How Did Queen Victoria's Husband Prince Albert Die?
The specter of Prince Albert's death has hovered over Victoria from the very beginning. Its looming presence has grown steadily throughout the show and at
While Albert was a productive man in life, it's his death that he's most remembered for in history, thanks to his widow, Queen Victoria, and the decades of public mourning she underwent in the wake of his untimely end.
So is season three's shocking climax the last we'll see of Tom Hughes's Prince Albert? Or is there more to come on (possible, unconfirmed) future seasons of Victoria? While we don't yet have details on what lies ahead for the Masterpiece show, history does offer a few clues:
WHEN DID PRINCE ALBERT DIE?
Perhaps the biggest indicator of Albert's continued presence on Victoria is the timeline. In the season three finale, viewers were treated to the opening day of the Great Exhibition—a ceremony, which took place in real life on May 1, 1851. While Victoria certainly plays with timelines a bit, placing Albert's death immediately after the opening of the Crystal Palace would short the Prince Consort a full decade of life, meaning that if the show does garner
"My husband won't die, for that would kill me."
As for the real Prince Albert's death, exactly when the symptoms of his fatal illness started is not entirely clear to history—notes of purchase from both the Prince himself and the royal physicians showed orders of increasingly potent medications to deal with Albert's long-standing digestive issues as early as the summer of 1861—but by December of that year there could be no doubt that Albert was in serious condition.
For weeks, Albert's health had been going downhill, devolving into fever and delirium. His doctors argued over the possible causes, citing "low" fever, a form of gastric infection, or the mundane rigors of stress and overworking himself, a trait for which he was famous in both his professional and personal circles.
Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, circa 1854.
Interestingly, he had told his wife not long before the onset of his illness, “I do not cling to life. You
Yet cling Albert did; for the final two weeks of his life, the Prince Consort moved from room to room in Windsor, glassy-eyed and unwell, attended regularly by his doctors as well as his third child, Alice, who served as her father's nursemaid during his infirmity.
Even at the worst of his illness, Victoria remained stubbornly hopeful, telling one of Albert's doctors
Nonetheless, after several days of alternating improvement and decline, on the evening of December 14,
WHAT CAUSED ALBERT'S DEATH?
Though Albert's official cause of death was listed as typhoid fever, modern experts have continued to debate that diagnosis.
For a start, typhoid fever, a bacterial infection in the
Likewise, Albert had a long history of intermittent but significant
Prince Albert’s mausoleum at Frogmore.
Another possibility? Albert's mother died at the age of 30 from stomach cancer, and a number of experts have argued that those earlier stomach issues were merely a symptom of cancerous growth.
While the typhoid theory has become less popular in recent years, it cannot completely be ruled out. Albert's physician, Dr. William Jenner, was particularly well-known for his study of typhoid fever,
Nonetheless, despite his doctor's purported certainty, typhoid fever wasn't officially attached to Albert's records until seven days after his death.
Prince Albert’s funeral, 1861.
HOW ALBERT'S DEATH IMPACTED THE NATION
Regardless of its cause, the Prince Consort's passing had a powerful impact on England.
In addition to the enormous success of his brainchild, the Great Exhibition, which endeared him to the people, it was also well known that Albert had taken an active role in the monarchy, frequently serving in the
But lose him they did. Shops closed their doors and theatrical performances canceled in honor of the royal's death; Christmas, just over a week after Albert's passing, was a somber affair throughout the kingdom that year.
Before Victoria's ascent to the throne, her family house, the Hanoverians, were not popular with the masses; generations of out of control spending and debauchery had earned the royal family a less than glowing reputation. But together, Victoria and Albert
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Ironic, then, that it was Albert's death that nearly undid all of his work. After his death, Victoria sunk into a deep depression, refusing to attend to public duties and prompting some to question what she was doing to earn the yearly salary afforded to the crown from taxpayer funds. By the end of the 1860s, there were even calls for the Queen to abdicate and leave the throne open for her eldest son, Bertie, the future King Edward VII.
Sentiment only began to turn back in the Queen's favor when Bertie was stricken with a serious illness on the tenth anniversary of Albert's death, leading to rampant speculation that the heir was poised to die just as his father had. Bertie made a seemingly miraculous recovery a few weeks later, prompting Victoria to undertake a public thanksgiving service—her first official state ceremonial appearance in ten years. The tide of public favor returned to the royal widow as she herself returned to state business, and through the years she would go on to
WHY DID VICTORIA BLAME HER SON FOR ALBERT'S DEATH?
Despite the lingering medical mystery around Albert's death, there is one possibility that definitively did not lead to the Prince Consort's death, but which Victoria continued to blame for it, in part, until the end of her life: her son, Bertie.
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Prior to his death, Albert had gone to confront his eldest son and heir to the throne about a romantic entanglement that Bertie had carried on with a woman named Nellie Clifton (sometimes noted as Nelly Clifden.) The morality-minded Albert was aghast that his unmarried son would have taken a lover and also afraid that Clifton would fall pregnant or attempt to blackmail the crown, causing a shameful scandal.
It was only after returning to the royal home from this dressing down that Albert's health took a marked turn for the worse. Victoria blamed her husband's downfall on the stress Bertie's behavior had put him under, refusing for a time even to see the young prince, sending him away on an extended journey abroad (ostensibly to finish his practical education) just weeks after his father's death.
Ever the diplomat, Victoria's uncle, King Leopold I, attempted to intercede on Bertie's behalf, writing of his efforts that, "It is entirely her fault as the poor boy asks nothing better than to devote himself to comforting his Mother and with that object would be delighted to give up his foreign expedition but she wouldn't hear of it and seems only anxious to get rid of him."
Apparently confirming the sentiment, the Queen wrote to her daughter Vicky shortly after Albert's death that, "Many wish to shake my resolution and to keep [Bertie] here," but that to do so would "force a contact that is more than ever unbearable to me."
Though Victoria did ultimately continue contact with Bertie throughout her life, she prevented the Prince of Wales from holding any other political position of power or influence until after her death, almost four decades later.
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.