Philip Mansel

A prince among men: could Albert have changed the course of history?

A.N. Wilson, following in the footsteps of Victoria herself, is a great fan of the Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha

Double identities have never been rare: Norman French conquered England. Anglo Irish led its armies to victory. German Jews helped create the modern world. Perhaps thinking of the many Germans living in London, and British in Hamburg, Munich and Dresden, Prince Albert’s eldest daughter Vicky, Crown Princess of Prussia, invented another hybrid: ‘Anglo-Germans’. This new biography of her adored father, Albert: The Man who Saved the Monarchy is, appropriately, an Anglo-German book, written from both English and German sources and perspectives, by an English author who knows Germany well.

Coburg in the heart of Germany, where Prince Albert was born in 1819, influenced him as much as England and Scotland, where he lived from his marriage to his first cousin Queen Victoria in 1840 until his early death at Windsor in 1861. Coburg was a prosperous duchy of 217 (later, with Gotha, 763) square miles, with great collections and schools (Prince Albert received an excellent education), and an army strong enough to compel a Hanoverian force to surrender in the war of 1866. In England and Scotland, Prince Albert often thought of Coburg. In one of the many unpublished letters A.N. Wilson has found in the Royal Archives, Prince Albert wrote to Vicky, also torn between two homelands, of his ‘painful yearning’ for Germany and a ‘sort of Dualism’, a ‘painful struggle, I might almost say spasm of the soul’ between his past and present selves.

Prince Albert never fully accepted Queen Victoria’s passionate intensity. ‘Deine weibchen, deine schlawin who loves you so indescribably much,’ as she called herself, could snap and scream at him. ‘Marital hell’ alternated with domestic bliss. She was not mad, but maddening. For his part her ‘angel’, her ‘master’, as she often called Prince Albert, was controlling and humourless. He would beg her to ‘regain control of yourself’, or reprimand her: ‘You have again lost your self control quite unnecessarily.’

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