It was to be expected that Albert was initially lonely after the wedding, but the expansion of his family was soon to come. On 21 March, Victoria awoke feeling nauseous – the first sign of pregnancy. Victoria was “furious” as she had dreaded this part. However, he remained shut out of her working routine. He wrote, “I am only the husband and not the master of the house.” He did accept the presidency of the Society for the Extinction of the Slave Trade and for the Civilization of Africa and learned to do public speeches. The Regency Bill gave Prince Albert a role to play if Victoria died before their heir reached their 18th birthday and he was introduced at a Privy Council meeting. On 21 November, Victoria gave birth to a daughter named for her. Princess Victoria was created Princess Royal the following year. Albert wrote to his brother, “Albert, father of a daughter; you will laugh at me.” He became devoted to his daughter, who resembled him so much. Victoria was soon pregnant again, and on 9 November 1841 she gave birth to a son named Albert Edward, and he was created Prince of Wales by December. Meanwhile, Albert had slowly worked his way into Victoria’s confidence and became involved with the running of the country.
They would have nine children in total: Victoria (born 1840), Albert Edward (born 1841), Alice (born 1843), Alfred (born 1844), Helena (born 1846), Louise (born 1848), Arthur (born 1850), Leopold (born 1853) and Beatrice (born 1857). Albert’s influence grew as Victoria resented each pregnancy and even suffered from postpartum depression. When Queen Victoria’s main influence Baroness Lehzen was finally out of the way, Albert was finally the master of the house. On 29 January 1844, Albert’s father died and his brother Ernst – who had married Princess Alexandrine of Baden in 1842 – became the new Duke. Albert returned to Germany to console his brother but also to caution him about his excesses. Ernst was being frequently treated for venereal diseases, and he would be unable to father children. Victoria was horrified at being separated from Albert and wrote, “I have never been separated from him for even one night, and the thought of such separation is quite dreadful.” That same year, Albert and Victoria purchased Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.
Perhaps Prince Albert’s great accomplishment was the Great Exhibition of 1851, held in a specially built crystal palace, where countries from around the world could display their achievements. It was a great success, and the surplus of £180,000 was used to purchase land in South Kensington where educational and cultural institutions were to be established. This included the Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Imperial College London and what would later be named the Royal Albert Hall and the Victoria and Albert Museum. On 25 June 1857, he was given the title of Prince Consort.
As their children grew up, Albert devised the perfect education for them – especially for the Prince of Wales. But young Albert could never live up to his father’s expectations. Victoria and Albert’s plans for their children were already taking shape. The Princess Royal would marry the future King of Prussia – and eventually Emperor of Germany. On 17 May 1856, her engagement to Prince Frederick William of Prussia was announced, and they were married on 25 January 1858. Albert accompanied her and her new husband to Gravesend, and he later wrote to her, “My heart was very full when yesterday you leaned your forehead on my breast to give free vent to your tears. I am not of a demonstrative nature, and therefore you can hardly know how dear you have always been to me, and what a void you have left behind in my heart: yet not in my heart, for there assuredly you will abide henceforth, as till now you have done, but in my daily life, which is evermore reminding my heart of your absence.”
Albert and Victoria had created the perfect Victorian family and Albert had become the model of organisation and efficiency. He was disappointed in his eldest son, who had proven to take more after his Hanoverian side of the family. However, Albert had worked himself practically to death to prove himself to the British. He was still only 39, but he looked much older. In 1861, Albert was informed of his eldest son’s involvement with an actress named Nellie Clifden, and he feared a scandal. By then, Albert was already seriously ill, but he continued to push himself. He went to inspect the new buildings for the Staff College and the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and returned to Windsor drenched from the rain and exhausted. The following morning, he travelled to Cambridge to talk to his eldest son, and they walked in the inclement weather for a heart-to-heart. Young Albert promised to do better, and Albert forgave his son. He returned home with pains in his back and legs. At the end of November, he moved into a different bedroom to avoid disturbing Victoria as he could not sleep. On 1 December, he wrote that he was so weak that he could barely hold his pen.
Albert’s condition continued to deteriorate, and he could not hold down food. Eventually, a fever was confirmed, and doctors were now in attendance day and night. He was diagnosed with typhoid fever, but his actual illness could have been something else since he was sick for quite some time. By the 13th, Albert was sinking fast. In the afternoon of the 14th, there was no more hope. The doctors checked his pulse but could do nothing else. Their daughter Alice stayed at one side of the bed with the Prince of Wales, Helena, Louise and Arthur also in the room. Leopold was in France for his health and Beatrice was considered too young. Victoria sat on the other side of the bed, and as his breathing became laboured, she told him “Es ist Fraüchen” (it is (your) little woman) and kissed him. She could not hold back tears and ran from the room. Alice then recognised the death rattle and Victoria was fetched to return. She cried, “Oh, yes, this is death! I know it. I have seen it before.” She threw herself onto the bed and was finally led away when it was all over.
Prince Albert died on 14 December 1861, still only 42 years old. He was buried firstly in St. George’s Chapel before being moved to the Frogmore Mausoleum where he would eventually rest with his wife. She survived him for 40 years, overwhelmed with grief.1