British Royalty: Edward VII


Figure 1.--The young Edward VII was dressed in tunic outfits after grduating from dresses. The tunic, however, looks much like a dress. This is a detail from Winterhalter's famous 1846 painting. Notice the Prince's curls.

Edward VII (1841-1910) or Bertie as he was called within the family, was the eldest son of the redoubtable Queen Victoria and Prince Consort Albert. Edward was born Albert Edward Saxe-Coburg in 1841 at Buckingham Palace. He was affectionately known as Bertie by his family, as he was christened Albert Edward. The parents soon found that Bertie was going to be difficult to deal with. As heir to the thrown he was of great concern. Despite extrodinary efforts to assist him, he was to cause more difficulty than any of the other children. As a boy, the clothes chosen for him resulted in him affecting boys fashions for decades. He proved to be a rather difficult, volotile child which was not helped by the routine adopted for him and his brothers and sisters. Edward did not want to use his father's name, insisting that there was only one Albert. While he was a backward boy with limited academic abilities, Edward in fact proved to be a succes as king. Like his mother he gave his name to an era--the Edwardian Era. While shortlived, it was an era of the flowering of European culture before the terrible wars of the 20th centurty. Edward played an important role in steering a moderate course which helped to prevent war.

Parents

Victoria and Albert represent one of the true love stories of the 19th century. Both were vey remarkable individuals.

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria (1819-1901) was the grandaughter of King George III and was the niece of her predecessor William IV. The Queen was crowned in 1837 and was to become the longest reigning British monarch, having much of the 19th century named after her. Because of her longevity and extensive family, she became known as the Grandmother of Europe after marrying her family into every Royal House in Europe. Victoria ruled one of the world's largest empires at the peak of its power. She was Queen of England, but so as not to outdone by the German Kaiser (Emperor), was made Empresses of India.

Prince Albert

Albert was the born into the royal family of a small German principality. He was stictly raised and very well educated. His mairrage to Victoria brought him to the throne of the most powerful country of the day. He was only the Prince Cosort and not a co-ruler with his wife. His advise to his poorly educated wife, however, was of great value to England, especially his advise that England not support the South in the American Civil War. He took the education of their heir, the future Edward VII very seriously. Albert's untimely death devestated Victoria.

Birth

Albert Edward, Prince of Whales, was born in 1841, the second son and oldest boy of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. As the oldest boy, he was heir to the throne. King Frederick Wilhelm of Prussia hinted that he would like to be his godfather and it was accepted. At the time many in England still viewed France as their main adversary in world affairs. The German monarch's eccentric behavior at Windsor undid Albert's effort to strengthen ties with the Germans.


Figure 2.--The angelic looking young Edward VII is hard to imagine what a terror he was as a boy or the life style the future Prince of Wales was to lead. Note the curls and the low-cut collarless neckline of his tunic--quite a contrast to the stiff Eton collars boys would wear later in the century. This painting dates to about 1846.

Personality

Bertie was an extrodinarily difficult child. He was subject to bouts of bad temper and sudden, frigtening wages. It was impossible to contol tyhe boy's rages and tyring to watch. During one of these "fits" (Albert used the term in his confidential information), Bertie had to be carefully watched least he hurt imself or one of the other children. He would tear at is air, bite his clothes, stamp his feet, bang his head against the wall, and berate his brothers and sisters unmercifully. The whole time he would screaming at te top of is lungs. It was extremely strssful for all involved. Even when he was in a happy mood, he could not be left alone with the younger children as his mood could suddenly change. Bertie was small for his age, but very strong. It would take two footmen to restrain him. Such bouts left him white and prostrate for hours, irritable and stammering if spoken to--but otherwise quiet. Albert described it "... as though he were asleep with his eyes open.

Brothers and Sisters

Victoria and Albert had nine children, four boys and five girls. They saw themselves and in many ways were suitably enough an ideal Victorian family. The mairrages and offspring of these children are truely remarkable. Victoria in more than name was the grandmother of Europe. HBC at this time knows little about the relationship between the children. Bertie is often pictures with Alfred so the two may well have been close.

Relationship with Brothers and Sisters

Some details are avialable on Bertie's relationship with his brothers and sisters, especially the ones nearest him in age.

Vicky

Vicky as the oldest child dominated the nursery. Vicky was a sharp contrast to her slower, difficult brother--Bertie. The two were very close in age and in the nursery thus spent a great deal of time together. Vicky learned to ride her pony bareback and delighted in taunting Bertie because he required a saddle. This infuriated Bertie whose response was to scream and hit his sister and she smacked him right back. Lady Lyttelton had been able to control the two--with difficulty. Subsequent governesses had more difficulty. Vicky in fact could climb trees better than Bertie as well as run faster. [Bennett, pp. 216-217.] She was better in almost everything, especially her studies than Bertie. This ha a major impact on his relationship with his father for whom academics was so important. Bertie was not only not interested in studies, but would constantly distract Vicky when she would try to work on her studies in the nursery. This would often lead to fights between the two. Prince Albert and the Queen saw this and were unsure how to deal with it. They in fact delayed in serious study program for Bertie.

Affie

Affie admired his older brother and copied him in everything. The two boys for several years took their lessons together under tutors. When ffie's copy of older brother extended to disobedience and refusal to work on his studies like Bertie, it was decided that the boys had to be separated. The separation ocurred in 1857. Some authors have cited this as an example of Albert's cruelty. Indeed it was a punishment of kind for Bertie as he suffered the loss of his cloest friend. The decession was primarily taken, however, as essential for properly forming Affie's chracter.

Governess

Prince Albert as with many paractical matters usually exercised excellent judgement. Such was the case of a giverness for the children. He close Lady Lyttelton, an ancestor of Princess Diane. She was a perfect choice for the job. She both loved and understood children and had a wonderful ability to teach. One historian writes that Lady Lyttelton "won the affection of the nursery from the start." [Bennett, p. 129] Lady Lyttelton, who can not be accused of harshness, confirmed tat during one of these attacks, he took in nothing, however, clearly and calmly she spole to him. She said that the aggressivness made the normal relationship that she shared with the other children impossible with Bertie. She hoped that he would grow out of this behavior, but noted that she was unable to interst him in the simplest lesson until after he was more than 4 years old. He would tear around the nursery, throweing his books about or crawling under the table to tear them to pieces. He would literally wear out his long suffering governess. Punishment was apparently ineffective--it would only result in another tantrum. [Bennett, p. 129]

Family Life

After the daliances of their predecesors, Victoria and Albert sought to set the standard for rectitude. Although historians vary somewhat the young family seems to nave been very happy. The children were not relegated to a nursery and rarely visited by their parents. Albert deloghted in playing with the children. He not only joined in their games, but invented many for them. [Bennett, p. 128.] I'm less sure about Victoria's role. It is clear that the family participated in many activities together. The engaged in familt theatricals. Albert taught them games. They enjoyed producing tableaux vivants. Albert would read from books they could all enjoy like Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo. They also traveled together, taking may trips on the royal yacht, Victoria and Albert together. The children grew up thinking that papa knew how to do everything and Victoria her self with her limited outlook and education also came to look to her husband for guidance. In family maters after the Lehzen matter was resolved, Albert was the undisputed head of household. Victoria gradually turned to Albert on matters of state. In this regard, Albert very tactfully gained her confidence. There were little tiffs from time between Victoria and Albert, but they appear to have been a wonderfully happy family. Most of the disputes resolved around Victoria's frustration. She wanted him to be successful and admired, but as he rose in stature there were more demands on his time. This took him away from her which she did not want. The standards set by the royal couple with the children and their family life was to set a standard that many of their descendents found difficult to meet. Edward in fact made no effort to do so and was a notorious philanderer.


Figure 5.--Prince Edward and Prince Alfred were often pictures together in kilts. This romantasized portrait shows the boys leistering salmon about 1850, suggesting that while in Scotland they wore kilts for everyday wear.

Boyhood Clothes

The clothes Bertie wore as a boy may well had more impact on boys' fashion than perhaps any other boy, although he of course had no idea at the time. There are few photographs of him as a little boy as photography was so new. Edward wore dresses like his sisters as a little boy. At about 5 he appears in tunics. Several images show hin in Higland kilts which created a fashion sensation. He and his brothers appear to have worn kilts differently than future generations. He created another fashion sensation when he appeared in a white sailor suit, establishing a major fashion trend. We note he was wearing rather mature looking suits by age 10, but I am not sure when he began wearing these suits, perhaps a cople years earlier.

Clothing Advise

Letters and notes from Prince Albert and Victoria exist advising Berie how to dress. They do not provide specific advise on styles, bur rather basically afvise the boy not to dress in flashy styles or comport himself so as not to attract untoward attention by "John Bull". One interesting aspect of the notes is the age at which Bertie achiebed some degree of financial independence. He was in fact quite youthful, much earrlier tan the case for his grandson, Edward VIII. We do not know what Bertie thought about such avise.

Education

Few English princes had more thought given to their education than was given to Bertie's education. On this area Victoria acceded to Albert's judgement. Unlike many other areas, he appears to have made some very bad judgements. Despite the attention given to the care and education of the children, many serious mistakes were made and a program was pursued that was not suitable for a boy of limited intelligence and volitile temperment. Shortly after the birth of the Princess Royal, and well before the birth of Bertie, Albert began to consider the education of the family. He found Victoria's education to be solely lacking, far below that of German princess not destined to be queens. In this regard, he was badly served by the Queen's chief advisor Stockmar with a lot of academic twatle and theorizing. In particular he put the idea in Albert and Victoria's head that they had a more difficult task than other parents.


Figure 6.--Detail of a 1857 photograph showing the suits sported by Edward and his younger brother Alfred.

Bertie and His Parents

Victoria and Albert made a concious effort to provide instruction in proper behavior and sought to create an exempliry family. In fact Albert was scolding Bertie the very day that his illness was first noted. (Victoria for the rest of her life blamed Edward for Albert's death.) It seems, however, that the strict upbringing had precisely the opposite affect on the young prince. As soon as he was old enough he proceeded to ignore many of the moral precepts on which he was raised--at least the ones relating to marital infidelity. Victoria, true to the Hanoverian name, always saw the worst in Edward. Albert attempted to adapt a program to meet their backward son's needs. Edward proved resistant, but resentful throughout his youth. As an adult, Victoria never trusted him with responsibilities, no doubt influenced by all the difficulties he had caused as a boy.

Sandringham House

Sandringham was bought for the Prince of Wales in 1862. It is set in 25 hectares (over 60 acres) of grounds with an Estate of some 8,000 hectares (nearly 20,000 acres). Sandringham has been the private home of four generations of Sovereigns. The house was originally a Georgian structure. By 1870 it was rebuilt and, despite a serious fire in 1891, subsequently expanded to accommodate The Prince of Wales' growing family. Queen Elizabeth and other members of the Royal family regularly spend Christmas at Sandringham and make it their official base until February each year. The house was first opened to the public in 1977, and there is a museum with displays of Royal life and Estate history.

Search for a Bride

The choice of Bertie's future wife became increasinly pressing as his indicressions became increasingly apparent. In fact right before his father's death, Pribce Akber had traveled to Cambridge to discuss one such indiscression which had been broacched in the European press. His mother never forgave him for this. Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent believed marriage woyld be the boy's salvation. Bertie for his part seemed under the impression that as future King he could have his choice of royal beauties. His parents less optimistic. His father dispaired of any girl capable of being Queen would take him--despite his pospects. Bertie was neither handsome or clever. One of the Queen's ladies described him as "comic" when he wore "The Garter". His sister Vicky was hard at work looking at suitable protestant German princesses. Bertie rejected her suggestions as too plain. Vicky wrote, "Unfortunately, princesses do not spring up like mushrooms out of the earth or grow upon trees." For political and personal reasons Queen Victoria, Prince Albert did not conside the Danish royal family. The issue of Schleswig-Holstein festered and both were pro-German. A Danish princess would complicate family life. Prussia would look on disapprovingly at a link between the Danish and British royal families. Vivky advised against it, as she was the Crown Princess of Prussia. Finally, when all possible German princesses were rulled out, she secured a photograph of Alexandra. Bertie showed considerable interest. Vicky reported that he was both beautiful and intelligent. Bertie for his part wanted to keep Alexandria on hold while he looked over the field. His father rebuked him and cautioned him that he might loose her to the son of the Russian Czar who was also looking for a suitable bride.

Alexandra (1844-1925)

Alexandra was born in 1844, only a few years after Bertie. Her father was Christian IX (1818- ) of Schleswig-Holstein, King of Denmark. Her mother was Princess Louise Wilhelmina of Hesse-Cassel (1818- ). Alexandra as a girl was raised in rather frugal circumstances in Copenhagen. She and her sisters sewed many of their own clothes. Occasionally they would wait on tables and perform other household chores. It was a very hapy family. She was a naural athelete and the children practiced gymastics. She loved to ride and a very proficient horsewoman. She grew up to be a beautiful woman and like her husband and no interest in intelectual pursuits--she "had no brain" as one historian rather ineligantly phrased it. Her engaging personality and lack of pretense made her a favorite of her mother-in-law, Queen Victoria. Her children, horses, and dogs became the center of her life. Her husband who liked no only beautiful, but also witty women would seek their companionship. The Prussian war with Denmark and the loss of Scheswig-Holstein engenderd a life-long distaste for the Germans. Her husband after the assumption of his nephew Wilhelm to the German imperial throne had his own difficulties with the Germans.

Marriage

Edward and Alexandra mairred in 1863. He was 21 and wed Danish Princess Alexandra Oldenburg, age 18. She was delivered to London aboard the royal yacht. The British public was relieved to find it was not another royal mairrage to a German royal family and were delighted with the Princesses' beauty and charm. It was a time of great celebration in Britain, finally emerging from the gloom surrounding the death of Prince Albert in 1861. Mairrage into the British royal family was quite a change for Alexandra, despite her royal heritage, she had been raised in great frugality. Mairrage to Bertie, however, was no picnic. She had to contend with many infidilities. One author called him a prodigious philanderer. Edward's marriage at 22 to Alexandra afforded him some relief from his mother's domination, but even after Albert's death in 1863, Victoria consistently denied her son any official governmental role. Edward rebelled by completely indulging himself in women, food, drink, gambling, sport and travel. Alexandra turned a blind eye to his extramarital activities, which continued well into his 60s and found him implicated in several divorce cases. Edward many mistresses were legendary and included: Nellie Clifden, Sarah Bernhardt, Mrs Alice Keppel, Lily Langtry and numerous others, all of whom his wife seemed to tolerate. Despite, or perhaps because of the his strict upbringing, Edward as Prince Regent sometimes behaved wildly. Queen Victoria apparently would not speak to him for many years after the death of his father, whom she wrongly believed had collapsed and died as a result of Bertie telling him about his affair with a well known actress. The Queen herself was partly responsible for Edward's irresponsible, if not wild behavior. She would allow him no political influence at all and he resented this. When he came to the throne, he lived a self-obsessed life complete with many mistresses and self-indulgence.

The Children

Edward VII is probably one of the most well-know royal princes. Much has been written about his upbringing. Some contend that he was not raised in a very sympathetic environment. Others point out that he was an extrodinarily difficult child and his partents, especially Prince Albert, made great efforts to meet the needs of his oldest sons--especially given the lack of understanding at the time as to how to deal with backward children. An interesting question is, becomes did he do better as a father. Certainly none of his chiildren posed the problems that he as a boy had been to his parents. His children were well grown before he became king in 1901. His oldest son, Albert Victor, died much to the relief of many before Bertie became king. The most famous son was his second boy who became George V. He was to lead Britain through World War I and was much criticised for the way he raised his children.

Clothes

HBC has little information on what Bertie felt about his boyhood clothes or the clothes selected for his children. The boys and girls were each commonly dressed alike as children. Sailor styles were popular and were becoming increasingly adopted by the generl public. We do know, however, that clothing was a major interest as a adult. Like many European royals, Edward was obsessed with clothing, medals, and uniforms. He was especially concerned with clothes. No doubt his mother's refusal to give him any serious official duties were a factor here. Edward was known to reprimand individuals who made even small errors in dress. A particular obsession was mistakingly wearing black rathar than white tie for formal occassions. He even once pubically upbraided Prime Minister Marquess of Salisbury when he appeared at a Buckingham Palac reception inappropriately dressed. The Prime Minister cooly responded thzat when dressing his mind must have been "occupied by some subject of less importance". Reportedly his grandson George VI inherited. [Bradford, 1989, p. 4.]

The Prince of Wales

The Prince of Wales, as was apparent from his early years, was no great intelect. As an adult, he was never known to read a book. He was perpetually restless and easily bored. While itelectual pursuits did not interest him, he had a considerable zest for life. The Prince in fact had a seemingly boundless capacity to pursue the good life. In fact, he became an expert in the pursuit of life's earthly pleasurses. His expertise was in large part a result of redoubtable mother's refusal to allow him any real official responsibilites. He especially enjoyed eating and his girth showed that. It also affected his health. A days food consumption would stagger our modern diet-obsessed sessabilities. He also smoked profusely, both cigarettes and cigars. He strictly limited his alcohol consumption and did not like being around inebriated people, especially ladies, but began drinking more as an older man. His other weakness was womwn and in his more adventuresome early years his asignations scandalized the British public which had come to adore the Princess of Wales.

Religion

HBRC has not yet acquired information on Edward's religious beliefs. HBRC reader John Anton reports, "My decreased grandfather once told me that one of his great-uncles bapistized the Prince of Wales and he believed it was Prince Edward VII (although it may have been another). However, I cannot find any information on his baptism. All I was told told was that the baptism occurred in the 1800's in India as this was under British rule. My great great uncle would have been a Cardinal."

Home Life


Grandfather

The Prince and Princess of Wales were both doting grandparents. The Princess was always more prone to spoiling rather than disciplining her own children, but this is often more of a virtue for a grandmother. The children quickly learned that the excuse, "but grandmama said we could" often got them out of difficult situations. Their grandfather was also quite endulgent, but not as engaged.

European Power Politics

European diplomacy was extremely fluid in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today with background of World War I and II, we think of a close relationship of Britain and France allied against the Germany. This was not the sitation before World War I. There were many confrontations between Britain and France and at times military action was not out of the question. French resentment of the British was especilly intense in 1900 as a result of the Boehr War in South Africa. The Prince and Princess of Wales had to cancel a trip to the Rivera and instead headed for Copenhagen, much to the Prince's disappointment. As their train stopped at the Brussels railway station, an anarchist youth named Sipido who incensed by British actions in South Africa, jumped upon the footboard of the Prince's carriage just as the train was starting and fired two shots into the saloon. [Guardian, April 5, 1900.] One bullet passed between the startled Prince and Princess. One can but wonder if one had been killed what might have transpired, realizing that a similar incident the killing of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand, launched World War I. One can only wonder if either the Prince or Princess had been killed in Brussels if the British would have been as likely to have entered World War I to save France and Belgium. The building of a more constructive relationship with France was to be one of the Prince's great achievements as king.

Edward Becomes King

Edward was crowned in 1902 after Victoria's death. He refused to be take his first name and be crowned Albert I--in deference to his father. Instead he was crowned Edward VII.

Reign

Diplomacy

Edward's reign was short compared to his mother's, but significant. Despite his mother's misgivvings, Edward had a flare for diplomacy. His risqué reputation caused concern among some of his subjects. Edward threw himself into his role of king with vitality. His extensive European travels gave him a solid foundation as an ambassador in foreign relations. Quite a few of the royal houses of Europe were his relatives, allowing him to actively assist in foreign policy negotiations. As a result of his iniatives, he became known as the Peacemaker of Europe. He helped change British Foreign policy by gained the goodwill of France. A major step at the time. He promoted active rearmament against his kinsman whom he disliked, Kaiser Wilhelm II. These policies may well have saved the British nation in the upcoming world war. Edward was a true Tory and he had to watch the successful rise of the Labour Party and Lloyd George's Liberals.

Social life

Edward maintained an active social life, and his penchant for flamboyant accouterments set trends among the fashionable--just as his boyhood clothes set the styles for generations of boys. Victoria's fears proved wrong. Edward despite his lack of application as a boy and limited academic abilities, proved to be quite a successful king. His forays into foreign policy had direct bearing on the alliances between Britain and both France and Russia.

Popularity

Aside from his sexual indiscretions, which were not that uncommon for men of wealth and sature at the time, his manner and style endeared him to the English populace. He had not always popular as Prince of Wales, but he proved to be one of England's most popular kings. His positive role in helping to defuse a series of difficult international crisis was a particularly notable achievement and stood in sharp contrast to the behavior of his German nephew, Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Death

King Edward VII died after an attack of bronchitis in 1910 at Buckingham Palace at the age of 68. He is buried at St. George's Chapel, Windsor.

Sources

Battiscombe, Georgina. Queen Alexandra (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1969).

Bennett, Daphne King Without a Crown: Albert Prince Consort of England, 1819-1861 (New York: J.B. Lippincott, 1977).

Bradford, Sarah. The Reluctant King: The Life and Reign of George VI, 1995-1952 (New York: St. Marin's Press, 1989), 506p.

"Attempt to shoot the Prince of Wales," Guardian, April 5, 1900.





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Created: February 26, 1999
Last updated: 4:29 AM 3/25/2006