1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Albert (prince consort)
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Albert (prince consort)
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ALBERT (FRANCIS CHARLES AUGUSTUS ALBERT EMMANUEL) (1819-1861), prince-consort of England, was born at Rosenau on the 26th of August 1819. He was the second son of the hereditary duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (belonging to the Ernestine or elder branch of the royal family of Saxony) by his first wife, the princess Louise of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg (d. 1831), from whom the duke was separated in 1824. His father's sister married the duke of Kent, and her daughter, afterwards Queen Victoria of England, Prince Albert's wife, was thus his first cousin. They were born in the same year. Albert and his elder brother, Ernest, were close companions in youth, and were educated under the care of Consistorialrath Florschütz, subsequently proceeding to the university of Bonn. There Prince Albert devoted himself especially to natural science, political economy and philosophy, having for teachers such men as Fichte, Schlegel and Perthes; he diligently cultivated music and painting, and excelled in gymnastic exercises, especially in fencing. The idea of a marriage between him and his cousin Victoria had always been cherished by their uncle, King Leopold I. of Belgium, and in May 1836 the duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and his two sons paid a visit to Kensington Palace, where Princess Victoria, as she then was, lived, for the purpose of making acquaintance for the first time. The visit was by no means to the taste of King William IV., who disapproved of the match and favoured Prince Alexander of Orange. But Leopold's plan was known to Princess Victoria, and William's objections were fruitless. Princess Victoria, writing to her uncle Leopold (May 23, 1836), said that Albert was “extremely handsome”; and (June 7) thanked 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.” No formal engagement was entered into, but the situation was privately understood as one which in time would naturally develop. After the queen came to the throne, her letters show her interest in Albert's being educated for the part he would have to play. In the winter of 1838-1839 the prince travelled in Italy, accompanied by Baron Stockmar, formerly Leopold's doctor and private secretary, and now the queen's confidential adviser. On the 10th of October 1839 he and Ernest went again to England to visit the queen, with the object of finally settling the marriage. Mutual inclination and affection at once brought about the desired result. They became definitely engaged on the 15th of October, and on the 10th of February 1840 the marriage was celebrated at the chapel-royal, St James's.
The position in which the prince was placed by his marriage, while it was one of distinguished honour, was also one of considerable difficulty; and during his lifetime the tactful way in which he filled it was very inadequately appreciated. The public life of the prince-consort cannot be separated from that of the queen, and it is unnecessary here to repeat such details as are given in the article on her (see Victoria, Queen). The prejudice against him, on account of what was regarded as undue influence in politics, was never fully dissipated till after his death. His co-operation with the queen in dealing with the political responsibilities which devolved upon the sovereign represented an amount of conscientious and self-sacrificing labour which cannot easily be exaggerated; and his wisdom in council could only be realized, outside a very small circle, when in later years the materials for the history of that time became accessible. He was indeed a man of cultured and liberal ideas, well qualified to take the lead in many reforms which the England of that day sorely needed. He was specially interested in endeavours to secure the more perfect application of science and art to manufacturing industry. The Great Exhibition of 1851 originated in a suggestion he made at a meeting of the Society of Arts, and owed the greater part of its success to his intelligent and unwearied efforts. He had to work for its realization against an extraordinary outburst of angry expostulations. Every stage in his project was combated. In the House of Peers, Lord Brougham denied the right of the crown to hold the exhibition in Hyde Park; in the Commons, Colonel Sibthorp prophesied that England would be overrun with foreign rogues and revolutionists, who would subvert the morals of the people, filch their trade secrets from them, and destroy their faith and loyalty towards their religion and their sovereign. Prince Albert was president of the exhibition commission, and every post brought him abusive letters, accusing him, as a foreigner, of being intent upon the corruption of England. He was not the man to be balked by talk of this kind, but quietly persevered, looking always to the probability that the manufacturing power of Great Britain would be quickened by bringing the best manufactured products of foreign countries under the eyes of the mechanics and artisans. A sense of the artistic was at this time almost wholly wanting among the English people. One day the prince had a conversation with a great manufacturer of crockery, and sought to convert him to the idea of issuing something better than the eternal willow-pattern in white with gold, red or blue, which formed the staple of middle and lower class domestic china. The manufacturer held out that new shapes and designs would not be saleable; but he was induced to try, and he did so with such a rapid success that a revolution in the china cupboards of England was accomplished from that time. The exhibition was opened by the queen on the 1st of May 1851, and was a colossal success; and the realized surplus of £150,000 went to establish and endow the South Kensington Museum (afterwards renamed “Victoria and Albert”) and to purchase land in that neighbourhood. Similar institutions, on a smaller scale but with a kindred aim, always found in him warm advocacy and substantial support. It was chiefly at meetings in connexion with these that he found occasion for the delivery of addresses characterized by profound thought and comprehensiveness of view, a collection of which was published in 1857. One of the most favourable specimens of his powers as a speaker is the inaugural address which he delivered as president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science when it met at Aberdeen in 1859. The education of his family and the management of his domestic affairs furnished the prince with another very important sphere of action, in which he employed himself with conscientious devotedness.
The estates of the duchy of Cornwall, the hereditary appanage of the prince of Wales, were so greatly improved under his father's management that the rent-roll rose from £11,000 to £50,000 a year. Prince Albert, indeed, had a peculiar talent for the management of landed estates. His model farm at Windsor was in every way worthy of the name; and the grounds at Balmoral and Osborne were laid out entirely in conformity with his designs.
A character so pure, and a life so useful and well-directed in all its aims, could scarcely fail to win respect among those who were acquainted with the facts. As the prince became better known, public mistrust began to give way. In 1847, but only after a significantly keen contest with Earl Powis, he was elected chancellor of the university of Cambridge; and he was afterwards appointed master of the Trinity House. In June 1857 the formal title of prince-consort was conferred upon him by letters patent, in order to settle certain difficulties as to precedence that had been raised at foreign courts.
But in the full career of his usefulness he was cut off. Duringthe autumn of 1861 he was busy with the arrangements for the projected international exhibition, and it was just after returning from one of the meetings in connexion with it that he was seized with his last illness. Beginning at the end of November with what appeared to be influenza, it proved to be an attack of typhoid fever, and, congestion of the lungs supervening, he died on the 14th of December. The grief of the queen was overwhelming and the sympathy of the whole nation marked a revulsion of feeling about the prince himself which was not devoid of compunction for earlier want of appreciation. The magnificent mausoleum at Frogmore, in which his remains were finally deposited, was erected at the expense of the queen and the royal family; and many public monuments to “Albert the Good” were erected all over the country, the most notable being the Albert Hall (1867) and the Albert Memorial (1876) in London. His name was also commemorated in the queen's institution of the Albert medal (1866) in reward for gallantry in saving life, and of the order of Victoria and Albert (1862).
By the queen's authority, her secretary, General Grey, compiled The Early Days of the Prince Consort, published in 1867; and The Life and Letters of the Prince Consort (1st vol., 1874; 2nd, 1880) was similarly edited by Sir Theodore Martin. A volume of the Principal Speeches and Addresses of Prince Albert, with an introduction by Sir Arthur Helps, was published in 1862. See also the Letters of Queen Victoria (1907). (H. Ch.)