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.Ludwig Döll, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

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 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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

10 LEGO Sets For Every Type of LEGO Builder 

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Amazon

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If you’re looking for a timeless gift to give this holiday season, look no further than a LEGO set. With kits that cater to a wide age range—from toddlers fine-tuning their motor skills to adults looking for a more engaged way to relax—there’s a LEGO set out there for everyone. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite sets on Amazon to help you find the LEGO box that will make your loved one smile this year. If you end up getting one for yourself too, don’t worry: we won’t tell.

1. Classic Large Creative Gift Box; $44

Amazon

You can never go wrong with a classic. This 790-piece box contains dozens of types of colored bricks so builders of any age can let their inner architect shine. With toy windows, doors, tires, and tire rims included in addition to traditional bricks, the building possibilities are truly endless. The bricks are compatible with all LEGO construction sets, so builders have the option of creating their own world or building a new addition onto an existing set.

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2. Harry Potter Hogwarts Express; $64

Amazon

Experience the magic of Hogwarts with this buildable Hogwarts Express box. The Prisoner Of Azkaban-inspired kit not only features Hogwarts's signature mode of transportation, but also Platform 9 ¾, a railway bridge, and some of your favorite Harry Potter characters. Once the train is built, the sides and roof can be removed for play within the cars. There is a Dementor on board … but after a few spells cast by Harry and Lupin, the only ride he’ll take is a trip to the naughty list.

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3. Star Wars Battle of Hoth; $160

Amazon

Star Wars fans can go into battle—and rewrite the course of history—by recreating a terrifying AT-AT Walker from the Battle of Hoth. Complete with 1267 pieces to make this a fun challenge for ages 10 and up, the Walker has elements like spring-loaded shooters, a cockpit, and foldout panels to reveal its deadly inner workings. But never fear: Even though the situation might look dire, Luke Skywalker and his thermal detonator are ready to save the day.

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4. Super Mario Adventures Starter Course; $60

Amazon

Kids can play Super Mario in 3D with LEGO’s interactive set. After constructing one of the courses, young designers can turn on the electronic Mario figurine to get started. Mario’s built-in color sensors and LCD screens allow him to express more than 100 different reactions as he travels through the course. He’ll encounter obstacles, collect coins, and avoid Goomba and Bowser to the sound of the Mario soundtrack (played via an included speaker). This is a great gift for encouraging problem-solving and creativity in addition to gaming smarts.

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5. Gingerbread House; $212

Amazon

Gingerbread houses are a great way to enjoy the holidays … but this expert-level kit takes cookie construction to a whole new level. The outside of the LEGO house rotates around to show the interior of a sweet gingerbread family’s home. Although the living room is the standout with its brick light fireplace, the house also has a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and outdoor furniture. A LEGO Christmas tree and presents can be laid out as the holidays draw closer, making this a seasonal treat you can enjoy with your family every year.

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6. Elsa and Olaf’s Tea Party; $18

Amazon

LEGO isn’t just for big kids. Toddlers and preschoolers can start their LEGO journey early by constructing an adorable tea party with their favorite Frozen characters. As they set up Elsa and Olaf’s ice seats, house, and tea fixings, they’ll work on fine-motor, visual-spatial, and emotional skills. Building the set from scratch will enable them to put their own creative spin on a favorite movie, and will prepare them for building more complicated sets as they get older.

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7. Collectible Art Set Building Kits; $120

Amazon

Why buy art when you can build it yourself? LEGO’s Beatles and Warhol Marilyn Monroe sets contain four options for LEGO art that can be built and displayed inside your home. Each kit comes with a downloadable soundtrack you can listen to while you build, turning your art experience into a relaxing one. Once you’re finished building your creation it can be exhibited within a LEGO brick frame, with the option to hang it or dismantle it to start on a new piece. If the 1960s aren’t your thing, check out these Sith and Iron Man options.

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8. NASA Apollo Saturn V; $120

Amazon

The sky (or just the contents of your LEGO box) is the limit with LEGO’s Saturn V expert-level kit. Designed for ages 14 and up, this to-scale rocket includes three removable rocket stages, along with a command and service module, Lunar Lander, and more. Once the rocket is complete, two small astronaut figurines can plant a tiny American flag to mark a successful launch. The rocket comes with three stands so it can be displayed after completion, as well as a booklet for learning more about the Apollo moon missions.

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9. The White House; $100

Amazon

Reconstruct the First Family’s home (and one of America’s most famous landmarks) by erecting this display model of the White House. The model, which can be split into three distinct sections, features the Executive Residence, the West Wing, and the East Wing of the complex. Plant lovers can keep an eye out for the colorful rose garden and Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, which flank the Executive Residence. If you’re unable to visit the White House anytime soon, this model is the next best thing.

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10. Volkswagen Camper Van; $120

Amazon

Road trip lovers and camping fanatics alike will love this vintage-inspired camper. Based on the iconic 1962 VW vehicle, LEGO’s camper gets every detail right, from the trademark safari windshield on the outside to the foldable furniture inside. Small details, like a “Make LEGO Models, Not War” LEGO T-shirt and a detailed engine add an authentic touch to the piece. Whether you’re into old car mechanics or simply want to take a trip back in time, this LEGO car will take you on a journey you won’t soon forget.

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How It's a Wonderful Life Went From Box Office Dud to Accidental Christmas Tradition

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Director Frank Capra's 1946 classic It's a Wonderful Life is sacred in the holiday movie pantheon. It's not as quotable as A Christmas Story (1983) or as lyrical as 1966's How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, but the story of George Bailey has a universal message behind it that endures more than 70 years later. Though the movie is the quintessential Christmas tale today, when it was first released in 1946, audiences and critics were lukewarm toward the picture, resulting in a box office disappointment that killed Capra's nascent production company, Liberty Films. In a strange twist, decades after it was first released, an unlikely clerical screw-up managed to turn It's a Wonderful Life into the Christmastime staple we know today.

In the 1930s, Capra became a magnet for Academy Awards, directing movies like the screwball comedy It Happened One Night (1934) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). After Pearl Harbor, Capra knew he could contribute something to the war effort, so he took a post in Washington overseeing the development of U.S. propaganda films for the government—most notably the award-winning Why We Fight series of documentaries.

Upon returning from Washington in 1945, Capra—along with other wartime directors William Wyler and George Stevens—helped finance Liberty Films, an independent production company poised to give filmmakers the one thing they all dreamed of: freedom. The company's first film would be an adaption of a short story titled "The Greatest Gift," which would also appear in Good Housekeeping under the title "The Man Who Was Never Born," and would be adapted for the screen as It's a Wonderful Life. It's one of the few movies Capra also received a screenwriting credit for, and with a proposed budget of $2 million, it was a huge gamble for Liberty.

Something akin to a nightmare

In the book Five Came Back, writer Mark Harris describes It's a Wonderful Life's production process as something akin to a nightmare. Script rewrites, a bloated shooting schedule, and an ever-changing crew cost the studio nearly all of the original $2 million budget—well before filming was even wrapped. The spending became such a concern for Capra's partners at Liberty that George Stevens remarked, "Why the hell couldn't it be springtime?" when he saw how much it cost the production to produce fake snow for shots. Capra bet Liberty's future on audiences looking for some comforting nostalgia after the war, but he was about to see firsthand just how much the world had changed since he came back.

The original plan was to release It's a Wonderful Life in January 1947, after the Oscar deadlines, but when RKO—the film's distributor—needed a movie to release in time for Christmas, Capra's project was the easy solution. It opened just weeks after William Wyler's major studio film The Best Years of Our Lives, a hard-hitting drama about a U.S. soldier coming home after the war to pick up his life again. The two films couldn't be any more different, and the reviews reflected that.

Even at nearly three hours long, The Best Years of Our Lives was an absolute hit with critics and at the box office, recouping its budget multiple times over. It's a Wonderful Life, with its inflated budget and saccharine tale touting old-timey values, was met with a whimper, making only an estimated $3.3 million against a $3.7 million budget. Wyler beat Capra in every way: reviews, box office, and awards. The Best Years of Our Lives won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, while It's a Wonderful Life received only a lone technical award—ironically for the fake snow Stevens loathed.

Liberty Films had borrowed more than $1.5 million to make the film, and with such a disappointing box office return, the production company was soon sold off to Paramount. Capra only directed five feature films afterwards, none of which ever reached the heights of his pre-war work. As unlikely as it seems today, It's a Wonderful Life was seen as a flat disappointment destined for anonymity—until a clerical error changed its fate.

A Wonderful free-for-all

In 1974, the movie entered the public domain after the film's copyright holder simply forgot to file for a renewal. This meant that TV stations everywhere could play It's a Wonderful Life all day and all night and not have to pay a cent for it. Networks aren't necessarily shy about exploiting free Christmas content, and the film's reemergence on television gave Capra's story new life. While a post-World War II crowd may have rejected the movie's sentiment, subsequent generations seem to revel in the opportunity to visit the nostalgic whimsy of it all.

“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen,” Capra once told The Wall Street Journal about the film's revival. “The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud ... but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

Legalities rewrote the history of It's a Wonderful Life yet again in 1993. The Supreme Court's previous ruling in Stewart v. Abend established a precedent that allowed the film's original copyright owner—Republic Pictures—to regain its ownership of the movie. The ruling claimed that since Republic owned the copyright on the original short story which the movie was based on, and the score for the film, they, in essence, still owned the movie. So what was once a near barrage of networks airing It's a Wonderful Life has since been pared down to just one: NBC.

The network paid for exclusive rights to air the movie, which is why you'll only see It's a Wonderful Life on TV once or twice during the holidays. But the movie's modern appeal exists because of that scarcity. The film that killed a production company 70 years ago is now an annual television event and part of countless family traditions around the globe. It turns out Capra always knew what audiences wanted, he just needed to wait for the right clerical error to prove it.

This story has been updated for 2020.