14 Royal Facts About Prince Albert

London Stereoscopic Company/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
London Stereoscopic Company/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On August 26, 1819, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was born near Coburg, Germany. In 1840, when Albert was just 20 years old, he married Queen Victoria, who reigned over the United Kingdom and Ireland for nearly 65 years—from June 20, 1837 until her death on January 22, 1901.

The couple had nine children together, including King Edward VII, who succeeded his mother on the throne. But their coupling came with more than a few challenges: Because Albert was German, a Protestant, and from an unremarkable state (Bavaria), Parliament wasn't thrilled about the match and was against him becoming the country's prince consort—a title bestowed on the husband of a reigning queen. As such, Albert spent the first 17 years of their marriage being known as His Royal Highness Prince Albert. On June 25, 1857, Queen Victoria granted Albert the official title of Prince Consort.

In honor of what would have been his 200th birthday, here are some things you might not have known about Prince Albert.

1. Prince Albert was the product of an unhappy marriage.

Prince Albert was born on August 26, 1819 at Schloss Rosenau castle, near Coburg, Germany. He was the second son born to Ernest III, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and Louise of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. Though Albert and his older brother, Ernest, were close throughout their lives, their home life was rather dysfunctional. Their father was a strict man who was known to have a number of affairs and is believed to have fathered at least three illegitimate children. The couple separated in 1824, when Albert was just 5 years old, and Louise was then exiled from court. It's believed that she never saw her sons again.

2. Prince Albert's paternity has been questioned by some royal insiders.

Albert (left) with his elder brother Ernest and mother Louise, shortly before her exile from court
Albert (left) with his elder brother Ernest and mother Louise, shortly before her exile from court.

Though there's no doubt that Prince Albert's father was a noted philanderer, the strongest evidence that Princess Louise had affairs was based purely on rumors. "The ducal court was not noted for the strictness of its morals," historical biographer Lytton Strachey wrote in 1921's Queen Victoria. "The Duke was a man of gallantry, and it was rumored that the Duchess followed her husband's example. There were scandals: one of the Court Chamberlains, a charming and cultivated man of Jewish extraction, was talked of; at last there was a separation, followed by a divorce."

When Prince Albert was 7 years old, his father filed for divorce from their mother, citing adultery. Because Albert bore a striking resemblance to his mother, some people began to question whether Ernest III was Prince Albert's biological father at all. "People have long speculated about Albert’s paternity, partly because he so strongly resembled his mother, not his father, and because of the fractured nature of his parents’ relationship,” Julia Baird, author of Victoria: The Queen, told RadioTimes.com earlier this year. No evidence has ever surfaced to confirm the rumors (though fans of Victoria will undoubtedly remember that it became a key plot point in the series).

3. Prince Albert and Queen Victoria were first cousins.

Albert and Victoria were first cousins who shared a set of grandparents as Albert's father, Duke Ernst of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, was the brother of Victoria's mother, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. The future couple shared some other commonalities: They were born in the same year, just three months apart (Victoria was born on May 24, 1819) and were both delivered by the same woman: Madame Siebold, the royal midwife.

4. Prince Albert first met his future wife when he was just 16 years old.

Queen Victoria (1819 - 1901) and Prince Albert take to the dance floor.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert take to the dance floor.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In May 1836, on Victoria’s 17th birthday, Prince Albert and the future Queen Victoria—then known as Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent—met for the first time when Albert and his brother visited Kensington Palace with their Uncle Leopold. "He is extremely handsome,” Victoria wrote in her diary of the prince. "His hair is about the same color as mine; his eyes are large and blue and he has a beautiful nose and a very sweet mouth with fine teeth.”

For years, their families had desired to see the two young royals marry, and it ended up being a happy match. After Albert's departure from Kensington, Victoria wrote to her Uncle Leopold: "How delighted I am with him, and how much I like him in every way. He possesses every quality that could be desired to make me perfectly happy."

One year later, on June 20, 1837, Princess Alexandrina Victoria became Queen Victoria.

5. Queen Victoria had to propose to Prince Albert.

“I dreaded the thought of marrying,” Victoria wrote in her diary. But in October 1839, Albert visited Windsor Castle and saw his cousin, now Queen Victoria, again. As royal rule stipulated that a reigning monarch could not be proposed to, it was Victoria who had to do the asking. So on October 15, 1839, Victoria proposed to Albert; he happily accepted and the couple married on February 10, 1840. Victoria called it "the happiest day of my life."

6. Queen Victoria saved Prince Albert's life in 1841.

Queen Victoria and her beloved Prince Albert, the Prince Consort, at Buckingham Palace.
Keystone/Getty Images

In 1841, Prince Albert went ice skating on a lake near Buckingham Palace. “I, standing alone on the bank, said, 'It is unsafe here,' and no sooner had I said this, than the ice cracked, and Albert was in the water up to his head, even for a moment below," Victoria wrote in her diary.

While her lady-in-waiting panicked, Victoria went right to work attempting to pull her husband out of the frigid water. “I was making my way to Victoria, who was standing on the bank with one of her ladies,” Prince Albert once said. “I fell plump into the water, and had to swim for two or three minutes in order to get out. Victoria was the only person with the presence of mind to lend me assistance, her lady being more occupied in screaming for help.”

Luckily for Albert, he emerged from the incident with just a bad cold.

7. Prince Albert and Queen Victoria survived several assassination attempts.

Like many heads of states before and after them, Albert and Victoria were the targets of a number of assassination attempts. In 1840, the royal couple was on a public carriage ride when Edward Oxford shot at the couple. At the time, Victoria was pregnant with her first child, Victoria. Thankfully, no one was hurt. (However, in the 2009 film The Young Victoria, starring Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend, Albert gets shot trying to save her.)

Another assassination attempt occurred two years later, and again they were unhurt. However John Francis, the shooter, had attempted to shoot the couple the day before, but failed to fire his pistol. He was detained and sentenced to death for treason. Instead, Victoria commuted his sentence to banishment for life.

The oddest attempt on the couple's life, however, happened in the summer of 1842: A man named Bean, with a very prominent hunched back, fired a pistol loaded with pieces of tobacco pipe. He escaped and managed to evade capture for two weeks (which every hunchback in London was questioned by authorities).

8. Prince Albert helped design Osborne House, a former royal estate on the Isle of Wight.

Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, Queen Victoria's holiday retreat
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

In the late 1770s, the Blachford family owned the Osborne Estate on the Isle of Wight. In 1843, Albert and Queen Victoria wanted to find a place where they and their children could escape the expectations placed on them when they were in London or Windsor, which is when they found Osborne house.

But the house, as it existed at that time, wasn’t big enough for their large family. Developer Thomas Cubitt suggested that Albert build a new home on the property. The two worked together to design the first phase, the Pavilion, which housed the couple's private rooms and the royal nurseries. They demolished the old house and completed the main wing in 1851.

Later on, Cubitt and Albert created a Swiss cottage for the children and stables for 50 horses. Albert oversaw all of the renovations and new buildings. Victoria died in Osborne House on January 22, 1901. After her death, King Edward VII (Victoria's son and successor) didn’t want the house, so—against his mother's wishes—he donated it to the country, where it remains a part of the English Heritage charity. Today, you can tour part of Albert and Victoria's old quarters, including their private beach.

9. Albert and Victoria regularly exchanged love letters.

In celebration of Prince Albert’s 200th birthday, The Guardian reports that the Royal Collection Trust has made available more than 17,000 documents—including family photos and financial papers—relating to Prince Albert in an online archive. By the end of 2020, they hope to have 23,500 documents digitized. Many of the items have never been published, including letters exchanged between the royals.

On their engagement day, Albert wrote to Victoria:

“How is it that I have deserved so much love, so much affection? I cannot get used to the reality of all that I see and hear, and have to believe that heaven has sent me an angel whose brightness shall illume my life.”

Besides the love letters, the collection also includes a speech Albert made at The Society for the Extinction of the Slave Trade and for the Civilization of Africa in which Albert called to abolish slavery, referring to it as “the blackest stain upon civilized Europe."

10. Prince Albert purchased Balmoral Castle.

Queen Victoria welcomes home the hunters at Balmoral, September 1953. 'An Evening at Balmoral Old Castle - The Stag Brought Home' - an engraving by L. Stocks after a watercolour painting by Carl Haag
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1842, The Queen visited Scotland for the first time and fell in love with the country. In 1848, before Osborne House was finished, Prince Albert decided to lease Balmoral Castle from Lord Aberdeen, sight unseen. Fortunately, when Victoria finally saw the place for the first time, she thought it was “pretty.” In 1852, Albert bought the property. But since the main building was too small for their large family, Albert worked with an architect—this time William Smith—and built a new castle on the property, along with cottages and offices. He also made improvements to the surrounding woodlands and gardens.

In 1856, the project was finished and they demolished the old building. Unlike Osborne, Balmoral stayed in the royal family and is still a private residence for them today (it's typically referred to as Queen Elizabeth II's Scottish "holiday home").

11. Prince Albert saw photography as an “art form.”

In 1842, Prince Albert sat for photographer William Constable for a portrait. The photo still exists and is the earliest surviving photograph of a British royal family member. The Royal Trust Collection archive includes 10,000 photos that Victoria and Albert collected from various photographers. It also includes intimate family portraits, photos of the royal household, and photos of decorative objects. “Together these photographs reflect Prince Albert’s unwavering belief in photography as an art form, and his advocacy of its value as a historical record and a means to share knowledge,” reads the collection’s website.

12. Prince Albert organized the Great Exhibition of 1851.

1851: The Inauguration of the Great Exhibition in Crystal Palace, the glass and iron building designed by Joseph Paxton, at Hyde Park, London. It was officially opened by Queen Victoria
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Inspired by the French Industrial Exposition of 1844, Henry Cole, editor of the Journal of Design and council member of the Society of Arts, wanted to create something similar in England. Through the Society he met Prince Albert and asked him to help organize the event. They wanted the Great Exhibition to be an event for all nations of the world “for the purpose of exhibition of competition and encouragement.”

In Hyde Park in central London, they commissioned a glass and iron conservatory known as the Crystal Palace, which contained the exhibition. Six million people—more than a third of Britain's population at the time—passed through the Palace, including Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, Karl Marx, and Charles Darwin. They and millions of others saw the world’s first international display of British design and manufacturing, including exhibits dedicated to steam engines, pottery, ironwork, perfumes, and houses. The event was so successful that a financial surplus from the event was used to establish a number of educational and cultural institutions, including the Natural History Museum and Royal Albert Hall.

13. Prince Albert was just 42 years old when he died.

On December 14, 1861, at approximately 10:50 p.m., Prince Albert died at the age of 42. Though the official cause of death was deemed to be typhoid fever, there are other theories as to what actually killed him, including stomach cancer and Crohn's disease.

Whatever the case, Albert seemed to know his days were numbered. Several weeks before his death, Albert reportedly told Victoria: "I do not cling to life. You do; but I set no store by it. If I knew that those I love were well cared for, I should be quite ready to die tomorrow … I am sure if I had a severe illness, I should give up at once. I should not struggle for life. I have no tenacity for life."

14. Victoria spent the rest of her life mourning her late husband.

While Prince Albert's health deteriorated, Queen Victoria attempted to remain optimistic, telling one of Albert's doctors: "My husband won't die, for that would kill me." While Victoria lived for another 40 years following Albert's passing, she never got over his death; she lived out the remaining years of her life in perpetual mourning and always wearing black.

When Theodore Roosevelt Refused Geronimo's Plea

Portrait of Geronimo (Guiyatle), Apache
Portrait of Geronimo (Guiyatle), Apache
Frank A. Rinehart, Wikimedia // Public Domain

On March 4, 1905, Theodore Roosevelt settled in to watch his first inaugural parade. Though he'd been president since the 1901 assassination of William McKinley, this was the first time Roosevelt would get to enjoy the full pomp and ceremony, as Army regiments, West Point cadets, and military bands streamed down Pennsylvania Avenue in the warm March air. Standing in the president's box with his guests, Roosevelt at times clapped and swung his hat in the air to show his appreciation.

Suddenly, six men on horseback appeared in the procession. They were Native American leaders and warriors, "arrayed in all the glory of feathers and war paint," according to The New York Times report the next day. According to Herman J. Viola, they were “Little Plume, Piegan Blackfoot; Buckskin Charley, Ute; ... Quanah Parker, Comanche; Hollow Horn Bear, Brulé Sioux; and American Horse, Oglala Sioux.” The eldest man, leading the group, was "the once-feared Geronimo," as the Times put it.

The inclusion of the Apache elder was not without controversy. For a quarter-century, Geronimo had attacked Mexican and American troops and civilians, putting up a fierce resistance to settler encroachment. That bloody history—though often sensationalized by press reports—still loomed large during the parade: According to Smithsonian, a member of the 1905 inaugural committee asked Roosevelt, “Why did you select Geronimo to march in your parade, Mr. President? He is the greatest single-handed murderer in American history.”

Roosevelt replied, “I wanted to give the people a good show.”

But unlike the other parade participants, Geronimo wasn't there entirely willingly. He was a prisoner of war. And a few days later, he'd beg Roosevelt for his release.

A Bitter Legacy

Theodore Roosevelt was no friend of America's First Nations. During his childhood, he read books that contained stereotypes of Native Americas, and he and his siblings would, as he wrote in his autobiography, "[play] Indians in too realistic manner by staining ourselves (and incidentally our clothes) in a liberal fashion with poke-cherry juice.” He carried what he had read into adulthood, saying at a lecture in New York while away from his ranch in the Dakotas in the late 19th century that, "I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are the dead Indians, but I believe nine out of every ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”

As president, he supported the allotment system, which broke up reservations and forced Native peoples onto smaller, individually-owned lots—essentially remaking traditional land practices in the dominant white image. In his first message to Congress, Roosevelt called the General Allotment Act “a mighty pulverizing engine to break up the tribal mass.” Roosevelt also favored programs like Pennsylvania's Carlisle Indian Industrial School, established in 1879 to forcibly assimilate Native American children. Students were given new names and clothes, baptized, and forbidden to speak their languages. "In dealing with the Indians our aim should be their ultimate absorption into the body of our people,” Roosevelt said in his second message to Congress.

For most of his life, Geronimo aggressively resisted such attempts at assimilation. Born in the 1820s and named Goyahkla—"One Who Yawns"—near what is now the Arizona-New Mexico border, his life changed forever after his wife, mother, and small children were murdered by Mexican soldiers in the 1850s. Afterwards, Geronimo began attacking any Mexicans he could find; conflict with American settlers soon followed. It is said that his nickname, Geronimo, may have come about after one of his victims screamed for help from Saint Jerome, or Jeronimo/Geronimo in Spanish.

In the 1870s, the Chiricahua Apache were forced onto a reservation in Arizona, but Geronimo and his men repeatedly escaped. Eventually, as Gilbert King writes for Smithsonian, "Badly outnumbered and exhausted by a pursuit that had gone on for 3000 miles ... [Geronimo] finally surrendered to General Nelson A. Miles at Skeleton Canyon, Arizona, in 1886 and turned over his Winchester rifle and Sheffield Bowie knife."

The next chapter of Geronimo's life included being shuffled from Florida to Alabama to Fort Sill in the Oklahoma Territory while watching his fellow Apaches die of one disease after another. He was also repeatedly turned into a tourist attraction, appearing at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair and even joining Pawnee Bill’s Wild West show (according to King, under Army guard), where he was billed as "The Worst Indian That Ever Lived."

Geronimo's Tearful Request

The 1905 meeting between Roosevelt, Geronimo, and some of the other Native American men took place a few days after the inauguration, once the crowds had thinned out and things had calmed down a little. Geronimo addressed Roosevelt through an interpreter, calling him "Great Father." According to one contemporary account, Norman Wood’s Lives of Famous Indian Chiefs, he began, "Great Father, I look to you as I look to God. When I see your face I think I see the face of the Great Spirit. I come here to pray to you to be good to me and to my people."

After describing his youthful days on the warpath, which the septuagenarian Geronimo now called foolish, he said, "My heart was bad then, but I did not know it." Now, however, he said, "My heart is good and my talk is straight."

With a tear running down his cheek, he got to the heart of the matter: "Great Father, other Indians have homes where they can live and be happy. I and my people have no homes. The place where we are kept is bad for us. Our cattle can not live in that place. We are sick there and we die. White men are in the country that was my home. ... I pray you to cut the ropes and make me free. Let me die in my own country, an old man who has been punished enough and is free."

According to a March 1905 New York Tribune article, Roosevelt said, “I cannot do so now ... We must wait a while and see how you and your people act. You must not forget that when you were in Arizona you had a bad heart; you killed many of my people; you burned villages; you stole horses and cattle, and were not good Indians.” But it seems at some point, Roosevelt softened—according to Wood, Roosevelt said, “Geronimo, I do not see how I can grant your prayer. You speak truly when you say that you have been foolish. I am glad that you have ceased to commit follies. I am glad that you are trying to live at peace and in friendship with the white people.

"I have no anger in my heart against you," Roosevelt went on. But, he said, "You must remember that there are white people in your old home. It is probable that some of these have bad hearts toward you. If you went back there some of these men might kill you, or make trouble for your people. It is hard for them to forget that you made trouble for them. I should have to interfere between you. There would be more war and more bloodshed. My country has had enough of these troubles."

The president reminded Geronimo that he was not confined indoors in Fort Sill, and allowed to farm, cut timber, and earn money. He promised, "I will confer with the Commissioner and with the Secretary of War about your case, but I do not think I can hold out any hope for you. That is all that I can say, Geronimo, except that I am sorry, and have no feeling against you."

Geronimo's request was never granted. Four years later, in 1909, he died after falling from a horse and developing pneumonia. The Chicago Daily Tribune printed the headline: “Geronimo Now [a] Good Indian."

At least, he was finally free.

Mental Floss has a podcast with iHeartRadio called History Vs., about how your favorite historical figures faced off against their greatest foes. Our first season is all about President Theodore Roosevelt. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts here, and for more TR content, visit the History Vs. site.

5 Facts About Charles Ponzi and the Original Ponzi Scheme

Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Some of the most infamous scams in history have been Ponzi schemes, but before Bernie Madoff (or Bitcoin), there was Charles Ponzi himself. The con he built was so successful that his last name became synonymous with fraud. In January 2020, a century after he set up his fraudulent Securities Exchange Company, the phrase Ponzi scheme is still used to describe any scheme in which funds from new investors are used to pay back old investors. Here are some facts about Ponzi and his scheme that you should know.

1. Charles Ponzi arrived in the U.S. with $2.50 in his pocket.

Charles Ponzi was born in Lugo, Italy, in 1882. As a young adult, he worked as a postal worker and studied at the University of Roma La Sapienza. Neither path panned out for him, however. In 1903, when faced with dwindling funds, Ponzi boarded a ship for America in search of a better life. But Ponzi wasn't a master hustler at this point in his life; he arrived in Boston with $2.50 after gambling away the rest of his life savings on the ship.

2. Charles Ponzi spent time in prison before his famous scheme.

Ponzi was no stranger to crime before concocting the scheme that made his surname infamous. Not long after arriving in Boston, he moved to Canada and got in trouble for forging checks. He spent two years in a Canadian prison for his offenses. Back in the U.S., he served a term in federal prison for illegally transporting five Italians immigrants across the Canadian border. It was only after his so-called Ponzi scheme began to crumble that his criminal history was made public by journalists, thus speeding up his downfall.

3. Charles Ponzi got rich off the postal system.

In 1920, Ponzi discovered the key to the ultimate get-rich-quick scheme: an international postal reply coupon worth $.05. It had been included in a parcel he received from Spain as prepayment for his reply postage. Thanks to an international treaty, the voucher could be exchanged for one U.S. postage stamp worth a nickel, which Ponzi could then sell. Ponzi knew that the value of the Spanish peseta had recently fallen in relation to the dollar, which meant that the coupon was actually worth more than the 30 centavos used to purchase it in Spain. He took this concept to the extreme by recruiting people back home in Italy to buy postal reply coupons in bulk from countries with weak economies, so that he could redeem them in the U.S. for a profit.

4. Charles Ponzi swindled $20 million from investors.

Ponzi technically wasn’t breaking any laws with his postal service transactions, and if he had kept his idea to himself he would have gotten away with it. Instead, he turned his small money-making operation into a wide-reaching scam. If people invested money into his “business” of cashing in foreign postal vouchers, which he dubbed the Securities Exchange Company, they would get their money back plus 50 percent interest in 90 days. The deal was too good for many investors to pass up.

It was also too good to be true: The money wasn’t being used to buy coupons overseas. Ponzi kept most of the investments for himself and used the flood of money coming in from new investors to pay off the old ones. Many investors were so thrilled with their returns that they invested whatever money they had made back into the business, which helped Ponzi keep the sham afloat.

Ponzi was finally rich and famous, but soon enough, cracks in the scheme started to form. The Boston Post launched an investigation into Ponzi and revealed that in order for his business to be functional, he would need to be moving 160 million vouchers across world borders. There were only 27,000 postal reply coupons in circulation at the time. The final blow came when the publicist he had hired to represent him came out against him to the public. His system fell apart and it was revealed that he had stolen $20 million from investors.

Because he had lied to his clients about their investments through the mail, Ponzi was ultimately charged by the federal government for mail fraud. He served three-and-a-half years in prison and then served an additional nine years for state charges.

5. Charles Ponzi didn’t invent the Ponzi scheme.

Though Ponzi schemes were eventually named for him, Charles Ponzi didn’t invent this type of scam. There were many crooks before him who used the same method to exploit investors. Charles Dickens even wrote pre-Ponzi Ponzi schemes into his 1857 novel Little Doritt.

It’s possible that Ponzi got the idea for his own fraud from William F. Miller, who pulled a similar stunt working as a bookkeeper in Brooklyn in 1899. But it was the highs of Ponzi’s success—and the lows of his demise—that made his story so memorable.

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