I am a big fan of Queen Victoria, and I read everything I can about her reign. She will appear frequently in this blog, I think.
One thing I always was puzzled about was the bad reception Prince Albert had in the United Kingdom at the time of their marriage. Granted, he was a foreigner… but the German nobility was so large at the time that it would be extremely difficult, I think, to find a suitable candidate who didn’t have German ancestry. Queen Victoria herself was genetically German, up to all her great-great-grandparents, and for four generations, the British throne had been held by a German-origined dinasty.
There was a popular mocking rhyme at the time:
He comes the bridegroom of Victoria’s choice
The nominee of Lehzen’s voice; (1)
He comes to take ‘for better or for worse’
England’s fat Queen and England’s fatter purse. (2)
A bit mean, right?! The power of this bad opinion about Prince Albert’s financial matters was so great that Parliament refused to grant him the same £50.000/year that had been granted to Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (3), who had married Charlotte (4), Princess of Wales, some 20 years before. Albert only got £30.000, which aggravated him extremely.
But after finding this picture… some light begins to dawn!
This is Schloss Rosenau, the seat of Albert’s family, in Thuringia, Germany. He was born here in 1819 (this picture was taken in 1900). Now, calling this a schloss is very eulogizing, because this is really quite a biggish cottage. Look in Wikicommons for images of schlosses and you will see fairy-tale buildings, on top of imposing hills… not a modest house in the middle of a pretty garden. Compare this also to Britain’s nobility’s great seats… it’s quite possible he may have been perceived as a minor princeling intent on a financially advantageous marriage.
But actually this is interesting, because it may explain why Prince Albert had such a distaste for the large palaces in England where he had to live. He hated Buckingham Palace, which had been Victoria’s favourite palace before her marriage. He preferred Windsor Castle, but he insisted in building the more secluded Osborne House, in the Isle of Wight, and Balmoral Castle, in Scotland. These two were also rather smallish residences compared to the former, and their attendants used to moan about the inconvenience of these houses: far away from London, small, cold, and the general opinion at their building was also that they were hideous (though this opinion tends to disappear as the Victorian taste grows stronger as the century progresses).
Victoria herself was enchanted when visiting Rosenau for the first time. Quite curiously, she wrote: ‘If I was not who I am, this would have been my real home, but I shall always consider it my second one.’ (2)
So the need for seclusion, for the living of a private life, which is one of the new domestic paradigms brought by the Victorian Age, maybe was born too here in this Schloss Rosenau.
(1) Baroness Lehzen had been the governess of Victoria, and enjoyed her outmost trust, being at the time one of the most important persons in the Household. She too was a polemical figure due to her percepted influence on the Queen.
(2) Quoted in Hibbert, Christopher, Queen Victoria – A Personal History, Harper Collins, 2001, ISBN 0-00-638843-4. A very good book!
(3) Leopold was later Leopold I, King of the Belgians. He was an uncle to both Victoria and Albert.
(4) Charlotte had been an heir-presumptive to the crown, so Leopold could have been Prince Consort if she had lived. She died very tragically in labour, and this event led to ultimately Victoria becoming Queen.