This is not a usual biography, but an examination of the death of Albert, the Prince Consort, and Queen Victoria's reaction to it. As Helen Rappaport points out, biographies often neglect to examine the death of Albert, choosing to look at Victoria's life before or after her becoming a widow. Yet, her extreme reaction to the loss of her husband changed, and undermined, the monarchy. This book seeks to understand why Victoria reacted as she did and the effect of her intense mourning on her family and the nation.
The book begins with a joyful Christmas, 1860, with the family having an almost childish delight in present giving and Christmas trees and merry making; little knowing that the following December would lead to the loss of Prince Albert. Victoria was a woman who needed love and attention - her early life dominated by her mother, she later relied on other male figures, such as the Prime Minister, before finding ecstatic love in her marriage to Albert and later leaning on her Scottish servant John Brown. Although with no official role or title for a long time, Albert was patient and, by his death, was acting as a 'dual monarch' with Victoria, who relied upon him absolutely as her surrogate father, husband, best friend, assistant and teacher.
Victoria believed that worries about their eldest son, Albert, Prince of Wales ("poor Bertie") caused Albert to become ill. However, the book discusses various causes; from overwork to isolation. The author presents a very sympathetic picture of this man, much resented and seen as formal, prudish and reserved, yet essential to the smooth running of the monarchy. His illness and death is described in detail and his death plunged the nation into mourning. He died on the 14th December and, although it was near Christmas, the country virtually closed - theatres shut, shops shuttered and all festivities cancelled - including Dickens, who had (unwillingly you sense), to cancel lucrative public readings.
The author cleverly shows how the death of Victoria's mother prefaced the terrible grief she would show on losing Albert. She plunged the court into full mourning for two years and never allowed them out of half mourning in her life time. Although those that produced mourning clothes profited, as did Whitby, where the centre of jet jewellery was based, a year of unending grief lost the Queen sympathy. Her retreat from public life is well known, but this book details public, and private, reaction to her reclusion and it is interesting to see how her never ending grief was viewed - from sympathy to irration and resentment. As the monarchy came under pressure, the author shows how they survived the crisis of one woman who, it has to be said, seemed to enjoy prolonging her grief, using it as a ploy to avoid situations she disliked having to cope with, while being unwilling to give up her throne to her son.
There is an informative appendix on possible causes for the death of Prince Albert and the book also gives an interesting portrait of the Victorian era and how mourning was a very formal event. In a time when death is hardly mentioned, it is fascinating to learn how it was dealt with in a time when people were more likely to be nursed, and die, at home and when death came often and suddenly. This is a very interesting account of Victoria's obsession with her sainted Albert and a brilliant portrait of the Queen, very human for all her shortcomings. Lastly, I read the kindle version of this book and the illustrations were included at the end.