An obsessive letter writer and journal keeper her entire life, 20-year-old Queen Victoria put pen to paper to describe her first evening of married life, after the lavish ceremony and public celebration: "I never ever spent such an evening!! My dearest dearest dear Albert sat on a footstool by my side, and his excessive love and affection gave me feelings of heavenly love and happiness I never could have hoped to have felt before! He clasped me in his arms and we kissed each other again and again! His beauty, his sweetness and gentleness — really how can I ever be thankful enough for such a husband."
This was a woman in love.
Victoria's succession to the throne and marriage to Prince Albert is the focus of the , premiering this Sunday. Starring Jenna Coleman as the young Queen and Tom Hughes as Albert, the series was a ratings hit in the UK last year and is poised for success in America, following the blockbuster Netflix series , about another young royal in love.
While focused on the marital problems faced in the years after their wedding, the obstacles to Victoria and Albert's relationship came in the years before their grand public ceremony. The young queen was reluctant to marry anyone — including Albert.
A couple devoted to each other, parents to nine children, an inspiration to the world — was there ever a serious possibility that this marriage would not take place? The answer is yes.
For one thing, the precedents were not good. We see the Victorian Age from our 21st century vantage point. But the Hanovers, the German family brought in to rule England in 1714, were not standout spouses. George I, who spoke no English, had a miserable marriage to Sophia Dorothea. Following years of his infidelity and abuse, she took a lover. George had the lover thrown into a river, weighted with stones, and imprisoned Sophia Dorothea for 30 years. Up next in the marital sweepstakes, George II was a trying, unfaithful husband with a ghastly temper. Their grandson, George III, was determined to be a good husband to his queen, and they had 15 children before he went insane. That put a damper on the happiness.
The Hanover marriage that went wrong most spectacularly was that of their oldest son, the Prince Regent, later George IV. After meeting his bride, Prince Caroline of Brunswick, when she arrived in England for this arranged marriage, he turned to a servant and said, "Harris, I am not well; pray get me a glass of brandy." As for Caroline, she was underwhelmed too. No one had told her the truth — her prince charming was actually obese, debt-ridden, perpetually drunk and ruled by a nasty mistress.
The couple managed to have a daughter, Charlotte, but they detested each other. It was the tragic death years later of Princess Charlotte that created a bizarre scenario leading directly to Victoria's birth. When Charlotte died, there was no other heir to the throne. George III's sons had many children with their mistresses but few had married royals; if they had, no children existed. And so a group of overweight, middle-aged men made a dash for the finish line: the winner would have produced a legitimate heir to England's throne.
Motivated by his debts, Edward, the Duke of Kent, fourth son of George III, sent away his French mistress of many years and married a German princess, who gave birth to Victoria. Edward died when his daughter was one year old, and she had a lonely, stressful childhood, smothered by her mother and resented by her heirless uncle, King William IV.
When William died and Victoria became queen of England at age 18, she found herself enjoying her power, delighting in late-night balls and long talks with her worldly prime minister, Lord Melbourne. It was Victoria's uncle (and widower of Princess Charlotte), King Leopold, who kept reminding her of her young cousin Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. He would make an excellent husband. Victoria, who'd met Albert and felt indifference, pushed back against Leopold and anyone else counseling marriage. She found the subject "odious." Albert was not even invited to her coronation.
As for Albert, he too had survived a sad childhood. His father was a chronic womanizer who, like George I, went berserk when his wife dared to take a lover as well. Albert's mother, the kind and lovely Duchess Louise, was sent away when the boy prince was five. She had to disguise herself as a farmwoman to observe her son from afar.
Growing up, the studious and artistic Albert accepted the fact that marrying Victoria would be a magnificent destiny. The Duchy of Coburg was 200 square miles, with some 41,000 people. But he found Victoria's indifference and wish to postpone talk of marriage humiliating. If after a few more years Victoria decided not to marry him, he wrote to his uncle "it would place me in a very ridiculous position and would, to a certain extent, ruin all the prospects of my future life."
Uncle Leopold counseled Albert to be patient and continued putting quiet pressure on Victoria. He suggested that Albert visit England with his brother. He hadn't been there in two years, after all. Victoria grumpily agreed.
So what turned this into the love story of the 19th century?
The day she saw Albert again, Victoria, a smidgeon over five feet tall, stood high on a staircase in Windsor Castle to receive her German cousin, determined to look as regal as possible. Albert approached, and she took in his appearance: His eyes were "beautiful" blue, his features "perfect." He had a "delicate" blond moustache. Broad shouldered, Albert was five foot ten, with a narrow waist. He set her heart "quite going."
Victoria swooned. She was infatuated.
It was Victoria who proposed marriage just five days later, and on February 10, 1840, in the Chapel Royal of St. James Palace, they were married. She wore a white lace wedding dress, one of the first women to do so, setting off a tremendous craze for lace and white weddings. On her head rested a wreath of orange blossoms and myrtle. The wedding guests noticed the orange blossoms vibrating as Victoria trembled with nerves at the altar.
But her voice, as she said the vows binding her to Prince Albert, was clear. She had got what she wanted after all.