The royal Christmas tree at Windsor Castle

Queen Charlotte (the consort of King George III) first introduced a pine tree in the royal rooms at Christmas time. But, it was Prince Albert who really encouraged and popularised the decorated festive tree as a more general tradition - and one that we still follow now. 

However, on December 14th, 1861 when the Windsor Castle tree would normally have glittered with its hundreds of tiny candles, every single light was doused ~ because of Albert's sudden death at the age of only 42.

Victoria and Albert enjoying Christmas with their children

In the years that followed on, Queen Victoria still celebrated Christmas, but she hated to be in Windsor which reminded her too painfully of her husband's death there. Instead, she travelled to the Isle of Wight and the Italianate palace of Osborne House where, during Albert's lifetime, the family had spent so many happy times together.

The royal family in happier times

Another change to the family tradition was the fact that, after his father's death, Bertie, the Prince of Wales preferred to spend his Christmas days at Sandringham, claiming to find Osborne House 'utterly unattractive'.

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

But, perhaps an element of guilt influenced this decision. Shortly before his father's death there had been a notorious scandal involving the then future king who was studying at Cambridge, and the actress Nellie Clifton. Intrusive press publicity had caused Prince Albert great distress. He wrote Bertie many letters and, eventually, in appalling weather, travelled to meet his son in Cambridge. 

 Prince Albert's deathbed at  Windsor

The stress of such a journey, combined with a pre-existing illness (some say caused by the Windsor drains) led to Albert coming home again in a state of some exhaustion. He died very soon afterwards in the Blue Room at Windsor Castle.

Queen Victoria definitely blamed the Prince of Wales for this sad end, 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 the book is fictional, but it is true that the widowed Queen very often tried to contact the spirit of her husband. As time passed 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 them described by the Queen herself - a notoriously regular diarist. But these records were destroyed at the time of Victoria's own death; being viewed by her advisers and other family members as potentially embarrassing.

What a shame that is! What interesting reading they would make today.

An Audible version is also available.


  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.