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“His purity was too great, his aspiration too high for this poor, miserable world! His great soul is now only enjoying that for which it was worthy!”
— Queen Victoria after her husband’s death
Victoria was breathlessly in love with her husband, Prince Albert, the Germanic butt of modern-day tobacco can jokes. She was known to describe him as “my all in all.” A sober, conscientious prince, Albert composed formal diplomatic correspondence even on his death bed. Victoria’s grief was boundless when he died from a gastric fever in the spring of 1862. Thus began the saga of the Widow of Windsor as Victoria retreated behind a black wall of mourning dress for the rest of her life. Other women emulated her grief, making black bombazine, paramatta, and crape regular wardrobe staples.
Her widow’s weeds did not prevent her from carrying on the affairs of state, but she was also able to use her mourning as a means of evading other social obligations. Many people rued the fact that the royal court was a victim of this evasion. They looked to Prince Edward, the heir, as a means of bringing liveliness to the nobility. Edward did the best he could to live up to this, using his long tenure as Prince of Wales to carouse and idle his time winningly. He inevitably followed this path in part because of his mother’s unremitting censure. Prince Albert had been forced to travel away from home in order to rescue “Bertie” from the consequences of some youthful high jinx, and he fell ill shortly afterwards with the disease that cost him his life. Victoria, mad with grief, blamed her son for this development, and would never forgive him.