The Magazine

Albert the Good

Victoria’s consort was as admirable as she thought.

Jun 4, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 36 • By DAVID AIKMAN
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Albert, to use a term that was certainly not in use in his day, was very much the compassionate conservative—a man who felt that the privileged classes of society should do far more than they were doing to improve the living and working conditions of the laboring masses. A sense that the working class had responded with uncynical enthusiasm to Albert’s championship of economic and social reform helped finally to overcome the earlier legacy of suspicion of the imported foreigner. When Albert died, despite his clearly expressed view that no “monuments” should be erected in his memory, city streets, squares, and even lakes, from Africa to Canada and Australia, were named after him.

Albert was a sensible and sensitive father to his and Victoria’s nine children, even maintaining good relations with Bertie, the future Edward VII, after it was widely gossiped that he had been having an affair with an Irish actress whom fellow army officers had introduced at night into his tent. In many ways, Albert’s basic decency and his idealism for making conditions better for everyone finally triumphed over the unhappiness that some Britons had felt over their monarch’s marriage to a minor German prince. Albert’s reforming instincts led to major overhaul of the British Army and a long tussle with the interventionist-minded prime minister Lord Palmerston over the wisdom of British meddling in Europe’s convoluted, and sometimes revolutionary, politics.  

Ultimately, however, Albert’s greatest contribution to his adoptive country may have been, according to the author, “to make of Victoria an admirable and successful monarch.” This was by no means an inevitable achievement. Stewart notes that Victoria, as a young woman and monarch, was “an egotistical, hot-tempered and somewhat bewildered woman.” Albert’s steady hand, quiet philanthropy, and educational diligence at her side helped render her not only the longest-serving British monarch ever, but also, at the time of her diamond jubilee in 1897, the most beloved.

David Aikman is the author, most recently, of The Mirage of Peace: Understanding the Never-Ending Conflict in the Middle East