Delving into the past with Chris Hallam.

The great love story of Victoria and Albert began in 1836, a year before Victoria became Queen and when both she and the young Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg were both still in their teens. A meeting was engineered between the two at Kensington Palace by their uncle, King Leopold of Belgium, against the wishes of King William IV. At this stage, Victoria liked the handsome young prince, but did not yet feel ready to marry.

When they met again in October 1839, it was soon clear, Victoria’s feelings had changed. “Albert’s beauty is most striking and he is so amiable and unaffected – in short, very fascinating; he is excessively admired here,” the young Queen wrote. Protocol dictated that she, as Queen should be the one to propose and after consulting with her prime minister, Lord Melbourne, she did just that. Victoria and Albert married in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace at noon on 10th February 1840. Around 50,000 spectators lined the rain soaked streets to watch the happy couple’s procession to the venue down the Mall from Buckingham Palace. The bride wore white, forever establishing the popular tradition of white weddings. Brussels lace was in fashion at the time. Victoria ignored this choosing to buy Honiton lace for the material for her wedding dress, providing a massive boost to the local Devon economy in the process.

Victoria was delighted with her new husband. “I do not think it possible for anyone in the world to be happier, or as happy as I am,” she wrote, soon after the wedding. “He is an Angel, and his kindness and affection for me is really touching. To look in those dear eyes, and that dear sunny face, is enough to make me adore him.” Between 1841 until 1857, Victoria and Albert would have nine children together five girls and four boys.

Their marriage was a happy one, despite the fact their personalities were very different. Victoria could be sensitive and emotionally volatile. Albert was more restrained and rational. But he was also in a frustrating and unusual position for a man of his era: although he was highly intelligent and very able he knew he would always play second fiddle to the Queen. Victoria and Albert quarrelled, often very fiercely. But they always made up again afterwards.

In 1861, the couple celebrated their 21st wedding anniversary. An early photograph shows the tall Prince Consort standing next to his seated wife. Victoria had, by now, become a grandmother for the first time following the birth of the future Kaiser Wilhelm II to her oldest daughter, Vicky in 1859. Writing to her uncle Leopold, the Queen expressed deep satisfaction. “Very few can say with me that their husband at the end of twenty-one years is not only full of the friendship, kindness, and affection which a truly happy marriage brings with it, but the same tender love of the very first days of our marriage!” she wrote.

But soon afterwards tragedy struck. In December 1861, Prince Albert died, aged just 42 in the Blue Room at Windsor Castle. At the time, typhoid fever was cited as the chief cause of death. Needless to say, Queen Victoria was devastated.

“My life as a happy one has ended!” she wrote. “The world is gone for me! If I must live on … it is henceforth for my poor fatherless children – for my unhappy country, which has lost all in losing him…I have hoped with such instinctive certainty that God would never part us and would let us grow old together … is too awful! Too cruel!”

There would be no ceremonial lying in state for Prince Albert and no state funeral. The Queen preferred to keep the funeral rituals private. In truth, Victoria took the bereavement process far beyond what would normally be expected of a grieving widow. She would never recover from the shock of Prince Albert’s death.

One of the greatest royal love stories of all time was over.