Victoria and Albert: a marriage of misery?

Queen Victoria married her husband of 21 years, Prince Albert, on 10 February 1840 in St James’s Palace chapel, in what was the first marriage of a reigning queen of England since Mary I in 1554. To the outside world, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were the golden couple, exemplars of traditional family values. Yet, as Jane Ridley reveals, behind the romanticised veneer, Albert's thirst for power was putting the marriage under intense pressure…

A portrait of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with five of their nine children, by Frederick Winterhalter. (Photo by © Historical Picture Archive/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

After the sudden and tragic death of Prince Albert in 1861, the grief-stricken Queen Victoria dedicated herself to memorialising her marriage as a perfect union. She herself composed large parts of the first biography, The Early Years of the Prince Consort (1867). At Frogmore, the royal burial ground at Windsor, she built a mausoleum and commissioned the sculptor Marochetti to create effigies of herself and the prince lying side-by-side – though it would be another 40 years before she would take her place beside her beloved Albert. Thanks, in part, to the queen’s efforts, her marriage to Albert, prince of the German duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, came to be seen as one of the great love matches of all time, celebrated (with varying degrees of accuracy) in films such as The Young Victoria and, more recently, the ITV drama Victoria. 

As Queen Victoria’s journal shows, from the moment she saw the prince arriving at the foot of the staircase at Windsor in 1839, she was smitten. Five days later she summoned him to her blue closet and proposed to him. But the marriage was not the romantic happy-ever-after story that Victoria constructed. It was far more complex than that.

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