“Victoria” is the latest installment of royal fare available for your streaming pleasure, after the Netflix original “The Crown” captured audiences with the story of the young Queen Elizabeth. Produced by Masterpiece Theater and PBS, the first season stars Jenna Coleman as Victoria and Tom Hughes as Prince Albert, her first cousin and lifelong love.
The two actors, who are dating, give convincing chemistry to this famous love story, fascinating for its divergences from the staid, traditional culture we associate with the era. Albert had great respect and influence with the headstrong queen in his efforts to reform British ways, whether political or domestic. Also, he reminds me of a hipster.
1. The Facial Hair
Hughes portrays the young, brooding Prince Albert, who is meticulously bewhiskered. Despite the era’s full-bearded fashion, brought home from battle by the soldiers of the cold climes of the Crimean War, Albert the contrarian stuck with a well-groomed mustache.
Men of the time used a beard and whisker oil known as Macassar oil, named after the Indonesian port from which it originated. Its popularity and tendency to stick to clothes and other fabrics necessitated developing the antimacassar, the name for that doily your grandmother puts on the back of an upholstered chair.
The actor’s hair is less historically accurate, but when he casually sweeps away his floppy bangs to look into Victoria’s eyes, it’s hard not to see a Brooklyn coffee-shop denizen in the glow of his laptop.
2. He Was into Social Justice
Albert eagerly took on the cause of abolition upon marrying Queen Victoria at age 20. Emboldened by the emancipation of British colonies in 1833, abolitionists sought to get rid of it worldwide. They gathered for the World Antislavery Convention of 1840, at which Albert gave an impassioned speech against the practice.
It was his first public speech since his recent marriage to Victoria and was seen as an important royal seal of approval for the movement. By some estimates, thousands packed the house to watch him.
“I have been induced to preside at the meeting of this Society from a conviction of its paramount importance to the great interests of humanity and justice. I deeply regret that the benevolent and perservering exersions of England to abolish that atrocious traffic in human beings (at one the desolation of African and the blackest stain upon civilised Europe) have not as yet led to any satisfactory conclusion!!’ I sincerely trust that this great county, will not relax in its efforts until it has finally and forever put an end to that state of things so repugnant to the principles of Christianity and to the best feelings of our nature.”
3. He Didn’t Really Have a Job
Upon marrying Victoria, Albert struggled to find his place at court and in his own household. The requirement that Victoria propose marriage to him instead of the other way around is emblematic of the sometimes uncomfortable inversion of gender expectations and custom when a man married his sovereign. Though Victoria attempted to publicly honor his status as her husband, he was still her subject.
Albert didn’t want to be a dilettante, hence his involvement in causes such as the abolitionist movement and later in technological progress. Albert convinced Victoria to become the first British monarch to travel by train. This story is embellished in “Victoria,” but she did travel from Slough to Paddington by train in 1842 at Albert’s suggestions, and declared herself, “quite charmed with it.” Maybe he was the first steampunk?
To be fair to Albert in this comparison, the fact he didn’t have a job actually bothered him.
4. He May Have Had an Exotic Piercing to Wear Tight Pants
A “Prince Albert” is the name of a male genital piercing. Why? Yes, we’re getting into this.
The piercing’s connection to the actual Prince Albert seems to have no scholarly support despite Victoria’s and Albert’s obvious sexual infatuation and the queen’s volumes upon volumes of frank diaries from which we have learned much about her life and reign.
It’s also not the safest thing to research while in an office or public setting, so trust me on this. I did the Googling for you.
It’s most likely the tales of Prince Albert’s “dressing ring,” which was said to have prevented bulging in the tight pants in fashion at the time by allowing the member to be secured to one side, were a marketing ploy by American piercer Doug Malloy, who advertised the genital piercing in ’70s-era L.A. with a pamphlet on its probably mythical royal origins.
But, let us stipulate, if he had this piercing in order to wear the tightest pants possible, that would have been the most hipster thing ever.
5. He Was a Sensitive Guy
Albert and Victoria were famous for a lifelong romance that was evidently passionate, sexually active, and faithful, though at times stormy. They weren’t often apart after they married, but during their engagement, Albert had to go home to settle his affairs. The love letters the two exchanged during this time are famous for their frequency and eloquence.
A 2013 exhibit at Windsor Castle featured one such letter: “Dearest deeply loved Victoria, I need not tell you that since we left, all my thoughts have been with you at Windsor, and that your image fills my whole soul. Even in my dreams I never imagined that I should find so much love on earth.”
Men with pregnant wives should watch the series just to crib a couple lines Albert uses on Victoria. Among them, “my desire for you will never fail. A love like ours can burn down a city,” “I am so proud of you” and “You are my queen,” which was literal in his case, but still useful even if your wife is not a monarch.
6. He Was a Hands-on Dad
In “Victoria,” Albert is present at the birth of their first-born, Victoria. This is historically accurate, and foreshadowed the role he would play in their children’s lives before his death at age 42.
Victoria and Albert had nine children in 17 years, but the queen was not a fan of pregnancy or even the resulting children. Perferring her monarchical duties, she abhorred pregnancy, saying it rendered women “more like a rabbit or guinea pig than anything else.” She also made frank assessments of her own children— “Leopold is the ugliest”—and encouraged her grown daughters to delay the “unhappy condition.”
She handed off child-rearing decisions to Albert, who once declared in an 1843 letter: “There is certainly a great charm, as well as deep interest, in watching the development of feelings and faculties in a little child, and nothing is more instructive for the knowledge of our own nature than to observe in a little creature the stages of development, which, when we ourselves passing through them seemed scarcely to have an existence for us. I feel this daily in watching our young offspring, whose characters are quite different, and who both show many lovable qualities.”
He was a veritable daddy blogger. Some historians have partially credited his attentiveness for the fact that all nine of their children survived to adulthood.
The series is airing on PBS, with the finale scheduled for March 5, but check iTunes for streaming and PBS’s schedule for upcoming marathons of the season as it comes to a close.