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How Prince Albert Lost His Mother Aged 5

Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha's childhood was unnecessarily sad. Find out why the 5 year old Albert didn't see his mother after 1824.

Louise of Saxe-Coburg-Altenburg with her sons Ernst and Albrecht.

Louise of Saxe-Coburg-Altenburg with her sons Ernst and Albrecht.

Prince Albert's Parents

Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, later of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, was born on the 26th August 1819, a few months after his cousin and future wife Queen Victoria (1819-1901).

His mother Louise of Saxe-Coburg-Anhalt (1800-1831) had been unhappily married to the philandering Duke Ernst III of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld—from 1825 Ernst I of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha—(1784-1844) since July 1817. At the wedding, she had been romantic, clever and just 16 years old; Ernst was 33.

In 1817 Ernst had needed a legitimate heir, and Louise’s Saxe-Coburg-Altenburg required a male successor to the titles and land because Salic Law governed the duchy. Ernst could fulfil that role. Louise had brought a substantial dowry with her and, with a misplaced sense of optimism, had believed that she would be happy with him. Her teenage enthusiasm soon vanished as Ernst continued his pattern of countless affairs and lovers, fathering numerous illegitimate offspring and caring little about his wife.

Map of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and Saxe-Coburg-Altenburg in 1825. They lie in today's Bavaria and Thuringia in Germany.

Map of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and Saxe-Coburg-Altenburg in 1825. They lie in today's Bavaria and Thuringia in Germany.

Prinz Franz Albrecht August Karl Emanuel von Sachsen-Coburg-Saalfeld

Despite the discord between the couple, they managed to have an heir, Ernst, in 1818, and Albrecht was their second and last child. He was Prinz Franz Albrecht August Karl Emanuel von Sachsen-Coburg-Saalfeld at his birth. His godparents included Emperor Franz I of Austria and his paternal grandmother, the Dowager Duchess Auguste of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.

Albert’s birthplace and the boys’ main childhood home was the Schloss Rosenau near Coburgat. At the Schloss and ducal palaces in Coburg and Gotha, scenes of acrimony, banishment, and a brutal separation between a mother and young children occurred during his formative years. The emotional scars ran deeply in Prince Albert for life.

Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha's birthplace Schloss Rosenau.

Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha's birthplace Schloss Rosenau.

Louise Loses Her Sons Forever

A lonely and disillusioned Louise sought consolation with one of her husband’s equerries Baron Alexander von Hanstein (1804-1884). When Ernst learned of his wife’s affair, he showed a marvellous talent for double standards. He banished her from his palaces and castles. At midnight on the 2nd September 1824, she was cast out. Her sons almost certainly never saw her again.

Louise was refused further access to her sons and was denied portraits of them. It was an agonising time for her and the boys. Albert was just five years old, and Ernst was six—how could they comprehend what was happening?

Ernst awarded Louise a property in St. Wendel in the Principality of Lichtenberg. He intended that she would spend her exile without trying to contact him or their sons again.

Alexander von Hanstein and Louise Secretly Marry

Baron von Hanstein followed Louise to St. Wendel. She was well-liked in her new principality, and she engaged with the community. She forged a new life but desperately missed her boys. Albert and Ernst relied on one another for companionship.

Ernst divorced Louise in 1826. Louise and Alexander von Hanstein secretly married on the 18th October 1826. Duke Friedrich of Saxe-Altenburg gave Alexander the title of Graf (count) von Polzig und Beiersdorf. The couple’s marital joy was short-lived.

Louise fell ill in 1831, and Alexander travelled with her to Paris to receive medical evaluation and treatment. She was diagnosed as suffering from terminal cervical cancer. She died in the French capital, aged 30, on the 30th August 1831.

Her boys had now lost their mother permanently, whether they had hoped to one day be reunited is unknown, but this possibility died with her.

Louise's Journey From Paris to St. Wendel to Coburg

Her body was transported from Paris back to St. Wendel, and it went missing twice. Ernst and his equerries were blamed for the senseless disappearances. She was finally laid to rest in a simple crypt in St. Wendel’s Church. In 1846, two years after Ernst’s death, she was interred in the Church of St. Moritz in Coburg. In 1860 she was moved again to the Glockenberg Cemetery, the ducal burial site. There she has remained.

Duke Ernst remarried in December 1832; Duchess Marie of Wurttemberg (1799-1860) was not only his wife but his niece. She was, therefore, the boys’ stepmother and first cousin. It was not a love match. Very few women were willing to marry Ernst, knowing about his treatment of Louise and his womanising ways. The Dowager Duchess Auguste selected Marie, and she obeyed.

The couple had little in common, but fortunately, Marie and the boys got on well, and she corresponded with both of them until her death in 1860. Albert outlived her by a little under 15 months.

Prince Albert's Fear of Debauchery

The Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (Gotha) princes grew up in a male-dominated environment, and Albert was far more comfortable in the company of males. His awkwardness around females was noted even in adulthood. Albert developed a fear of debauchery and moral lapses and so behaved impeccably. He aimed to be the perfect son and representative of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Ernst, his elder brother, fell into his father’s bad habits as soon as he was introduced to them.

Albert’s tutor Christop Florshutz was a kind man who educated the studious Albert well before the prince relocated to Brussels in Belgium to study and spend time with his uncle Leopold, King of the Belgians. (Leopold was the widower of Princess Charlotte of Wales (1796-1817), George IV and Caroline of Brunswick’s daughter.)

Engraving by S Reynolds after F Lock, 1840. Victoria and Albert on their wedding day, 10th February 1840.

Engraving by S Reynolds after F Lock, 1840. Victoria and Albert on their wedding day, 10th February 1840.

Victoria and Albert

Leopold, encouraged by the Dowager Duchess Auguste, promoted a match between the first cousins Victoria and Albert. (Victoria’s mother, Victoire, Duchess of Kent was Ernst I and Leopold’s sister.) In 1837 and 1838, Albert attended the University of Bonn, another male-dominated environment and one in which he took little opportunity to ingratiate himself with women. He was mentored as an adult by Baron Christian von Stockmar.

In 1837 the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family took a trip to England, where Queen Victoria fell for the love of her life. Albert and Victoria married on the 10th February 1840 and had nine children before his premature death on the 14th December 1861. One of those children was Bertie, Prince of Wales, who took after his pleasure-seeking Saxe-Coburg-Gotha uncle and grandfather.

Sources

Louise's home in St. Wendel in the Principality of Lichtenburg.

Louise's home in St. Wendel in the Principality of Lichtenburg.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Joanne Hayle