Saturday, March 17, 2012

Albert by Jules Stewart

I am not sure what to make of Jules Stewart's Albert (I.B. Tauris: $28:00).  The premise is a great idea: a new examination of Queen Victoria's husband, published in connection with the 150th anniversary of Albert's death.  Unfortunately not all ideas turn out to be great ones. 

Queen Victoria has been the subject of many biographies.  But the body of literature on Prince Albert is a lot smaller, even though he was fascinating, and played a far more important role in the growth of the modern Britain.  The German-born Albert, who married Queen Victoria in 1840, championed the 1851 Great Exhibition that led to British manufacturing becoming a dominant force in the world.  As Chancellor of Cambridge University, Prince Albert encouraged the inclusion of a more well-rounded curriculum.  

All of this is well-documented by Stewart, a historian.  He provides an excellent bibliography and source notes, which will allow the reader to delve further into Albert's unique life.  He was a devoted husband, a strict but loving father.  He abhorred his eldest son's lack of curiosity, and was devoted to his eldest daughter, Vicky, helping to arrange a marriage with the future Friedrich III.    Prince Albert envisioned a Germany ruled by liberalism, not by authoritarianism.

Stewart is on firm ground when he offers the talking points of Albert's life.  He celebrates the accomplishments, as well as the failures.  He also does a great job in detailing in providing the details that led to Prince Albert's marriage to Queen Victoria.  It was not a surprise that Victoria would wed her first cousin, as their family had been hoping and planning since Albert was born in August 1819,  three months after Victoria.

But the book also has problems as Stewart's grasp on titles, names and family connections, starts to slip.  He could have used a royal expert to set him straight and help him.   He describes one of Victoria's suitors as the Prussian Duke William of Brunswick.

He describes Prince Albert's lifelong friend, Prince William of Lowenstein-Wertheim, as the future Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.  He referred to Victoria as Queen of England several times.  Albert and Victoria's eldest son was Albert Edward, not Edward Albert.

From my perspective, this is sloppy and does the book a disservice.  Stewart does well with the polemics of Albert's life, his contribution to British society, and the move toward a more modern royal family (by mid-19th century standards.)  But it is hard to weigh the satisfaction with the reality of Albert's life, and a writer (and his editor) who could not take the time to check basic facts.

I expected more from Tauris, a publisher with a scholarly bent.   Albert is a good book, but it does not soar to the heights reached by Daphne Bennett's King Without a Crown or  Stanley Weintraub's Albert: Uncrowned King.  

This is a book you read once, and reach for something more substantial.

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