Wednesday, January 10, 2018

King Albert the Not

This is just a little historical notice that's come to my attention.

When Queen Victoria died in 1901, her eldest son, Prince Albert Edward - who'd been known throughout his life to his intimates as "Bertie" - took the throne not under the name Albert, but as Edward VII. He gave a gracious accession speech explaining why. "He did not, he said, undervalue the name of Albert," which had been his father's name, "but there could be only one Albert," that late father of his. "He intended, therefore, to be known in future as Edward, a name borne by six of his predecessors." (Philip Magnus, King Edward the Seventh, p. 271)

One occasionally sees statements that this was Victoria's intention, that there should be only one Albert, her beloved husband. But if that were the case, why did she name her son Albert?

In fact, that's the opposite of the truth. Victoria had named her son and heir Albert (for her husband) Edward (for her father), and insisted that he name his eldest son and heir the even more self-aggrandizing Albert Victor, with the full intention that they would reign as the double-barreled Albert Edward I, Albert Victor I, and likewise down through the depths of time. (Magnus p. 85) This plan was thwarted when Albert Victor died young, but Victoria's stamp remained: she wanted all her descendants to bear the name Albert or Victoria (or Victor or Alberta) somewhere within their often-numerous forenames, and during her lifetime this was largely adhered to. (Did you know that her grandson Kaiser Wilhelm II's full given name was Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albert?)

It's well-known that the easygoing Bertie chafed at his parents' formidable fit-for-a-king upbringing. It's clear, too, though nothing is said explicitly, that he also chafed at being smothered by their names. There's several pieces of evidence for this:

1. Bertie "avoided carefully making any promise" to his mother about what the regnal names should be. (Magnus p. 85)

2. The common use name that Albert Victor's parents, and the boy's subsequent intimates, used for him informally was neither of these, but Eddy.

3. The interesting fact that the ukase decreeing the use of the names Albert and Victoria did not survive the Queen's death. All 3 of Bertie's sons bore the name Albert somewhere among the forenames, and all 3 of his daughters Victoria likewise, but of his grandchildren, the 6 born before the Queen's death all had Albert or Victoria, but the 3 born afterwards all didn't. This pattern was not entirely consistent among Victoria's other descendants, but it roughly held.

4. And Edward VII's accession speech, gracefully phrased as a tribute to his father but which served to get him out of the shadow of the name.

Victoria herself could have guessed this would happen. At the insistence of the then-Prince Regent, she had been christened Alexandrina Victoria, Alexandrina for her godfather, the Czar Alexander I, and Victoria as a sop to her mother whose name that was, but after infancy Alexandrina was entirely dropped and she was known purely as Victoria. (Julia Baird, Victoria the Queen, p. 17)

Edward VII's successors George V and Edward VIII had the "Albert" buried in their middle names somewhere, but at the latter's abdication, another first-named Albert-called-Bertie came to the throne. So what did he do? Followed his grandfather's example, chose the previously-used one among his middle names, and reigned as George VI.

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