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History

Queen Victoria’s engagement to Prince Albert


By George Hayter - Royal Collection RCIN 407165http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/egallery/object.asp?object=407165, Public Domain

One room at Windsor Castle is perhaps more associated with Queen Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert than any other. This is what was called the Blue Closet, part of the private apartments. By a curious coincidence, Prince Albert would later die in another room of the same colour, the Blue Room at Windsor Castle, although this is of course, mere royal happenstance. It was in the Blue Closet that Queen Victoria in her own words spoken later to her aunt, the Duchess of Gloucester: ‘I proposed to Prince Albert’. I wonder what we can discover about this room, in which Queen Victoria asked a question that changed the course of her life and was arguably the most important of her reign in personal terms.

She proposed to a Prince Albert who was different in every way to the one she had met previously. This was the shy young German who she saw at Windsor from the top of the stone staircase, still in his travelling clothes, pale from the Channel crossing to Dover. This was the cousin whom she later confided to her journal was ‘beautiful’, confessing that ‘it was with some emotion that I beheld Albert’. (cit., Elizabeth Longford, Queen Victoria, 141).

The Queen was suddenly, spectacularly, in love. She wrote to her uncle Leopold, King of the Belgians: ‘Albert’s beauty is most striking and he is… in short, very fascinating…’ (cit., Ibid, 142). The night before the engagement took place, Prince Albert grasped her hand in the Corridor at Windsor, when they wished each other good night.

Before making her declaration to the Privy Council of her engagement to Prince Albert, she was given a fine bracelet by her mother, the Duchess of Kent. It was a gold bracelet, consisting of two joined hearts, carved from a double amethyst. As this was a piece of personal jewellery, it was amongst those items placed in the Blue Room (where Prince Albert died) after Queen Victoria herself died in 1901; this was in keeping with her orders, so that these most personal of her jewelled mementoes should not be passed on within the Royal Family, because of their unique sentimental meaning to her. Not for nothing did she wish them to be placed in the room where Albert had died.

On the day of her engagement to the Prince, Queen Victoria wrote to her uncle Leopold in Brussels that ‘my mind is quite made up – and I told Albert this morning of it’. The letter was dated that precise day from Windsor Castle, so it is clear that the Queen wanted to inform her uncle of this momentous personal event, at some point after it had taken place, knowing of the extreme interest he would taken in this event, it being much wished for in the family.

In her journal, she wrote in her own words, what happened: ‘At about ½ p.12 I sent for Albert; he came to the Closet where I was alone, and after a few minutes, I said to him, that I thought he must be aware why I wished him to come here, – and that it would make me too happy if he would consent to what I wished (to marry me)’. (ed. Viscount Esher, The Girlhood of Queen Victoria, Vol 1, 268; Longford, 143). She had sent Prince Albert a note, telling him to come to the Blue Closet. He cannot have been unaware of the reason for why he was summoned.

What followed was a mutual embrace, with Prince Albert murmuring in German that it would make him so glad ‘das Leben mit dir zu zubringen’ [to spend his life with her]. As if wanting to re-connect perhaps with the moment of the engagement, the couple seem to have returned to the Blue Closet to spend private time alone together, sitting together there, Queen Victoria following him as he left ‘to get one more kiss’. (Longford, 143).

An comic engraving was made of the moment of royal betrothal by Thomas McLean of 26 Haymarket, entitled happily Leap Year, showing the Queen touching Prince Albert’s cheek lovingly, but the print is an ironic one, its message to indicate that any woman can propose to a man in Leap Year. 1840 incidentally, was a Leap Year, the year of the royal wedding – 10 February 1840. The sentiment expressed is correct however, as the Queen Victoria in the engraving asks ‘Albert, will you marry me?’

In fact, the Queen considered it her prerogative to propose to Prince Albert. She had explained to Lord Melbourne that she had quite made up her mind: ‘Then I asked if I hadn’t better tell Albert of my decision soon… How? I asked, for that in general such things were done the other way – which made Lord Melbourne laugh’. (cit., Christopher Hibbert, Queen Victoria: A Personal History, 108). Perhaps pointedly, Queen Victoria later explained to her aunt, the Duchess of Gloucester, that Prince Albert ‘would never have presumed to take such a liberty to propose to the Queen of England’. (cit., Ibid, pp. 108-9). The seeds for Albert’s complicated position, as the husband and consort of a fiercely independent young Queen, were already long since planted, however much in love the Queen was privately.

During the period of their engagement, Prince Albert on one occasion took to kissing Queen Victoria in a true outpouring of love, as she confided to her journal: ‘Dearest Albert took my face in both his hands and kissed me most tenderly and said, “Ich habe dich so lieb, ich kann nicht sagen wie!”’ [I love you so much, I can’t say just how much]. (cit., A. N. Wilson, Victoria, 96).

Two days after she had proposed and been accepted by Prince Albert, there was a musical performance at Windsor Castle. The programme survives, dated ‘Oct the 17th 1839’ and includes a quadrille and one waltz, appropriately named the ‘Victoria’. Prince Albert covered the programme in doodles, including a several attempts at the head of his greyhound Eos, his dog who had followed him to England from Coburg. In the corner of the piece, already needing to memorialize everything, Queen Victoria wrote: ‘Dearest Albert drew them in the Drawing Room on Oct. 17th 1839‘. (cit., HRH The Duchess of York with Benita Stoney, Victoria and Albert: A Family Life at Osborne House, 18). Letters written to the Prince by the Queen from the period of their engagement survive. One such has a heading illustration of Windsor Castle and is written in the Queen’s old German Gothic script (Ibid, 18), a fitting motif when we consider their brief honeymoon would be spent at Windsor Castle, after their wedding.

I have yet to discover an image which shows the Blue Closet. Certainly the Queen’s Closet at Windsor was one room recorded in Pyne’s Royal Residences, but it then went under the name of the ‘King’s Closet’, because the monarch at that time was male. The King’s Closet at Windsor became known as the King’s Dressing Room under Edward VII. The so-called ‘Royal Closet’ was photographed during the 1870s by the fashionable photographers Hills & Saunders; this room had a small fireplace and was then hung with several Gainsboroughs depicting George III’s family, with a crystal chandelier from the ceiling. The ‘Queen’s Closet’ was similarly photographed in 1880 as a glass negative, showing a chair bearing the monogram ‘VR’.

Might one of these rooms have been the ‘Blue Closet’? It is strange they are not named as such, although interestingly, the Queen’s journal entry for the date of her engagement refers purely to the ‘Closet’.

In any case, the room was witness to what was probably the most important question which Queen Victoria ever asked.

©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2019.



About author

Elizabeth Jane Timms is a royal historian, writer and researcher. An expert in royal studies as an academic subject, she specializes in Queen Victoria's family and Russian royalty and speaks as an independent scholar on matters royal historical for both TV and radio, including the BBC. She writes for journals and specialist magazines. She is an authority on Russia's last Tsarina, Alexandra Feodorovna (1872-1918) and was selected as an historical advisor for the first-time translation from English to Russian of the classic biography by Baroness Buxhoeveden (Moscow, 2012). She also specializes in Empress Elisabeth of Austria and has written a series of academic articles on her life based on original research in Vienna and Geneva and spoke about the Empress on the TV Yesterday Channel series, World's Greatest Palaces (2019). Elizabeth is a long-standing contributor to the Swedish historical journal Royalty Digest Quarterly, currently also writing for the Tudor Society's magazine, Tudor Life. She is a former contributor to the European Royal History Journal and Jane Austen's Regency World Magazine. She joined the team of History of Royals magazine in 2016 and was History Writer at Royal Central (2015-20). She was elected a member of the Royal Historical Society in 2017.