The royal Christmas tree at Windsor Castle

Queen Charlotte (the consort of King George III) had first introduced the tradition of decorating a  pine tree in the royal rooms at Christmas time. But, it was Prince Albert who really encouraged and popularised the festive event so that, in due course, the habit was adopted in every English parlour.

However, at Windsor Castle, on December 14th 1861 when the tree would have normally glittered and shone with hundreds of tiny candles, all such joyous plans were discarded, and every decorative light was doused ~ because of Albert's sudden death at the age of only 42.

Victoria and Albert enjoying Christmas with their children

Following her husband's death Queen Victoria still celebrated Christmas day, but she hated to spend it in Windsor, the place of her loved one's death. Instead, she travelled to the Isle of Wight and the Italianate palace of Osborne House where the family had previously spent happy times together.

The royal family in happier times

Another thing that changed was that Victoria no longer shared this holiday with her eldest son. The Prince of Wales then spent his own Christmas days at Sandringham, claiming to find Osborne House to be 'utterly unattractive'.

Bertie, (Edward) the Prince of Wale, and his father, Prince Albert, on the right.

But, perhaps an element of guilt influenced the young man's decision, for shortly before his father's death there had been a notorious scandal involving the future king and an actress by the name of Nellie Clifton. All of the press publicity had caused his father enormous distress. Albert wrote several letters to Bertie and then, in appalling weather, set off to Cambridge to meet his son, to implore him to change his decadent ways.

 Prince Albert's deathbed at  Windsor

The stress of that situation, combined with pre-existing poor health (and some say the state of the Windsor drains) led to a fatal illness. Albert came home after seeing his son and died in the Blue Room at Windsor Castle.

Queen Victoria never recovered from the shock of Albert's loss. She entirely blamed the Prince of Wales, as illustrated by this line which is taken from a letter written to one of her daughters: "That boy...I never can, or ever shall look at him without a shudder."

In the VV's novel, The Goddess and the Thief, Victoria's grief is dramatised - as is her ensuing interest in the hiring of spirit mediums. Much of that book is fictional but it is true that the widowed Queen very often tried to contact the husband who dwelled on 'the other side'. As time went on she relied more and more upon her closest friend, John Brown - the game keeper who also claimed to be a spirit medium. There were rumours of private seances, some of which were described by the Queen herself - a notoriously regular diarist. But these records were destroyed at the time of Victoria's own death; viewed by her advisers and family members as being an embarrassment.

What a shame that is! What interesting reading they might have made.


  1. Of all the Victorian 'what if...?' Scenarios possible, I've always thought that by far the one I'd most dearly know the answer to is 'what if Albert had lived?'

    He was such an influential and intelligent figure that so many things could have been different had he lived.

  2. I agree. Absolutely. I still don't think he is appreciated as he should be.

  3. Seconded! For a start off, I do not think Helena would have married the dull beyond belief Prince Christian and I think the whole life of the Royal Family would have been better. He was one of only three people who understood the Schleswig-Holstein Question and I think he would have seen off Bismarck. His death was very sad but I think he had lost the will to live.

  4. I hadn't realised he was so young when he died. So sad to hear how devistated Queen Victoria was at his death.