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The Empire in the 1860s, Episode 61 - 08/05/06


Prince Albert (Getty Images)

Prince Albert
(Gerry Images)
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By the start of the 1860s, the empire was quite different from what it had been at the start of the previous decade. The 1852 Sand River Convention for the moment strengthened British authority in southern Africa. By the 1860s with the discovery of diamond and more gold in Dutch held Africa, Britain was heading for inevitable conflict in that continent.

The biggest development in the empire during that decade was the need for Britain to come to terms with the consequences of the Sepoy Rebellion that had started on 10 May 1857.

Constitutionally, the change was obvious: from 1858, the East India Company no longer ruled British India. The Crown did. Therefore there was still a governor-general - the general manager of British India, but he was also Viceroy of India, the monarch's personal representative.

Three years on, 1861, the first indications that the British had to think more carefully about governing India came with the setting up of nominated advisory Councils with a non-official element at the Centre and certain Provinces. These Councils, albeit with hardly any power, constituted the first step towards self-government in India - although none then recognized that. Outwardly, there was no sign of the British easing their grip. This was apparent in 1876 when her Prime Minister Disraeli was pleased to satisfy Queen Victoria's sense of imperialism. He had her created Empress of India. The raj was absolute. More importantly for Victoria in 1861, Prince Albert died.

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Historical Figure

Prince Albert 1819-1861.

The importance of Prince Albert in the first two decades of Victoria's reign was his grasp of what was happening elsewhere in the world - much of which Britain either ruled or influenced. He became her personal foreign policy adviser and all the while she took that advice, her relationship with her foreign secretaries was reasonable and her judgement sound. After Albert's death, that was not always the case. Albert Francis Charles Augustus was the younger son of Ernest I, the duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. For the first three years on the throne, Victoria relied on Lord Melbourne her prime minister. Albert and she were married in 1840 and he then took over Melbourne's role and Victoria never took a decision without consulting her husband. Even after his death, Victoria always considered what he might have advised. At first, because he emphasised the Germanic nature of the throne, Albert was not so publicly popular. However, his guiding political hand soon won the respect of ministers and his promotion of the 1851 Great Exhibition, brought him public admiration, if not warmth.

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Did You Know...

Victoria believed that her son Bertie's best friend, Charles Carington (later the third 3rd Lord Carrington) was responsible for Albert's death. It was said to have been Carington's fault that the Prince of Wales took up with an actress. The potential scandal induced Albert to visit the prince in Cambridge to tell him to straighten his ways. It was while in Cambridge that he caught the "cold", later believed to be typhoid, that killed him. Many years later, Victoria blocked Carington's appointment as Viceroy of India.

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