"Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real."

Cormac McCarthy

Last updated 4 October  2019  © Julia Edwards

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Prince Albert, photographed by Camille Silvy.

(1819-1861)

Queen Victoria's husband was Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. I've included him here because although he is most famous for being married to Queen Victoria, he was an interesting and influential man in his own right.

Albert was one of Victoria's German cousins  - her mother (also German) was the sister of Albert's father. Already when Victoria and Albert were just two years old, their grandmother wrote a letter suggesting that they might one day marry. By the time they were seventeen, their uncle had arranged a formal introduction.

Being married to the queen put Albert in a tricky position at the start. For one thing, Victoria had to propose to him because nobody was permitted to propose to the monarch, even though a woman would never usually propose marriage to a man at that time. Even after they were married, he found that although he was equal to the queen in terms of their relationship, she was naturally the head of the household, which was unheard of for a woman and made Albert feel awkward.

Over time, however, he built up his influence, successfully managing and improving the royal finances, and taking on public roles where his endeavours would be recognised in their own right. He campaigned to put an end to slavery where it still existed in America (having been outlawed in the British Empire in 1833). He opposed child labour and encouraged free trade. And as Chancellor of Cambridge University, he reformed the university's teaching to include modern history and natural sciences.

One of Prince Albert's most famous achievements was the Great Exhibition of 1851, known by its full name as the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations. This was an international exhibition to celebrate industrial design and technology. It lasted almost six months, and took place in an immense glass building, three times the size of St. Paul's Cathedral, designed by Joseph Paxton and built in Hyde Park in London.

There were 13,000 exhibits from countries all over the world, including displays of diamonds and other treasures, all sorts of machines, such as an envelope machine, a reaping machine, and a vote-counting machine, and new inventions that are now very familiar to us, including cameras and revolvers. Prince Albert was one of the main organisers, but he had to fight for every stage in the project. Despite opposition, the Great Exhibition was enormously successful, and the profit it made was used to build the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, all of which reflect Albert's personal interests and endeavours.

The Crystal Palace, after it had been moved from Hyde Park to Sydenham after  the exhibition finished. The move cost almost ten times as much as building it in the first place. It burned down in 1936, but its memory lives on in the Crystal Palace football team, named for where it stood until the fire.