Leopold I of Belgium exercised great influence over Queen Victoria. He replaced Victoire, the Queen’s mother, as the young queen’s confidant. “Born into the ruling family of the small German duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, Leopold took a commission in the Imperial Russian Army and fought against Napoleon after French troops overran Saxe-Coburg during the Napoleonic Wars. After Napoleon’s defeat, Leopold moved to the United Kingdom where he married Princess Charlotte of Wales, the only child of the Prince Regent (the future King George IV), thus situating himself as a possible future prince consort of Great Britain. Charlotte died in 1817, although Leopold continued to enjoy considerable status in England.” (Leopold I of Belgium) Ironically, Leopold chose to remain in England after Charlotte’s death to forestall any attempts of Parliament to rescind the allowance awarded him with his marriage to Princess Charlotte.
Initially, as the uncle to Princess Victoria, Leopold supported his sister Victoire. He served as loving uncle, and Victoria spent many happy days at his home, Claremont House, in Surrey. Yet, in 1831, Prince Leopold became Leopold I of Belgium. His exit left Princess Victoria totally under the control of Victorie, the Duchess of Kent, and the duchess’s widely-detested adviser, Sir John Conroy.
“Her mother the Duchess of Kent, was the sister of both Albert’s father—the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha—and King Leopold. Leopold arranged for his sister, Victoria’s mother, to invite the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and his two sons to visit Victorie in May 1836, with the purpose of meeting Victoria. William IV, however, disapproved of any match with the Coburgs, and instead favoured the suit of Prince Alexander, second son of the Prince of Orange. Victoria was well aware of the various matrimonial plans and critically appraised a parade of eligible princes. She wrote, ‘[Albert] is extremely handsome; his hair is about the same colour as mine; his eyes are large and blue, and he has a beautiful nose and a very sweet mouth with fine teeth; but the charm of his countenance is his expression, which is most delightful.’ Alexander, on the other hand, she described as ‘very plain.’
Six years later when Victoria assumed the throne of Great Britain, she was “hell-bent” on making her own decisions. Victoria went so far as to warn Leopold that his political advice would find an empty vessel. Leopold took a different route: He became matchmaker. His nephew, Prince Albert of Coburg, was the younger son of his brother, the reigning sovereign of Coburg. At Leopold’s suggestion Albert was sent to England to woo Victoria and, more importantly, to bring Coburg’s influence to the most powerful nation in the world.
“Victoria wrote to her uncle Leopold to thank him ‘for the prospect of great happiness you have contributed to give me, in the person of dear Albert … He possesses every quality that could be desired to render me perfectly happy.’ Although the parties did not undertake a formal engagement, both the family and their retainers widely assumed that the match would take place.” (Albert, Prince Consort)
Albert’s first journey to England came when he was still in his teens, but Victoria was too enthralled with the independence her new position provided than to think much of becoming a wife. There was a time that Victoria thought never to marry for she held no desire to subjugate herself in any manner to another. Rumors also exist that Victoria’s was not too keen on sexual intimacies, but that soon changed.
Albert’s second journey to England came some two years later. Victoria now looked upon her cousin with a more favorable eye. They were soon “in love.” Victoria proposed to Albert on 30 October 1839 for she outranked him. The announcement of Victoria’s intention to marry was made 23 November of the same year. Albert was naturalised by an Act of Parliament, and granted the style of Royal Highness by an Order in Council. Victoria and Albert were married on 10 February 1840 at the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace. They were both a few months short of 21 years at the time.
Leopold insinuated that a peerage for Albert was expected, but reportedly, the House of Lords would not accept a foreigner serving among them. Anti-German sentiments and a desire to keep Albert an outsider in political matters prevailed. Lord “Melbourne led a minority government and the opposition took advantage of the marriage to weaken his position further. They opposed the ennoblement of Albert and granted him a smaller annuity than previous consorts, £30,000 instead of the usual £50,000. Albert claimed that he had no need of a British peerage; he wrote, ‘It would almost be a step downwards, for as a Duke of Saxony, I feel myself much higher than a Duke of York or Kent.'” (Albert, Prince Consort) Victoria suggested “King Consort,” but that, too, was denied Albert. For eighteen years, her husband was addressed only as “Prince Albert.” In 1858, Victoria honored him with the titular dignity of “Prince Consort.”
“[They] would ultimately have nine children. Initially, Albert felt constrained by his position as consort, which did not confer any power or duties upon him. Over time he lent his support to many public causes, such as educational reform and the worldwide abolition of slavery, and took on the responsibilities of running the Queen’s household, estates and office. He was heavily involved with the organisation of the Great Exhibition of 1851, which was a resounding success.
“As the Queen depended more and more on his help and guidance, Albert aided in the development of Britain’s constitutional monarchy by persuading his wife to show less partisanship in her dealings with Parliament—although he actively disagreed with the interventionist foreign policy pursued during Lord Palmerston’s tenure as Foreign Secretary.” (Albert, Prince Consort)
Victoria and Albert were together for 20 years before his death at age 42. The Queen grieved for the loss of her husband for an additional 40 years until her death.