“Uncrowned King, The Life of Prince Albert” by Stanley Weintraub, The Free Press, $27.50, 478 pages.
Prince Albert was a fascinating character — a man who had to stand in the background behind his wife, Queen Victoria, in an era way before women had careers.
He was an intelligent man who longed for a purpose in life. He read most of the documents presented to the queen and wrote comments on them, probably saving the queen a good deal of embarrassment.
The younger son of a German princeling, Albert was much better prepared educationally for his work than most of the English aristocracy. He was modest, interested in technology in an era in which it was burgeoning and hoped his children would come out honest, forthright and interested in the good of the people.
Prince Albert had a long list of accomplishments including the building of the Crystal Palace that became a sign of high Victorian technical elegance.
This fascinating biography, written by American Stanley Weintraub is full of details including information on how Albert helped keep England out of the American Civil War. While blustering warmongers wanted to enter the fray on the side of the South as the result of a misunderstanding at sea, Prince Albert quietly campaigned for staying neutral. In the end, that helped write the story of the Union victory.
While Victoria and Albert are often portrayed as family-oriented prigs, that was anything but true. They had a true love affair and were quite passionate about it. Weintraub lets us in on the secret that they gave one another sensual nudes painted by some of the top artists of the day. As for children, they were really quite fond of their oldest daughter, but they were more distant from the others, seeing them perhaps once every few months. And let’s not even talk about that pesky Prince of Wales, a man inconsiderate enough to be waiting in the wings for his mother’s demise. So much for the so-called middle-class sensibilities often attributed to this queen and prince.
Replete with drawings from magazines including political cartoons and letters, this book would be interesting to anyone, whether well versed in English history or not. On one level, it fills in the blanks in the tale of the prince and queen and, on the other, it tells a more personal tale of the man and woman.
Although the book is long, it moves quickly and keeps the reader’s attention, drawing one into the political structure of the day, from Gladstone to Disraeli and from Germany to Spain.
I think, if people knew more about Prince Albert they’d probably respect him more than they did.
He was often the butt of jokes and ribald ballads — undeservedly. Stanley Weintraub not only makes him a sympathetic character, but makes you wonder about Prince Phillip and what he might be capable of, too.