Harper Collins Publishers, 2019. 390 pages plus bibliography, notes and index.
Biography is my choice of reading matter when I’m too tired for “heavy” books and have sated my urge to read junk. I’ve read about half of this book (the first half and the last chapter), and I will probably read the remaining chapters selectively.
Did Prince Albert (1819 – 1861), consort of Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901) actually “save the monarchy”? Wilson makes a convincing case. Why does the United Kingdom still (in 2020) have royalty, and royalty who matter? What happened to the hereditary monarchs of France? The princes of the early German principalities? Why are the other remaining royal families (in Scandinavia and Netherlands, for example) so diminished? (Wilson doesn’t entirely address this last question. I’d like to learn more.)
When Albert married young Queen Victoria in 1840, he had no official role. He was Victoria’s husband. His English was imperfect. He was regarded as an outsider of little importance. But he was exceptionally well educated, and had lots of energy and considerable self-confidence.
When Albert took on projects or directorships (which could have been merely symbolic), he contributed incisively. For example, he pointed out the deficiencies of the British university system and, at Cambridge University (where he served as Chancellor), he initiated reforms that vastly improved higher education, and not just for members of the social elite. (By the way, his appointment at Cambridge was controversial. Academic politics is nothing new!)
Albert understood and valued science, engineering and industry. Contemporaries noted that, although he was stiff and sometimes awkward at ceremonial events, he was easily approachable when surrounded by those who shared his scientific interests. Mutual respect developed, and England benefited, moving ahead of continental Europe in various fields.
This book provides a great opportunity to understand the country that, more than any other, engendered the United States. I recommend it highly. Wilson is a very prolific writer, and I look forward to checking out his fiction. His biographies range from Hitler to Darwin to Jesus. Followers of contemporary British royalty might be interested to know that Wilson wrote The Rise and Fall of the House of Windsor. In 1993!