Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha lived from 26 August 1819 to 14 December 1861. He was the husband of Queen Victoria and was appointed Prince Consort. He is credited with doing much to modernise the British Monarchy and from a Scottish perspective was the moving force behind the Queen's acquisition of Balmoral Castle in 1852. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Albert was born at Schloss Rosenau, near Coburg in Germany. He was the second son of Ernest, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and his first wife, Louise of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. When he was six years old his father became the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. By this time Albert's parents had divorced and in 1824 his mother was exiled from court and married her lover. Albert probably never saw her again before her death in 1831 when he was 12. In 1832 Albert's father married his own niece, Princess Antoinette Marie of Württemberg. After a private education at home with his brother Ernest, Albert was educated at the University of Bonn, where he studied law, political economy, philosophy, and art history. He was also a noted musician and sportsman, excelling at riding and fencing.
In May 1836 King Leopold of Belgium arranged the introduction of his nephew Albert and his niece (and Albert's cousin) Victoria, by now heir to the British throne. Both were 16 at the time. Victoria's uncle, King William IV, favoured a match between her and Prince Alexander, second son of William II of the Netherlands. Victoria was well aware of the competition for her hand in marriage. She wrote of Albert: "[He] 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." Meanwhile she found Prince Alexander to be "very plain".
Victoria became Queen at the age of 18 on 20 June 1837. Victoria and Albert met again in late 1839 and on 15 October Victoria proposed to Albert. The two married on 10 February 1840 at the Chapel Royal in St James's Palace, just after Albert had been made a UK citizen. Public and parliamentary opinion was initially strongly against the marriage, and parliament refused him a British peerage and granted him a much smaller allowance than previous consorts. Albert was known as "HRH Prince Albert" until, on 25 June 1857, Victoria granted him the title Prince Consort. Victoria and Albert had nine children together, all of whom survived into adulthood.
Over time, Albert became more accepted by the British public. He also became increasingly influential. During the 1840s he did much to modernise the Monarchy, and placed its finances on a more businesslike footing. This allowed him to purchase Osborne House on the Isle of Wight as a family home. More widely he was an effective campaigner against slavery worldwide; he was influential in moves to outlaw child labour; and he supported the government's moves toward liberalising trade. In 1847 he became Chancellor of the University of Cambridge and helped modernise the university. During the latter part of the 1840s Albert became a much more active adviser to Victoria. He saw all her official papers, helped draft her correspondence, and took part in meetings she had with her ministers, sometimes seeing them alone when she was not available. The influential Clerk of the Privy Council, Charles Greville, wrote: "He is King to all intents and purposes."
In the summer of 1847 Victoria and Albert holidayed in Scotland at Loch Laggan, in the Highlands. The weather was poor, and the couple were told by their doctor, Sir James Clark, that his son was enjoying better weather at Balmoral Castle on Deeside. In October that year Balmoral's tenant, Sir Robert Gordon, died suddenly, and Albert began negotiations to take over the lease with the owner, James Duff, 4th Earl Fife. Albert took over the lease of Balmoral in May 1848, still having never visited it. Albert, Victoria and some of their children visited Balmoral Castle for the first time in September 1848, and immediately fell in love with it. In 1852 Albert negotiated the outright purchase of Balmoral Castle for for £31,500, and immediately embarked on a programme of extension and improvement.
During 1853 Albert tried to influence the British Government to bring about a diplomatic solution to the growing tensions between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, and his perceived support of the Russians made him extremely unpopular at the start of the Crimean War in March 1854. This diminished as public disaffection with the conduct of the war by the government grew.
In 1861 Victoria's mother died and Albert stepped in to assume much of the burden of monarchy while Victoria grieved. Meanwhile rumours started to spread abut the romantic involvement of their oldest son, the Prince of Wales and the future Edward VII, with the actress Nellie Clifden. Albert stepped in to try to resolve matters. Albert was increasingly ill during the second half of 1861 and on 9 December he was diagnosed with typhoid fever. He died on 14 December 1861 in the Blue Room at Windsor Castle, attended by Victoria and five of their nine children. He was 42 years old.
Queen Victoria fell into deep mourning and wore black throughout the rest of her very long life. In the wave of public sympathy that followed, memorials were raised throughout the Empire, most notably the Albert Memorial and the Royal Albert Hall, both in London. When Queen Victoria died in 1901, their oldest son, Edward VII, succeeded as the first monarch of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the ducal house to which Albert belonged.