Ernest and Albert come calling
In 1836 Victoria’s uncle, the reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg arrived at her court to stay with his two sons, Ernest and Albert. Queen Victoria kept a daily diary and in it she described Albert as “extremely handsome” with “a very sweet mouth and fine teeth”. The family stayed on a three week visit and Victoria was sad to see them both go, crying bitterly as they departed she described them as “dearly beloved cousins”.
After the introduction it became obvious that a marriage was being planned by Uncle Leopold between Victoria and Albert, although there had been no further contact since the last visit, although on her coronation Victoria had received a polite and formal message of congratulations from Prince Albert. The Prince’s education was widened and foreign travel, especially Italy was undertaken so that he could widen his perspectives in order to take his place at court.
However these plans nearly failed as Lord Melbourne, the British Prime Minister did not favour the marriage although he could not suggest another suitable foreign candidate and there were significant problems envisaged should the marriage involve a British national. Marriage in Victoria’s case was not only a personal issue but also a political issue.
The Queen has cold feet
Correspondence between Queen Victoria and her uncle Leopold indicates that she was trying to find a way out of the proposed marriage, questioning if Albert was interested or even if he knew and firmly stating that she had never made any firm or proxy arrangements to marry Albert. A visit was proposed by the Saxe Coburg’s and Victoria tried to avoid the visit, even mentioning that she felt too ill to entertain; yet her Uncle persevered and the visit was made with the Saxe Coburg’s arriving on 10th October 1838.
Albert was a man of strong principles with an eye for duty. He had heard of Victoria’s somewhat stubborn approach to the matter of marriage and whilst he was prepared to do his duty and marry her he confided to others that he was not prepared to be left dangling whilst Victoria debated whether she should marry him.
A frozen heart melts
It only took one meeting for the young Queen’s frozen heart to be melted by Albert’s good looks and gentle countenance. In her diary that night she again described him as a “dear cousin”. Within five days of being in Prince Albert’s company the Queen had told her Prime Minister that she meant to marry, and the Queen and Prime Minister selected the date of the marriage in accordance with the political considerations of the time.
At this point life changed for Victoria, unlike all other girls she was required to propose to Prince Albert and she summoned him to ask him to “consent to marry her”. Albert with an eye to duty said “yes” and although not outwardly deliriously happy he wrote to his former tutor that he was at a loss to believe “that such affection should be shown to me”. Victoria had set the tone for their marriage ;that she would be devoted to him all their married life
Victoria and Albert spent the best part of a month getting to know each other, dancing, making music and sharing many happy experiences. Albert left for home on November 14th 1838 not due to return until just before their wedding. It was at this point that the reality of her situation came home to the Queen.
Alberts Royal role
When Victoria decided to marry Albert she was faced with the problem of what he should be called and what should be his role and income. Although Queen none of this was within Victoria’s power to give- she relied on the support of Parliament. It was a total reversal for a Victorian lady and could have been an obstacle to the marriage
Victoria and her Prime Minister were aware of the public xenophobia the people in Great Britain generally didn’t like foreigners, especially those destined to marry their queen. Victoria’s Uncle Leopold proposed that Albert be given a peerage but this was objected to by Victoria and Melbourne as they realised that this would give Albert a seat in the House of Lords. A foreigner dabbling in politics, his situation awarded purely by marriage would not be tolerated by the British people. In fact Victoria did not designate Albert as Prince Consort until 1857 when she felt that the British public would accept it,. As such until this time the Prince was in a theoretically lower position than all the Duke’s in the Queen’s household.
Prince Albert’s allowance was to be granted by Parliament and Victoria expected it to be in the region of £50,000 and was said to be furious when the grant was made at £30,000. However Parliament was independent and the matter was outside of the Queen’s control.
Prince Albert's Household
The Prince was also denied his wishes on the composition of his household. Some would have expected that some of his old foreign friends would be part of it but Victoria guided by Melbourne decided that none of his gentlemen should be foreign. They knew that foreign gentlemen within the Prince’s establishment would result in fresh criticism from the Tory opposition. It was also agreed that the Prince should not choose his own household; in case he chose pleasant men who were Tories. The Queen’s household comprised only Whigs and she expected her husband’s household to be the same. In order that there could be no involvement in politics, active politicians were debarred from Albert’s service. Prince Albert had his own ideas that “they should be men well educated and of high character and he said quite clearly that if he was to “keep himself free from all parties….it is very necessary that they should be chosen from both sides.” Victoria’s bland reply did nothing to reassure him and then she appointed George Anson, previously Melbourne’s private secretary, to be Albert’s private secretary. Victoria rejected Albert’s pleas to choose his own man but gave a reluctant consent to all these arrangements.
Perhaps somewhat amazingly to the modern reader- Albert declared his confidence in Victoria’s judgement of his arrangements. He wrote to Lord Melbourne just before his marriage to thank him for all the trouble he had taken in the arrangements
Victoria and Albert were married on the 10 th February 1839 and were cheered by crowds much to Victoria’s relief as the populace had initially been quite subdued by the prospect of the Royal Wedding. The Bride wore white satin with Honiton lace and a sapphire broach with a diamond necklace given to her by Albert. The wedding took place in the Chapel Royal in St. James’s Palace and crowds thronged the adjoining park. The couple started their honeymoon in Windsor with the Queen clearly in love with her angel.