The young Prince Arthur, put the question innocently, but suncintly. "If Mama is Queen, why is Papa not King?" The young German prince when he arrived in England to marry Victoria faced an enormously difficult task. Few imaginined that he would perform his duty so brilliantly so that despite his untimely death that te young, poorly educated Victoria would become one of Britain's greatest monarchs. The mairrage to Victoria brought Albert from a German backwater to the throne of the most powerful country of the day. He was, however, not a co-ruler with his wife and only became Prince Consort in 1857. His counsel and advise to his poorly educated wife, however, was of great value to England. There were at first disagreements between the new couple as to Albert's role, both in the family and on state matters. Victoria was much impressed with herself and had no idea how poorly educated she was. Albert even at his young age was able to tactifully offer her assistance. Gradually she came to rely upon him.
To fully understand Victoria and Albert, it is necessary to understand the world in which they lived. One observer once commented that the world in 1819, the year of Victoria's birth, was more like that ancient Greece than that of the modern world. Britain's population still largely lived in rural areas and Britain largely fed itself. Power was largely based on human or animal power. The fatest form of transportation was by horse. Marine transport was sail powered. Travel to America could take 3 months and to Britains Asian dominions more than twice as long. During the life of Victoria, most of it as Queen, the world underwent the industrial revolution which was to usher in the modern age. It was in Britain that these forces were first unleashed and the imapct on the country and its people were the most pervasive in British history.
The mairrage to Victoria brought Albert from a German backwater to the throne of the most powerful country of the day. He was, however, not a co-ruler with his wife and only became Prince Consort in 1857. His counsel and advise to his poorly educated wife, however, was of great value to England. There were at first disagreements between the new couple as to Albert's role, both in the family and on state matters. Victoria was much impressed with herself and had no idea how poorly educated she was. Albert even at his young age was able to tactifully offer her assistance. Gradually she came to rely upon him.
There were even disagreements over raising the children. Many of them resolve around the role of Victoria's former governess--the Baroness Lehzen. Albert came to despise the Baroness who freely came and went within the royal household. Lehzen for her part had friends spread hurtful and often untrue rumors about him, many appearing in the press. Eventually had to insist that she go, causing a huge disagreement with Victoria. But he stood is ground and Victoria dismissed her. After that familiar relations improved consiserably.
Throughout their marriage Prince Albert acted as Victoria's private secretary. His German background, worried some of the government ministers and Albert was therefore rarely consulted about political issues. After the death of Victoria's favourite politician, Lord Melbourne in 1848, Albert's political influence over Queen Victoria increased. He sought to modernize the monarchy. Albert took a keen interest in the arts and sciences and planned and managed the Great Exhibition in 1851. The profits of this successful venture enabled the building of the Royal Albert Hall and the museums in South Kensington. Whereas Melbourne had advised Victoria not to think about social problems, Prince Albert invited Lord Ashley to Buckingham Palace to talk about what he had discovered about child labour in Britain. His advise that England should not support the South in the American Civil War was of emense future benefit to England.
Albert, while an ardent believer in monarchy, was a social liberal who believed in a constitutional monarchy and a democratic government. Victoria had a sympathy for the poor, but not a full apreciation of the growing problem of poverty or how to address it. Poweful forces, especially the landed artistocrats had no appreciation as to the foces building in Britain. In fact the aristocrats had secured the passage of the Corn Laws which had placed high tariffs on grains and keep out cheap American grain so that agricultural prices remained high. The impact was devestating to the urban workers who could barely feed their families. Albert warned Victoria what the impact on the poor and in the long run the monarchy would be of a growing urban population that lived in desperate circumstances. The Queen's support for the abolition of the Corn Laws was perhaps the most important of many reforming policies that helped change Britain. Many European monarchs opposed similar policies and in 1848 a wave of revolution swept the continent, costung many monarchs their crowns--including Loius Philippe in France. While Britain was not untouched, only minor disturabances occured which were easikt dealt with.
The turning point in Albert's official responsibilities was the Great Exhibition. Before the Exhibition he was seen as primarily the Queen's husband. After the Exhibition is talents and abilities were increasingly seen and Giovernment ministers increasingly sought his council. Prince Albert had an abidng interest in science and was convinced that modern technology would improve te output of British agriculture as well as further industrial development. The Great Exhibition which he promoted and managed was a huge success and was the turning point in his relatinship with the British public. Royalty from all over the continent. Many were afraid to come having just survived the caotic disorders of 1848. Prince Albert and Queen Victoria hosted the future Prussian royal couple at Buckingham Palace in 1851 for the Graet Exhibition. Augusta was inpressed with popularity of the British monarch wen the Prussian royal family visited Victoria and Albert for the Great Exhibition in 1851. It afforded Albert te opportunity for Albert to develop a personal relationsip with the Prussian royal family. Albert saw that Prince William (future Wilhelm I) seemed phycically weak, so he did his best to develop a relatonship with his son Frederic (Fritz--future Frederich III). Albert noted that Frederich had inherited some of his mother's liberal leanings. The difference betwwen the two families became apparent. Fritz who knew nothing about Britain became alarmed when the Duchess of Kent (Victoria's mother) became inadvertedly separated from Victoria and the children. The children were quite amuesed that Fritz should fear vor her saftey. A policeman who had no idea who she was found her a good seat. He was also suprised when the quuen was delighted with a trick hankerchief that turned into a boquet--he thought it disrepectful. He was infact so bewildred by all of this that he was able to take refuge wit Princess Royal Vicky with whom he could speak in German.
Albert ever organized in such matters, wrote a memo on the proper role of a usband to a Queen Regent, "The position is a most peculiar and delicate one. The husband should entirely sink his own individual existence into that of his wife--he sould aim at no power by himself or to himself--should shun all contention--assume no separate responsibility before the public, but make his position entirely a part of hers--fill up every gap whic, as a woman, she should natuarally leave in the exercise of her regal functions--continually and anxiouly every part of the public business, in order to be able to advise and assist her at any moment in any of the multifarious and difficult questions or duties bought before her, sometimes international, sometimes political, or social, or personal. [Obviously Albert's education did not run to short to the point sentences.] As the naturaly head of her family, superintendent iof the househod, manager of her private affairs, sole confidential advisor in politics, and only assistant in her communications with te officers of the Government, he is besides, the husband of the Queen, te tutor of the royal children, the private secretary of the soverign, and her permanent minister."
The British public did not expect a great deal from the young queen and her German born husband in the late 1830s. Public opinion had substantially changed by the time of the Great Exhibition in 1851. Much of this shift was the result of the exelpleary family life. Government officials, however had begun robrecognize Prince Albert's extrodinary political abilities. Despite his success, tere was an element that never fully trusted Prince Albert. Some did not expect much from the royal family, based on past exoperience. One editorial claimed tha speech by Albert, was too good for a prince. A ballad sung by London music hall performers during the Crimean War included the lines, "little Al, the Royal Pal/They say 'as turned a Russian". The Government fully realized by the 1850s just ow valuable Albert was. He was was finally in 1857 given the title of Prince Consort. Eventually, Victoria was to compalin that her husband was never given proper royal status. She never fully recovered from the untimley loss of her husband.
Queen Victoria gave birth to nine children. Victoria and Albert over 18 years had nine children, four boys and five girls. They saw themselves and in many ways were suitably enough an ideal Victorian family. The mairrages and offspring of these children are truely remarkable. Victoria in more than name was the grandmother of Europe. Ties were forged with Denmark, Prussia and other German states, Russia, and Spain. Notably France was excepted from Victoria's dynastic web.
Bennett, Daphne. King Without a Crown: Albert Prince Consort of England, 1819-1861 (New York: J.B. Lippincott, 1977).
Woodham-Smith, Cecil. Queen Victoria: Her Life and Times (1972).
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