An excellent life of Queen Victoria’s beloved husband, Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1819-1861), who turned the powerless office of Prince Consort into a major force for good.
Most historians have given Albert high marks. Prolific novelist and biographer Wilson (Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker, 2017, etc.) makes a convincing case that he exerted a major influence on the modernizing of Britain’s society and restoring of the crown’s prestige. Victoria’s mother was sister to Albert’s father; both were aristocrats from principalities that supplied spouses to the British royal family for more than a century, and Albert was the leader in a thin field of eligible royal males. Historians continue to express wonder at the passionate love Victoria felt after a formal visit in 1839, a love that never diminished during two decades of marriage. Although Britain’s royal dynasty descended from the German, George I, who arrived in 1714, foreigners were unpopular. The press did not celebrate the marriage, and Parliament voted to reduce his annuity and opposed his ennoblement. Despite her love, Victoria was not inclined to give up her considerable, if mostly ceremonial, power. Overcoming his frustration, Albert skillfully reorganized the royal household and impressed Britain’s leaders with his good sense. Helped by Victoria’s preoccupation with nine pregnancies, he shared her responsibilities and increased the monarchy’s influence by emphasizing its lack of partisanship (the young Victoria hated the Tories). Liberal by upper-class standards, he enthusiastically supported the technological, political, and commercial views of the rising middle class, which transformed Victorian Britain into “the most prosperous and peaceful country in modern Europe—arguably the richest country in history.” Everyone cheered his central role in organizing the Great Exhibition of 1851, and by the time of his premature death, he was an almost universally admired figure. As usual, Wilson delineates his subject’s life with aplomb.
A delightfully vivid, opinionated biography that pays almost equal attention to Albert’s wife and a colorful supporting cast of early Victorian notables.