In the union of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert he played the
leading role - and she was only too glad to have him do so.
The probability is that anyone who reads A Magnificent Obsession
by Helen Rappaport already knows the story well. It is the latest
account of how Victoria, in 1819, while the 20-year-old Queen of
Great Britain, married the 20-year-old Prince Albert of Saxe-Coberg
and Gotha, a small German duchy. And it carries the marriage up to
Albert's early death at age 42 and Victoria's subsequent life as a
grieving widow for forty years until her death in 1901.
It was an arranged marriage, promoted by their mutual uncle
(Victoria and Albert were first cousins) and they had only met twice
before Victoria decided that she like Albert well enough and
proposed to him - which is what reigning queens do in Britain.
The British populace had not initially been warm to the union.
They regarded Albert as being significantly beneath Victoria on the
monarchial scale and they did not welcome a German princeling into
their midst, particularly if, like Albert, he spoke English with a
thick German accent. But what the public did not know at the first,
was that Albert was an extraordinary person. Commencing from when he
was only a boy, he had prepared himself for a life of Christian duty
as a royal figure. Albert had studied international law, philosophy,
music, and art. He had closely observed the rulers of various
nations and prepared himself for a life as an important royal
In his marriage to Victoria he made it quickly known that he was
not content to be simply the Queen's lapdog, which was apparently
the role she had in mind for him. From the very beginning he reached
out for responsibility and public service. He took over all of
Victoria's financial affairs, ran her household, and guided her in
her relations with her government ministers. He directed the British
Exhibition, a sort of world's fair of goods, and made it a
spectacular success. He undertook great responsibilities in re-
organizing the army, improving British education and promoting
science. In all things he was successful and particularly so in his
family life. Both Victoria and Albert had surely come into their
marriage as virgins. But Albert was a quick learner and according to
her diary, brought his wife delight and satisfaction.
Despite the fact that Victoria had been warned that infidelity by
British royal figures was the norm - "Damn it, Madam," Lord Melboune
had declared to her, "you don't expect that he'll always be faithful
to you, do you?" - Albert certainly was faithful. Not for nothing
was he called "Albert the Good." In their first 20 years of marriage
Victoria and Albert produced nine children. Their domestic life was
greatly respected and admired by the British public who regarded the
Royal family as an exemplar.
Victoria basked in Albert's devotion. He was clearly the more
intelligent and better educated. He played the leading role in their
marriage and she was glad to have him do it. "We women are not for
governing," she said.
But there was one aspect of Albert which was less than perfect.
His health was problematic. From early youth he had experienced
intestinal difficulties. He was frequently ill and as he grew older
his health problems diversified into headaches, severe colds,
insomnia, fevers, and diarrhea. They became more severe as Albert
entered into his forties. But Victoria did not know this, or else
she chose to ignore it. The thought that he might predecease her was
too much even to contemplate.
Then, in December,1861, Albert became ill but insisted on
carrying out his duties. These involved spending days outside in
cold rain. Having almost literally worked himself to death, he died
on December 14, 1861. …