Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, has garnered himself a reputation for propriety. At his worst, he is dull and responsible for some of the dreariness of his wife’s court. At his best, he can take credit for moving his wife away from the worst qualities of the House of Hanover and helping correct the reputation for gambling, womanizing and excess that defined the reigns of George IV and William IV.
Irony of ironies, but the very date that Queen Victoria branded a bad omen and which holds a very fraught history within the Royal Family is in fact my birthday: December 14. I’ve never known quite what to make of that, especially since Queen Victoria was the first British monarch I took a particular interest in. But there’s a reason she hated the day – and a few reasons why she became quite superstitious about it – her husband died on December 14, plunging her into a 40-year widowhood at the age of 42.
Not only that but 10 years later, her eldest son nearly died of the same disease (Typhoid) on the very same day – when the 14th rolled around, however, he miraculously began to recover. Seven years after that, Princess Alice became the first of Victoria’s children to die on, you guessed it, December 14, 1978. Even as late as 1895 the date had resonance – Mary of Teck, then Duchess of York, gave birth to her second son on December 14th of that year and her husband was afraid to tell the Queen lest she be somehow offended. She wasn’t, but she did note his birth date was “unfortunate.”
So, on this most unfortunate of days, but one on which I get to eat cake and open presents, let’s go back to the OG and take a look at Prince Albert’s death.
On January 23, in 1874, Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, second son of Queen Victoria, married Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, daughter of Alexander II, Emperor of Russia at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia. Queen Victoria didn’t attend the ceremony – indeed, she had been against the match during the marriage negotiations, as was the Russian Emperor -and was instead represented by her eldest son, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (“Bertie”) and his wife, Alexandra of Denmark, Princess of Wales.
The couple originally met during a trip to Germany in the summer of 1868, when Alfred was visiting his older sister, Alice, married to Prince Louis of Hesse. They wouldn’t meet again until the summer of 1871, again in Germany, where Marie had accompanied her parents and Alfred had Bertie and Alexandra. There the couple had the opportunity to spend substantial time together and apparently fell in love. They were reported to share a passion for music – Marie played the piano and Alfred the violin – and spent a remarked-upon amount of time in each other’s company.
By the end of the visit, the couple had apparently told their families they wished to marry, but no engagement announcement would be forthcoming. Alexander II was extremely close to his daughter and was loath to lose her, while his wife, the Tsarina, formerly known as Marie of Hesse, thought the British cold and strange. Meanwhile, Queen Victoria’s sentiments weren’t any friendlier: Mutual mistrust of both cultures still existed from the Crimean War, which had ended in Russian defeat in 1856. Added on to those sensitivities was Marie’s Orthodox faith, which would be entirely foreign to the House of Hanover.
Negotiations begun in 1871 stalled in 1872, but were re-started in January 1873. Rumors circulated through Europe that Marie had “compromised herself” with one of her father’s aides-de-camp, though Alfred refused to believe the stories. Instead, he jumped through every hoop the Romanovs put before him, while both mothers worked fruitlessly to distract their children with other suitors.