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A man for the people: New material made public suggests Prince Albert played a profound role in shaping Victorian Britain

On March 1, 1861, Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria, shortly before his death from typhoid fever. (John Jabez Edwin Mayall/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Prince Albert is largely remembered as Queen Victoria’s German husband whose untimely death inspired decades of mourning.

New material made public suggests he played a profound role in shaping Victorian Britain and he is the subject of the documentary, “Prince Albert: A Victorian Hero Revealed.”

The film airs at 7 p.m. Sunday, June 14, on New Mexico PBS.

“Prince Albert, he’s an extraordinary man,” says Daisy Goodwin, a writer behind Masterpiece’s TV series, “Victoria” and is featured in the documentary. “I thought of him as a royal Steve Jobs. He had a vision and I found that very compelling. He was a visionary for his time and he was completely faithful to Victoria.”

Daisy Goodwin

Filmmakers had access to more than 20,000 of Prince Albert’s private papers and photos currently housed in the Round Tower at Windsor Castle.

Professor Saul David examines Albert’s significant influence on British culture, governmental policy and even international relations.

Goodwin says Prince Albert was initially viewed with suspicion and hostility by the British public and dismissed by Parliament.

“He faced an uphill battle to be taken seriously and tried hard to carve out a leadership role for himself,” Goodwin says. “He was the best king we never had.”

Prince Albert pushed to be recognized so that by the time of his premature death, at only 42, he was widely regarded as a forward-thinking reformer whose innovative ideas transformed the fortunes of the nation and created a legacy that lives on today.

Goodwin says Prince Albert spent most of his life trying to improve the working class of Britain.

“The only way forward in Victorian Britain was to raise the living conditions,” Goodwin says. “He was very concerned about the widening gap of rich and poor. He believed in education and bringing opportunities to a number of people.”

One of his great accomplishments was being a driving force behind the Great Exhibition.

The international exhibition took place in 1851 and featured culture and history.

During its monthslong run, about six million people visited the exhibition. At the time, it amounted to one-third of the entire population of Britain.

Famous people of the time attended, including Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Samuel Colt, members of the Orléanist Royal Family and the writers Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, George Eliot, Alfred Tennyson and William Makepeace Thackeray.

“Everything that was dreamed of was there,” Goodwin says. “It was such a visionary thing to do and he helped make it happen. This changed the country.”

In fact, the event made a surplus, which was then used to found the Victoria and Albert Museum, as well as the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum.

Victoria, queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and her husband Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha dancing a polka to music composed for them, circa 1840. (Sspl/Getty Images)

The rest of the funds were used to set up an educational trust to provide grants and scholarships for industrial research, which is still happening today.

“He was very much what you Americans would call a liberal,” Goodwin says. “He wasn’t a socialist. The thing I find incredible about him is the attention to detail.”

There were several attempts on Victoria’s life during his marriage.

Goodwin says one man tried to hit Queen Victoria with a sword.

“Because she was out so often, Albert designed a parasol for his wife,” Goodwin says. “It was built with chain mail, so a sword couldn’t penetrate it. It was extraordinary. I thought it was brilliant.”

Goodwin says Prince Albert was never truly popular, though he was incredibly admired.

“His reputation is kind of having a revamp,” she says. “To the British, he was German and had no sense of humor. But what he did for the country, was amazing. He had visions that are still alive to this day. When he died at 42, it crushed Victoria.”

Goodwin says the series “Victoria” tells the story of both figures. She says it would be difficult to do a series on just Albert.

“You can’t do Albert without Victoria,” Goodwin says. “I’ve tried to give him as much prominence as he deserves.”

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