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A Queen and Her Prince

Text by: Amy Carpenter

There once lived a Queen and her Prince. Their love was the stuff of fairy tales. She was the young maiden locked away in a prison of her mother's making, and he was the handsome foreigner who saved her from the influences of her childhood. Their love would echo throughout history and change the course of a nation.

The young maiden who would one day become Queen was Victoria, born on May 24, 1819, the daughter of Edward, the English Duke of Kent, and the German Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg. Tragically, Edward died from pneumonia when little Victoria was only a few months old. Victoria's mother shut her away in Kensington Palace, supposedly to protect her from the moral vices of the King's courts. Her mother's comptroller (financial advisor), Sir John Conway, devised a set of restrictive rules called the Kensington System, to protect Victoria, and more importantly, to control her. Under this system, Victoria could not walk down the stairs unless she was holding an adult's hand. Her mother and Conway controlled who she had contact with, forbidding her any association with her uncles, King George IV and later, King William IV, both Kings of England. She was not allowed her own bedroom and was forced to share a room with her mother until she became Queen. Knowing Victoria would inherit the throne when William IV died, Conway thought he could become king by proxy, silently pulling the strings while Victoria's mother ruled as regent. William IV died in 1837, a few months after Victoria came of age at 18, ruining Conway's plans. Victoria was saved from her Kensington prison.

Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was born a few months after Victoria, on August 26, 1819. He was the son of German royalty and cousin to the young Victoria. Albert's parents had an unhappy marriage which ended in 1824. As a result, his mother was removed from court and not allowed to take her sons, Albert and Ernest, with her. They never saw her again.

Albert and Victoria first met when he and his brother, Ernest, came to visit her in May 1836. Victoria's uncle, Leopold, the first King of the Belgians, arranged for them to meet. Leopold had visited Victoria himself and supported her financially. They often corresponded through letters, and she trusted his advice greatly. Leopold hoped that a marriage between Albert and Victoria would benefit his own country. Victoria wrote to her uncle Leopold of her first impression of her future husband: "Albert is extremely handsome… but he has a most good-natured, honest, and intelligent countenance."

Although they spent a wonderful couple of weeks together, neither was ready for marriage. After Albert returned home, Victoria again glowingly expressed her pleasure in a letter to her uncle:

He possesses every quality that could be desired to render me perfectly happy. He is so sensible, so kind, and so good, and so amiable too. He has, besides, the most pleasing and delightful exterior and appearance you can possibly see.

Obviously, Victoria was smitten with her cousin's good looks, but she loved his personality as well, noting those qualities that would not only make him a good husband but that would make a good leader as well.

Victoria herself was not considered pretty—she had inherited the royal receding chin. But what she lacked physically, she more than made up for in intelligence and grit. Any young woman growing up with such a restrictive and practically abusive childhood might have shattered into pieces, but not Victoria. When she became Queen in 1837, Victoria took control of her own life. She moved into Buckingham Palace, exiling her mother to apartments in the most remote area of the palace. She refused Conway's influence, instead turning to the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, for council. She had her own opinions about things and stubbornly stuck to them, sometimes to her great detriment.

In 1839, perhaps Victoria's worst year politically, one of her mother's ladies, Lady Flora, began to have stomach swelling. Victoria believed that Conway had gotten her pregnant and ordered a humiliating examination. Victoria was wrong. The lady was suffering from cancer. People thought Victoria judgmental and cruel, and her approval rating plummeted. Again, when Lord Melbourne resigned, the new Prime Minister, Robert Peel, who was a member of the opposing party, came to Victoria and asked that she replace some of her ladies with ladies from his political party. This was not an unreasonable request, but Victoria, incensed, refused. She thought she should be able to choose her own companions, but Peel needed some help for his minority party. This created uproar in the government, and the common people rebelled. Victoria was forced to concede and replace some of her ladies with those of the opposing party.

During this year of crisis, Albert returned to England to visit Victoria. This time, Victoria was more than ready for marriage. On October 15, 1839, she proposed marriage to Albert. He, of course, accepted, and they set a date for the following year, after Parliament's first meeting of the year. Albert left England, returning for their marriage, which took place on February 10, 1840. They were so devoted to each other that Albert's wedding ring was inscribed with the date of their engagement. The Queen wore a white wedding dress, unusual for the time—wedding dresses could be any color, but they were usually blue. (After this, the white wedding dress became all the rage.) Observers noted that Victoria could not keep her eyes off her handsome prince. Indeed, the next day, Victoria wrote to her Uncle Leopold, "To look in those dear eyes, and that dear sunny face, is enough to make me adore him."

Albert and Victoria's honeymoon did not last long—only three days. Due to her responsibilities as Queen, they could not go far for their honeymoon. They stayed at Windsor Castle, a mere 3-hours ride by coach from Buckingham Palace (where they had held their wedding breakfast). Victoria's ministers would not leave her alone even for their honeymoon, constantly pestering her with state matters. Despite this, they still found great happiness in their more private, quiet moments. Victoria said of their wedding night, "It was a gratifying and bewildering experience. I never, never spent such an evening. His excessive love and affection gave me feelings of heavenly love and happiness. He clasped me in his arms and we kissed each other again and again." Duty eventually called, however, and Victoria returned to her job as Queen.

Although they loved each other, marriage was not easy for Victoria and Albert. Victoria was headstrong and emotional. Albert was sometimes a little too distant for Victoria. In addition, people did not trust the foreign Prince. Albert was not given a title and felt constricted, with little responsibility and a strong-willed wife. When Victoria became Queen, she kept her former governess, Baroness Louise Lehzen, on as head of the household. The Baroness became another of Victoria's advisors. Albert frequently pointed out issues with the household under Baroness Lehzen's leadership. After Albert and Victoria's first child, Princess Victoria, was born, the Baroness organized the royal nursery. Albert disapproved of the way it was handled, especially the appointment of the doctor. Finally, after the infant princess became seriously ill, Victoria heeded her husband's advice, and sent the Baroness back to Germany. Lord Melbourne then appointed Prince Albert as head of the royal household. Victoria gave Albert increasing responsibility and came to trust his judgment implicitly. Finally, after 17 years of marriage, Albert was appointed Prince-Consort.

Albert and Victoria led a very straight-laced court. Behind the scenes, however, they had a passionate relationship, as evidenced by their prolific production of nine children. (Victoria often complained of the interference of pregnancy and mothering with her physical relationship with Albert.) Victoria especially loved it when Albert put her stockings on. Albert, an amateur composer, wrote a song for Victoria called, "Dem Fernen" ("To the Distant One") in 1840. Victoria and Albert also commissioned artwork for each other. Albert ordered a statue done of himself in Roman armor. It was so revealing, and Victoria was so enamored with it, that Albert ordered a different statue for public display. Victoria had the artist, Franz Winterhalter, paint an intimate portrait of her for her husband's 24th birthday. It was meant "for his eyes only" and shows her with her hair down and tumbling over one shoulder. A locket containing a clip of Albert's hair, hangs from her neck.

The Queen and her Prince had a wonderful, loving marriage. Sadly, their happily-ever-after ended on December 14, 1861 when Albert died of Typhoid fever. Victoria's heart broke. Her advisor and constant companion was gone, leaving a gaping hole in her life. She went into deep mourning for the rest of her life and lived in seclusion for the ten years following his death, coming out socially only after much coaxing from one of her Prime Ministers. Queen Victoria's mourning ended with her own death on January 22, 1901.

The love story of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert proves that fairy tale romance really can come true, and that romance can endure beyond the first kiss, beyond the happily-ever-after. Their attraction for each other did not tarnish with time. Instead, they fed the fires of passion, continually breathing life into their marriage. Though they had their differences, they worked through them, conquering all obstacles with their love and devotion to each other. Their legacy was their love, the legacy of a Queen and her Prince.