Prince Albert was the consort of Queen Victoria and one of the most famous royal husbands in history. Still, people tend to see him as an obedient, romantic figure next to his powerful, desperately in love wife—but nothing could be further from the truth. From his controlling habits to his tragic end, Prince Albert’s life was one wild, sordid ride.
Though he was of noble birth, Albert’s childhood was a horror story. His father Ernest I, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, was a reckless philanderer and more than twice the age of Albert’s mother, Princess Louise. Eventually, the mismatched marriage started to fall apart at the seams—and it all came undone in one fell swoop.
Some women devote themselves to their children when their marriage is disintegrating, but not Albert’s mother. Instead, Princess Louise gave as good as she got. She took up with her own string of lovers, parading them in front of Albert as well as his older brother Ernest. The volatile, unloving household scarred Albert emotionally, but he couldn't have known that much worse was on the way.
In 1826, after less than a decade of marriage, Albert’s parents finally split up for good. And then came the utterly mortifying part. His mother proved all the nasty rumors were true when she married her latest lover, Alexander von Hanstein, just seven months after the divorce went through. For poor little Albert, the consequences were almost immediate.
The next years of Albert’s life were worthy of a Charles Dickens novel. For one, his mother Princess Louise got banished from court and never saw her sons again. That would be hard enough, but then Albert’s father had the gall to one-up his ex-wife in the scandal department. The patriarch actually re-married his own niece, one of Albert’s cousins. I know: Very ew.
Is it any wonder, then, that Albert would develop some serious family issues later in life?
Carrying all this enormous baggage, Albert became determined to become twice the man his father was and threw himself into his studies at the University of Bonn. Not only was he an upstanding student, but he was also a frighteningly good sportsman, particularly when it came to fencing. Basically, Albert was turning himself into a Prince Charming—and his Cinderella was right around the corner.
By the time Albert was a strapping 17-year-old, his family began planning what would be his great destiny. His ambitious uncle Leopold, King of the Belgians, decided he had the perfeft woman for Albert: the young Princess Victoria in England, who was poised to take the English throne in a matter of years. But there were some strange things about this match…
For one, Albert and Victoria were first cousins—not exactly uncommon for the time, but pretty gross nonetheless. In fact, the royal circle was so small, the pair had shared the same midwife at their births, and when Albert was just two years old, his grandmother was already planning a wedding for the infants. With all this family pressure, what could possibly go wrong? Answer: a lot.
With his uncle breathing down his neck, Albert traveled to meet the 16-year-old Victoria. He quickly found a huge obstacle in his path. As it happened, the future Queen of England was very hot on the European marriage market, and a rogue’s gallery of eligible bachelors was already lining up to woo her. Only, Albert had a secret weapon.
One of Albert’s main rivals for Victoria’s affections was Prince Alexander of Orange, another royal manly man who loved horse riding and adventuring. The one thing Alexander didn’t have, though, was Albert’s perfect face. Already a beautiful youth, Victoria described Albert as “extremely handsome,” praising his “very sweet mouth with fine teeth” and the “delightful” expression in his eyes. Meanwhile, she could only describe poor Alexander as “very plain".
Before the visit was up, Albert found that he had captured Victoria’s heart. She had taken his, too, but the road ahead of them was more brutal than people know.
In truth, Albert and Victoria were more like star-crossed lovers at the beginning. While the young royals were certainly attracted to each other, no proposal came during this visit and Albert went home still a bachelor. Then, roughly a year after their initial courtship, "Princess Victoria" turned into Queen Victoria upon the death of her uncle King William IV—and everything changed.
With Victoria finally on the throne, everyone expected a ring on her finger in good time, but Victoria’s response was surprising—and very unromantic. She refused to bow to pressure from her family, calling marrying Albert at such a young age a “shocking alternative". Instead, she vowed to stay single until she settled into her role as monarch.
Victoria seemed to be getting cold feet, and the next few months made things all the worse.
With rumors still flying about a possible betrothal, Albert’s past came back to haunt him. The English public began to scrutinize him intensely, and they came away with one heck of a bad impression. Parliament thought he came from a backward country, knew he came from a scandalous court, and didn't want him anywhere near their crown.
Still, despite her hesitancy, Victoria was head over heels. Soon enough, she proved her love in a very unconventional way.
In October 1839, Queen Victoria and Albert made a strange kind of history. That day, Victoria was the one who proposed to Albert, not only breaking the traditions of the time but also showing him that she was the one who was going to wear the pants in their relationship. Albert accepted her...but this turned out to be a bad omen for their future.
To be sure, Victoria and Albert’s union certainly started out like something in a children’s book. In February 1840, the young couple married in the idyllic Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace, with Victoria famously wearing a white wedding dress, turning the color choice into an enormous fad. But if Albert's wedding day was all sweetness and light, his wedding night was spicy and stormy.
We actually know TOO much about Albert’s wedding night, because Victoria’s diary reveals scandalous details. Her personal account went deep into her emotions about finally being “alone” with Albert…and apparently, the prince did not disappoint. As she wrote, caps and all, “I NEVER, NEVER spent such an evening!!! MY DEAREST DEAREST DEAR Albert…He clasped me in his arms, & we kissed each other again & again".
Albert and Victoria were mad about each other, and they apparently got hot and heavy whenever they darn well pleased. Not that this ended up being a good thing.
Mere weeks after the wedding, Albert got shocking news: Victoria was pregnant. Now, this should have been happy tidings, but it was far from it. Young as she was, Victoria had hoped to have at least a handful of months to "enjoy" her new bridegroom. Plus, the pair were barely in their 20s with no idea how to raise a family. And then it got even more chilling.
Victoria wasn’t just upset about her pregnancy, she was beside herself. Once more, her letters reveal the dark truth. She wrote to her grandmother complaining that the idea of a baby was “Spoiling my happiness". She also proclaimed that if she had the misfortune to give birth to a “nasty girl,” she would drown the babe. Whether Albert understood the depths of his wife’s anger or not, he'd soon find out.
Victoria and Albert burned for each other in the bedroom, and their fighting style was equally fiery. Indeed, the lusty teenagers had all out-brawls inside the palace. It got so bad, Victoria would often refuse to even speak to Albert, forcing him to resort to sliding contrite notes under her door to make up for whatever he said or did. Only, there was something very sinister about all this.
During this twisted honeymoon period, Albert realized he had one deep, dark fear about his marriage. Victoria’s grandfather had been “Mad King” George III, and some of her rages around the palace closely mirrored her unhinged relatives. Albert couldn’t help but wonder if she had inherited some of the royal madness—though as we’ll see, he should have worried about another illness entirely.
Still, for most couples, a coming baby means settling down and working through their differences, hereditary illnesses and all. Well, that did NOT happen with Victoria and Albert.
As Victoria grew heavy with her coming child, she couldn’t hide her disgust even to Albert. In fact, Albert's new wife hated child-rearing. Not only was she miserable about her pregnancies, not a whole lot after that pleased her. She thought newborn infants were ugly and had a deep aversion to breastfeeding. Yet at the center of all this, there was something truly disturbing.
Today, historians believe that Victoria suffered from post-partum depression, once calling pregnancy “the heaviest [trial] I have ever had to endure". During these low periods, Albert’s worst fears came true. At her most brutal nadirs, Victoria would even experience hallucinations, further linking her to Mad King George III. Still, Albert's response to all this was brutal.
When it came to Victoria’s fears about childbith, Albert wasn't empathetic—he was annoyed, at best, and cruel at worst. In his letters to Victoria around her pregnancies, he complains about her moods and her lack of self-control, sneering at her crying over a “miserable trifle". Incredibly, though, it wasn’t just mental dangers that Albert and Victoria had to face. They were also in grave physical danger.
In the first few months of their marriage, Albert and a very pregnant Victoria were riding in a carriage to visit her mother. Suddenly, a vicious twist of fate confronted them. Out of nowhere, a mentally-ill teenager named Edward Oxford shot at the royal couple. Although they were both unharmed, Albert was shaken down to his foundations, and his life wasn't going to get any easier.
In the end, Victoria was in for a huge disappointment with her eldest child: It was a girl, a princess she called Vicky. And believe me, almost no one treated it as a celebration. When the attending doctor apparently said mournfully, "Oh Madame, it's a girl!" Victoria shot back, "Never mind, next time it will be a prince!” But Victoria and Albert would learn to be careful what they wished for.
True to her word, the second child Victoria had with Albert was indeed a boy, Prince Albert, nicknamed “Bertie". Yet this was just the beginning of a lifelong and tragic struggle. Although Victoria and Albert went on to have a whopping seven more children, it was their eldest son Bertie who received all their pressure. Albert in particular was determined to mould Bertie into the perfect man…until, of course, it all backfired spectacularly.
Unlike many Victorian fathers, Albert took a keen interest in bringing up his children, even attending all their births (people were shocked at this) and developing a rigorous educational curriculum for them. This was not a good thing. Perhaps trying to atone for his own father’s rakish sins, Albert over-corrected and became a hugely overbearing father. The results weren’t pretty.
Despite Albert's best efforts, his eldest son and heir Bertie proved to be the most difficult of his children to tame. The boy preferred roughhousing to Albert’s schoolroom teachings, and Albert grew more disappointed by the year. Eventually, the consort took to personally caning the Prince of Wales if he failed his classes or misbehaved, as if intense corporal punishment would fix things. Still, Albert had bigger problems just around the corner.
As the royal couple raised their children and Victoria got more confident as queen, an unfixable rift developed between them. Namely: jealousy. Albert chafed at the idea of Victoria dominating him as monarch, while Victoria was staunchly determined to keep every ounce of regnal power for herself, often refusing to let Albert take over her duties even when she was pregnant.
Within a couple of years, Albert was going stir-crazy, once confessing that “the difficulty in filling my place with the proper dignity is that I am only the husband, not the master in the house". And if Victoria thought it would get better with time, she was sorely mistaken.
One of the main sore sports for Albert was the fact that Victoria’s old childhood governess, Baroness Lehzen, was now running HIS household, and Albert just so happened to despise her. Unable to deal with the Baroness’s matronly hold over his grown wife, Albert dubbed her “The House Dragon” and refused to have any dealings with her. Eventually, it reached a disturbing climax.
One day, Albert finally made a stand in these power games with a vengeful show of his strength. He outright attempted a coup, accusing the baroness of mismanagaing his home and putting his children in danger. Furious, he demanded that Queen Victoria boot the woman out, and waited with bated breath for the answer. It wasn’t the one he was looking for.
Unfortunately for Albert, Victoria was having nothing to do with his man-baby outbursts, and she didn’t back down from the massive fight that ensued between them. In the end, though, Albert won for one chilling reason. Victoria realized her insecure husband needed her to be a submissive wife at that moment and not a queen regnant, and she eventually agreed to send Lehzen off packing.
Yet once more, the minute that Albert dealt with one problem, another one festered. And this one really festered.
Starting in 1859, when Albert was still a healthy and relatively young man, the consort experienced debilitating stomach cramps. No matter what he did or what royal doctor he saw, no one could quite figure out what the matter was—and his condition only got worse the more he took cures and treatments. It was enough to make anyone frustrated, but it hit Albert in a particularly cruel fashion.
Within a few months of falling ill, an eerie and ominous change came over Albert. Even Albert’s own biographer admitted that it was around this time that Albert “lost the will to live". Suddenly, Albert's once active, mentally acute lifestyle turned inward on itself and lead to listlessness and depression. Tragically, though, fate had one more curve ball in store for him.
In the fall of 1860, Albert was driving a four-horse carriage by himself when disaster struck. One of the steeds bolted, and the runaway carriage careened toward a railway crossing and another wagon, spelling out certain death for the royal. Terrified, Albert managed to leap from the carriage and save his own life, even as one of the horses perished in the accident.
Albert survived with only a few bruises and scrapes from the incident, but the damage was done.
After this, Albert’s vague sense of mortality became a total omen of doom, and he made a heartbreaking confession. Keeping his concerns from his wife, he nonetheless told his older brother and his favorite daughter Vicky that he knew his end was near. If they brushed him off at first, time would tell just how right the consort was. But before that, Albert plunged right into his last family crisis.
Around this time, a wrenching truth became clear to Albert: His son Bertie wasn’t just uninterested in his studies, he was going to make a horrible king. After all, Bertie wasn’t the brightest bulb in the drawer; the poor sod didn’t even realize until he was 10 years old that he, and not his older sister Vicky, would become ruler. But Albert’s son had more scandalous secrets in store.
As Albert's son Bertie grew up, he became very interested in women—and I mean very. Much to his father's horror, he started taking up with the brash Irish actress Nellie Clifden, a woman who was certainly not going to help the still-teenaged prince with his math homework. But whatever Albert initially thought was going on between Nellie and his son, the truth was ten times worse.
While Bertie was away from his strict father during a trip to Ireland with the army, the princeling had yet another rendezvous with Nellie. According to reports, he and Nellie wasted no time on their solo adventures, as Bertie's fellow cadets allowed Nellie to hide out in their barracks for three days while she and Bertie had their fun.
So the story goes, Albert’s precious son lost his virginity to Clifden during those three days. And when Albert found out, he was furious.
Albert had not only sacrificed a ton of his traditional manhood to be a good husband to Queen Victoria, his own philandering father had shown him the havoc that could come of womanizing in a family. Accordingly, he was so furious and disturbed over his son’s licentiousness, he wrote Bertie a scathing letter calling him out for being a “fallen” man…but that wasn’t enough.
After Albert sent the letter, he still worried not only for his son’s soul but for his family’s reputation. He and Queen Victoria feared that Bertie's activities would get out in the press, or—worst of all—that Nellie Clifton would get pregnant. To keep the rumor mill at bay, Albert decided to take matters right into his own hands. It was the beginning of his end.
Playing the role of man of the house, Albert personally traveled to see Bertie in late November 1860 to give his boy a right tongue lashing for acting out and flouting his royal duties. It coudn't have gone more horribly. Not only did Albert's stern words do nothing to curb his son's determination to take Nellie where he darn well pleased, the father and son decided to hash out their differences during a long, cold walk in the November rain.
Spoiler: This was not good for Albert’s failing health, as everyone in England found out.
Though very few British citizens realized it at the time, the royal family was hiding a rotten core. Today, we know that Albert’s wife Victoria was a carrier of hemophilia, an often fatal disease that hinders blood clotting, causing many sufferers to bleed out. This sounds serious, but the personal consequences to Albert and his family were even more devastating.
Because of the complexities of genetics, only male haemophiliacs suffer dangerous side effects. So while Albert’s daughters Alice and Beatrice inherited the gene, his son Leopold truly got the raw end of the deal. It led to every father’s worst nightmare, had Albert lived long enough to see it: Leopold passed on at the tender age of 30 after a cerebral haemorrhage.
If Prince Albert had a chilly relationship with his eldest son Bertie, his absolute favorite child was his eldest daughter Vicky. He praised her as “very intelligent and observant” and mourned when she married and moved away. However, his affection manifested in supremely creepy ways. He once gifted his wife with a brooch made out of one of Vicky’s baby teeth.
Once he finished chastising Bertie about Nellie Clifden, Albert returned back home...to experience horrific symptoms. In addition to his chronic stomach cramps, he now had shooting pains running up and down his back and legs. By early December, Albert’s state had weakened even more significantly, and the palace called in one of their best doctors to take a look at him.
After looking the royal consort up and down, the physician’s diagnosis was grim.
According to the doctor, Prince Albert was suffering from typhoid fever on top of everything else. The end came swift and brutal. On December 14, 1860—fewer than three weeks after he traveled to confront his son—Albert passed on just before midnight in the Blue Room at Windsor Castle, one of Queen Victoria’s favorite residences. The fallout was unimaginably tragic.
Like Albert, Queen Victoria had never been particularly fond of young Bertie. Afte all, she too thought he was a screw-up. When Prince Albert passed, her dislike transformed into a profound sense of hatred. She blamed him and his affair with Nellie almost entirely for Albert’s demise—and boy, did she show her vengeance on her husband’s behalf.
She wrote to her eldest daughter that "I never can, or shall, look at [Bertie] without a shudder,” and denied him any political power or position until the day she died. Still, even with all of this grief, Victoria went from heartbroken to very disturbed.
To say Queen Victoria took Albert’s death badly is an understatement. Aside from blaming and all but disowning her son Bertie, she sunk into a deep depression and, most infamously, wore black for the rest of her life. This last habit earned her the mournful nickname “The Widow of Windsor". Except that’s just the most well-known of Victoria’s mourning customs. In truth, the widows’ weeds were just the tip of the iceberg.
Overcome with grief, Victoria retreated from public life, and her private habits were nothing short of bizarre. In the long years after Albert’s passing, Victoria insisted that her servants keep his rooms continually prepared, as if he was just going to walk through the doors one day. Aides always placed a bowl of hot water, for shaving purposes, on a side table, and laid out a new change of clothes on his bed.
But if you think that’s eerie…get a load of what Victoria saved for last.
Victoria’s lifelong mourning of Albert is notorious, but most people don't know that it extended to her own funeral. In contrast to her permanent black, Victoria requested that she wear a white dress and her wedding veil once her attendants buried her. She had waited decades to reunite with her beloved Albert, and she wanted to meet him as a renewed bride.
At the time of his passing, the doctors still believed that Albert’s cause of death was typhoid fever. But modern historians have a much more disturbing suggestion. Given Albert’s chronic stomach issues, they believe he could have been suffering from a long-term fatal illness like kidney failure or Crohn’s disease, making his end not just random bad luck, but an excruciating, drawn-out process.
One of Albert’s biggest achievements was the Great Exhibition of 1851, and the impact of his hard work led to what we now call “Albertopolis". This is the London area of South Kensington, which famously contains many institutions that come from the surplus of the Great Exhibition, including the Royal College of Art and Royal Albert Hall.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert looked reserved and proper on the outside, but they hid a dark secret behind bedroom doors. Queen Victoria’s aversion to child-rearing and her undying devotion to Prince Albert was a lethal combination. Indeed, she frequently admitted to liking him more than their heirs. For example, in 1856, while Albert was away on a trip, the unhappy queen wrote, “All the numerous children are as nothing to me when he is away".
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