Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was born on 26 August 1819 as the second son of Ernst I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Princess Louise of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. Frau Siebold, who had also delivered the future Queen Victoria in May, had arrived only three hours before “the little one uttered his first cry in the world and looked around him, like a squirrel, with big black eyes.” Louise wrote gushingly of her second son to a friend, “You should see him, he is pretty like an angel, he has big blue eyes, a beautiful nose, quite a small mouth and dimples in his cheeks. He is friendly and smiles the whole time, and he is so big that a cap which Ernst wore when three months is too small for him, and he is only seven weeks yet.”
Louise and Ernst were divorced in 1826 after she allegedly committed adultery with Lieutenant Alexander von Haustein, who was created Count Pölzig when they married later that same year. Louise never denied or admitted to the charges and wrote to a friend, “I am to separate from the Duke… We came to an understanding and parted with tears, for life.” Ernst himself had, of course, not been faithful to her either. She later wrote, “Leaving my children was the most painful thing of all.” In March 1831, Louise and Alexander went to see a performance at the theatre, and she fainted after suffering a haemorrhage and had to be carried out. She never recovered and died of uterine cancer on 30 August 1831. She had collapsed with Alexander in the next room. On 13 December 1832, she was buried in the churchyard at Pfesselbach, but she was moved 14 years later by her sons to the Ducal tomb in the Church of St Moritz in Coburg to lay by her first husband’s side in defiance of her last wishes.
Meanwhile, Ernst and Albert were left to their own devices. Shortly after their mother’s exile, their father went on a shooting holiday with his brother Leopold. Nevertheless, they would often remember him fondly in later years. The boys were raised almost like twins, due to their closeness in age. Albert was just three years old when he and his brother were assigned a tutor. Their education was often interrupted by their father but was otherwise quite relentless. At the age of 11, Albert wrote in his journal, “I intend to train myself to be a good and useful man.” And soon, uncle Leopold would have a future in mind for young Albert. He would become the husband of the Queen of England – and perhaps even King himself.
In 1832, their father remarried to his niece, Marie of Württemberg – the daughter of his sister Princess Antoinette of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. Thus Albert’s new stepmother was also his first cousin. This second marriage would remain childless and as loveless as his first. On Palm Sunday 1835, Albert and Ernst were confirmed together in Coburg, and soon their education was being continued by Dr Seebode, the director of the Gymnasium at Coburg. He and Ernst were invited for a visit to England in 1836. He first met his future wife on 18 May in the hallway at Kensington Palace. Victoria was impressed, describing him as “extremely handsome.” The meeting was a great success, but marriage was not on the cards quite yet. Victoria had something else waiting for her – her uncle was dying, and soon she would be Queen. Albert and Ernst went to attend university at Bonn in the meantime.
On 20 June 1837, King William IV died, and Victoria became Queen. Just six days later, Albert wrote to her to offer “his sincerest felicitations on that great change which had taken place in your life.” For now, they would just write, and the boys were invited to spend Christmas with Leopold in Brussels. However, Albert injured his knee, and he stayed back at Bonn. Victoria invited their father to her coronation but not Albert and Ernst and professed that she did not wish to marry yet. Albert continued his studies, and at the end of 1838 he set off for Italy for a few months. He even had an audience with Pope Gregory XVI, and they conversed in Italian about art. In October 1839, he and Ernst were reluctantly invited back to England, but Victoria was struck when she saw Albert again. “It was with some emotion that I beheld Albert – who is beautiful. I embraced them both and took them to Mamma.” Victoria soon changed her mind about marriage and by the 14th she had made up her mind. On 15 October, she sent for Albert and proposed to him. He agreed and said he would be very happy to share life with her.
The wedding date was set for 10 February 1840 and for the time being Albert would return to Coburg. His future position in England would need to be discussed. Parliament was determined that Albert should play no role in politics and he was not granted a rank in the army nor made a peer which would have allowed to sit in the House of Lords. In early February 1840, Albert returned to England with his father and brother. On the afternoon of his arrival, the Lord Chancellor administered the formal oath of naturalisation to Albert. Monday was the day of the wedding, and it was a rainy day. The wedding took place at the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace before the bridal party returned to Buckingham Palace for the wedding breakfast. The following morning Victoria confided in her journal that they did not sleep much.1