As a collector of photographs, I am drawn to faces: the hints of personality in an unflinching gaze or a sidelong glance. Periodically I find myself haring off in a new direction, and this latest detour is perhaps unsurprising: I’ve started collecting royal cartes de visite, with a focus on the family of Queen Victoria and her -in-laws. (Just in time for the royal engagement, in fact!)
There is something pleasing about Queen Victoria and her family: it is large enough, complex enough, and far-flung enough to be a challenge. (I am still working on some of the sons- and daughters-in-law – I only just reached the full complement of Victoria’s nine children.) In these images, one can see the distinctive Hanoverian and Coburger physiognomies, as divided up between the offspring of Victoria and Albert. In the following images there is even the hint of the modern royal look, in Princess Louis of Hesse’s infant daughter, Victoria, later Princess of Battenberg and then Marchioness of Milford Haven – and the grandmother of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
First, the Queen and the Prince Consort, in a carte de visite attributed to Mayall Studio of 224 Regent Street in London. It is interesting how often the Queen chooses to be portrayed in a position subordinate to her husband: here she appears as “kleines frauchen” [“little wife”], fan resting on her husband’s shoulder as he reads a dauntingly heavy book. At the same time, the tiny queen – under 5’ tall – looms over the Prince Consort. Her eyes are downcast, but she commands attention.
The first child of Victoria and Albert, born nine months after their wedding in February 1840, was Victoria, the Princess Royal. In her brilliance she reminded family members of Prince Albert, but her adult life – as Princess Frederick William of Prussia, then Crown Princess of Prussia (and then Germany), and finally, briefly Empress of Germany – was a sad one: happy in her marriage, she was unhappy (and poorly received) in her new country, where the general attitude seems to have been that “die Engländerin” should go home to Mamma.
The longed-for male heir, and the first Prince of Wales since his great-uncle King George IV, Albert Edward was born little more than a year after his elder sister, and as a youth he was sadly in Vicky’s shadow. Often brushed aside by his mother and her courtiers, the Prince of Wales – with an apprenticeship lasting more than forty years – emerged as a dazzling monarch in the decade he spent as king.
The Queen’s younger children were somewhat shielded from parental expectations, the daughters even more than the sons. Princess Alice, the third child, was a general family favorite: diplomatic and energetic, and, in marrying into a junior German dynasty, still available to the Queen after her marriage in 1862. Her early death, in 1878, had wide repercussions in the British royal family, in particular influencing Princess Alice’s fourth daughter Alix, the future Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia.
Prince Alfred, the fourth child and second son, was destined from childhood for the Royal Navy. With his elder brother as the heir to the British throne, Alfred was also meant to succeed his uncle as Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, as he did in 1893. His marriage to Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna of Russia, daughter of Tsar Alexander II, made Alfred his sister-in-law’s brother-in-law, as the Princess of Wales’s sister Dagmar was married to Marie’s brother the Tsarevitch.
The genealogical implications of these marriages – and those of their descendants – are daunting in their complexity! (For an 1897 family tree showing the growing British royal family, look here.)
 With the exception of the Princess Royal’s marriage in 1858, all of Victoria and Albert’s children married after the Prince Consort’s death. The Queen’s attitude to her children’s marriages – always somewhat volatile – would increasingly be determined by how the late Prince Consort might have felt about the potential bride or groom.