House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld., Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, The Prince Consort, Trent Affair, Typhoid
Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel; August 26, 1819 – December 14, 1861) was the husband of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
Albert was born at Schloss Rosenau, near Coburg, Germany, 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. Albert was baptised into the Lutheran Evangelical Church on 19 September 1819 in the Marble Hall at Schloss Rosenau with water taken from the local river, the Itz.
His godparents were his paternal grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld; his maternal grandfather, the Duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg; the Emperor of Austria; the Duke of Teschen; and Emanuel, Count of Mensdorff-Pouilly. In 1825, Albert’s great-uncle, Frederick IV, Duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg, died. His death led to a realignment of the Saxon duchies the following year and Albert’s father became the first reigning duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.
At the age of twenty, he married his cousin, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. They had nine children. Initially he felt constrained by his role of prince 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.
Victoria came to depend more and more on Albert’s 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.
August 1859, Albert fell seriously ill with stomach cramps. His steadily worsening medical condition led to a sense of despair. He lost the will to live, says biographer Robert Rhodes James. He had an accidental brush with death during a trip to Coburg in October 1860, when he was driving alone in a carriage drawn by four horses that suddenly bolted. As the horses continued to gallop toward a wagon waiting at a railway crossing, Albert jumped for his life from the carriage. One of the horses was killed in the collision, and Albert was badly shaken, though his only physical injuries were cuts and bruises. He confided in his brother and eldest daughter that he had sensed his time had come.
Victoria’s mother and Albert’s aunt, the Duchess of Kent, died in March 1861, and Victoria was grief-stricken. Albert took on most of the Queen’s duties, despite continuing to suffer with chronic stomach trouble. 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 was attending army manoeuvres. 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 five 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.
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 25 November to discuss his son’s indiscreet affair. In his final weeks Albert suffered from pains in his back and legs.
Also in November 1861, the Trent affair—the forcible removal of Confederate envoys from a British ship by Union forces during the American Civil War—threatened war between the United States and Britain. The British government prepared an ultimatum and readied a military response.
Albert was gravely ill but intervened to defuse the crisis. In a few hours, he revised the British demands in a manner that allowed the Lincoln administration to surrender the Confederate commissioners who had been seized from the Trent and to issue a public apology to London without losing face. The key idea, based on a suggestion from The Times, was to give Washington the opportunity to deny it had officially authorised the seizure and thereby apologise for the captain’s mistake.
On December, 9, one of Albert’s doctors, William Jenner, diagnosed him with typhoid fever. Albert died at 10:50 p.m. on December 14, 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, kidney failure, or abdominal cancer, was the cause of death.