Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha

The Prince Consort, by John Partridge.

Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, 1819-1861: husband of Queen Victoria, patron of the arts and champion (insofar as his rank permitted) of the rights of children and workers. Victoria ’s grief at Albert’s early death is well known, as is the intensity of her love for him: early in their marriage Victoria and Albert visited Florence where they greatly admired the cathedral, Santa Maria dei Fiori. Years later, after Albert’s death, Victoria visited Florence again, immediately following the restoration of Brunelleschi’s dome. Having ordered her coachman to pull up, she opened a locket containing Albert’s portrait, holding it out so as to give him, as it were, a view of the restored building. After a few moments she put it away and gave the order to drive on. Albert did considerable work as President of the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, the ‘Great Exhibition’, which brought together at the Crystal Palace art, artefacts and technology from all over the world. It is a measure of his grit that Albert steered this project home against considerable opposition. This came first from political quarters, where royal participation in public affairs was viewed with as much disapproval as it is today – and then from the public itself, there a being a widespread fear (whipped up by Lord Brougham and others) that the British workman and his livelihood would be swept away by a tidal wave of cut-price heathen gimcrack imported from overseas. Albert’s persistence won over and the profits from the Exhibition bought the land in South Kensington where the Victoria and Albert Museum now is, alongside the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum . Belonging to that select group of European noblemen who are so grand that they have forgotten their surnames (his eventually turned out to be ‘Wettin’ after much research) he resisted ennoblement to the British peerage, considering that this would have been a step down for a Duke of Saxony. He was officially known as ‘Prince Consort’.

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