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  • Writer's pictureVictoria Regina

The death of Prince Albert

Prince Albert died at 10:50 p.m. On the 14th of December 1861 in the Blue Room at Windsor Castle, in the presence of The Queen and five of their nine children.

The Last Moments of HRH the Prince Consort ©Wellcome Collection

On the 9th of December, one of Albert's doctors, William Jenner, diagnosed him with typhoid fever.

In November 1861, he contracted typhoid fever. He lay sick in bed for several weeks, finally succumbing to the disease on December 14. He was only forty-two years old. Victoria was devastated. She wrote to her daughter Victoria shortly afterwards: "How I, who leant on him for all and everything—without whom I did nothing, moved not a finger, arranged not a print or photograph, didn't put on a gown or bonnet if he didn't approve it shall go on, to live, to move, to help myself in difficult moments?"

‘The Blue room' Windsor Castle 1861-1862 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

The Queen turned mourning into the chief concern of her existence the next several years. The Prince's rooms in their residences were maintained exactly as he had them when he was alive. Her servants were instructed to bring hot water into his dressing room every day as they had formerly done for his morning shave. She had statues made of him, displayed mementos of his around the royal palaces, and she spent most of her time secluded in Windsor Castle or in Balmoral up in Scotland, where she had formerly spent so many happy times with her husband.

Prince Albert passed away in what is called ‘The Blue Room’ the room had been that in which Queen Victoria’s ‘Uncle King’ George IV had died on 26 June 1830. It had been known as the ‘King’s Bedroom’ under George IV and seemed to have combined the functions of both a bedchamber and bathroom for the King. It was hung with satin in Waterloo blue and contained a bath cabinet with curtains and chairs with matching blue upholstery. The George IV curtains in the Blue Room were still in place towards the end of the nineteenth century; we know this because the silk satin was by then so rotten that new hangings had to be made to replace the originals.

Before the final days of his illness, Prince Albert had always slept in the Queen’s Bedchamber at Windsor, of which watercolours survive, located in the King’s [Victoria] Tower. The Blue Room is located in the Clarence Tower, within the private apartments and is also the tower at Windsor in which, significantly, the Queen’s Highland ghillie, John Brown, died in 1883. The Queen ordered that his room be preserved and for flowers to be placed on his pillow. Basement plans and dimensions for the Clarence Tower and Victoria Tower are maintained in the National Archives at Kew, bearing the stamp of the Office of Woods. A photograph of the East Front of Windsor Castle in the Royal Collection by Roger Fenton, made in 1860 shows the Queen’s Apartments, with the Queen’s Tower to the left, then to its right, the Clarence Tower, Chester Tower and the Prince of Wales Tower.

'Albert had said in the first throes of illness: ‘[He kept saying] … he should not recover! which we all told him was too foolish & [he] must never speak of it…’ He had told Queen Victoria: ‘I do not cling to life. You do; but I set no store by it… I am sure if I had a severe illness I should give up at once. I should not struggle for life. I have no tenacity of life.’

© Mary Evans Picture Library 2015 -

As death draws near the light is subdued in the Blue Room. He lies in his bed, plumped up with pillows. His breath is slow and laboured, his skin terribly white, his hair stuck down by sweat. Kneeling on the floor beside his bed, trembling, his wife – the queen. Holding his limp hand, she knows he is dying. Beside her, five of her children, their faces pinched with fear. Standing awkwardly, nearby, various ladies in waiting, equerries, doctors, and a minister or two. But she has eyes only for her darling prince. The time is almost eleven in the evening. As he slips away, she mutters, ‘Oh, this is death, I know it.’ On his passing, the queen lets rip a scream that tears down the walls of Windsor.

The official cause of death given out was typhoid fever. The queen did not allow an autopsy performed on her beloved husband. But this was in the days before intravenous fluids could be given to ill patients, and descriptions of the prince’s sunken eyes and loose skin suggest he had become dehydrated and may have died of vascular collapse. But it was also reported that the prince had been unwell for several years and had suffered from digestive symptoms suggestive of a more chronic illness. Even renal failure and cancer has been mentioned, and in the absence of an autopsy and more detailed tests most presumptive diagnoses remain speculative. Nevertheless, in 2011 Dr. Helen Rappaport, after spending three years studying the archival records of the time, including Albert and Victoria’s letters, proposed that the prince had died from Crohn’s disease.

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