Who was Prince Albert?
You’ve probably heard of Victoria and Albert – if you have a penchant for history and nice dresses, you may have even been to the Victoria & Albert Museum – but what do you actually know about the man who wed England’s young queen way back in 1840? If you’re like us, very little. Did you know, for instance, that the Prince Consort’s full name was Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel – or Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. He was German, born in Bavaria in 1819. First cousin to Victoria, he was actually delivered just a few months after her by the same midwife.
Albert suffered a turbulent childhood – when he was five, his father divorced his mother on the grounds of adultery and she was sent to Switzerland and refused access to her children. Albert went on to be educated at Bonn University and came to England first in 1836, before Victoria ascended to the throne, where she was quite taken by him. He returned in October 1839, as portrayed in ITV’s Victoria, and the young queen proposed marriage later that month.
Who was King Leopold?
A key player in the brokering of Victoria’s marriage, Leopold I of Belgium was the brother to Victoria’s mother – also called Victoria. The pair had a third brother, Ernest I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha who was Albert’s father. Confused much?
Played in ITV’s Victoria by Alex Jennings, Leopold was once married to Princess Charlotte of Wales – second in line to the British throne. She died in childbirth but, had she lived, she would have been queen over Victoria.
In 1831, the newly-established kingdom of Belgium offered Leopold the kingship because of his diplomatic connections with European royal families.
Known for brokering savvy political marriages, it was Leopold who helped to arrange the union between his niece Victoria and nephew Albert in 1840.
Albert’s marriage to Victoria:
Albert and Victoria were wed in 1840 and bore nine children, the oldest going on to become King Edward VII. Throughout their marriage, Albert acted as an advisor to the queen in all matters, taking over where Lord Melbourne left off. He was responsible for masterminding the Great Exhibition of 1851 and helped to smooth over a diplomatic row between Britain and the United States in 1861, although he never enjoyed full popularity among the general public. Nevertheless, Victoria was devoted to Albert and devastated when, in 1861, he died from what was believed to be typhoid fever. She spent the final 40 years of her reign in mourning for her husband, building several memorials including the Royal Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens.
Who plays Prince Albert in ITV’s Victoria?
You may well recognise Tom Hughes. The prince to Jenna Coleman’s queen made his first major appearance in Casualty spin-off 1909 before Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant cast him in their coming-of-age flick Cemetery Junction, playing Bruce Pearson. Hughes was then seen in Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll in 2010 and you may have spotted him in Hitchcock remake The Lady Vanishes in 2013. In the same year Hughes starred opposite his queen, Jenna Coleman, in Stephen Poliakoff’s Dancing on the Edge and lit up BBC screens once again in 2014 in Cold War thriller The Game.
We spoke to Tom Hughes about his role…
How did you find playing Albert?
I found it a bit of a challenge, if I’m honest. There’s a responsibility that goes with playing a real person that you have to make sure you are as true as their memory, particularly to somebody that is no longer around. Last time I played a real person I got to meet the guy… I think there’s a responsibility there and I enjoyed that responsibility. As a human being he has such complexities and depths that was a real pleasure.
Did you have to brush up on your Victorian history?
Absolutely. I think even if I was a whizz at Victorian history that I had that responsibility to make sure that I wasn’t missing out on any important detail. For me, my knowledge of the Victorian era is that of post-Albert’s death and my awareness is mainly her in mourning. My awareness of Albert was through that. It was nice to be able to look at them both as young people and to think about what they might have been like.
So what’s the complexity about Albert that draws you in?
This is a dramatisation of a real man’s life. There’s only so much of that man and his true story that we are able to get in. I think in our dramatisation, in our story… we’re talking about a young 19-year-old who’s come to a foreign country from a relatively remote part of Germany. His connection with other people has been – I wouldn’t say he’d been cut off, but there were long periods when it would just be him and his teacher, his grandmother and occasionally his dad.
He’s thrust into a foreign country at a young age where a lot’s been put on his shoulders. The man that I try to depict and the man that I discovered from my own research is a man quite quiet and reserved. There was a strength to that resignation, but I think that there’s an isolation that he must have felt. At 19, to be isolated, it must have been the worst thing. There were complexities there. “How do I paint the depth of this man while also making him appear slightly detached from the world that he’s found himself in?”
How did you find working with Jenna Coleman again?
The previous time [on Dancing on the Edge], I think there was one scene where we were both in it and we didn’t get to do any acting together really. She’s great to work with – I think there’s always that fear, particular when you come into a series late [Albert first appears in episode three], you know, I really had to hit the ground running as it was already moving.
I like to be as in the moment as you can be and I think acting is as much about reacting – you need to have somebody that you’re playing off, somebody that is open and responsive also and Jenna’s not only really clever in the choices that she makes, she’s very alive. That was a bit of a gift really because it allowed us to get a rhythm very quickly.