BBC’s New Marriage Drama Stars Nicola Walker & Sean Bean
With the likes of HBO’s Scenes From A Marriageand the Academy-Award winning Marriage Story, it is safe to say that screen depictions of marriage and relationship are becoming more authentic by the production. Moving away from all the rom-coms of years gone by, these raw and honest films and TV shows are becoming increasingly popular. And the BBC is adding a new series to your watch-list: Marriage.
Created by BAFTA-winning writer Stefan Golaszewski, the BBC special is a four-part series starring Sean Bean and Nicola Walker. The series was first announced by the BBC as they revealed six new dramas they commissioned back in May 2021, including the TV adaptation of Dolly Alderton’s much-loved memoir and Candice Carty-William’s brand new series. Here’s everything we know about Marriage.
The official BBC synopsis reads: “Marriage… is an up-close portrait of a marriage – sometimes funny, sometimes moving, always revealing. Marriage sees married couple Ian and Emma negotiate the ups and downs of their 30-year marriage. We see them dealing with the insecurities, the ambiguities, the hopes and the fears that are part of all marriages, as the drama explores the risks and the gifts of a long-term intimate relationship.” So far, so honest.
Game of Thrones and Time star Sean Bean will be taking on the role of Ian, while Nicola Walker, of Unforgottenfame,will star as Emma. (Read: major feels.)
Speaking about her new role, Walker said: “This is a unique project. Stefan has created such a beautiful, funny and complicated world and I’m excited to be stepping into Ian and Emma’s marriage with Sean.”
Bean also shared his reaction to securing the role. He said: “I’m thrilled to be playing opposite the talented Nicola Walker and I’m looking forward to bringing Stefan’s intimate scripts to the screen.”
Marriage Release Date
While we don’t have a release date for the series just yet, we do know that viewers can catch the drama on BBC One and BBCiPlayer as and when it becomes available. But we’ll be sure to update you as soon as we have a date.
This post will be updated with additional plot and cast details as more information on Marriage becomes available.
Methodists, marriage and why it matters - OTN Coordinator Kieran Bohan responds on BBC local radio
THIS MORNING, BBC local radio’s Sunday faith programmes were talking about the upcoming vote at the Methodist Conference about whether they’ll agree to allow same sex weddings to be held on Methodist premises.
Stations across England played a couple of short clips of Rev Sonia Hicks, the new President of the Methodist conference, explaining why and how they’ve reached this point, then asked me for a response. Here’s a summary of what I said (or intended to say!)
How significant would it be if this is approved next week by the Methodists?
The report on which Conference is voting, God In Live Unites Us, made three recommendations:
an understanding of ‘good relating’ as a way of thinking about loving relationships
an understanding of cohabitation, officially recognising that it too may be a form of relationship in which God’s love is found, and potentially a stage along the way to more formal commitment
to allow Methodist ministers (and other appropriate people) who feel it is the right thing to do to celebrate same-sex marriages, and to allow same-sex marriages to take place in Methodist churches which decide that this is what they want to do.
Conference in 2019 voted strongly in favour, but these votes were only provisional, and were sent out for consultation to the 30 Methodist Districts across Britain. Out of the 30 Districts, 29 have voted in favour, most of those with very strong majorities. The Conference is still free to vote in whatever way it thinks is right (which could include amending or rejecting any of the recommendations) but the signs look very encouraging. Assuming the recommendations are passed, it will then be for local Methodist Churches to decide how they want to proceed: some will feel it right to offer same-sex marriage as soon as possible, others will need time to think, and others will be clear that would not be the right step for them. All would remain Methodists in good standing. (I’m grateful to Revd Mark Rowland from Dignity and Worth, the LGBT+ advocacy charity within the Methodist Church, for providing this background in a recent blog for OTN).
It’s an example of how these conversations and decisions may be well conducted, at a time when the Church of England continues to debate Identity, Sexuality, Relationships and Marriage in its parallel process, called Living In Love And Faith. Anglicans tend to talk about ‘good disagreement’, whereas Methodists have an understanding called ‘fellowship of controversy’, which is better because the focus is on fellowship, not disagreement.
If it goes ahead, the Methodist Church could be the largest denomination to support same-sex marriages on its premises. We also have Open Table communities in our network hosted in Baptist and United Reformed Churches - they already have the option to conduct same-sex weddings if they wish, but that decision is taken at a local level.
Why was the Open Table Network formed?
The first Open Table community began because many churches and their congregations do not easily, kindly or honestly welcome LGBT+ people, therefore, many LGBT+ people have nowhere spiritually to belong. Recent research provides evidence for the need for ministries like Open Table:
59% of LGBT+ young people interested in joining a religious organisation have stopped or reduced their involvement owing to their sexuality or gender identity (Youth Chances, METRO 2016).
A third of lesbian, gay and bi people of faith (32 per cent) aren’t open with anyone in their faith community about their sexual orientation. One in four trans people of faith (25 per cent) aren’t open about who they are in their faith community. Only two in five LGBT people of faith (39 per cent) think their faith community is welcoming of lesbian, gay and bi people. Just one in four LGBT people of faith (25 per cent) think their faith community is welcoming of trans people. (LGBT in Britain: Home & Communities, Stonewall 2017)
Members of our communities are significantly more likely to experience poor mental health, which research has shown relates explicitly to discriminatory pastoral practices of local churches, and the Church’s substantial contribution to negative attitudes in society (In the Name of Love, Oasis Foundation 2017).
'LGBQ+ Christians surveyed rated their mental and emotional health and well-being as significantly lower than their heterosexual peers, especially those who had undergone 'conversion therapy' in an attempt to alter their sexual orientation' (National Faith & Sexuality Survey, Ozanne Foundation 2018).
We didn’t start as a network. We started in June 2008, thirteen years ago this month, as a gathering of just six LGBT+ people at an Anglican church in Liverpool. Those six people (of whom I was one) came from different Christian traditions - Church of England, Catholic, United Reformed, and Methodist churches! We were drawn by our need to worship as ourselves. What happened then - and what still happens in all our communities - is that we help one another in integrating our spiritual identity with our sexual and gender identities. This was - and still is - incredibly affirming for those who have been suffering an inner conflict.
We met once a month, to share Communion (bread and wine in remembrance of Jesus’ last meal with his friends) and to begin to create a ‘safe’ space for LGBT people, who typically haven’t been well served in mainstream churches. To us ‘safe’ means: affirming, honest, empathic, unconditionally loving environments where LGBT+ people of faith can explore personal and spiritual growth through developing relationships with others who understand the unique barriers we face.
At the first meeting to plan these Communion services, someone asked ‘Will it be “open table”? And we loved the phrase. It sums up a Communion in which everyone can take part without exclusion, judgement or a test of belonging or ‘worthiness’. Many LGBT+ people have been excluded, or fear exclusion, from this central act of hospitality of our Christian faith and story. We have called ourselves Open Table ever since, as a sign of our commitment to making sure everyone is more than welcome.
People across the country began to hear of us, particularly since July 2015 when Bishop of Liverpool Paul Bayes began to support us publicly, and to join us to lead Communion services and walk with us at Pride in Liverpool. He is now a Patron of the Open Table Network, one of several notable Christians who identify as LGBT+, or as allies, who advocate for our Network, speaking about us and supporting us in the public eye.
How you work with the churches that you currently partner with?
Our second community began in Warrington in 2015. We now have 18 OTN communities across England and Wales, hosted by churches from five difference traditions, belonging with us formally within our respectful, loving, safeguarding guidelines. We are a registered charity now too, since March 2021.
Each Open Table community meets as separate gatherings - but we are all part of one body. Many more churches are also considering joining the Open Table Network - and we support them as they find their way forward with God’s help.
We share our vision, mission and values, based on our 13 years of experience of building communities in this way. We explore our faith as fellow LGBT+ Christians - and to share and celebrate together at least once a month. These celebrations are usually a Communion service. We’ve also developed services and resources for all times of our church year, and our LGBT+ community calendar, as well as significant moments in our lives (baptism and renaming, coming out, relationship commitments, funeral and memorial services).
In our recent survey, Open Table community members rated their well-being before and after joining an OTN community. After joining, the average rating showed a 40% improvement.
56% said being LGBT+ is a barrier to belonging in a faith community.
92% said being in an OTN community increased their sense of belonging.
87% feel less isolated and more socially connected.
97% said being part of an OTN community contributed to an improvement in their lives.
Why do so many people still want to continue with their Christian life, even if they feel the church has treated them badly?
Some don’t – they might walk away, never to return. Some of us do, because we might see that our experience of God is bigger than the institution of the church, or that we feel called to be part of the change we want to see. The Scottish minister and hymnwriter John Bell, who’s now also a patron of the Open Table Network, inspired us with this call to action, made in a talk at the Greenbelt festival where he came out as gay:
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Nicola Walker and Sean Bean to lead BBC relationship drama Marriage
The BBC is bringing in the big guns for its latest drama, Marriage. The upcoming four-part series from two-time Bafta-winning writer and director Stefan Golaszewski, whose work you may know from Mum and Him and Her, features an A-list cast led by Nicola Walker (Unforgotten) and Sean Bean (Game of Thrones).
The synopsis for the show teases: “Marriage sees married couple Ian (Bean) and Emma (Walker) negotiate the ups and downs of their 30-year marriage. We see them dealing with the insecurities, the ambiguities, the hopes and the fears that are part of all marriages as the drama explores the risks and the gifts of a long-term intimate relationship.”
And with the announcement of the new drama comes word from many of those involved in it, in front of the camera and behind the scenes.
Bean says of the role: “I’m thrilled to be playing opposite the talented Nicola Walker and I’m looking forward to bringing Stefan’s intimate scripts to the screen.” His co-star Nicola Walker added: “This is a unique project. Stefan has created such a beautiful, funny and complicated world and I’m excited to be stepping into Ian and Emma’s marriage with Sean.”
On the production side of things, creator Stefan Golaszewski said: “It’s amazing to get to work with Sean and Nicola. They’re actors of such depth, truth and warmth and I can’t wait to go on this journey with them.” Executive Producer for The Forge, Beth Willis added: “Stefan’s exquisite observation of marriage is funny, warm and searingly honest. His writing is a joy to read. I cannot wait to see Sean and Nicola bring to life this wonderful couple.”
“The extraordinary depth and complexity of Stefan’s characters calls for two of our most talented and loved actors,” said Piers Wenger, Director of BBC Drama Commissioning. “Enter Nicola and Sean. It’s always a privilege to have you on the BBC.”
As for when Marriage will air, filming is about to begin so we do not expect it to hit our screens any earlier than the summer of 2022.
Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight.
Many people see marriage as having two key purposes:
- uniting two people together in a life-long bond
- providing a secure environment for the birth and upbringing of children
Marriage is a civil contract between two people.
The couple to be married may choose whether to have the ceremony in a register office or other place licensed to conduct marriages, or whether to have it as part of a religious ceremony in a place of worship licensed to conduct it.
In 2014, the UK parliament brought in a law (known as the Marriage (Same Sex) Couples Act 2014) so that a couple of the same gender can get married in England, Scotland and Wales, although this excludes getting married in a religious establishment.
Increasingly, couples are choosing to live together before deciding whether to get married. Some couples choose to live together without ever getting married. Living together without being married is called cohabitation. Opinions on this vary within and between different religious traditions.
In some religious traditions marriages are ‘arranged’ by the young person’s family. Parents regard it as a serious responsibility to find a suitable partner for their son or daughter. The final choice is usually made by the young person, who is free to reject as many of the potential marriage partners as they wish until they meet someone who they are happy to marry.
Some families may come from a tradition of arranged marriages but now adopt a more Western way of finding a suitable partner, eg approaching a matchmaking or dating agency. This often has the full support of parents. An arranged marriage is not the same as a forced marriage.
An increasing number of marriages now break down and end in divorce. Most religious traditions recognise that divorce is sometimes unavoidable. Attitudes to remarriage after divorce vary within and between religious traditions.
And relationships bbc marriage
'Covid ended our marriage': The couples who split in the pandemic
By Emma Ailes
BBC World Service
Around the world - from South America to West Africa - previously happy couples are splitting up and many are divorcing. The stress of the pandemic has been blamed by some, while others say it has highlighted old problems.
"I found out during lockdown that my husband has a girlfriend." Reni* whispers down the phone from her home in Nigeria. Her family are chatting loudly in the next room, plates clinking as they prepare dinner.
"I confronted him about her," she says, "and all he said was: 'How did you get into my phone?' It was a big blow out. I think he wants a divorce. He doesn't know I'm speaking to you now, that's why I can't show my real face."
Cooped up together in homes all over the world, many of us have felt the strain on our relationships. Juggling childcare, chores and work, worrying about health, finances and the state of the world, the global Covid-19 crisis has left many of us also navigating a domestic crisis of our own behind closed doors.
For some, like Reni, the close confinement of lockdown has also meant discovering secrets - and having to deal with the fallout.
The pandemic spared nothing
The number of couples seeking relationship counselling has surged during lockdown.
"Usually most of my clients are individuals," says Dr Rebecca Pender Baum, president of the International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors. "Since the start of lockdown there's been a noticeable shift, the majority of enquiries have been from couples."
Dr Marni Feuerman, a psychotherapist in Florida, says after an initial dip in the first few weeks of lockdown, she too saw a flood of requests from couples.
"The biggest thing I hear is about couples arguing about the new division of labour in the house," she says. "People trying to work and also take care of children - everything has been thrown into chaos."
For the most part, it was 12 beautiful years together. But the pandemic spared nothingRafaela Carolina Ferreira Schmidt
This was true for Richard Cunha Schmidt, 41, and Rafaela Carolina Ferreira Schmidt, 31, who live in Florianopolis, in southern Brazil. They divorced last month, saying lockdown was the catalyst.
"For the most part, it was 12 beautiful years together," says social worker Rafaela. "But the pandemic spared nothing. It came to expose that in a 24-hour relationship with two children, and one home office…a lot of things were not matching anymore."
"There were those moments of anger and disagreement, of using the situation against each other. I felt that," she adds. "The issues of wearing masks, coming back to the house, taking clothes off and taking a shower, I took it all very seriously. His view was different. I think it's funny now, but we were really furious at the time."
"We started to fight about things. Futile, unimportant things," adds project manager Richard. "Lockdown was very strict, we couldn't leave the house, not even to get some air. And I think at first I didn't accept all this rigour."
A survey by the UK charity Relate in April found that nearly a quarter of people felt lockdown had placed additional pressure on their relationship. A similar proportion had found their partner more irritating - with women reporting so more than men.
Lockdown created a "make or break" environment, the charity says, with people having "relationship realisations" - both good and bad. A further survey by the charity in July found 8% of people said lockdown had made them realise they needed to end their relationship - but 43% said lockdown had brought them closer.
Dr Feuerman says in many cases lockdown magnified the existing dynamic in a relationship. She has been counselling couples over zoom - sometimes from their garden shed or a parked car to gain some privacy from the family home.
"The pandemic has caused stress for everybody. There's a collective trauma," she says. "But couples that were strong beforehand are even stronger. They already knew how to use their relationship as a resource at a time of stress. The couples who have been worst affected are those where there were problems before this started."
Lockdown made us face the problems with courage and resignation and not run awayRichard Cunha Schmidt
For Reni, lockdown lifted the veil on the truth about her marriage. She says she would normally have been too busy to notice her husband's cold and unusual behaviour, which led her to check his phone.
But despite the discovery of his infidelity, divorce is simply not an option. "I would call my parents and cry. But my parents are Christians, they don't believe in divorce or separation. They told me stay there no matter what your husband does.
"Do I love him? I'm not sure anymore. I'm just hoping he doesn't speak to her anymore. But I'm glad I found out, it gave me peace of mind that his harsh behaviour was not my fault."
Anecdotally, divorce lawyers in the UK and US have reported that enquiries are up significantly. One Washington DC law firm recorded a 70% increase in calls in October compared to October 2019.
Lockdown relationship tips
Kate Moyle, psychotherapist at the UK Council for Psychotherapy, says:
- In lockdown, our partner's habits that normally irritate us a bit can become much more obvious. The Gottman Institute recommends trying to move away from criticising or blaming your partner by using "I" statements in your communication, such as "I'm feeling", "my feelings are", rather than "you do this, you make me feel".
- Many couples are reporting spending all their time together - but very little of that is quality time. It is important to consciously make time to be together as a couple, but also make sure you spend some time apart as individuals, even in the same house.
- This is a really difficult time to be going through a break-up. If you are, it's important to reach out to family and friends for support, and also to practice self-care by doing the things that make you happy and feel good about yourself.
Early figures in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and the Chinese cities of Xi'an and Dazhou also suggest a rise in official divorce applications. However, University of Virginia sociology professor Brad Wilcox warns against jumping to conclusions about a universal spike.
"Data that we have from four out of five states reporting divorce in real time - Arizona, Florida, Missouri, Rhode Island and Oregon - indicate that divorce has fallen," he says. "No doubt, some of this decline can be attributed to the fact that some couples had difficulty getting divorces amidst the lockdowns."
But based on the trends seen in previous times of turmoil, like the global recession ten years ago, Professor Wilcox anticipates that many people will be hesitant about making permanent life changes while other aspects of their life are unstable.
"My perspective is that we'll see a decline in divorce this year in 2020, and probably a slight uptick in divorce in 2021 as things return to more normalcy."
It just went down really fast. I think lockdown fast-tracked the expiry dateKieron Byatt
For those who have split, the pandemic presents a further challenge - how to survive heartbreak in a lockdown. In Melbourne, Australia, musician Kieron Byatt sits in the room he shared, until recently, with his girlfriend of nine years. Confined to the house as winter drew in, and without the distractions of normal life, he says they stumbled into a "routine funk".
"It just went down really fast. I think lockdown fast-tracked the expiry date. We went from talking about buying a house together at the start of the year to… she was gone, and I just felt so alone."
Kieron threw himself into a strict routine of work and exercise but the pain of the separation - on top of Melbourne's strict 112-day lockdown - took a mental toll.
"When the breakup happened, Melbourne was opening back up again, and then we got the word we were going back into lockdown. So it was just like all of these incremental steps of like 'how much worse could it get? I got to a point where I got really down, and I just cried my eyes out."
In Brazil, Richard and Rafaela have managed to navigate the end of their marriage amicably and remain friends. Rafaela has moved to a place nearby. They still see each other every day, sharing the care of their two girls.
"Lockdown made us face the problems with courage and resignation and not run away," says Richard. Rafaela nods. "Separating wasn't what I wanted," she adds. "But I didn't see any other alternative. I think we are two very nice people. I think we both deserve to be happy."
Kieron too says he is weathering the present with hope of a brighter future. "Each day is getting better. But then you still have those days that are awful. And you know what, it's very similar to this whole Covid-19 situation," he says.
"There are days where the case numbers are coming down, and then one day they're all back up again. And you've got to maintain the hope that things will be ok."
Additional reporting by Gabriela Silva Loureiro
*Some of the names in this piece have been changed.
Marriage & Romantic Relationships
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Queen Victoria and Prince Albert: what was their relationship like?
Albert was Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, in the present-day states of Bavaria and Thuringia in Germany. He was also Victoria’s first cousin, son of her mother’s brother, Ernest I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Despite being delivered by the same midwife within three months of each other, the pair had had little contact as children, yet each knew of their family’s desire to see them married one day.
A brief encounter at celebrations for Victoria’s 17th birthday in 1836 had planted the seeds of an attraction between the pair. She writes passionately in her diary of Albert’s “beautiful nose and… sweet mouth with fine teeth” as well as the “charm of his countenance”, which she describes as being “full of goodness and sweetness, and very clever and intelligent”. But Albert, unused to the late nights and whirl of fashionable gaieties of the English court was forced to leave several balls early, feeling sleepy and faint, leaving his lively young cousin to dance on into the night.
They were united in their desire to create a model, happy family, setting an example to the world
Albert was one of several suitors introduced to Victoria in the months before she turned 18 and inherited the throne from her uncle William IV, bringing to an end more than 120 years of male Hanoverian rule. Another first cousin, Prince Augustus of Saxe-Coburg, made a favourable impression on the young princess, more so than Princes William and Alexander of Orange whom Victoria described as being “very plain”.
Victoria and Albert’s relationship: a timeline
10 October 1839: Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg- Gotha, aged 20, arrives at Windsor on a visit to Queen Victoria, his first cousin, three months older than him.
15 October 1839: Victoria, who considers that Albert “is beautiful” and declares that “My heart is quite going”, proposes to Albert. She tells no one beforehand, except the prime minister, Lord Melbourne.
10 February 1840:Victoria and Albert are married at the Chapel Royal, St James’s.
21 November 1840: Vicky, Victoria’s first child, is born. Around this time, Victoria gives Albert the keys to the cabinet boxes.
9 November 1841: Birth of Albert Edward (Bertie), Prince of Wales. This is followed by the birth of Alice, 25 April 1843; Alfred, 6 August 1844; Helena, 25 May 1846; Louise, 18 March 1848; and Arthur, 1 May 1850. In total, that’s seven children in 10 years.
1842: Baroness Lehzen, Victoria’s former governess, who has been charged with the running of the court, is dismissed. Albert takes over and introduces important reforms, making the court more efficient and cutting waste.
1842: Albert starts to attend the queen’s meetings with ministers, and writes notes of the meetings. Victoria now talks of “We”, not “I”.
1845–51: Osborne on the Isle of Wight is built under Albert’s supervision as a holiday retreat for the royal family.
7 April 1853: Leopold is born. Beatrice follows on 14 April 1857, completing the family.
1853–56: Balmoral Castle is built, once more under Albert’s supervision. Here the family enjoy a romantic mountain life which reminds Albert of his native Germany.
1857: Victoria makes Albert Prince Consort. This gives him precedence over everyone, including his son the Prince of Wales, second only to the queen.
14 December 1861: Albert dies at Windsor, aged 42. The cause of death was allegedly typhoid fever, but modern historians speculate that he suffered from an underlying illness such as stomach cancer or Crohn’s disease.
Cupid’s arrow strikes
By 1839, Victoria was relishing the relative freedom of being an unmarried young queen and once again declared herself reluctant to marry. But in October 1839, Albert visited England again. This time, Victoria was smitten.
“It was with some emotion that I beheld Albert – who is beautiful”, she scribbled in her diary that night. Just five days later, on 15 October, in accordance with royal protocol, Victoria proposed, exclaiming: “Oh! to feel I was, and am, loved by such an Angel as Albert, was too great delight to describe! he is perfection; perfection in every way”.
The marriage ceremony, which took place on 10 February 1840 in the Chapel Royal at St James’s, was everything a royal wedding should be. Dressed in a white satin gown with lace veil, a wreath of orange blossom, and attended by 12 bridesmaids, Victoria married her Albert.
Victoria fell pregnant almost immediately, giving birth to their first child, Princess Victoria, nine months after the wedding. The future Edward VII (Bertie) was born the following year. The physical attraction between the pair never faded and, between 1840 and 1857, Victoria gave birth to nine children.
However, Victoria was not a natural mother. Princess Victoria’s childhood had been an unhappy one, kept in seclusion at Kensington Palace by her own domineering mother with little in the way of companionship or affection. The death of Victoria’s father when she was just eight months old had a profound impact and the only male influence she had had as a child was that of her mother’s despised advisor Sir John Conroy. “I had led a very unhappy life as a child – had no scope for my very violent feelings of affection… and did not know what a happy domestic life was,” admitted Victoria in later life
Albert, too, had suffered an unhappy childhood. His father had been a serial philanderer who paid little attention to either of his sons. Albert’s mother, Princess Louise, had been forced into exile following an affair and the breakdown of her marriage, and Albert had grown up determined to be the type of father he had never had.
Victoria and Albert were united in their desire to create a model, loving family that would set an example to the world. But neither were quite sure how to do it. Victoria hated being pregnant and found babies equally repugnant. “An ugly baby is a very nasty object; the prettiest are frightful when undressed… as long as they have their big body and little limbs and that terrible froglike action”. Breastfeeding, too, was deemed a repulsive act and a wet nurse was employed for all of her nine children, allowing Victoria more time to devote herself to matters of state, and to her beloved Albert.
Their children were spoilt and lavished with every describable luxury from birth, yet expected to adhere to their parents’ ideals of a model family. Countless works of art depicting royal domestic bliss are testament to the public relations campaign Albert sold to the world.
Behind closed doors, however, royal relationships were often strained – none more so than that of Victoria and Albert.
Victoria and Albert: the grandparents of Europe
Victoria and Albert were rulers of a vast empire that dominated global politics by the end of the 19th century. It included Australia, Canada, the Indian subcontinent and much of Africa. Extending British influence and keeping allegiances closer to home in Europe was an equally important, albeit more delicate matter, and was achieved through marriage. Victoria and Albert’s nine children married into royal houses across Europe – from Denmark to Russia – and Victoria was eventually grandmother to 40 grandchildren. Eight of these would eventually sit on the thrones of Britain, Prussia, Greece, Romania, Russia, Norway, Sweden and Spain.
George V of Britain, Tsarina Alexandra of Russia (wife of Tsar Nicholas II) and Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm – the three warring royals of World War I – were actually all grandchildren of Victoria and Albert. During her lifetime, Victoria had successfully managed the difficult relationships between her grandchildren and their respective nations, but after her death in 1901, peace faltered and Europe began to edge closer to war. Kaiser Wilhelm is reported to have remarked that had Victoria still been alive, World War I may never have broken out – she simply would not have allowed her relatives to wage war with one another.
But Victoria and Albert shared more than just their children and grandchildren across the royal dynasties of Europe. They also introduced a devastating genetic condition. Victoria is believed to have been a carrier of haemophilia – a hereditary condition that affects the blood’s ability to clot. The couple’s eighth child, Leopold, was a haemophiliac and died aged 30 after a minor fall triggered a cerebral haemorrhage. Two of the couple’s five daughters – Alice and Beatrice – are confirmed carriers and unknowingly passed the disorder to the royal families of Spain, Germany and Russia.
Albert was not a popular choice of husband for Victoria with the British public. He had come to the marriage an impoverished and relatively low-standing prince, despite his royal connections. And he was German to boot. “He comes to take for ‘better or for worse’ / England’s fat queen and England’s fatter purse” were two lines from a popular, if insulting, song of the day.
The traditional sum of £50,000 as an allowance for the consort of a monarch was reduced to £30,000 for Albert by Robert Peel’s Conservative party – the smallest sum ever to be offered. He was refused both a peerage and a seat in the House of Lords – a mixture of anti-German sentiment and an attempt to limit Albert’s political power. In fact, it was not until 1857 that Albert was finally granted the title of Prince Consort.
As a champion of the rights of workers, improvements in social welfare, education, the abolition of slavery, as well as a patron of the arts and technology, Albert must have been bitterly disappointed not to have had a bigger say in government affairs.
With his wife distracted by regal duties and himself lacking a formal role, it was Albert, then, who initially took on much of the responsibility for the upbringing of their children. But from the start he wanted more.
“The difficulty in filling my place with the proper dignity is that I am only the husband, not the master in the house”, Albert is said to have uttered to his university friend William von Lowenstein. And he was right. Albert entered a royal household that was governed by his wife and run by her former governess, Baroness Lehzen.
“I am very happy and contented; but the difficulty in filling my place with the proper dignity is that I am only the husband, not the master in the house”Prince Albert
But within a couple of months of the wedding, Victoria reluctantly began to hand some of her official duties over to Albert as she was forced by continued pregnancies to take more of a backseat. Privately, he became her most trusted advisor and the pair worked side by side attending to royal business.
Albert was Victoria’s rock and she looked up to him as her intellectual superior, encouraging his ideas. But although she was happy to share power with her husband – within reason – Victoria had a strong sense of her own hereditary right and resented having to hand over her powers while restricted by childbirth.
Behind the public image
The issue of sharing power was a constant thorn in the marriage. Albert was an accomplished polymath with deep interests in the arts, science and new technologies of the day. He used his influence as Victoria’s husband to further some of his passions, adding President of the Society for the Extinction of Slavery and Chancellor of Cambridge University to his titles. He was the driving force behind the Great Exhibition of 1851, which shone a light on British engineering and technology, and was a staunch promoter of British manufacturing.
But behind closed doors, the carefully crafted public image of the perfect family was showing signs of strain. Locked in an endless power struggle, terrible rows broke out between the lovers. For his part, Albert was terrified of Victoria’s violent outbursts, fearing that she had inherited the madness of her grandfather George III, whose near 60-year reign was peppered with periods of mental ill health. Advised by the royal doctor not to argue with his wife in case his fears proved true, Albert was forced to communicate during her periods of rage by means of handwritten notes meekly posted under her door.
Life after Albert: what happened when he died?
After Albert’s death, Victoria fell into a deep depression and mourned her husband for the rest of her long life. But, as the decades passed, she did find solace in the company and friendships of several men.
One notably close relationship was with her servant John Brown, the hard-drinking, bearded son of a Scottish crofter. The controversial friendship between queen and servant caused great rifts in the royal family, and Brown’s influence over Victoria was much criticised. Some have speculated that the relationship was more than platonic with a supposed deathbed confession from Scottish clergyman Norman Macleod that he had married the pair.
Victoria’s passion for India and her longing for Albert saw her strike up an intimate friendship with another servant, 24-yearold Abdul Karim, a young Indian man who had arrived in England for Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887 to wait on tables and attend the Indian princes in residence for the celebrations. Arriving as he did some four years after John Brown’s death, Karim instantly charmed the Queen. Within a year, he had become Victoria’s teacher, instructing her in Urdu and Indian affairs, introducing her to curry and, like Brown, becoming one of her closest confidants. Lavished with gifts and promotions, Karim became even more hated by the royal family than Brown. After Victoria’s death, her eldest son, Bertie, ordered all records of their relationship, including correspondence and photographs, to be destroyed.
The couple’s eldest son Bertie, the future Edward VII, also caused tension within the family and was something of a disappointment to his parents. Neither gifted intellectually nor especially handsome – his own mother described him as having a “painfully small and narrow head, those immense features and total want of chin” – Bertie rebelled against his parents’ grand expectations for him. The young prince devoted himself to a life of pleasure and, when word of their son’s tryst with ‘a lady of easy virtue’ reached his parent’s ears, Albert took it upon himself to meet with his wayward son to deal with his reckless behaviour before it became public knowledge. It would be the last time father and son would ever meet – feverish, racked with pain in his legs and wet through from their long walk in the rain, he returned to Windsor where, just weeks later, Prince Albert died. He was aged just 42.
Victoria never fully recovered from Albert’s death. For the rest of her life, she dressed in black and appeared infrequently in public. She surrounded herself with memorabilia to remind her of her beloved husband, taking his dressing gown to bed with her each night and continuing to have hot water for shaving brought up on a daily basis, as it had been when he was alive.
Albert had been everything to Victoria – confidant, husband, lover, closest advisor – and his death dealt a devastating blow to the Queen and the British monarchy. After his death, Victoria papered over the cracks in their marriage, memorialising her husband as an almost saintly figure. In a letter written 15 months after Albert’s death, Victoria wrote: “The poor Queen… can only hope never to live to old age but be allowed to rejoin her beloved great and loyal husband before many years elapse”. It was a wish that would be denied her.
Charlotte Hodgman is the editor of BBC History Revealed magazine
This article was first published in the June 2017 edition of BBC History Revealed