'Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert and the Death that Changed the Monarchy' by Helen Rappaport
Updated: May 8
I greet you in the Victorian era. The great love story behind Victoria & Albert is the stuff of fairytales - what dreams are made on, if you will. But this book isn't about that. Its focus is what happened after the fairytale. The narrative is sympathetic to Albert, and looks at the relationship between the royal couple without any rose-colour glasses.
Albert's role as the Queen's consort was a unique one, as there weren't too many examples of English or British Queens Regnant before Victoria, and even fewer of those were happily married with children. (Our current HM the Queen is following in Victoria's footsteps in that regard, except she has already celebrated her 70th wedding anniversary).
Victoria and Albert's romance, love and marriage have been immortalised by myth, pop culture and everything in between, not least by Victoria herself who elevated her spouse's image into an almost saint-like figure upon his death, erecting monuments and shrines in his honour all over her palaces, all over her country and all over her empire. Curious fact - if you're in the Kensington borough in London, you shall find a lot of streets named after him - 'Exhibition Road', 'Princes Gardens', 'Princes Gate', 'Prince Consort Road'. They all are close to Royal Albert Hall, which was first proposed after the Great Exhibition in 1851, as a 'series of of facilities for the enlightenment of the public in the area' and was opened in 1871, a decade after Albert's death in 1861. This area became known as Albertopolis. The Great Hall stands opposite the Albert Memorial, which was opened one year later, in 1872.
All these 'suits of woe' keep Albert's memory alive, making their love story take on legendary proportions. Every marriage has its ups and downs and theirs was no different. This book explores the darker, grittier side of their love story, e.g. the unease of living with the 'volatile' Victoria & Albert's chronic health issues. The author also explores Albert's relationship with Britain and her people; their viewpoints on the foreign Prince Consort, and how the country had to change after his death.
My two favourite points in the book are the following:
- the obligatory mourning and its mandatory black clothing that somewhat impacted the textile needs and supplies;
- the fresh look and new research on the real reason as to why Albert got ill and died.
Here's a great article by the author Helen Rappaport, for the BBC History Magazine.
Also, for additional edutainment, I found a talk on the book by the author and an episode of 'Walking Through History' where the host Tony Robinson retraces Victoria and Albert's steps, with appearances by the author of this book Helen Rappaport and Kate Williams, who's also a celebrated Victorian Historian herself (and wrote a book on the young Queen Vic).