Albert Edward, Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, HRH The Prince Consort, Pedro V of Portugal, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Prince of Wales, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, Trent Affair, Typhoid fever
Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel; August 26, 1819 – December 14, 1861) was the consort of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom from their marriage on February 10, 1840 until his death in 1861.
At the age of twenty, he married his first cousin Victoria; they had nine children. Albert was born in the Saxon duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld to a family connected to many of Europe’s ruling monarchs. The Saxon duchies were from the House of Wettin which also ruled as Kings of Saxony.
Prince Albert was born on August 26, 1819 at Schloss Rosenau, near Coburg, German Confederation, the second son of Ernst III, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and his first wife, Louise of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg.
His first cousin and 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 September 19, 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 (Countess Augusta Reuss of Ebersdorf); his maternal grandfather, August, Duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg; Emperor Franz of Austria; Albert Casimir, Duke of Teschen (from a branch of the House of Wettin); and Emanuel, Count of Mensdorff-Pouilly.
In 1825, Albert’s great-uncle, Friedrich 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, as Ernst I.
Illness and Death
In August 1859, Albert fell seriously ill with stomach cramps. His steadily worsening medical condition led to a sense of despair; biographer Robert Rhodes James describes Albert as having lost “the will to live”.
Albert would later have 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, Princess Victoria, 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 over which he presided was the opening of the Royal Horticultural Gardens on June 5, 1861. In August, Victoria and Albert visited the Curragh Camp, Ireland, where the Prince of Wales was attending army manoeuvres. Albert Edward gained a reputation as a playboy. During the manoeuvres in Ireland, he was introduced, by his fellow officers, to Nellie Clifden, an Irish actress and Albert Edward spent three nights with her after she was hidden in the camp by his fellow officers.
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 was was appalled and travelled to Cambridge to see the Prince of Wales on November 25 to discuss his son’s indiscreet affair and to issue a reprimand.
Also in November 1861, the Trent affair—the forcible removal of Confederate envoys from a British ship, the RMS Trent, 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.
In his final weeks Albert suffered from pains in his back and legs. 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.