urged the queen's aides to call in other physicians, saying, ‘If it is unavoidable that the highest interest of the nation be sacrificed to personal and professional jealousy, there is no help for it and so it must be.’ Only then, in the face of resentment from the attending doctors, Thomas Watson and Sir Henry Holland were summoned. Both supported the therapy in progress. (Holland and Clark, both septuagenarians, were derided by Lord Clarendon as ‘not fit to attend a sick cat’.)
They were ‘so fortunate in the doctors’, the queen claimed to Vicky while preparing her for the worst. Albert was becoming ‘sadly thin. It is a dreadful trial to witness this, and requires all my strength of mind and courage not to be overcome.’ Sedated with brandy and given little else, he was failing rapidly. He imagined hearing the birds singing at the Rosenau, and when again lucid told his daughter Alice, eighteen and effectively nurse-in-attendance, that he knew he was dying. The public knew almost nothing other than that the prince was ill with a fever. By the 13th he was being drugged with brandy every half-hour, his doctors over the two weeks of his decline offering no other remedies. They may have understood more than they were willing to say as Albert lay bedridden—that his condition was irreversible.
If the prince's affliction were a slow, deteriorating one—something of the order of stomach cancer, which fits his symptoms over at least four years before December 1861—he had no resources left to fight the terminal episode of pneumonia, typhoid, or whatever. (There was no other reported typhoid in the vicinity.) Medicine in the mid-century was helpless, and in Albert's darkened room at Windsor the physicians merely watched his pulse weaken. As his rapid breathing became alarming, the queen bent over him to ask for ‘einen Kuss’, and Albert was able to kiss her. With a terrible calm Victoria held his thin, cold hand until her misery became overwhelming. Leaving the room she broke down.
Shortly before eleven on the night of 14 December, Albert's breathing began to change, and the queen was summoned. ‘Oh, yes, this is death!’ she cried on seeing Albert. She fell upon the still, cold body and called him by every endearing name she could recall from their life together. Then she permitted herself to be led away.
Albert was buried in the mausoleum at Frogmore, Windsor, on 23 December 1861. Victoria in widow's cap had been conducted to Osborne on the 19th, still too much in shock to be in attendance at the funeral in Wolsey's Chapel at which the twenty-year-old prince of Wales was chief mourner. Victoria learned from her private secretary, Sir Charles Phipps, that the obsequies had been managed ‘as she could have wished, with due solemnity and every mark of profound respect, and yet without any unnecessary form or state’.
Two days before the funeral, Dr Jenner filed a death certificate fixing the cause as ‘typhoid fever, duration 21 days’, the first time that the label was publicly applied. Although questions were raised in The Lancet and in the British Medical Journal about discrepancies between the medical bulletins and the belated diagnosis, there was no autopsy and typhoid was accepted as fact. More honest, if evasive, Dr Clark later explained to the queen that overwork and worry had affected Albert—and ‘exposure to chill when already sick’. In 1877 Jenner defended himself by explaining that ‘no one can diagnose typhoid at first’. Whatever the rationalizations, the prince died neither of misdiagnosis nor medical incompetence. He had apparently intuited, just as had Dr Stockmar, that he was suffering from an inoperable and incurable malignancy, and that melancholy understanding had contributed to the mixture of despondency and frenzied activity which characterized his last years.
Disraeli's private comment in December 1861 has remained valid. ‘With Prince Albert we have buried our Sovereign. This German Prince has governed England for twenty-one years with a wisdom and energy such as none of our kings has ever shown’ (G. E. Buckle, Life of Benjamin Disraeli, 4, 1916, 383). Beneath the rhetoric lay the reality that Albert had been a working partner in a dual monarchy. In an era of burgeoning parliamentary supremacy under an expanding electorate, he furnished the throne with a political and cultural influence which, after Victoria's withdrawal into woe, it would never recover. Unwritten powers accrue only to those who use them effectively, and the ceremonial and symbolic monarchy which gradually evolved after 1861 may well have been the result of the loss of Albert at the height of his intellectual powers; his vision of an activist role for Windsor Castle died with him.
Stanley Weintraub DNB
Franz Xaver Winterhalter (20 April 1805 – 8 July 1873) was a German painter and lithographer, known for his portraits of royalty in the mid-19th century. His name has become associated with fashionable court portraiture. Among his best known works are Empress Eugénie Surrounded by her Ladies in Waiting (1855) and the portraits he made of Empress Elisabeth of Austria (1865).
Franz Xaver Winterhalter was born in the small village of Menzenschwand, (now part of Sankt Blasien), in Germany's Black Forest in the Electorate of Baden, on 20 April 1805. He was the sixth child of Fidel Winterhalter (1773–1863), a farmer and resin producer in the village, and his wife Eva Meyer (1765–1838), a member of a long established Menzenschwand family. His father was of peasant stock and was a powerful influence in his life. Of the eight brothers and sisters, only four survived infancy. Throughout his life Franz Xaver remained very close to his family, in particular to his brother Hermann (1808–1891), who was also a painter.
After attending school at a Benedictine monastery in St. Blasien, Winterhalter left Menzenschwand in 1818 at the age of 13 to study drawing and engraving. He trained as a draughtsman and lithographer in the workshop of Karl Ludwig Schüler (1785–1852) in Freiburg im Breisgau. In 1823, at the age of 18, he went to Munich, sponsored by the industrialist Baron von Eichtal (1775–1850). In 1825, he was granted a stipend by Ludwig I, Grand Duke of Baden (1763–1830) and began a course of study at the Academy of Arts in Munich with Peter von Cornelius (1783–1867), whose academic methods made him uncomfortable. Winterhalter found a more congenial mentor in the fashionable portraitist Joseph Karl Stieler (1781–1858). During this time, he supported himself working as lithographer.
Winterhalter entered court circles when in 1828 he became drawing master to Sophie Margravine of Baden, at Karlsruhe. His opportunity to establish himself beyond southern Germany came in 1832 when he was able to travel to Italy, 1833–1834, with the support of Grand Duke Leopold of Baden. In Rome he composed romantic genre scenes in the manner of Louis Léopold Robert and attached himself to the circle of the director of the French Academy, Horace Vernet. On his return to Karlsruhe he painted portraits of the Grand Duke Leopold of Baden and his wife, and was appointed painter to the grand-ducal court.
Nevertheless, he left Baden to move to France, where his Italian genre scene Il dolce Farniente attracted notice at the Salon of 1836. Il Decameron a year later was also praised; both paintings are academic compositions in the style of Raphael. In the Salon of 1838 he exhibited a portrait of the Prince of Wagram with his young daughter. His career as a portrait painter was soon secured when in the same year he painted Louise Marie of Orleans, Queen of the Belgians, and her son. It was probably through this painting that Winterhalter came to the notice of Maria Amalia of the Two Sicilies, Queen of the French, mother of the Queen of the Belgians.
In Paris, Winterhalter quickly became fashionable. He was appointed court painter of Louis-Philippe, the king of the French, who commissioned him to paint individual portraits of his large family. Winterhalter would execute more than thirty commissions for him.
This success earned the painter the reputation of a specialist in dynastic and aristocratic portraiture, skilled in combining likeness with flattery and enlivening official pomp with modern fashion.
However, Winterhalter's reputation in artistic circles suffered. The critics, who had praised his debut in the salon of 1836, dismissed him as a painter who could not be taken seriously. This attitude persisted throughout Winterhalter's career, condemning his work to a category of his own in the hierarchy of painting. Winterhalter himself regarded his first royal commissions as a temporary intermission before returning to subject painting and the field of academic respectability, but he was a victim of his own success, and for the rest of his life he worked almost exclusively as a portrait painter. His success in this field made him rich. Winterhalter became an international celebrity enjoying Royal patronage.
Among his many regal sitters was also Queen Victoria. Winterhalter first visited England in 1842, and returned several times to paint Victoria, Prince Albert and their growing family, painting at least 120 works for them, a large number of which remain in the Royal Collection, on display to the public at Buckingham Palace and other royal residences. Winterhalter also painted a few portraits of the aristocracy in England, mostly members of court circles. The fall of Louis-Philippe in 1848 did not affect the painter's reputation. Winterhalter went to Switzerland and worked in Belgium and England.
Persistence saw Winterhalter survive from the fall of one dynasty to the rise of another. Paris remained his home until a couple of years before his death. A halt in portrait commissions in France allowed him to return to subject painting with Florinda (1852; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), a joyous celebration of female beauty inspired by a Spanish legend. In the same year his marriage proposal was rejected, and Winterhalter remained a bachelor committed to his work.
After the accession of Napoleon III, his popularity grew. From then on, under the Second Empire, Winterhalter became the chief portraitist of the imperial family and court of France. The beautiful French Empress Eugénie became a favorite sitter, and she treated him generously. In 1855 Winterhalter painted his masterpiece: The Empress Eugénie Surrounded by her Ladies in Waiting. He set the French Empress in a pastoral setting gathering flowers in a harmonious circle with her ladies in waiting. The painting was acclaimed, and exhibited in the universal exposition in 1855. It remains Winterhalter's most famous work.
In 1852, he went to Spain to paint Queen Isabella II with her daughter. Russian aristocratic visitors to Paris also liked to have their portraits executed by the famous master. As the "Painter of Princes", Winterhalter was thereafter in constant demand by the courts of Britain (from 1841), Spain, Belgium, Russia, Mexico, the German states, and France. During the 1850s and 1860s, Winterhalter painted a number of important portraits of Polish and Russian aristocrats. In 1857, he painted the portrait of Tsarina Maria Alexandrovna.
During the Second Mexican Empire in the 1860s, headed by Maximilian I of Mexico, Winterhalter was commissioned to paint portraits of the Imperial couple. The Empress consort of Mexico, Charlotte of Belgium was the daughter of Louise-Marie of France, Queen of the Belgians, whom Winterhalter painted at the beginning of his career in France. Some of Winterhalter's paintings of the Mexican monarchs still remain in their Mexico City palace, Chapultepec Castle, now the National Museum of History.
To deal with those pressing for portrait commissions, many of whom were calling for multiple replicas, Winterhalter made extensive use of assistants. No portrait painter had ever enjoyed such an extraordinary royal patronage as Winterhalter; only Rubens and Van Dyck worked as he did in an international network.
Winterhalter sought respite from the pressures of his work with holidays abroad in Italy, Switzerland, and above all Germany. Despite the many years he lived in France, he remained deeply attached to his native country. For all his success and popularity, Winterhalter continued to live simply and abstemiously. In 1859 he bought a villa in Baden-Baden, his favorite vacation spot.
In 1864 Winterhalter made his last visit to England. In the autumn of that year he traveled to Vienna to execute the portraits of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth that remain among his most well-known works. As he grew older, Winterhalter's links with France weakened while his interest in Germany grew. He was taking a cure in Switzerland at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, the war that ended the Second French Empire. After the war, the painter did not return to France, going instead to Baden. He was officially still accredited at the court of Baden and he settled in Karlsruhe. In the last two years of his life Winterhalter painted very little. During a visit to Frankfurt am Main in the summer of 1873 he contracted typhus and died on 8 July. He was 68 years old.
Winterhalter came into his own as a portrait painter during the second Empire and he painted his best work during the last two decades of his life. He matched his style to the luxury and relaxed atmosphere of the age, its hedonism and gaiety. His female sitters of the 1850s and 1860s inhabit a different physiological climate from those he painted earlier; they are not reticent and reserved. His male sitters inspired few original or memorable compositions.
Winterhalter never received high praise for his work from serious critics, being constantly accused of superficiality and affectation in pursuit of popularity. However, he was highly appreciated by his aristocratic patrons. The royal families of England, France, Spain, Russia, Portugal, Mexico, and Belgium all commissioned him to paint portraits. His monumental canvases established a substantial popular reputation, and lithographic copies of the portraits helped to spread his fame.
Winterhalter's portraits were prized for their subtle intimacy; the nature of his appeal is not difficult to explain. He created the image his sitters wished or needed to project to their subjects. He was not only skilled at posing his sitters to create almost theatrical compositions, but also was a virtuoso in the art of conveying the texture of fabrics, furs and jewellery, to which he paid no less attention than to the face. He painted very rapidly and very fluently, designing most of his compositions directly in the canvas. His portraits are elegant, refined, lifelike, and pleasantly idealized.
Concerning Winterhalter's method of working, it is thought that, practiced as he was at drawing and representing figures, he painted directly onto the canvas without making preliminary studies. He frequently decided upon the dress and pose of the sitter. His style was suave, cosmopolitan and plausible. Many of the portraits were copied in his workshop or reproduced as lithographs.
As an artist he remained a difficult figure to place; there are few painters with whom to compare him, and he does not fit into any school. His early affinities were Neoclassical but his style can be described as Neo-Rococo. After his death, his painting fell out of favor, being considered romantic, glossy, and superficial. Little was known about him personally and his art was not taken seriously until recently. However, a major exhibition of his work at the National Portrait Gallery(United Kingdom) in London and the Petit Palais in Paris in 1987 brought him into the limelight again. His paintings are exhibited today in leading European and American museums.
- A Swiss Girl from Interlaken
- A Young Girl called Princess Charlotte, 1864
- Adelina Patti, 1863
- Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, 1846
- Albert Edward, Prince of Wales
- Albert, Prince Consort, 1859
- Alexandra Feodorovna, 1856
- Alexandra Iosifovna, Grand Duchess of Russia, Princess Alexandra of Altenburg
- Alexandra, Princess of Wales, 1864
- Alfred Emilien, Comte de Nieuwerkerke, 1852
- Anna Dollfus, Baronness de Bourgoing, 1855
- Antoine-Marie-Philippe-Louis d'Orleans Duc de Montpensier, 1844
- Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington with Sir Robert Peel, 1844
- Barbara Dmitrievna Mergassov-Rimsky-Korsakova, 1864
- Caroline Elisabeth de Lagrange, 1841
- Charles Jerome, Comte Pozzo di Borgo, 1849
- Charlotte Stuart, Viscountess Canning, 1849
- Charlotte, Princess of Belgium
- Carlota, Empress of Mexico (Princess Charlotte of Belgium)
- Count Jenison Walworth, 1837
- Countess Alexander Nikolaevitch Lamsdorff, 1859
- Edouard Andre, 1857
- Elisabeth Kaiserin von Österreich, 1865
- Elizabeth, Empress of Austria, 1865
- Elzbieta Branicka, Countess Krasinka and her Children, 1853
- Emperor Don Maximiliano I of Mexico, c.1865
- Emperor Frederick III of Germany, King of Prussia with his wife Empress Victoria, and their children Prince William and Princess Charlotte, 1862
- Emperor Napoleon III
- Empress Elisabeth of Austria in dancing dress, 1865
- Empress Eugenie
- Empress Eugenie, 1853
- Empress Eugenie, Surrounded by her Ladies-in-Waiting, 1855
- Eugénie de Montijo, Empress of France, 1857
- Eugénie, Empress Consort of the French, 1864
- Eugenie, Empress of the French
- Florinda, 1853
- Francois Ferdinand Philippe d'Orleans Prince de Joinville, 1843
- Francois-Horace, 1841
- Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria wearing the dress uniform of an Austrian Field Marshal with the Great Star of the Military Order of Maria Theresa, 1865
- Girl from Sabin Mountains, 1840
- Grand Duchess of Russia, Olga Feodorovna
- Grand Duchess Olga
- Harriet Howard, Duchess of Sutherland, 1849
- Helene-Louise de Mecklembourg-Schwerin, Duchess of Orleans with his son Count of Paris, 1839
- Henri Eugene Philippe Duc d'Aumale, Commander of the 17th Battalion of the Light Infantry
- His Royal Highness Prince Albert
- Il dolce Farniente, 1836
- Italian woman with child
- Jadwiga Potocka, Countess Branicka
- Kaiserin Auguste
- Karl Josef Berkmuller, 1830
- La Siesta, 1841
- Lady Clementina Augusta Wellington Child Villiers, 1857
- Leonilla Wittgenstein, 1849
- Leopold I
- Leopold I, 1840
- Leopold, Duke of Brabant
- Linden d'Hooghvorst, 1855
- Louis Philippe, 1841
- Louis Philippe I, King of the French, 1840
- Louis-Charles-Philippe of Orleans Duke of Nemours, 1843
- Louis-Philippe I, King of France
- Ludwig, Graf Von Langenstein, 1834
- Maria Carolina de Borbó Dues Sicílies
- Maria Cristina di Borbone, Princess of the Two Sicilies, c.1818
- Maria Louise of Wagram Princess of Murat, 1854
- Maria Luisa von Spanien, 1847
- Marie Christine d'Orléans
- Marie Henriette of Austria
- Markgräfin Sophie von Baden, 1830
- Maximiliaan van Oostenrijk
- Melanie de Bussiere, Comtesse Edmond de Pourtales, 1857
- Painting of baby Princess Alice of the United Kingdom
- Painting of the Count of Eu as a child
- Pauline Sandor, Princess Metternich, 1860
- Pincess Clothilde von Saxen Coburg, 1855
- Portrait équestre de François Adolphe Akermann, 1870
- Portrait of a lady, 1872
- Portrait of a Lady, 1860
- Portrait of a lady with a fan, 1850
- Portrait of a lady with roses in her hair, (Countess Pushkina)
- Portrait of Amélie of Leuchtenberg
- Portrait of Augusta of Saxe Weimar Eisenach
- Portrait of Charlotte of Belgium, 1864
- Portrait of Charlotte of Belgium, 1864
- Portrait of Count Alexei Bobrinsky, 1844
- Portrait of Countess Olga Shuvalova, 1858
- Portrait of Countess Varvara Musina-Pushkina
- Portrait of Eliza Franciszka of Branicki Krasińska, 1857
- Portrait of Emperor Napoleon III, 1855
- Portrait of Empress Maria Alexandrovna, 1857
- Portrait of Eugénie, Empress of the French, 1862
- Portrait of Francisca Caroline de Braganca, 1844
- Portrait of Francisca Caroline Gonzaga de Bragança, princesse de Joinville, c.1850
- Portrait of Grand Duchess Maria Nikolayevna, 1857
- Portrait of Grand Princess Yelena Pavlovna, 1862
- Portrait of HRH Princess Marie Clementine of Orleans, 1832
- Portrait of Infanta Luisa Fernanda of Spain, Duchess of Montpesier, c.1847
- Portrait of Katarzyna Potocka, 1854
- Portrait of Katarzyna Potocka née Branicka, wife of Adam Potocki, c.1850
- Portrait of Lady Middleton, 1863
- Portrait of Leonilla, Princess of Sayn Wittgenstein, 1843
- Portrait of Leopold I of Belgium, 1846
- Portrait of Louis d'Orleans, 1845
- Portrait of Louises von Orléans, 1841
- Portrait of Lydia Schbelsky Baroness Stael Holstein, 1857
- Portrait of Madame Ackerman, the wife of the Chief Finance Minister of King Louis Philippe, 1838
- Portrait of Madame Rimsky-Korsakov, Varvara Dmitrievna Mergassov, 1864
- Portrait of Marie Louise, the first Queen of the Belgians, c.1841
- Portrait of Maximilian I of Mexico
- Portrait of Prince Albert, 1843
- Portrait of Prince Henri, Duke of Aumale, c.1843
- Portrait of Princess Elizaveta Alexandrovna Tchernicheva, 1857
- Portrait of Princess Elizaveta Alexandrovna Tchernicheva, 1858
- Portrait of Princess of Baden, 1856
- Portrait of Princess Tatiana Alexanrovna Yusupova, 1858
- Portrait of Princess Victoria of Saxe Coburg and Gotha, 1840
- Portrait of Queen Isabella II of Spain and her daughter Isabella, 1852
- Portrait of Queen Sophie of Netherlands, born Sophie of Württemberg, 1863
- Portrait of Sophia Alexandrovna Radziwiłł, 1864
- Portrait of the Empress Eugénie, 1853
- Portrait of the Prince de Wagram and his daughter Malcy Louise Caroline Frederique Napoléon Alexandre Berthier, 1837
- Portrait of the Queen Marie Amelie of France, 1842
- Portrait of the Queen Olga of Württemberg, 1865
- Portrait of Victoria of the United Kingdom, 1843
- Portrait of Victoria of the United Kingdom, c.1844 – c.1845
- Portrait of Victoria, Princess Royal, 1857
- Prince Albert, 1842
- Prince Albert
- Prince Alfred and Princess Helena, 1849
- Princes Alice of England, 1861
- Princess Amelia of Bavaria, 1860
- Princess Beatrice, 1859
- Princess Catherine Dadiani
- Princess Charlotte of Belgium, 1842
- Princess Elizabeth Esperovna Belosselsky, 1859
- Princess Kotschoubey, 1860
- Princess Leonilla of Sayn
- Princess Mathilde Bonaparte
- Princess Pauline de Metternich, 1860
- Princess Tatiana Yussupova, 1858
- Queen Victoria, 1843
- Queen Victoria, 1859
- Queen Victoria, 1842
- Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with the Family of King Louis Philippe at the Chateau, 1845
- Queen Victoria with Prince Arthur, 1850
- Roman Genre Scene, 1833
- Rosa Potocka, 1856
- Self-Portrait of the Artist with his Brother, Hermann, 1840
- Sofia Gagarina, c.1850
- Sophia Bobrinskaya, 1857
- Sophia Frederia of Wurtemberg
- Sophia Petrovna Narishkina, 1859
- Sophie Guillemette, Grand Duchess of Baden, 1831
- Sophie Trobetskoy, Duchess of Morny, 1863
- Study for a portrait of Princess Amalie of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha
- Study of a Girl in Profile, 1862
- Study of Italian girl, 1834
- The Cousins: Queen Victoria and Victoire, Duchesse de Nemours, 1852
- The daughters of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, 1849
- The Decameron, 1837
- The Empress Eugénie, 1854
- The Empress Eugenie Holding Louis Napoleon, the Prince Imperial, on her Knees, 1857
- The Empress Eugenie Surrounded by her Ladies in Waiting, 1855
- The First of May, 1851
- The Maharaja Dalip Singh, 1854
- The Princess Victoria, Princess Royal as Crown Princess of Prussia in 1867, 1867
- The Royal Family in 1846, 1846
- Varvara Rimskaya-Korsakova
- Victoria, Princess Royal, 1842
- Wienczyslawa Barczewska, Madame de Jurjewicz, 1860
- William Douglas Hamilton, 12th Duke of Hamilton, 1863
- Young Italian Girl by the Well
- Zofia Potocka, Countess Zamoyska, 1870