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Last Years Of The Prince Consort






Prince Albert








If the Princess Charlotte was the prototype of her cousin Victoria,
Prince Leopold was in some respects the prototype of his beloved nephew
Albert, who was born in August, 1819, at Rosenau, a charming summer
residence of his father, the reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield. The
little Prince's grandmother, the Dowager-Duchess of Saxe-Coburg, in
writing to her daughter, the Duchess of Kent, to announce the happy
event, says: "The little boy is to be christened to-morrow, and to have
the name of Albert."

When the christening came off it appeared that "Albert" was only one and
the simplest of several names, but he was always known and always will be
known by that name. It has been immortalized by his upright character,
his rare intellectual gifts, his goodness and grace; by the affection of
his countrymen and his noble life-work in England; by the genius of
England's greatest living poet, and by the love and sorrow of England's
Queen.

While the Prince was yet a baby, his mother wrote of him: "Albert is
superb,--remarkably beautiful, with large blue eyes, a delicate mouth, a
fine nose, and dimpled cheeks. He is lively and always gay."

Albert was the second son of the Duke and Duchess. Ernest, a year or two
older, is thus described by his mother: "Ernest is very strong and
robust, but not half so pretty as his brother. He is handsome, though;
with black eyes."

Prince Leopold spent some time with his brother at Coburg when Albert was
about two years old, and then began the tender, life-long mutual
affection which led to such happy and important results. The young mother
wrote: "Albert adores his uncle Leopold; never quits him for a moment;
looks sweetly at him; is constantly embracing him; and is never happy
except when near him."

The grandmother also wrote: "Leopold is very kind to the little boys.
Bold Albertinchen drags him constantly about by the hand. The little
fellow is the pendant to the pretty cousin (Princess Victoria); very
handsome, but too slight for a boy; lively, very funny, all good nature,
and full of mischief. The other day he did not know how to make enough of
me, because I took him with me in the carriage. He kept saying, 'Albert
is going with grandmamma!' and gave me his little hand to kiss. 'There,
grandmamma, kiss!'"

The little Princes were not long to enjoy the care and society of their
loving and lovely mother. An unhappy estrangement between their parents,
followed by a separation and a divorce, left them at seven and five years
old half-orphaned; for they never saw their mother again. She died at St.
Wendel, in Switzerland, while still young and beautiful; but doubtless
weary enough of life, which had brought her such happiness, only to take
it away. Two words as holy as her prayers, were on her dying lips--
"Ernest!" "Albert!"

But the boys were rich in grandmothers--having two of the very tenderest
and dearest of Dowager-Duchesses to watch over them (watching each other,
perhaps, the while) and to minister to them for many a year. According to
these venerable ladies, Albert, who was certainly a delicate, nervous
child, was one of those "little angels" who are destined not to survive
the dimpled, golden-curled, lisping, and croupy period; being too good
and sweet and exquisite for this wicked and rough world. But, according
to certain entries in the Prince's own diary--his first, begun in his
sixth year--he at that age happily revealed some hopeful signs of saving
naughtiness and healthful "original sin."

"11th February, 1825.
"I was told to recite something, but did not wish to do so. That was not
right--naughty!"

"20th February.
"I had left all my lesson books lying about in the room, and I had to put
them away; then I cried."

"28th February.
"I cried at my lesson to-day because I could not find a verb, and the
Rath (tutor) pinched me, to show me what a verb was. I cried about it."

"9th April.
"I got up well and happy; afterward I had a fight with my brother."

"10th April.
"I had another fight with my brother; that was not right."

This almost baby-prince seems to have been a valorous little fellow. When
his blood was up he seems to have given little thought to the superior
age or strength of his opponents, but to have been always ready to "pitch
in"; or, to use the more refined and courtly language of his tutor, M.
Florschütz, "he was not, at times, indisposed to resort to force, if his
wishes were not at once complied with."

For several years the young Princes, devoted to each other, passed
studious, yet active and merry lives at the Coburg Palace, and in the
dear country home of Rosenau. They seem to have corresponded with their
cousin Victoria, whom, it seems, the lad Albert was led by his grandmamma
Coburg to regard with an especially romantic and tender interest. That
grandmamma, the mother of Prince Leopold and the Duchess of Kent, and who
seems to have been a very able and noble woman, died when her darling
Albert was about twelve years old; but the hope of her heart did not die
with her, and without doubt Prince Albert was educated with special and
constant reference to a far more important and brilliant destiny than
often falls to the lot of the young sons of even Grand Ducal houses. He
was well instructed in many branches of science, in languages, in music
and literature, in politics, and what seems a contradiction, in ethics,--
his moral development being most carefully watched over, while his
physical training was a pendant to that which made his cousin Victoria
one of the healthiest and hardiest of modern Englishwomen. With a
delicate constitution and a sensitive, nervous temperament, Prince Albert
would scarcely have lived to manhood, except for that admirable physical
training. As a child, he was braced up by much life in the open air,
simple diet, a good deal of rough play--while as to sleep, he was allowed
to help himself, which he did plentifully, being much given to
somnolency. As a lad and youth, he hardened himself by all healthful
manly sports and exercises; in short, made a boy of mamma's "angel," a
man of grandmamma's golden-haired darling. Nor was that great element of
a liberal education, travel, wanting. The brothers paid visits to their
uncle Leopold, now King of Belgium, and after tours in Germany, Austria,
and Holland, visited England, and their aunt Kent and their cousin
Victoria, to whom they were most warmly commended by their uncle.

According to the Queen's books, with this visit of three weeks began the
personal acquaintance of the cousins; yet old Kensingtonians have a
legend which they obstinately cling to, that Prince Albert, when much
younger, spent three years in the old brick palace with his aunt and
cousin, in pursuance of the matrimonial plans of the Duchess of Kent and
Prince Leopold; and I have seen in a quaint old juvenile book a wood-cut
representing the little Victoria in a big hat, riding on a pony in the
park, and little Albert in a visored cap and short jacket running along
at her side. But, of course, it was all a mistake; there was no such
period of childish courtship, and the boy in the queer Dutch cap was an
optical illusion, or a "double," in German a doppel-gänger. During
the real visit, occurred the seventeenth birthday of the Princess, and
there were public rejoicings and Court-festivities, preceded and followed
for the cousins by days of pleasant companionship, in walking and riding,
and evenings of music and dancing. But if the lad Albert, remembering the
promise of his garrulous nurse, and the prophecy of his fond grandmamma,
and the wish of his father and uncle Leopold, sought to read his destiny
in the baffling blue eyes of the gay young girl, he seems to have failed,
for he could only write home: "Our cousin is most amiable." Perhaps
Victoria's own wonderful destiny, now drawing near, left little room in
her heart or thought for lesser romances; perhaps the crown of England
suspended over her head as by a single hair, the frail life of an old
man, outdazzled even the graces and merits of her handsome but rather
immature kinsman. Besides, "Prince Charming" at that time was short and
stout, and he spoke our language too imperfectly to make love (which he
would have pronounced luf) in the future Queen's English; and so
he went away without any exchange of vows, or rings, or locks of fair
hair or miniatures, and returned to his studies, principally at the
University of Bonn. It is true that the Princess wrote to her "dearest
uncle Leopold" soon after this visit, begging him to take special care of
one now so dear to her, adding: "I hope and trust that all will go on
prosperously and well on this subject now of so much importance to me."
Yet King Leopold was a wise man, and did not build too securely on the
fancy of a girl of seventeen, though he kept to work, he and the Baron,
on their Prince-Consort making, in spite of the opposition of old King
William, and all his brothers, and the candidates favored by them.

It was from quaint, quiet old Bonn that Prince Albert wrote, on his
cousin's accession to the throne, his famous letter of congratulation, in
which there appeared not one word of courtier-like adulation--not a
thought calculated to stir the heart of the young girl suddenly raised to
that giddy height overlooking the world, with a thrill of exultation or
vain-gloriousness. Thus wrote this boy-man of eighteen: "Now you are
Queen of the mightiest land of Europe; in your hand lies the happiness of
millions. May Heaven assist you, and strengthen you with its strength in
the high, but difficult task."

After leaving the University Prince Albert traveled in Switzerland and
Italy with Baron Stockmar--everywhere winning the admiration and respect
of the best sort of people by the rare princeliness of his appearance,
his refined taste, his thoughtful and singularly receptive mind. And so
three years went by. They were three years of uncertainty in regard to
the great projects formed for him, of happiness, and a noble and useful,
if subordinate career. King Leopold, the good genius of the two families,
had not suffered his cousin to forget him, but though she declared she
cared for no one else, she was not disposed to enter into any positive
engagement, even with Albert. She enjoyed intensely her proud,
independent position as Queen Regnant. She was having such a glorious
swing at life, and very naturally feared the possible restraints, and the
inevitable subordination of marriage. She was "too young to marry," and
Albert was still younger--full three months. She would remain as she was,
the gay, untrammeled maiden-Queen of England, for at least three or four
years longer, and then think about it. The Prince was made, aware by his
uncle Leopold of his royal cousin's state of feeling, or unfeeling, and
was in a very doubtful and despondent state of mind when, polished by
study and travel, grown tall and graceful, and "ideally beautiful," a
veritable "Prince Charming," he came over the sea, out of fairyland, via
Rotterdam, to seek his fortune--to attempt, at least, to wake the
grandeur-enchanted Princess from her passionless dream of lonely,
loveless sovereignty. He came, was seen, and conquered! But not at once;
ah, no; for this charming royal idyll had its changing strophes, marking
deepening degrees of sentiment--admiration, interest, hope, assurance,
joyous certainty.

The Queen had resolved to receive both the Princes with cousinly
affection and royal honors, but as though they had come on an ordinary
visit. As for Albert, she meant probably to reason with him frankly, till
he should be convinced that they were "ower young to marry yet"--till he
should realize his own exceeding youthfulness. Then, as he must go away,
and "wait a little longer," she would see as much of him as possible--he
was such a good, constant fellow. But she must give due attention to her
other guests; and then the State had some claim on her time. But when the
Coburg Princes arrived at Windsor, and the Queen, with her mother, met
them at the head of the grand staircase, somehow she had only eyes for
the younger brother; he had grown so manly, so tall, quite out of the old
objectionable stoutness; he had so improved in his English; he was so
handsome--so every way presentable! So, in spite of the gaieties and
forms, and the comings and goings of Windsor, so very much did the royal
maiden, hitherto so gay and "fancy-free" see of her cousin Albert
preparatory to bidding him an indefinite adieu, that on the second day
even, cause for jealousy was given to aspiring courtiers by smiles and
words, especially sweet and gracious, bestowed on the fair Saxon Knight.
On that second day the Queen wrote to her uncle Leopold: "Albert's beauty
is most striking, and he is most amiable and unaffected; in short, very
fascinating." She then added, with an exquisite touch of maiden coyness:
"The young men are both amiable, delightful companions, and I am
glad to have them here."

When a few more days had passed in familiar intercourse, in singing and
walking, in dancing and driving, and best of all, in riding together
(for there is no cradle to rock young Love in like the saddle), the poor
little Queen forsworn, found she had no longer the courage to propose to
that proud young Prince to wait indefinitely on her will--to tarry at
Coburg for more wisdom and beard. At the thought of it she seemed to see
something of noble scorn about his lips, and such grave remonstrance in
his gentle, pensive, forget-me-not eyes, that--the words of parting were
never spoken, or not till after many happy years.

Alas for this fairy-Prince in an unfairylike kingdom! He could only
declare his love, and sound the heart of his beloved, with his eyes.
Etiquette put a leaden seal on his lips till from hers should come the
sweet avowal and the momentous proffer to rule the ruler--to assume
love's sovereignty over the Sovereign. After five days of troubled yet
joyous waiting, it came--the happy "climax," as the Prince called it in a
letter to Baron Stockmar--and then that perfectest flower of human life,
whether in palace or cottage, a pure and noble love, burst into full and
glorious bloom in each young heart. One cannot, even now, read without a
genuine heart-thrill, and a mistiness about the eyes, the simple touching
story of that royal romance of royal old Windsor. More than two-score
years have passed, and yet how fresh it seems! It has the dew and the
bloom of Paradise upon it.

What in all this story seems to me most beautiful and touching, because
so exquisitely womanly, is the meekness of the young Queen. Though as
Queen she offered the Prince her coveted hand--that hand that had held
the sceptre of sceptres, and which Princes and Peers and the
representatives of the highest powers on earth, had kissed in homage, it
was only as a poor little woman's weak hand, which needed to be upheld
and guided in good works, by a stronger, firmer hand; and her head, when
she laid it on her chosen husband's shoulder, had not the feel of the
crown on it. Indeed, she seems to have felt that his love was her real
coronation, his faith her consecration.

To the beloved Stockmar, to whom but a little while before she had
communicated her unalterable determination not to marry any one for ever
so long the newly betrothed wrote: "I do feel so guilty I know not how to
begin my letter; but I think the news it will contain will be sufficient
to ensure your forgiveness. Albert has completely won my heart, and all
was settled between us this morning. I feel certain he will make me
happy. I wish I could feel as certain of my making him happy, but I will
do my best."

Among the entries in the Queen's journal are many like this: "How I will
strive to make Albert feel as little as possible the great sacrifice he
has made. I told him it was a great sacrifice on his part, but he
would not allow it."

Of course the Prince had too much manly feeling and practical good sense
to "allow it." He knew he was the most envied, not only of all poor
German Princes about that time, but of all young scions of royalty the
world over; and besides, he loved his cousin. There is no record or
legend or hint of his having ever loved any other woman, except his good
grandmothers. To her of Gotha he wrote: "The Queen sent for me alone to
her room the other day, and declared to me in a genuine outburst of
affection that I had gained her whole heart, and would make her intensely
happy if I would make her the sacrifice of sharing her life with her, for
she said she looked on it as a sacrifice; the only thing which troubled
her was that she did not think she was worthy of me. The joyous openness
with which she told me this enchanted me, and I was quite carried away by
it."

Still, and always the thought of "sacrifice!" This sentiment of tender
humility, of deference and reverence the Queen never lost. Indeed, it
seems to have grown with years, and as the character of the Prince-
Consort unfolded more and more in beauty, strength, dignity, and
uprightness.

A month was passed by the lovers, in such happiness as comes but once in
life to the most fortunate human beings--to some, alas! never. Then the
Prince returned to Coburg, to settle his affairs and to take leave of his
old home and his kindred. Those partings seem to have pulled hard on his
heart-strings, and are distressing to read about. One would think he was
bound for the "under-world," to wed the Queen of Madagascar. These
Germans are such passionate lovers of the fatherland, that one wonders
how they can ever bring themselves to leave it, to make grand marriages
in England, or fortunes in America, to start a royal house, or a
kindergarten--to become a Field Marshal or a United States Senator.

But all that grief at Coburg and Gotha showed how dearly Prince Albert
was loved, and how he loved.

It seems that the fair cousin at Windsor was scarcely gay, for the
Prince, writing to her mother, says: "What you say of my poor little
bride, sitting all alone in her room, silent and sad, has touched my
heart. Oh, that I might fly to her side to cheer her!"

But she could not have much indulged in this solitary, idle brooding, for
she had work to do, and must be up and doing. First, she had to summon a
Privy Council, which met at Buckingham Palace;--more than eighty Peers,
mostly solemn old fellows, who had outlived their days of romantic
sentiment, if they ever had any, yet to whom the Queen had to declare her
love for her cousin Albert, and her intention to marry him, being
convinced, she said, that this union would "secure her domestic felicity,
and serve the interests of her country." It was a little hard, yet a
certain bracelet, containing a certain miniature, which she wore on her
arm, gave her "courage," she said. Then came a yet more trying ordeal,
for a modest young lady--the announcement of her intended marriage, in a
speech from the throne, in the House of Lords. With the utmost dignity
and calmness, and with a happiness which sparkled in her eyes and glowed
in her blushes, and made strangely beautiful her young face, she read the
announcement in the clear, musical tones so peculiar to her, and with an,
almost religious solemnity. The glory of pure maidenly trust and devotion
resting on her head, outshone the jewels of her tiara; Love was enthroned
at her side.

All was not sunshine, rose-bloom and soft airs before the young German
husband of the Queen. Much doubt and jealousy and some unfriendliness
were waiting for him in high places. The disappointed Tory party, and
some Radicals, opposed hotly the proposed grant for the Prince of
£50,000, and at last cut it down to £30,000.

Then came a discussion over a clause in the Bill for the Naturalization
of the Prince, empowering the husband of the Queen to take precedence
over even the Royal Princes, and to be ever at her side, where he
belonged, which, though finally assented to by these most interested in
England--the Dukes of Sussex and Cambridge--was stoutly opposed by their
elder brother, the Duke of Cumberland, for Heaven and Hanover had not
relieved the English Government of "the bogie." In support of his rights,
Wellington and Brougham stood out, and the clause was dropped. But the
Queen, by the exercise of her prerogative, gave the Prince the title of
Royal Highness, and made him a Field Marshal in the British army; and
about a month later, she settled the precedence question, as far as
concerned England, by proclaiming that by her royal will and pleasure her
husband should "enjoy place, pre-eminence and precedence, next to Her
Majesty."

The amiable Prince is said never to have cherished resentment towards Sir
Robert Peel and others who had voted to cut down his allowance, or the
Duke of Wellington, and Lord Brougham, who had argued that those tiresome
old gentlemen, the Royal Dukes, should have the right to walk and sit
next to his wife on State occasions; but Victoria confesses that
she long felt "most indignant." She was hurt not only in her wifely love,
but in her queenly pride.

Greville says of Kings: "The contrast between their apparent authority
and the contradictions which they practically meet with, must be
peculiarly galling--more especially to men whose minds are seldom
regulated by the beneficial discipline of education, and early collision
with their equals." It must be yet more "galling" for Queens, because
they always have been more flattered, and are imaginative enough to fancy
that in grasping the symbols they hold the power.

But I do not believe that the royal lovers took deeply to heart these
disagreeable matters at this time. I hope they didn't mourn much over the
£20,000 they didn't get. I hope that Love lifted them far above the murky
air of party strife and petty jealousy into a clear, serene atmosphere of
its own. They knew--and it was a great thing to know--that they had the
sympathy of all the true hearts of the realm, whether beating under the
"purple and fine linen" of the rich and noble, or the rough and simple
garments of the poor and humble.

On the 10th of February, 1840, Prince Albert, always tenderly thoughtful
of the dear old Dowager of Saxe-Gotha, his "liebe grosmama" who,
when he had parted from her last, had stood at her window, weeping,
stretching out her arms and so desolately calling after him, "Albert!
Albert!" sat down and wrote as no beautifulest Prince of poetry or
romance ever wrote to a feeble, old female relative on his wedding-day:

"DEAR GRANDMAMMA: In less than three hours, I shall stand at the altar,
with my dear bride. In these solemn moments, I must once more ask your
blessing, which I am well assured I shall receive, and which will be my
safeguard and future joy. I must end. God be my stay!

"Your faithful

"ALBERT."

This letter may seem a little too solemn and ill-assured, but it shows in
what a serious and devout spirit this young Prince, not yet of age,
entered on that auspicious and splendid union, whose wedding-bells rang
round the world. Moreover, the young man's position was a rather trying
one. As yet, he was little known in England, while it was well known that
the Royal Family had been from the first opposed to his marriage with
Victoria. Though the land of the Teutons had so long been the nursery of
English Kings and Queens, the English common people were jealous of
Teutonic Princes--regarding them for the most part as needy adventurers,
for whom England was only the great milch-cow of Germany. Prince Albert
had a host of prejudices to live down; and he did live down most of them,
but some have died hard over his grave.

The Queen's wedding was second only to the coronation, as a grand and
beautiful pageant for the privileged few who could witness it, for of
course the old Royal Chapel of St. James was a much narrower stage for
the great scene than the Abbey. Still, royalty and nobility turned out in
force, and all the greatest of the great were there. The sombre chapel
was made to look very gay and gorgeous with hangings and decorations;
even before the ladies in rich dresses and with all their costliest
jewels on, and the gentlemen in brilliant uniforms and Court-costumes
arrived. The bridegroom, when he walked up the aisle, between his father
and his brother, bowing affably right and left, drew forth murmurs of
admiration by his rare beauty and grace--princeliest of Princes.

The Queen is described as looking unusually pale, but very lovely, in a
magnificent robe of lace over white satin trimmed with orange blossoms,
and with a most exquisite Honiton veil. In the midst of her twelve
bridesmaids, her face radiant with happiness, she seemed like the whitest
of diamonds set in pearls--or so they say.

Her Majesty is also described as bearing herself with great dignity and
composure, and to have gone through the service very solemnly. And yet I
have heard a little story that runs thus: When Prince Albert, in this
last act of "Le Jeune Homme Pauvre" came to repeat, as he placed
the ring on her finger, the words, "With all my worldly goods I thee
endow," the merry girl-Queen was unable to suppress an arch smile.

The Duchess of Kent is described as looking "tearful and distressed." Ah,
why will mothers always cry at their daughters' weddings, even when they
have hoped and schemed for that very match; and why will brides, though
ever so much in love, weep, first or last, on the wedding morning? Lady
Lyttleton, in her correspondence, said of the Queen--"Her eyes were
swollen with tears; but," she adds, "there was great happiness in her
countenance, and her look of confidence and comfort at the Prince, when
they walked away, as man and wife, was very pleasant to see."

Ah, "when they walked away as man and wife"--now simply and for always to
each other, "Albert" and "Victoria," the separate life of our "Prince
Charming" closed. Thenceforth, the two bright life-streams seemed to flow
on together, completely merged, indistinguishable, indivisible, but only
seemed--for, alas, one has reached the great ocean before the
other.





Next: The First Months Of Marriage

Previous: Pictures And Descriptions Of The Queen And Her Love Of Pets-



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