Viewers watching the burgeoning romance between Jenna Coleman’s young Queen Victoria and Tom Hughes’s Prince Albert in ITV’s Victoria may be wondering how close to the historical facts certain details really are.
Were they really so closely related? Was it really that much of a struggle to get them together? And how much was Lord Melbourne involved in their relationship? Read on to find out…
Were the Queen and her future husband really cousins?
The real Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, photographed in 1860
The short answer is yes. Victoria was the daughter of Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, AKA the Duchess of Kent (played in the series by Catherine Flemming), and Albert was the son of Ernest I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The Duchess and Ernest* were brother and sister, making young Victoria Ernest’s niece, Albert the Duchess’s nephew and Albert and Victoria first cousins.
*not to be confused with his son, Albert’s brother, also called Ernest
These days, marrying cousins is sometimes frowned upon but in the UK it is perfectly legal and the British royal family have been doing it for hundreds of years in order to ensure strong alliances and allegiances.
Did Victoria and Albert actually hate each other?
In this week’s episode of the ITV drama the relationship between the cousins is strained at first, with neither overly keen to get married in accordance with their parents’ wishes and Victoria expressing distaste at Albert’s personality.
However, in real life it doesn’t seem like this was the case. Certainly, Victoria appeared to think Albert was made for her from the beginning, having met him in 1836 a year before she ascended to the throne (unlike in the TV series where it’s implied the pair haven’t seen each other since they were much younger).
Writing in her diary after their first meeting, she noted some of their physical similarities and was clear about her attraction to him.
“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.”
Victoria later wrote to her uncle Leopold, who arranged the match, thanking 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. He is so sensible, so kind, and so good, and so amiable too. He has besides the most pleasing and delightful exterior and appearance you can possibly see.”
In fairness, it’s probably not as dramatic a love story if everyone just calmly gets on from the beginning. Spoiler alert, but it looks like these two might end up together…
Did Albert have a problem with Lord Melbourne?
We only get a glimpse of this in tonight’s episode, but one of the hurdles Albert faces in his pursuit of Victoria comes in the form of Rufus Sewell’s Lord Melbourne, who the series presents as something of a rival for Victoria’s affections.
In real life, as we’ve noted elsewhere, Lord Melbourne and Victoria’s friendship was more like that of a father and daughter, so this “love triangle” is more of an invention. However, it is true that Victoria’s marriage meant that she became less reliant on Melbourne’s advice, turning more and more to Albert’s counsel and eventually drifting away from her former minister, so there is a nugget of historical fact in this plotline.
Victoria season two starts on Sunday January 14, 9/8c, PBS Masterpiece