Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Emperor Alexander II of Russia, King Leopold I of Belgium, Lord Melbourne, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Privy Council, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, royal wedding, United Kingdom of Great Britain, William IV of the United Kingdom
On this date in history: February 10, 1840. Her Majesty Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland married her maternal first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.
Victoria once complained to her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, that her mother’s close proximity promised “torment for many years”, Melbourne sympathized but said it could be avoided by marriage, which Victoria called a “schocking alternative”. Although a marriage between Victoria and her cousin Prince Albert had been encouraged by the Coburg family, specifically King Leopold I of the Belgians since 1936, Victoria was ambivalent at best toward the arrangement.
The idea of marriage between Albert and his cousin, Victoria, was first documented in an 1821 letter from his paternal grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, (Countess Augusta of Reuss-Ebersdorf) who said that he was “the pendant to the pretty cousin”.
Victoria did however, show interest in Albert’s education for the future role he would have to play as her husband, but she resisted attempts to rush her into any marriage. Her uncle, King William IV of the United Kingdom, preferred that Victoria marry her paternal first cousin, Prince George of Cambridge. William IV also favored the suit of Prince Alexander of the Netherlands, second son of the Prince of Orange, future King Willem II. Victoria was well aware of the various matrimonial plans and critically appraised a parade of eligible princes.
In 1839, Tsesarevich Alexander Nikolaevich, the eldest son of Emperor Nicholas I of Russia and Charlotte of Prussia (daughter of King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia and of Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz), was sent on a tour of Europe by his parents where he met twenty-year-old Queen Victoria and both were enamored of each other. Simon Sebag Montefiore speculates that a small romance emerged. Such a marriage, however, would not work, as Alexander was not a minor prince of Europe and was in line to inherit a throne himself. In March 1855 Tsesarevich Alexander Nikolaevich became Emperor Alexander II of Russia.
Following Albert’s second visit to Queen Victoria in October of 1839, along with his brother Ernst, Victoria continued to praise Him and it was during this visit that genuine romantic feelings began to stir for her. Victoria wrote to her uncle Leopold I of the Belgians to thank him “for the prospect of great happiness you have contributed to give me, in the person of dear Albert … He possesses every quality that could be desired to render me perfectly happy.”
Albert and Victoria felt mutual affection and the Queen proposed to him on October 15, 1839, just five days after he had arrived at Windsor. Victoria’s intention to marry Albert was declared formally to the Privy Council on November 23.
The couple were married on February 10, 1840, in the Chapel Royal of St James’s Palace, London. Victoria was besotted. She spent the evening after their wedding lying down with a headache, but wrote ecstatically in her diary:
I NEVER, NEVER spent such an evening!!! MY DEAREST DEAREST DEAR Albert … his excessive love & affection gave me feelings of heavenly love & happiness I never could have hoped to have felt before! He clasped me in his arms, & we kissed each other again & again! His beauty, his sweetness & gentleness – really how can I ever be thankful enough to have such a Husband! … to be called by names of tenderness, I have never yet heard used to me before – was bliss beyond belief! Oh! This was the happiest day of my life!
Just before the marriage, Albert was naturalized by an Act of Parliament and granted the style of Royal Highness by an Order in Council. This style was only legal in Britain and under the German system of styles and titles Prince Albert remained His Serene Highness. Lord Melbourne advised against the Queen’s strong desire to grant her husband the title of “King Consort”. Parliament even refused to make Prince Albert a peer of the realm—(granting him a title of nobility) partly because of anti-German sentiment and a desire to exclude Albert from any political role.
Initially Albert was not popular with the British public; he was perceived to be from an impoverished and undistinguished minor state, barely larger than a small English county. In time Albert became an important political adviser as well as the Queen’s companion, replacing Lord Melbourne as the dominant, influential figure in the first half of her life.