A new three-year digitisation project will see some 23,500 items from the Royal Collection, Royal Archives and Royal Commission be published online. The project directors hope it will shed new light on the role and influence of Prince Albert, Prince Consort, on life and society during the reign of his wife, Queen Victoria.
The first lot of items will be published in the summer of 2019 to mark the bicentenary of Albert’s birth with the full range of private papers, collections and pieces – some of which have never been seen publicly – to be available by the end of 2020.
The second son of Ernest I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and Princess Louise of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg, Prince Albert was a collector and patron and historian of art, design and architecture and acted was made chancellor of Cambridge University.
In addition to his role as prince consort, Prince Albert acted as Queen Victoria’s unofficial private secretary and historians credit him as the guide and mentor of some of the most significant national projects of the Victorian era. His time in the UK – from his marriage to Victoria in 1840 until his death in 1861 at the age of 42 – saw significant changes in overseas relations, education, social welfare and government structures. In addition to Britain’s advance as a global industrial powerhouse the country saw expansion of railways and transatlantic trade as well as the rise of trade unions.
One of the documents to be published is a letter from Prince Albert to then prime minister, Lord Russell, during the recession of 1848. The prince consort shared his concerns about a recent decision to reduce building works on the royal palaces in favour of laying off workers. Albert passionately argued that “Surely this is not the time for the tax payers to economise upon the working classes!”
The digitisation project will also see items such as catalogues from the prince’s private library, inventories of his collection of paintings and two sizeable collections of prints and photographs, many of which he commissioned to document life in the royal household and important royal events. Albert was a keen supporter of photography – a new medium at that time – and he became patron of the newly established Photographic Society in 1853 alongside his wife.
Oliver Urquhart Irvine, librarian and assistant keeper of The Queen’s archives said the project “will transform academic and public access to this unparalleled collection and will allow a fresh assessment of this influential man.” He added that digitising the large collection of pieces would ““enable a comprehensive study of the life, work and legacy of Prince Albert on a scale that does justice to his contribution to 19th-century Britain and the world”.