Heritage

Why Prince Albert Is the Unsung Hero of the British Monarchy

Less is known about Prince Albert, but he was actually a dominant figure and influence behind Queen Victoria's successful reign.
IMAGE WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
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It was not until Prince Albert’s death in 1861 that his contributions to the monarch and the country were immensely appreciated, as he had often been deemed as a German interloper by British society during his lifetime. During his life, he was excluded from having political affairs, and only after 17 years of marriage with Queen Victoria was he formally given the title of Prince Consort. Despite these, he made his presence felt by involving himself in various impressive social and cultural causes. Though his life was cut short by an illness, his various legacies are still felt and can be seen in the United Kingdom up until today.

Marriage to Queen Victoria


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Queen Victoria vividly described her impressions of Prince Albert in her personal journal, as “quite charming, and so extremely handsome… a beautiful figure.” The young royal was clearly smitten. Shortly after her succession to the throne, Queen Victoria proposed to him. The two had an unpopular wedding, as Prince Albert was a member of German royalty.

At the onset of their marriage, Queen Victoria was firm that Prince Albert should have no influence on the country’s government affairs. However, when her first pregnancy caused her to ineffectively handle some of her commitments, Prince Albert had to step in. This concession became a routine as one pregnancy followed another.

By the end of 1840, Prince Albert had already become his wife’s advisor and private secretary. He was given full access to the Cabinet and other State papers, and also attended meetings that the Queen held with her ministers. It was also Prince Albert who shifted Queen Victoria’s political sympathies and encouraged her to steer away from political partisanships. Moreover, Prince Albert inspired her to take greater interests in social welfare and child labor.

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Prince Albert’s influence grew progressively over time. Charles Greville, an observer of royal affairs, described the duo as "one person... it is obvious that while she has the title, he is really discharging the functions of the Sovereign. He is King to all intents and purposes."

The Push for Better Pay and Benefits

Stewart recalled Prince Albert to be a man of high moral conscience and described him as a royal champion of the poor. He was appointed as president of the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labor Classes, and advocated for proper ventilation and sanitation of the houses of working people. In addition to this, he endeavored to improve the welfare pension scheme of servants. Prince Albert specifically wanted four provisions made for them: education for their children, along with industrial training; good dwellings; granting of allotments; and savings banks and benevolent societies.

Reformed Education


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In 1847, Prince Albert was elected and became the first foreigner to hold the Chancellorship at the University of Cambridge. Upon assumption, he set up a modernized syllabus and teaching system at the university, and introduced new science courses. He also founded the institution which later on became the Imperial College in London, the first British university to be dedicated to scientific research.

As historian Robert Rhodes James wrote, Prince Albert brought about a “spectacular revival of Cambridge University from medieval slumber to a world eminence.”

Patronage of the Arts


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As a keen artist himself and a connoisseur of the arts, Prince Albert saw art and design’s imperative significance on society. Upon being asked to be chairman of the Royal Commission formed to advise the government on rebuilding the Houses of Parliament, Prince Albert personally recruited artists and sculptors to add grandeur and decorative works which are still in the Royal Collection up until this day.

Apart from this, Prince Albert masterminded the Great Exhibition of 1851, which celebrated British industrial, artistic, and technological advancement on the international stage. It proved to be an outright success, and was attended by personalities such as Charles Darwin, Charlotte Bronte, and Lewis Carroll. The profits generated were used to establish educational buildings, including the National History Museum, Science Museum, Imperial College London, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Musical Influence

Prince Albert also had musical influences, as he himself was a composer. He raised the level of the Queen’s musical organization into a string ensemble, and arranged concerts for both private and public entertainment. In 1840, he was appointed as the director of concerts of Ancient Music in London and carefully curated the music for these and for those of the Philharmonic Society, at which the conductors included Schubert, Schumann, and Mendelssohn.

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Army Reform


In the midst of the Crimean War, Prince Albert identified a deeply embedded flaw in the country’s army structure, which prompted him to aid in the country’s military affairs. He led the reorganization of the British army and proposed to set up a provisional training camp. He pleaded passionately to the government for the construction of a permanent base for the military. This was a 3,000-acre tract in Aldershot which became, and remains to this day, as Britain's garrison town. Inside, he built a military library at his own expense. 

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Prince Albert also championed the creation of the Victoria Cross, a medal awarded to anyone from the military who displayed extreme valor in the face of enemy.

Popularizing the Monarchy


During the 1850s, the Prince became increasingly sick before dying of typhoid fever on December 14, 1861. Queen Victoria was left in intense grief and distraught, and wore black in mourning for the rest of her life. In honor of her husband, she established numerous monuments and led the re-examination of his life in order for the public to finally view him as the respectable and honorable figure that he always was. 

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In a letter of Queen Victoria to his uncle, she expressed how Prince Albert himself “raised monarchy to the highest pinnacle of respect, and rendered it popular beyond what it ever was in this country.”

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