Updated: Apr 12, 2020
Prince Albert (full name Prince Franz August Karl Albert Emanuel) was born on the 26 August 1819. He was the younger son of Ernest I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (later Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) & Duchess Louise of Saxe-Coburg-Altenburg. He spent his childhood at Schloss Rosenau, his family's country home near Coburg, & at the ducal palaces in Coburg & Gotha.
The Prince studied at Florschütz & at the University of Bonn, which he attended in 1837 & 1838. He showed considerable talent in the natural sciences, languages, art & music, & was to become an accomplished organist, singer & composer, as well as an amateur painter.
In 1838-9 he toured Italy, studying its treasures of art & architecture & visiting artists' studios, while also studying music & taking singing lessons.
Marriage & Family Life
Prince Albert's uncle, Prince Leopold, who became King of the Belgians in 1831, hoped that the Prince would marry his cousin, Princess Victoria, heir presumptive to the British throne, & he arranged the cousins' first meeting, on 18 May 1836 in England. After Princess Victoria became Queen in 1837, the cousins met again in October 1839 & their engagement was announced on 23 November that year. The marriage took place on 10 February 1840 in the Chapel Royal, St James's Palace.
In 1840 Prince Albert was made a Knight of the Garter & created a Privy Counsellor, & in 1857 he was officially given the formal title of Prince Consort.
Family life was of great importance to Prince Albert: he found much pleasure in the company of his nine children. He enjoyed festive occasions, & among his contributions to British life was the popularising of the Christmas tree (already introduced to Britain in the eighteenth century by Queen Charlotte, George III's wife).
The family divided their time between Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Balmoral & Osborne. Prince Albert supervised closely the redesigning of Osborne House & the building of the new Balmoral Castle. Agricultural science was one of his many interests; he studied new developments in farming & he even modernised the farms at Windsor, Osborne & Balmoral.
By the end of 1840, Prince Albert had already become, in effect, Private Secretary to The Queen. He was given full access to Cabinet & other State papers, & from 1841 onwards he attended audiences which The Queen held with her ministers. He steered The Queen away from her close identification with the Whigs, & told her that the Crown should be above party.
Prince Albert's knowledge & experience of the Continent gave him considerable influence over The Queen in the field of foreign affairs. He corresponded freely with continental Sovereigns – to several of home he was of course related on diplomatic & political questions.
In domestic affairs, Prince Albert's influence was exerted in the direction of humanitarianism & moderate reform. He spoke out against slavery & child labour, & was instrumental in securing the abolition of duelling between Army officers.
Prince Albert's main influence upon Britain proved to be intellectual & aesthetic; he was determined to that his adopted country should be at the forefront of modern science, art appreciation & art education.
With the active encouragement of The Queen, The Prince brought order to the administration of The Royal Collection. He arranged that neglected pictures should be examined & restored & most importantly initiated the great inventory of royal pictures.
As President of the Fine Arts Commission, Prince Albert bore the chief responsibility for the organisation of the scheme for the decoration of the new Palace of Westminster. The phenomenal success of the Great Exhibition of 1851 was a personal triumph for The Prince, who had indeed initiated it & presided over the preliminary planning of the event.
The opening of the Great Exhibition (above) of the Works of Industry of All Nations took place on 1 May 1851.On a raised dais in the central crossing of the Crystal Palace, built in Hyde Park & enclosing several of the park’s mature trees, the Queen received the report of the Commissioners, led by Prince Albert. The Queen described the day as ‘one of the greatest & most glorious days of our lives’.
The Prince's deep feeling for & knowledge for music found expression not only in private music making – composing, playing the organ or singing & playing the piano with The Queen – but also in his activities as an enlightened patron of music. In 1840 he was appointed a Director of the Concerts of Ancient Music in London & showed a wide-ranging & adventurous taste in selecting music for these concerts & for those of the Philharmonic Society, at which the conductors included Schubert, Schumann and Mendelssohn.
Elected as Chancellor of Cambridge University in 1847, Prince Albert played a large part in reviving the spirit of learning there. Shocked at the narrowness of the curriculum, he helped institute both the Natural Science Tripos & the Moral Science Tripos; & he founded the Institution which was to become Imperial College in London, the first British university to be dedicated to scientific research.
Prince Albert also took an active interest in all aspects of Army organisation. It was he who suggested the setting up of an Army training camp, an innovation in England. He urged reform of the Army to overcome the inadequacies exposed by the Crimean War, & he championed a new award for acts of extreme valour: the Victoria Cross.
above; Grenadier Guards uniform worn by the Prince Consort when reviewing Crimea troops.
Over the years, overwork undermined Prince Albert's health & during the 1850s he became increasingly tired & suffered bouts of ill health. He died from typhoid fever on 14 December 1861 at Windsor Castle with Queen Victoria & five of his children at his bedside.
His body was placed temporarily in the Royal Vault, St George's Chapel & on 18 December 1862 he was buried in the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore.
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