Today in the history of the British Monarchy, at least through the reign of Queen Victoria, December 14 was known as Mausoleum Day due to the deaths of Prince Albert the Prince Consort and Princess Alice in 1861 and 1878 respectively.
Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (Franz Albrecht August Carl Emmanuel) (August 26, 1819 – December 14, 1861) was the second son of Ernest III, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and his first wife, Louise of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. Albert’s future wife, Victoria, was born earlier in the same year with the assistance of the same midwife, Charlotte von Siebold.
He was born in the Saxon duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, to a family connected to many of Europe’s ruling monarchs. At the age of 20, he married his first cousin, Queen Victoria; (her mother Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg and his father, Duke Ernest III of Saxe-Coburg were siblings) together they had nine children. Initially he felt constrained by his role of consort, which did not afford him power or responsibilities. He gradually developed a reputation for supporting public causes, such as educational reform and the abolition of slavery worldwide, and was entrusted with running the Queen’s household, office and estates. He was heavily involved with the organisation of the Great Exhibition of 1851, which was a resounding success.
As the years wore on Queen Victoria came to depend more and more on his support and guidance. He aided the development of Britain’s constitutional monarchy by persuading his wife to be less partisan in her dealings with Parliament—although he actively disagreed with the interventionist foreign policy pursued during Lord Palmerston’s tenure as Foreign Secretary. Albert was not granted a peerage title and Queen Victoria wanted to grant him the title King Consort but Parliament said no. However, in 1857, Albert was given the formal title of Prince Consort.
In August 1859, Albert fell seriously ill with stomach cramps. In March 1861, Victoria’s mother and Albert’s aunt, the Duchess of Kent, died and Victoria was grief-stricken; Albert took on most of the Queen’s duties, despite continuing to suffer with chronic stomach troubles. The last public event he presided over was the opening of the Royal Horticultural Gardens on 5 June 1861. In August, Victoria and Albert visited the Curragh Camp, Ireland, where the Prince of Wales (future Edward VII) was doing army service. At the Curragh, the Prince of Wales was introduced, by his fellow officers, to Nellie Clifden, an Irish actress.
By November, Victoria and Albert had returned to Windsor, and the Prince of Wales had returned to Cambridge, where he was a student. Two of Albert’s young cousins, brothers King Pedro V of Portugal and Prince Ferdinand, died of typhoid fever within 5 days of each other in early November. On top of this news, Albert was informed that gossip was spreading in gentlemen’s clubs and the foreign press that the Prince of Wales was still involved with Nellie Clifden and Albert and Victoria were horrified by their son’s indiscretion, and feared blackmail, scandal or pregnancy. Although Albert was ill and at a low ebb, he travelled to Cambridge to see the Prince of Wales on November 25th to discuss his son’s indiscreet affair. Upon his return from Cambridge Albert began suffering from pains in his back and legs.
When the Trent Affair—the forcible removal of Confederate envoys from a British ship by Unionforces during the American Civil War—threatened war between the United States and Britain, Albert was gravely ill but intervened to soften the British diplomatic response, thus preventing War with the United States.
On December 9th, one of Albert’s doctors, William Jenner, diagnosed typhoid fever. Despite a temporary rally where it was believed the Prince was improving Albert died at 10:50 p.m. on December 14th, 1861 in the Blue Room at Windsor Castle, in the presence of the Queen and five of their nine children. The contemporary diagnosis was typhoid fever, but modern writers have pointed out that Albert’s ongoing stomach pain, leaving him ill for at least two years before his death, may indicate that a chronic disease, such as Crohn’s disease, renal failure, or abdominal cancer, was the cause of death.
Albert died at the relatively young age of 42. Victoria was so devastated at the loss of her husband that she entered into a deep state of mourning and wore black for the rest of her life. On her death in 1901, their eldest son succeeded as Edward VII, the first British monarch of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, named after the ducal house to which Albert belonged.
Princess Alice of the United Kingdom (Alice Maud Mary; April 25, 1843 – December 14, 1878), Grand Duchess of Hesse and by Rhine, was the third child and second daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Alice was the first of Queen Victoria’s nine children to die, and one of three to be outlived by their mother, who died in 1901.
Alice spent her early childhood in the company of her parents and siblings, travelling between the British royal residences. Her education was devised by Albert’s close friend and adviser, Baron Stockmar, and included practical activities like needlework and woodwork and languages like French and German. When her father, Prince Albert, became fatally ill in December 1861, Alice nursed him until his death.
Following his death, Queen Victoria entered a period of intense mourning and Alice spent the next six months acting as her mother’s unofficial secretary. On July 1, 1862, while the court was still at the height of mourning, Alice married the minor German Prince Louis of Hesse, heir to the Grand Duchy of Hesse. The ceremony—conducted privately and with unrelieved gloom at Osborne House—was described by the Queen as “more of a funeral than a wedding”. The Princess’s life in Darmstadt was unhappy as a result of impoverishment, family tragedy and worsening relations with her husband and mother.
Grand Duke Ludwig IV of Hesse and By Rhine
Alice was a prolific patron of women’s causes and showed an interest in nursing, especially the work of Florence Nightingale. When Hesse became involved in the Austro-Prussian War, Darmstadt filled with the injured; the heavily pregnant Alice devoted a lot of her time to the management of field hospitals. In 1877, Alice became Grand Duchess upon the accession of her husband as Grand Duke Louis IV (Ludwig) her increased duties putting further strains on her health.
Princess Alice was the mother of Tsaritsa Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia (wife of Tsar Nicholas II), maternal grandmother of Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (the last Viceroy of India), and maternal great-grandmother of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (consort of Queen Elizabeth II). Another daughter, Elisabeth, who married Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia, was, like the tsaritsa and her family, killed by the Bolsheviks in 1918.
Final illness and death
In November 1878, the Grand Ducal household fell ill with diphtheria. Alice’s eldest daughter Victoria was the first to fall ill, complaining of a stiff neck in the evening of 5 November 5th. Diphtheria was diagnosed the following morning, and soon the disease spread to Alice’s children Alix, Marie, Irene, and Ernest. Her husband Louis became infected shortly thereafter. Elisabeth was the only child to not fall ill, having been sent away by Alice to the palace of the Princess Charles, her mother-in-law.
Marie became seriously ill on November 15, and Alice was called to her bedside, but by the time she arrived, Marie had choked to death. A distraught Alice wrote to Queen Victoria that the “pain is beyond words.” Alice kept the news of Marie’s death secret from her children for several weeks, but she finally told Ernest in early December. His reaction was even worse than she had anticipated; at first he refused to believe it. As he sat up crying, Alice broke her rule about physical contact with the ill and gave him a kiss. This was the kiss of death.
At first, however, Alice did not fall ill. She met her sister Victoria (Crown Princess of Germany and Prussia) as the latter was passing through Darmstadt on the way to England, and wrote to her mother with “a hint of resumed cheerfulness” on the same day. However, by Saturday, December 14th the 17th anniversary of her father’s death, she became seriously ill with the diphtheria caught from her son. Her last words were “dear Papa”, and she fell unconscious at 2:30 am. Just after 8:30 am, she died. Alice was buried on 18 December 1878 at the Grand Ducal mausoleum at Rosenhöhe outside Darmstadt, with the Union Flag draped over her coffin. A special monument of Alice and her daughter Marie was erected there by Joseph Boehm.
She was the first child of Queen Victoria to die, with her mother outliving her by more than 20 years. Victoria noted the coincidence of the dates of Albert and Alice’s deaths as “almost incredible and most mysterious.” Writing in her journal on the day of Alice’s death, Queen Victoria referred to the recent sufferings of the family: “This terrible day come round again.” Shocked by grief, she wrote to her daughter Princess Victoria: “My precious child, who stood by me and upheld me seventeen years ago on the same day taken, and by such an awful and fearful disease…She had darling Papa’s nature, and much of his self-sacrificing character and fearless and entire devotion to duty!” The animosity that Victoria had towards Alice seemed no longer present. Princess Victoria expressed her grief to her mother in a 39-page letter, and deeply mourned Alice, the sister to whom she was closest. However, both she and her husband were forbidden from attending the funeral by the Emperor of Germany, who was worried about their safety.
Alice’s death was felt in both Britain and Hesse. The Times wrote: “The humblest of people felt that they had the kinship of nature with a Princess who was the model of family virtue as a daughter, a sister, a wife and a mother…Her abundant sympathies sought for objects of help in the great unknown waste of human distress.” The Illustrated London News wrote that the “lesson of the late Princess’s life is as noble as it is obvious. Moral worth is far more important than high position.”
The death was also heavily felt by the royal family, especially by Alice’s brother and sister-in-law, the Prince and Princess of Wales. The Princess of Wales, upon meeting the Queen after Alice’s death, exclaimed “I wish I had died instead of her.” The Prince, meanwhile, wrote to the Earl of Granville that Alice “was my favourite sister. So good, so kind, so clever! We had gone through so much together…”