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.
I came very close to covering the recent wedding of Prince Christian of Hanover last weekend, but ended up skipping it. Then, lo and behold, we have more news coming out of the extended Monegasque Royal Family once more so here we go, let’s wrap it all up into a quick post.
First, the news: Charlotte Casiraghi announced her engagement to her boyfriend, Dimitri Rassam. Charlotte is 31 and has been dating Dimitri, 36, for a little over a year. Dimitri is a French film producer whose mother is Carole Bouquet, a well-known actress.
As we find ourselves in the middle of the second season of Victoria, it seemed as good a time as any to take a look at Queen Victoria’s relationship with her first Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne. The ITV/PBS show has depicted a dynamic in which the young queen was in love with her PM – at one point even proposing marriage. And by all appearances, the affection was mutual, at least on our television screens. The reality was obviously by far different, but this storyline is grounded in a kernel of truth – the relationship between the two always prompted some raised eyebrows.
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.
If there was one element that impacted the psychological makeup of Edward VII more than any other it was the fact that he was a disappointment to his parents, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. That’s not conjecture – it was something they took pains to verbalize to him, write to him and discuss about him to others. His complete and total failure to meet their exacting and lofty standards for a perfect prince and heir was so plainly understood by the entire Royal Family and the Queen’s government that it practically howls off the historical record.
Some of Queen Victoria’s children are burned into history books via their dynastic importance. Others are referenced as mere links between Britain and the continent, becoming the parents of later European rulers who were key to World War I. The middle of these nine children, Princess Helena, was not one such person. To me, she stands out as the child who looks the most like her mother.
A few months ago we took a look at the courtship, engagement and wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and so today we’re taking a closer look at their first three years of marriage. In short, they were dramatic, surprisingly so given the domestic bliss for which they would later be known, and for which Victoria spent several decades mourning after Albert’s premature death.
But the Victoria who married Albert in 1840 was not the Victoria who was left a widow in 1861 and it took the couple a few years to establish what their dynamic would be. More specifically, what were their roles in public versus private and to what extent was Albert meant to bow to the will of a wife who outranked him?
And so we pick up with yet another of Queen Victoria’s children: Princess Alice, her third child and second daughter. Alice is less famous than her two elder siblings, Vicky and Bertie (aka Empress Frederick of Germany and Edward VII), but that fact doesn’t necessarily align with her dynastic importance.
Have you ever heard it said the Queen and Prince Philip are cousins? Well, they are, albeit distantly. Queen Elizabeth is descended from Queen Victoria through her son, Edward VII, while Philip is descended from her via Alice. Alice’s eldest daughter, Victoria of Hesse, married Prince Louis of Battenberg and her eldest daughter, Princess Alice of Battenberg, is Philip’s mother. So, there you go.
Louise has always been my second-favorite of Queen Victoria’s daughter (the first being Vicky) and all of her daughters hold a special place in my heart since they’re some of the first figures in British history in which I became interested. I still distinctly remember reading Jerrold M. Packard’s book on all of them for first time when I was about 10 and it’s been re-read many times since. The length of their mother’s reign and the unprecedented change that Western Europe went through over the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century put them at the epicenter of the dramatically changing role that Europe’s Royal Families held (if they made it through without being abolished). Indeed, many of Queen Victoria’s daughters would make dynastically significant marriages, their own children ruling or taking places of prominence at courts around the globe.
Louise wouldn’t be one of them, but her uniqueness in shying away from that fate, frankly, makes her interesting.
For those that saw the finale of the ITV series “Victoria,” you saw the birth of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s first child. That infant would grow up to be one of the most accomplished princesses that the UK ever turned out, one groomed to take on the role of bridge between Britain and Germany and hopefully facilitate an understanding between the two growing empires.
That she failed was through no fault of her own, but rather a series of developments neither she nor her parents foresaw before her arrival at the Prussian court in 1858. Remarkably intelligent, painstakingly well-educated and thoughtful, it remains a tragedy that Vicky and her husband, Emperor Frederick III, “Fritz,” would only sit on the German throne for 99 days after a 30-year wait. Even more so when one looks back with hindsight, knowing that the crown would be inherited by their son, Kaiser Wilhelm II, who would shove the empire into World War I and eventually bring about the monarchy’s abolishment.