The future death of Prince Albert and the life-long mourning of Queen Victoria has been a shadow looming over ITV’s Victoria since the very moment the monarch set eyes upon her husband – but in the dramatic cliffhanger ending to series three, it seems (spoiler alert!) that moment could be coming sooner than expected.
Just as he is sharing a beautiful moment with his wife Victoria (Jenna Coleman) and reaffirming his love for her, Albert (Tom Hughes) suddenly collapses to the floor in the empty corridor of Buckingham Palace. The Queen cries out his name again and again, but there is no answer.
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So, what do we know about Prince Albert’s declining health – and his death? Here’s what happened:
Is Prince Albert dead at the end of Victoria series three?
Despite the cliffhanger ending to Victoria series three which sees Prince Albert collapsed and unresponsive, it is extremely unlikely that he is dead at this point in the story.
That’s because ITV’s royal period drama has only reached 1851 and the launch of the Great Exhibition, Prince Albert’s passion project; unless the show’s creator and writer Daisy Goodwin has decided to depart dramatically from historical truth, the Queen’s husband has another ten years to live before his death in 1861.
Was Prince Albert ill – and did he collapse?
There is no record of this 1851 collapse in Queen Victoria’s journals; during the months of the Great Exhibition from May to October, Prince Albert appears to have been in good health.
However, Prince Albert did have a long history of pains and stomach troubles, and a reputation for pushing himself extremely hard to the point of exhaustion.
Even the day after his marriage to Victoria in 1840, he was unwell, with his new wife writing: “Poor dear Albert felt sick and uncomfortable, and lay down in my room,- while I wrote to Uncle Leopold. He looked so dear, lying there and dozing… Poor dear Albert feeling still very poorly, lay down in the middle blue room, while I sat opposite to him; he read an amazingly funny story to me, out of a German book, and so inimitably. He felt very poorly again, and lay down again.”
Over the following years she reports Albert being “poorly” and experiencing “a bad night, not sleeping a wink” and awaking with “a great languor & feverishness,” before a particularly “painful attack” in 1859, two years before his death. It is unclear what caused Albert’s symptoms, whether there was an underlying cause, and whether his increasingly poor health was linked to his death at the age of just 42.
How did Prince Albert die?
Prince Albert’s cause of death is a surprisingly controversial issue. According to his death certificate, he died of “typhoid fever: duration 21 days” – but medical experts and historians have since questioned this diagnosis, suggesting he may actually have suffered from Crohn’s Disease or stomach cancer.
In the run-up to his death in 1861, Prince Albert was working extremely hard – and experiencing psychological strain. Known for overworking himself in private and public duties, and for being deeply involved in the Queen’s decision-making, in March of that year he took over most of his wife’s duties after her mother the Duchess of Kent died, leaving Victoria distraught. Three of Albert’s cousins had also recently passed away, and he was in low spirits and in increasingly poor health after an attack of stomach pains two years beforehand.
And then came another blow. In November 1861, Prince Albert heard that his son Bertie (the Prince of Wales), by now 20 and studying at the University of Cambridge, was involved with an Irish actress called Nellie Clifden. Victoria and her husband feared blackmail, scandal, and perhaps even an illegitimate child – so, on 25th November, Albert made an overnight trip to Cambridge to give his son a talking-to about his affair. The Prince Consort was already unwell at this point, as Victoria confided in her journal: “My poor Albert not sleeping at all well, & this is aggravated by rheumatism… He has not had one night of quiet rest since some time & it makes him feel quite ill.”
Father and son went for a long walk in the rain, and Albert returned to London miserable and sickly, suffering from “the neuralgic pain.” The trip was not a success.
While Bertie’s scandalous affair is missing from Victoria’s journals, she alludes to Albert and and her son’s disastrous walk three days later with the entry: “Dearest Albert feeling very weak, but not worse & he has no fever. He caught an additional chill on Friday.”
After this, Albert’s condition worsened and he became gravely ill. He began to experience breathlessness, vomiting, insomnia, pain, and episodes of delirium. Doctors had not initially suspected anything serious, but as they monitored his condition they became increasingly concerned. On 7th December, Dr William Jenner – a world expert on typhoid fever – first noticed the pink-purple “rose spots” on his abdomen, typical of typhoid. Over the next few days his fever intensified, his breathing became laboured and rapid.
The Queen and Albert himself were kept from knowing the truth as long as possible – the Queen because she might panic, and the patient because he had a “horror of fever” and those around him were concerned he would simply give up on fighting the illness. The public was also kept in the dark about the nature of Albert’s illness. Doctors only decided to tell Victoria about the seriousness of her husband’s condition on the Friday, at 5 o’clock; the next day, in the presence of his wife and five of their nine children, he passed away.
So did Albert really die of “typhoid fever”?
Typhoid is spread by consuming food or water contaminated with the faeces of an infected person; it is unclear how the Prince could have contracted typhoid, which was at a lull in December 1861 and was not reported in Windsor or Cambridge. It is also unclear why he would have been the sole sufferer, as the rest of the family and their servants were unaffected.
Some have speculated that Albert may have had Crohn’s Disease, a lifelong condition in which parts of the digestive system become painfully inflamed – and which, left untreated, can lead to malnutrition and severe weight loss as well as other complications. He could have experienced ulcerative colitis with perforation of the bowel, leading to sepsis (blood poisoning) and death.
Others have suggested that Albert may have suffered from an abdominal cancer. Stomach cancer had killed his mother at the age of 30, and this could fit with his painful long-term symptoms.
However, it is still entirely possible that typhoid was the real culprit. Dr Jenner was an expert who had seen hundreds of cases, and slow progress of the disease over three weeks is very characteristic, as is sporadic delirium, the rash, headache, coughing, and exhaustion – all symptoms experienced by the Prince. Victoria was in no doubt about what had killed her beloved husband, writing a decade later: “Still the bare name of that fever, makes one shudder, its having been so fatal in our family.”
Whatever the ultimate cause of death, Queen Victoria was utterly devastated by the loss of her “dear Albert”. She descended into lifelong mourning and dressed only in black for the rest of her life; she also blamed Bertie – later Edward VII – for his father’s untimely death and never forgave him, writing later to her eldest daughter Vicky: “I never can or shall look at him without a shudder.”