Did Queen Victoria not like her own children

Anyone who has ever been to London is sure to know the names Victoria and Albert. The Royal Albert Hall, the Victoria Embankment, Albert Bridge, the Royal Victoria Dock and of course the Victoria and Albert Museum are well-known markers of the English capital and of course not named after anyone, but after Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and Ireland (1819 - 1901) and her husband, Albert von Sachsen-Coburg and Gotha (1819 - 1861).

Victoria not only gives its name to the Victorian era, but also fundamentally changes British society: shortly after her coronation, she is a fashion icon and is first bringing new ideals to Great Britain and soon also to continental Europe: She is focusing on family life together with her husband, she becomes the most popular couple in Europe. After his death, she is the woman who wore black for forty years and supposedly never smiled. But who was this Prince Albert actually?

Victoria's choice

Victoria in her coronation robe, Charles Robert Leslie, 1838

Prince Albert was born in the same year as Victoria, 1819, as the son of German nobles as Franz Albrecht August Karl Emmanuel of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Duke of Saxony. Albert would never rule over Saxony, at that time still a small German state, which just escaped dissolution during the Napoleonic occupation at the beginning of the nineteenth century. His older brother Ernst benefited from this task.

Albert had little contact with his mother: she left the family when he was five after her husband charged her with an affair. But Albert did not see his father too often either: his upbringing was taken over by teachers, for the most part by the so-called “prince instructor”, who looked after not only Albert but also his brother Ernst. Later Albert is said to have described his childhood as unhappy, which was probably not only due to the disappearance of his mother, but also to the gossip about the ducal family, which was caused by the divorce, but also by the father's affairs.

Albert is said to have been stubborn and thirsty for knowledge, but was initially only disliked by the English and perceived as strange. As early as 1836, when Victoria and Albert were around seventeen years old, there were first plans to marry the two, but Victoria was already a pretender to the throne and the reigning king, William IV, had other plans for her. He had chosen Alexander of Orange as a suitable husband for Victoria and did not want any connection with the Saxon-Coburg family.

Victoria didn't want to just get married to anyone. She had met both princes, and while she was not particularly fond of Alexander of Orange, she liked Albert very much. She wrote this in a letter to her uncle Leopold, King of Belgium, whose idea it had been to introduce Victoria and Albert to each other. She is said to have raved especially about Albert's big blue eyes. But first of all there were apparently tensions: Albert was only informed two years later that he was supposed to be a candidate for Victoria.

The wedding of the century

Victoria and Albert Wedding on February 10, 1840, George Hayter, 1840

That he wrote her a formal letter in 1837 congratulating her on her accession to the throne is precisely what Victoria must have misunderstood. She felt rejected. Albert is also said to have taken a liking to Victoria, as he announced after he had been told in 1838 that he was a candidate for her husband. In October 1839 Albert traveled again to England and Victoria, who was now Queen, asked for his hand. This is often seen as a bit strange, but it is quite normal: after all, you shouldn't ask a queen for her hand, she chooses herself whom to marry.

The wedding followed in February 1840: Victoria and Albert, both 20 years old, married in the Chapel Royal in St. James’s Palace in London. However, at this point in time, the British people thought little of Albert. He wasn't a king's son, just a prince from a small, poor German state. Albert took this with humor, however, and said rather sharply that he would feel more important as Prince of Saxony than Prince of Kent, as his new title as husband of the British Queen was.

But Albert didn't seem to care about his new position either: He is said to have grieved that as Victoria's husband he was not King of England, but only Prince Consort, and had no power of his own over England. He did not receive the famous title of Prince Consort until 1857. Prince Albert had ideas: In Brussels he had learned to believe in humanism, in freedom and in the importance of a constitution. Albert was, among other things, a great opponent of the slave trade and patron of the great world exhibition that took place in London in 1851 at the Crystal Palace.

Albert was very keen to improve the constitutional monarchy in Great Britain and was involved in politics despite his powerlessness, although Victoria did not like it: she wanted to separate her private life from her life as queen and her husband was clearly part of her private life for her . Victoria thought it exactly like the male kings before her: the spouse had to hold a special rank and received new titles, but was by no means authorized to rule himself. Albert didn't like that, he didn't want to be satisfied with it, and Victoria didn't like that he ignored her wish to stay out of her duties as Queen of England.

Happy marriage?

He is extremely handsome; his hair is about the same color as mine; his eyes are big and blue and he has a beautiful nose and a very sweet mouth with beautiful teeth; but the charm of his face is his expression, which is very lovely.

Victoria wrote this to her uncle Leopold, the King of Belgium, and shortly after the marriage she even thanked him for bringing her and Albert together. But is the marriage of Victoria and Albert really as happy as films, novels and even scientific treatises often lead to believe? A question that is difficult to answer. Already in the first year of marriage, Albert often felt overlooked and not taken seriously at court, while Victoria, the strong-willed queen, repeatedly asserted that she did not like it when Albert tried to interfere in state affairs.

Victoria and Albert soon became very popular in England: They were considered ideal lovers, a role model for a happy marriage. But beneath the surface it was seething. Did Victoria love Albert? Certainly. Right from the start she wrote tender letters about him and also raved about Albert in her diary. Albert himself seemed cooler about the marriage, although he liked Victoria, but as soon as the two were married, the relationship cooled significantly. Victoria became pregnant soon after the marriage and was in this state almost permanently for the next several years.

Without the pregnant Victoria knowing about it, Albert began to push his way into the country's political affairs. Not all of his influences are bad, nowhere near. Albert's education, especially the trip to Brussels, had made him a good politician and he did a very good service to England and the royal family. Still, it's understandable that Victoria was furious when she learned he'd gone into politics without her consent. What happened in the next few years gives a lot of material for debate: Albert increasingly took over Victoria's duties as Queen, influenced her in her decisions and interfered in politics.

Was it her right? Today it is assumed that Albert, who was just like Victoria proud and stubborn, heavily manipulated the young woman and steered it in the directions he had come up with. The self-confident, strong-willed Victoria got smaller and smaller, gave in more and more, gave Albert more and more power that he shouldn't have had in his position according to the protocol. Albert made sure, for example, that the Baroness von Lehzen, a confidante of Victoria from childhood, who Albert didn't like, had to leave the court.

Victoria between love and powerlessness

Victoria and Albert 1854 (left and center) and 1861 (right)

Victoria is often described as "irascible" and "irritable" during this time, but is said to have accepted her husband's decisions more and more often. I almost believe, to put it cautiously, that Victoria's irritability was justified: As Queen of England she was the most important person in the country, but the power, the decision-making authority and her own agenda were gradually taken away from her, among other things from her own husband.

I don't have to say that you wouldn't have dared to do that with a male king, but that says a lot about the Victorian image of women, in which not even a queen is allowed to retain her power. I think this is a good place to start, which is why Victoria wanted to keep business and private life apart: Albert was her angel, she loved him. But at the same time he was their adversary, because the couple failed to get the power struggle that raged between them under control. Did this big conflict and the quarrels between the two destroy love?

I don't think so, but she will have had a big crack. The love story between Victoria and Albert is still considered the greatest romance in history in England and I don't want to deny that Victoria loved Albert. She is also said to have found him very attractive physically. But the marriage of the two had many downsides that, in my opinion, should not be ignored. Victoria found her nine pregnancies in total as pure agony, she also didn't like children very much and, according to her diaries, the fact that she got pregnant so often was only due to the fact that she could not stay away from Albert.

Albert was on better terms with children, and Victoria enjoyed watching him play with and take care of the children. Nevertheless, some sources assume that the marriage of Victoria and Albert, especially in the later years, was based more on dependency and habit than on real love and that Victoria in particular slowly but surely complied with his wishes until the once so headstrong woman was no longer could do without her husband.

A sad fate

Victoria without Albert | Left: Victoria in mourning clothes, ca.1870 | Middle: Victoria with her daughter-in-law Maria and her daughter Beatrice, 1877 | Victoria with her grandson George (later George V), her son Edward (later Edward VII), and her great-grandson Edward (later Edward VIII), 1898

In 1861 fate struck. Albert fell seriously ill and died of typhoid on December 14th. The death of her husband, whom she must have loved but most needed, plunged Queen Victoria into deep despair. She continued to rule for the last 40 years of her life, doing what was expected of a queen, but was never the same woman as before. She loathed society and court life, and she was not ready to remarry.

She wore black mourning clothes in memory of Albert for the rest of her life. She also made sure that everything in Albert's bedroom was made up every day as if he were still alive. At least in part, Victoria became the bitter, dark-clad woman she is known as today. But I don't want to believe that Victoria spent the rest of her long life in mourning. There are enough pictures in which she is smiling and seems happy.

However, it is a fact that Victoria was never the same. Not only did she cling to Albert's memory, but she began to heavily control and monitor the actions of her children. Victoria was no longer used to being alone and clung to whoever was left. She is said to have continued to monitor even the eldest daughter, named Victoria after her, after she had married in Germany and she had a very bad relationship with her second son, the prince of the throne Bertie. She blamed Bertie for Albert's death, as Albert, who was already sick at the time, is said to have been very worried about Bertie, who had a very miserable lifestyle.

Victoria is said to have been very afraid that her daughters would face the same fate as she herself: powerlessness despite the high birth, but through her fear and her compulsive control, she made life difficult for Victoria and the other daughters. Victoria is not said to have been a bad mother, but the loss of her beloved Albert and certainly also the many arguments and duties before his death have marked her hard. Victoria's love story with Prince Albert is therefore a multi-layered story with dark sides, strongly shaped by Victorian ideals and gender roles.

Post picture:Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with five of their children,Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1846

Read it yourself?

Queen Victoria’s online scrapbook

Gill, Gillian:We Two. Victoria and Albert, Rulers, Partners, Rivals. New York 2009.

Rappaport, Helen:Magnificent obsession. Victoria, Albert and the Death that Changed A Monarchy. London 2011.

Rogasch, Wilfried:Victoria & Albert, Vicky & The Kaiser. A chapter in German-English family history. 1997.