On 9 November 1841, a baby boy was born at Buckingham Palace. The child was the second child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and was named Albert Edward after his father and his grandfather the Duke of Kent, though he would always be known by his nickname Bertie. Victoria had not wished to have another baby so soon after having their daughter Vicky the year before and hated being pregnant.
It is clear now looking back that Victoria suffered from post-natal depression after having baby Albert Edward and the ‘shadow side’ of marriage, the stuff of pregnancy and birth often plunged her into a darkness which she found very difficult to come out of. Victoria called the baby frightful and backward and took a long time to bond with him; even then the bond was never the same as with some of his siblings. There would be nine in the brood in total, each a somewhat burdensome bi-product of the passionate love between Albert and Victoria.
At just a month old, the new prince was created Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester by his mother amongst many other titles and honours and was set up for a lifetime of royal duty. To prepare him for his future role as king, Bertie was educated to the highest standard and had to follow a rigorous programme. The child was not as naturally academic as his elder sister was, but the best tutors and resources were provided. From early on in life, the prince learned history, geography, reading, writing, languages, dancing and poetry, but he never reached the standard required of him by his tutors and governesses.
At seven and a half, Bertie left the nursery, and his education was planned by his father from then on and was taught by a succession of tutors who struggled with the boy. Every hour of Bertie’s day was taken up by lessons, and he was quite isolated and withdrawn, which became worse when Albert began to whip his son to bring him into line, which never really worked. In his teens, Bertie completed secondary studies before moving on to study at both Oxford and Cambridge. It was during this time that when left to his own devices, Bertie began to enjoy studying, and his fun character started to shine through after the years of isolation.
When he was around the age of twenty, Bertie began taking royal tours abroad. His mother had banned him from active military service despite him wishing for a military career, so meeting and greeting people on behalf of the Royal family was one of the only roles he was permitted to carry out. The Prince visited Rome and North America in these early years and made a good impression, although he did start to gain a reputation as a playboy. In 1861, Bertie was sent to Germany supposedly to view some military manoeuvres, but really he was there to meet Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Queen Victoria had already met the Princess and wished for Bertie to marry her, luckily the pair hit it off, and plans were made for their nuptials.
While the wedding plans were being drawn up, Bertie went on a trip to Ireland where he spent three romantic nights with an actress named Nellie Clifden. His father Albert was disgusted at this behaviour and visited the prince in Cambridge to make his feelings clear, just two weeks later Prince Albert passed away. Queen Victoria never recovered from her loss and wore mourning for the rest of her life; she also never forgave Bertie as she believed Prince Albert’s deterioration was due to his behaviour.
After the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria gave up on a lot of royal duties, which then fell to the Prince of Wales. A long Royal tour of Egypt delayed the wedding to Princess Alexandra which took place on 10 March 1863. Albert Edward and Alexandra established their home at Marlborough house where they were known to be popular socialites; they always entertained lavishly at their home which Victoria did not like.
Despite being happy with his wife, the Prince of Wales would not give up his mistresses of which there were many of throughout the years. These included Alice Keppel, Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick and actress Lillie Langtry amongst a reported fifty others! Bertie’s wife knew of his affairs and seemed to tolerate them, as extra-marital relations were common in their fashionable social set.
The Prince of Wales later began to carry out the type of modern public appearances we know the royals to carry out today; he would attend dinners, open buildings and so on. Other than this, Victoria kept him out of the running of the country, and he was not even allowed to view official documents, meaning he was ill-prepared for becoming king. It was not until 1898 that Victoria allowed her son any say in running the country. Over the years Bertie instead busied himself with travelling, socialising, spending time with his mistresses and also having his own children with Princess Alexandra. Together they had six children; including a son who died after just a day and their heir to the throne Albert Victor who sadly died aged 28. It was the couple’s second son who would later become King George V.
On 22 January 1901, Queen Victoria died after a reign of an incredible 63 years. For 59 of those years, Albert Edward had been Prince of Wales. After a delay because of illness, Bertie was crowned King Edward VII on 9 August 1902, he chose not to be called Albert as that was his father’s name. At the coronation, Bertie had a special pew put out to seat all of his lovers and mistresses which the shocked press called ‘the king’s loose box’. Bertie’s accession to the throne was welcomed by the English people. For the king himself, however, it was an honour which had come to him too late in life, and he said: “I would have liked it twenty years ago”.
King Edward set about making changes straight away with refurbishing the royal palaces, giving Osborne House to the state, introducing new honours and bringing back traditions such as the State Opening of Parliament. It seemed he had been sitting on such plans for some time.
King Edward was known as the uncle of Europe due to being related to many of the royal houses. He used this position to bolster Britain’s foreign affairs and made many overseas visits. In 1903, he visited French President Émile Loubet which laid the foundations for the future Entente Cordiale. Signed in 1904, the Entente ended centuries of rivalry with the French and brought Britain out of a period of isolation from European politics.
King Edward VII is also remembered for his military reforms, including the introduction of an army medical service and building Dreadnought ships, all of which were vital in the wars he would not live to see. These reforms and his involvement in politics show another side to the much-maligned man who was not taken seriously for much of his life, and if he had lived longer, we would have surely seen a lot more from him.
On 6 May 1910, after years of suffering from cancer and bronchitis, King Edward VII died just minutes after his son the soon-to-be King George V had told him that a horse had won in a race. Fittingly the fun-loving king’s last words were about the horse race “yes I’ve heard of it, I’m very glad”. He died with his wife by his side and was succeeded by his son King George V.1