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.
A year ago we took a look at the assassination of Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra and their five children in 1917, from the months leading up to it to its impact in Britain after George V and Queen Mary failed to offer refuge. Today we’re going to jump back a couple decades and take a look at their marriage, their rule and how Alexandra – born Alix of Hesse – fared (or rather, didn’t) as Tsarina.
On January 23, 1820 Queen Victoria’s father, the Duke of Kent, died prematurely at the age of 52. He was followed to the grave just six days later by his father, George III, who had been mentally incapacitated for years. At just seven months old, the then-Princess Victoria of Kent became third-in-line to the throne following her uncles, King George IV and Princes Frederick, Duke of York and William, the Duke of Clarence. All three were childless.
Her mother, Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, found herself at the age of 34 twice-widowed and the mother of three children, one of whom she was responsible for molding into a future British monarch. She herself was German – indeed, at the time of her second husband’s death she had not yet fully mastered the English language.
In the middle of World War I, Queen Marie of Romania wrote to her first cousin, King George V of Great Britain: “I never imagined that it would be the lot of our generation, we who are children together, to see this great war and in a way to have to remodel the face of Europe.”
Grandchildren of Queen Victoria alongside the Kaiser of Germany, the Queen of Norway, the Queen of Spain, the Tsarina of Russia, the Queen of Greece, the Crown Princess of Sweden and countless German royals, that is in fact very much with what George and Marie were tasked in the 20th century. For the royal men, they at least had something approaching an education and training to complement such a job, but for Queen Victoria’s granddaughters, born and raised in the height of the Victorian Era, it was by far easier to stumble as they were dropped in the midst of increasingly politicized foreign courts with few tools to leverage.
As for Marie, Bucharest was far from home and her husband a far cry from her first love (George V), but despite a tyrannical father-in-law, an unstable mother-in-law, a series of affairs, illegitimate children, proximity to Russia and a shared heritage with Germany, she established herself as a popular and effective queen consort to the Romanian people.
Of all of George III’s 15 children, only one managed to produce another sovereign – Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent. Save the last 18 months of his life, very little would give you the idea he had either the motivation or capability of doing so and, indeed, it is perhaps for the best (albeit tragic) that he never had the opportunity to mold the character of his more famous daughter.
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.
Like all the daughters of George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Princess Mary’s life was a little bit tragic and a little bit mundane. Born in April 1776, Mary was the first of her parents’ children to arrive in the middle of the American Revolution. Ten other children preceded her in the royal nursery, but few of them would be able to match Mary in confidence or spirit, both of which may very well have stemmed from the fact she was early on considered the most attractive of her siblings.
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.
[Note: This post was up on the site for a couple hours on Monday morning, but after all the activity surrounding Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s engagement, I yanked it to save for another day. So, for those of you who already read it, surprise! Here it is again on a calmer day :)]
Mary Adelaide of Cambridge is a bit of a forgotten figure within the British Royal Family, but she was an interesting character in her day and dynastically important. She was Queen Mary’s mother and, as such, a direct ancestor of the current Queen and her descendants. In many ways she’s an interesting parallel to her first cousin, Queen Victoria – both came about from the royal marriage push after Princess Charlotte of Wales’s death, both battled very Hanoverian appearances and both became matriarchs of their own branches of the family.