February 10 – V & A Day

Posted on February 10, 2016

When one of my daughters was staying in London for the summer, she told me that she wanted to take me to the V & A Museum. “The Viennay?” I asked. “I've never heard of that. What sort of museum is it?”

At that point, I spotted the logo in a brochure she was handing me:

Oh! The V and A! Victoria and Albert!”

I loved the museum, a lot. But today isn't really about the V & A Museum. Instead, it's about the couple themselves.

On this date in 1840, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India, married her first cousin. He was Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. He was born in what is now Germany. When he married Queen Victoria, he did not become king; instead, he became Prince Consort. It's sort of like being the First Lady, the wife of the U.S. President; being a Prince Consort doesn't necessarily mean you have any power or even particular duties, but you generally can exert a lot of influence, organize or champion programs, and work on issues that are important to you.

Victoria and Albert were a good pair. The Queen depended more and more on Albert's advice; he took on responsibilities in running the household, their many estates, and the office; and he supported causes such as the worldwide abolition of slavery and education reform.

The two had nine children, all of whom lived to be adults, and several of whom had very long lives. The oldest son eventually became King of England, Edward VII; the oldest daughter became German Empress and Queen of Prussia.

Victoria and Albert had 42 grandchildren! Four of them became reigning monarchs, and five of them were consorts of monarchs. Back then, it was really common for royal and noble families across Europe to arrange marriages among their children, to keep the power “all in the family” and to try to keep the peace among nations and empires through intermarriage and familial relationships. Sometimes Victoria is called “the grandmother of Europe.”

Unfortunately, Albert died too soon, at age 42. Victoria was so grief-stricken, she mourned him the rest of her life – she even wore black for the rest of her life – 40 more years! Albert's rooms were kept as they had been during his life – dusted and cleaned, and even hot water brought every morning and linens and towels changed every day! And we are talking about his rooms in all four of their homes: Buckingham Palace, Balmoral Castle, Osborne House, and Windsor Castle! (Apparently, this sort of thing was done back then among very rich people, so this isn't as freaky as it sounds.)

The Victoria era was a time of huge changes – England gradually became a modern constitutional monarchy, the modern idea of Christmas as a time of gift-giving largely developed, ideas of universal education and literacy grew and spread, developments in printing technologies made visual art and literature available even to the masses.

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