Queen Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert has become one of the British monarchy’s most well-known unions. It has been the subject of countless dramas, novels and gained a reputation as one of the most famous and hotly debated romances of the 19th century. However, the German prince could not simply survive by just winning his wife’s heart. Albert’s biggest challenge was winning over a reluctant public and less then welcoming nobility and parliament. Determined to establish himself in the foreign nation he found himself in Albert rose to the challenge, winning both personal favour and arguably instigating many aspects of British culture, sciences and innovation that elevated him beyond simply the husband of Victoria.

Albert never sought out to have the powers of a king, that was an impossibility from the very beginning. In the eyes of her uncle (William IV) and many others better matches existed for Victoria. But the ever-defiant queen had made her favour clear. Before the engagement Albert was educated by Victoria and other nobility on the role he would play in England. This was a two-year long process to assure that the understanding was well and truly understood and to assuage the concerns of parliament and the nobility. Considering these limitations and expectations Albert had to be careful in winning acceptance, if he stepped beyond his limits or fought the choice to hard, he’d worsen his reputation and thereby the monarchy’s image itself.  Albert’s initial steps to better his image where subtle, matters that where only visible to those within the royal household and governing system. When Victoria fell pregnant (2 months into their marriage) he began helping her with government paperwork and conversing on privately with her on political matters. Thereby inserting himself in political influence without being directly challenging to the system that was cautious of him. Furthermore in 1941 Albert was appointed chairman of ‘The Royal commission’ which allowed him greater political and social powers. His first action was to take charge of the decorating of the palace of Westminster. This allowed him to develop a reputation as a supporter and promoter of the arts. He acquired sculptures and paintings from Germany, Italy and England for Westminster. All of which he took great personal care to assess. This lead to many painters gaining more notoriety in England as well as having an influence on the styles and artistic movements of the era. One such example of this can be seen in the works of William Dyce’s collected. These paintings depicted scenes from the Arthurian legends. Indecently this lined up with the revival of popular interest in British folklore and classical stories. A flowering of patriotism based on finding pride and values from the past. This eye for art and decorating extended beyond this endeavour. Over his life Albert sought out artworks and privately commissioned work for the royal households. Featuring the modern artists and the current trends, highlighting what they had to offer in addition to sparking a revival of classical art. Particularly the works of renaissance painters such as Raphael. Many of these collected portraits are now kept in the National gallery.

“I am very happy and contented; but the difficulty in filling my place with the proper dignity is that I am only the husband, not the master in the house.”

These actions won Albert favour within the royal household and their network, but only tenderly touched upon the public. However, this was the perfect way to access the public’s eye and endear himself to them. He could change his image as a German royal to a faithful member of the British identity by making his identity as a patron of arts and industry further reaching, focusing on British figures and industries. He and Victoria continued being patrons of art and design, particularly in arts they specially commissioned for one another as tokens of love and presents they gave to politicians. Artists such as John Everett Millais was one such artist (A former member of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood) regularly sought out by the royal commission. It should also be considered that the new wave of painting and sculpture embraced the human form, echoing classical artwork. In contrast to the image we have of the Victorian’s as prudes, Albert purchased several nudes from William Frost and was thus seen as encouraging this revival of artistic freedom. Furthermore, Albert and Victoria where seen as progressive and just for their treatment of the artists they commissioned. Many eventually being given an annual salary rather than a sum by commission.

Albert also took an interest in the domestic lives of the people, involving himself in the social reforms of the era. He had become close to the at the time Prime Minister, Robert Peel and thereby was able to have a more constructive understanding of the social issues and just what was a reasonable way to tackle them. He was not a passive monarch who made his observations and resolutions without proper knowledge, he educated himself with studies and data collected by various offices and surveys. He became president of ‘The Society for Improving the Condition of the Labour Classes’. The elevation to this position itself shows a shift in his perception in the high society, the German king had won himself credibility to have sway in British domestic issues. A notion that would be unthinkable just a decade before. In this position he invested time in promoting regular visitations to factories to assess their treatment of workers and facilities. Furthermore, he had a voice in the debates around child labour laws, repealing grain tariffs, Free trade and wages. Making his ambition of better living conditions for the people was made a clearer reality in 1851. Henry Roberts was employed to design prototypes of cottages to house the working class, accommodating better conditions. They would be able to house for families in an apartment style structure, easing the struggle of cramped housing and aimed to be damp resistant and better insulated. The latter of the two being believed to improve the people’s health in turn. First displayed at The Great Exhibition then relocated to Kennington park (1852) for public viewing. The cottages attracted 250,000 visitors and boasted pamphlets explaining further plans to expand the properties. These cottages became a public success. Unfortunately, they did not enjoy commercial success. Even considering the abolition of the brick tax and the possibility of the cost of building offering a substantial overturn. Developers simply did not want to use the design claiming I was uncommercial. It’s not difficult to imagine that this could have been part of the Victorian social stigma. The enduring belief of many that the poor where unmotivated or unwilling to escape their current living conditions. Many believed that any extra income that the lower classes had would be spent on drink, gambling or other frowned upon things. They had little faith in the poor as tenants or even people of moral standing.

An example of Prince Albert’s model cottages.

All of these factors unite in the pinnacle of his achievements; The Great Exhibition of 1951. The event was overwhelmingly ambitious, seeking to unite the best of British art, industry and Imperial gains in one grand event. On the heels of an exhibition in France in 1844 the British establishment was keen to go bigger and bolder than their European neighbours. Albert was particularly proud of Britain’s performance in industry, he and notable members of “The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce” planned the even as a self-funded display of the very best that the country was achieving and could further achieve. But the exhibition itself was not what cemented Albert’s reputation as being allied with British innovation. His commitment to education and preservation did not begin and end at the exhibition, the legacy endured in the following establishment of the museums that replaced it. Profits made from The Great Exhibition wen towards the purchase of land and collections for the museums, the Victoria and Albert museum being the first with the early premise of the Science museum (Known as the museum of machinery and design). Other museums were added in tribute after his death, proving the area had seized its reputation as a cultural staple in London.

Albert’s slow burning rise in popularity can be defined in 1857, when he finally received his title of ‘Prince consort’. Prior to this he’d been referred to as ‘prince’. This is more significant then a passing glance may lead us to believe. Firstly, he is the first and only husband of a British queen to receive this title.  The husbands of past queen’s where referred to as Dukes or the title that came from their home country. Even Queen Elizabeth’s husband is officially ‘Prince’ and not ‘Prince Consort’. The title itself being bestowed on Albert was proof that the government that once doubted him had embraced him enough to bestow him this title. This was the highest rank that he could hold in terms of British monarchy without outranking Victoria. Albert’s influence in parliament was indisputable by now, he regularly made speeches regarding social issues and was unafraid to challenge MPs  directly. A Clerk, Charles Greville, once noted that Albert was “King to all intents and purposes.” Meanwhile among the general public Albert’s popularity was never to a great level. More accurately it could be described as having spikes over the years. Such as during the Great Exhibition, public appearances and visible social movements such as the fight for working conditions. The royals recognised this and therefore made themselves more active public figures, showing their lives to the population on a stage unlike any monarch before them. These events yielded large crowds and extensive coverage in newspapers and magazines. They also capitalised on merchandise such as crockery and endorsing companies that produced wares on a national scale. From this Albert endeared himself to many people, though could not claim to have taken everyone’s hearts. He had achieved a healthy sustainability and acceptance.

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