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Press release

Papers and collections of Prince Albert to be published for the first time

Release date: Wednesday, 4 April 2018

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A major new digitisation programme announced by Royal Collection Trust today (4 April) will transform understanding of Prince Albert's role in national life and his profound influence on Victorian society.  The three-year Prince Albert Digitisation Project, scheduled for completion at the end of 2020, will make available on the Royal Collection Trust website some 23,500 items from the Royal Archives, Royal Collection and the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851.  This wide-ranging material, most of which has never been published before, will shed new light on Albert's contribution as consort of Queen Victoria, unofficial Private Secretary, a guide and mentor to some of the greatest national projects of his day, university chancellor, art historian, collector and patron of art, architecture and design.  The first tranche will be published in the summer of 2019 to mark the bicentenary of Prince Albert's birth. 

The Prince Albert Digitisation Project is supported by Sir Hugh and Lady Stevenson in honour of the late Dame Anne Griffiths DCVO, former Librarian and Archivist to His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, and by the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851.  Royal Collection Trust is also partnering with the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, on a post-doctoral research fellowship, building on a previous collaboration to present Queen Victoria's Journals online.

Prince Albert (1819–1861) was the second son of Ernest I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and Princess Louise of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg.  He married Queen Victoria, his first cousin, in 1840.  The period of his active life in Britain saw a fundamental change in social welfare, university education, the structure of government and parliament, and in British relations with the rest of the world.  It witnessed the arrival of railways and fast transatlantic trade, the rise of trade unions, and the transformation of Britain into a world-class industrial economy and sea power.

The Prince Albert Digitisation Project will bring together official and private papers relating to Prince Albert from the Royal Archives and the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851; material in the Royal Library, including catalogues of Prince Albert's private library; inventories of paintings commissioned or collected by Albert; the Raphael Collection, the Prince's study collection of more than 5,000 prints and photographs after the works of Raphael; and the significant body of early photography collected and commissioned by Prince Albert (more than 10,000 photographs).  

Known for his interest in education and science, the Prince became Chancellor of Cambridge University in 1847, a position he held until 1861.  After a rival for the role, the Second Earl of Powys, had refused to step down, an election was held.  The Prince emerged the victor, but not with the resounding majority he would have liked.  Albert's letter of acceptance in the Royal Archives reveals his discomfort with the situation stating: 'I need scarcely observe, after so recent and public a declaration of my sentiment and feelings with regard to my nomination as a Candidate for that Office, that the Proceedings which have subsequently taken place have been entirely without my sanction.'

In 1848 Britain was hit by a recession.  Working-class political consciousness was channelled into the support of the People's Charter of 1838, which included the introduction of the secret ballot and the extension of voting rights to all men over 21 years of age.  On 10 April 1848, around 150,000 Chartists gathered on Kennington Common to deliver to Parliament a petition of six million signatures demanding political reform.  In a letter written to the Prime Minster, Lord John Russell, on the same day, Prince Albert expresses his concern for the protesters and the causes that affected them.  Commenting on a recent decision to reduce the building works at Westminster Palace and Buckingham Palace and lay off workers, he observes, ‘Surely this is not the time for the Tax Payers to economise upon the Working Classes!’ 

Prince Albert was a passionate supporter of industry, technology and design.  A letter to Henry Labouchere, President of the Board of Trade, in July 1849 shows his close involvement in the development of the idea to host ‘a great national and even international exhibition… for the year 1851’.  His vision of presenting Britain as the world's industrial leader was realised in the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, visited by six million people (a third of the population of Britain at the time).  The lasting legacy of the Great Exhibition was the founding of the cultural quarter in South Kensington, which is home to the Victoria and Albert, Natural History and Science Museums, as well as Imperial College London, the Royal Colleges of Music and Art and the Royal Albert Hall, an enduring tribute to Prince Albert’s extraordinary vision.

Both Prince Albert and Queen Victoria were enthusiastic supporters of the new medium of photography and in 1853 became patrons of the recently established Photographic Society. For Albert photography perfectly combined his love of art, science and technology.  He regularly attended Photographic Society meetings, supported the Society's research, visited exhibitions and purchased works.  His collection contained examples by many pioneering 19th-century photographers, including Roger Fenton, Oscar Gustav Rejlander, Dr Hugh Welch Diamond, George Washington Wilson and Charles Thurston Thompson.  Fittingly the earliest photographs in the Royal Collection are of Prince Albert, including the daguerreotype of 1842 by William Constable, the earliest surviving photograph of a member of the royal family.

From the early 1850s, Albert commissioned photographs to document life in the royal household, family gatherings and visits from important guests.  The Royal Family at Osborne by Leonida Caldesi, 1857, shows Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their nine children at their seaside retreat on the Isle of Wight – Albert had personally overseen the design of Osborne House with his artistic advisor Ludwig Grüner.  The Prince also used photography to record national and international events.  The Royal and Imperial Visit to the Crystal Palace by Negretti & Zambra, 1855, documents the official visit to the Crystal Palace Exhibition by Victoria and Albert, and Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie of France.  The photograph Machine du Train Royal by Édouard Baldus, which shows the engine and coal wagon of the Royal Train on the Chemin de fer du Nord line, is part of an album presented to the royal couple as a memento of their State Visit to France in August 1855.

Prince Albert recognised the power of photography as an educational tool.  In 1853 he commissioned the Raphael Collection, a study collection of over 5,000 prints and photographs of almost every work then regarded as being by or after the Renaissance master.  The images were mounted on large folio sheets, placed in 49 portfolios and housed in a custom-made cabinet in the Print Room at Windsor Castle, where they remain today as an early example of an art-historical illustrative survey.

Oliver Urquhart Irvine, The Librarian & Assistant Keeper of The Queen's Archives, said, ‘The Prince Albert Digitisation Project will increase understanding of material held in the Royal Archives, Royal Collection and the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 and enable a comprehensive study of the life, work and legacy of Prince Albert on a scale that does justice to his contribution to 19th-century Britain and the world.  We are very grateful to Sir Hugh and Lady Stevenson for their support and look forward to working with our partners to create a resource which will transform academic and public access to this unparalleled collection, and will allow a fresh assessment of this influential man.’


For further information and images, please contact the Royal Collection Trust Press Office, T.+44 (0)20 7839 1377, [email protected]

Notes to Editors

Royal Collection Trust, a department of the Royal Household, is responsible for the care of the Royal Collection and manages the public opening of the official residences of The Queen.  Income generated from admissions and from associated commercial activities contributes directly to The Royal Collection Trust, a registered charity.  The aims of The Trust are the care and conservation of the Royal Collection, and the promotion of access and enjoyment through exhibitions, publications, loans and educational programmes. Royal Collection Trust’s work is undertaken without public funding of any kind.

The Royal Collection is among the largest and most important art collections in the world, and one of the last great European royal collections to remain intact.  It comprises almost all aspects of the fine and decorative arts, and is spread among some 15 royal residences and former residences across the UK, most of which are regularly open to the public.  The Royal Collection is held in trust by the Sovereign for her successors and the nation, and is not owned by The Queen as a private individual.

The Royal Archives contain the official and private papers of the Sovereign and other members of the British Royal Family, together with the records of the Royal Household and the private Royal estates.  This unparalleled collection reflects and records some of the most significant moments in British history and provides a fascinating insight into the lives of monarchs and their families.  Since 1914 the Round Tower at Windsor Castle has been home to the Royal Archives.

The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 awards grants and fellowships in support of science and industry to the value of around £4m a year.  First established in 1850 to stage the Great Exhibition, the Commission initially invested the Exhibition's profit by purchasing the land for development of the South Kensington cultural estate of museums, colleges and the Albert Hall.  Details of the 1851 Royal Commission’s awards are on its website www.royalcommission1851.org.uk

The Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford is the largest university library system in the United Kingdom. It includes the principal University library – the Bodleian Library – which has been a legal deposit library for 400 years; as well as 27 libraries across Oxford including major research libraries and faculty, department and institute libraries. Together, the Libraries hold more than 13 million printed items, over 80,000 e-journals and outstanding special collections including rare books and manuscripts, classical papyri, maps, music, art and printed ephemera. Members of the public can explore the collections via the Bodleian’s online image portal at digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk or by visiting the exhibition galleries in the Bodleian’s Weston Library. For more information, visit www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk.

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