This week in history: The death of Prince Albert

14 December 2014

By Pan Macmillan

14 December 1861:The death of Prince Albert

The German-born Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Queen Victoria of England, first cousins, married in 1840. The couple and their many children became the model of the Victorian family. The royal marriage was passionate and often tempestuous, with Victoria initially resisting, and then resenting, Albert’s attempts to involve himself in the affairs of state. But they remained devoted to one another. The British public were slower to warm to the Prince, but his energetic promotion of The Great Exhibition in 1851 won many over and in 1857 the Queen gave him the official title Prince Consort.

The only real thorn in their marriage was their errant eldest son, Bertie, the future king Edward VII, whom the Queen looked upon as a half-wit and Albert felt lacked self-discipline. It was after visiting Bertie in Cambridge on a cold rainy day in late November 1861 that Albert caught a chill. He recovered, but was struck down again with severe stomach pains and developed a fever. Deteriorating quickly, he died at Windsor on 14 December 1861. He was 42. Typhoid was given as the official cause of death, though some now speculate that he may have been suffering from Crohn’s Disease, a condition unrecognised at that time. Victoria always blamed Bertie for Albert’s death, and once maintained that she could never look at her son ‘without a shudder.’ A formal period of mourning was expected, but Victoria refused to appear in public for three years, earning her the nickname ‘The Widow of Windsor’. For the remainder of her long reign she only wore black, and the room Albert died in was kept as a permanent shrine to his memory.