Saturday, January 9, 2010

Edward VII of the United Kingdom

Albert Edward.

By the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas King, Defender of the faith, Emperor of India.

Uncle Bertie.

As I research the last representative of the house of Saxe-Coberg and Gotha (which would soon be renamed Windsor by his son), I can't help drawing parallels between him and the current Prince of Wales. Albert Edward waited in the wings 60 years to become king, and then reigned for 9 years. Prince Charles has so far waited 57 years (he is now aged 61). British queens tend toward longevity.

Born November, 1841, at Buckingham Palace, grandson of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, christened Albert Edward after his father and maternal grandfather.

Unlike his elder sister, Edward did not excel in his studies. Instead, his talents were charm, sociability and tact. And, really, aren't those things more valuable to a constitutional monarch than a bagful of brains? I think so. This is not to say Edward was stupid by any means; he was just not what you would call a diligent student.

The Prince of Wales was largely excluded from any political power, and spent his life representing his mother at various functions for decades, pretty much the same as it is now. He wanted to join the army, but Mum said no since he was heir. I can picture him mentally shrugging as his thoughts turned to his next mistress. But no matter: mum gave him plenty of honorary military ranks and a trunk full of uniforms. (Incidentally, this diverged from the present Prince of Wales, who served honorably in the Royal Navy for 5 years.)

Edward was the first heir to the British throne to visit North America. He christened a bridge in Canada and laid a corner stone. He watched a tightrope walker make his way across Niagara Falls. He stayed a bit with President Buchanan and then went to Mount Vernon to honor the tomb of George Washington. Bet he was enthusiastic about that.

He met Longfellow, Emerson, Holmes. Not Thoreau.

In New York, at Trinity Church, prayers were said for the royal family for the first time since 1776. Surely that made his eyes water a bit. I think it was somewhere in this general time period that an American brand of pipe tobacco was named Prince Albert.

Edward gained a reputation for being a playboy. I guess that's the most diplomatic way of putting it. Once while playing army with his buddies in Ireland, the other officers hid an actress (Nellie Clifton) in the prince's tent. His ill father got wind of it and caught up with Edward at Cambridge to issue a personal reprimand. I sit here mentally watching Edward's eyes glaze over as Prince Albert laid it on him, expressing his profound disappointment. Jesus.

Unfortunately, Prince Albert died 2 weeks after the visit and Victoria went bananas, blaming Edward for his father's death. No guilt tripping in that family, no sir. And, boy, could she hold a grudge. She wore black for the rest of her life, and wrote to his older sister Vicky, "I never can, or shall, look at him without a shudder."

Before his death, Prince Albert had decided (and therefore so did the queen of course) that his son would marry Alexandra of Denmark. I am sitting here trying to conjure a mental image of the pleasant meeting when Victoria summoned Edward to tell him who his life-mate was going to be: "You've killed my man, you twit. Why cannot we keep our willy in our pants, then? You shall now marry that viking girl."

Or something on that order, as Edward smiled that vacant smile of his and thought, "Yes. Whatever, Mummy."

Alexandra was the eldest daughter of Prince Christian. Prince Christian was known as the father-in-law of Europe. His offspring, besides Alexandra, included George I of Greece (think: the current Duke of Edinburgh) and Alexandra's younger sister, Princess Dagmar - soon to be Empress Marie Fedorovna of Russia, wife of Tsar Alexander III and mother of Nicolas II. Between Denmark and the German state of Hesse, they cranked out the queens for years and years. But I digress.

So Edward married Alexandra and they lived happily ever after. And Edward begat George V and Georgie (as he was called in the family) married Queen Mary (called May - because Mary was too long, I guess) and the present queen is named, inventively, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary.

Edward and Alexandra were married at Windsor in 1863. He was 21, Alexandra was 18. Then they became entertainers. I don't mean they did song and dance on the stage, I mean they ENTERTAINED. Lavishly. My personal opinion is that spending money was Alexandra's revenge.

Returning to the incredibly sarcastic "happily ever-after", it was rumored there was a distinct possibility that Edward may not have been totally faithful to Alexandra. Or to put it another way, his willy continued to wander:

Actress Lillee Langtry; Lady Randolph Churchill (Mother of Sir Winston) Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick; actress Sarah Bernhardt; Alice Keppel; singer Hortense Schneider; prostitue Giulia Barucci; weathty humanitarian Agnes Keyser. 55 liaisons total. But only conjecture, of course.

Uncle Bertie tried to keep his affairs discreet. That is, he tried not to do it on the footpath in Trafalgar Square during the noon rush.

How did the Princess of Wales take all this? I'm guessing she looked the other way. The story that Alexandra allowed King Edward's last mistress, Alice Keppel, to visit the king on his deathbed is a complete myth.

But what goes around keeps coming around: Alice's great-granddaughter is one Camilla Parker Bowes. Believe it or don't.

Edward never admitted to any illegitimate children. What a surprise.

In 1871, Edward contracted Typhoid (the disease that is believed to have killed his father rather than a broken shocked heart) and nearly died. He didn't, of course.

At his coronation, his waist measured 48 inches (122 cm.)

He's the one who introduced the practice of eating Yorkshire Pudding on Sundays.

Victoria finally died in 1901 and Edward became king. The queen had intended for him to rule as Albert Edward, but, in perhaps his first EVER gesture of defiance, he chose Edward VII. He said he didn't want to "undervalue the name of Albert". Right.

All his life he was able to get along with almost everyone, of every station and every political belief. He had many friends in many places. He was the most popular king since at least the 1600s.

It was Edward's habit to smoke 20 cigarettes and 12 cigars a day. Alexandra returned from a visit to her brother, King George I of Greece, on May 5, 1910 and her husband suffered several heart attacks the next day, but he refused to go to bed. The Prince of Wales told him that one of his horses had won at Kempton Park that afternoon (Edward was heavily into horse racing) and the king replied, "I am very glad." Those were his final words.
4 kings: Edward VII (rear) George V (left); Edward VIII (the boy in back); George VI

George V and his father were more like brothers than father and son, and after Edward's death he wrote in his diary that he had lost his "best friend and the best of fathers... I never had a cross word with him in my life. I am heartbroken and overwhelmed with grief."

Edward VII is buried at Windsor Castle. His funeral marked the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank the world had ever seen.

He had a real sense of duty. He had a real zest for pleasure.


  1. They also named a cigar after him. I have a box now full of little bits and pieces:
    King Edward
    America's Mildest Cigar
    A Swisher Product
    Then there is also something that looks suspiciously like a "By Appointment" sign but underneath it says: "These cigars are predominantly natural tobacco with non-tobacco ingredients added.

  2. There was a portrait of one of Edward VII 55 (or more)lady friends, Laura Caroline Russell who was married to the Earl of Wilton, on the Antiques Roadshow tonight.

  3. I am thoroughly enjoying these history lessons, Max. Pray continue.

  4. I was never a big fan of Albert. You know how I am about marketing.



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