British Royalty: Edward VII: Education

Figure 1.--Prince Albert and his older broither are seen here with ine of their tutors, Mr. Gibbs, in a February 1854 portrait. The boys wear Eton-styled suits with open collars. I do not know wat the boys normally wore for their lessons or if they commonly drssed alike as in this potrait. Note the military styled caps.

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.

Albert's Interest in Education

Prince Albert and his brother received a wonderful education from his tutor Florschütz. Even minor royals and aristocratic children were received excellent educations. The same was not true in England, even for the royal family. Victoria herself had received a medicore education. Albert realised how poorly read Victoria was a sought to tactfully tutor her and encourage her freading. He was horrified to hear her goveness, the Baroness Lehzen, brag about the wonderful job he had done in educating her charge. The developing animosity between Albert and Lehzen was to lead to sharp argument between Albert and Victoria which could have damaged their relationship. Several early arguments between Many of them resolve around the role of Victoria's former governess, who Victorain retained and Albert, as well as Stockmar, came to despise. Eventually Albert had to insist that she go, causing a huge disagreement with Victoria. But he stood his ground and Victoria finally. Albert was determined that in his family that education would get the attention it deserved.

Nursery Behavior

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. She won the affection of the children as soon as she arrived. Bertie proved to be te most difficult child she ever encountered. She eventually had to leave royal service, occasionly sobs and entrities from the children, in part because of the strain Bertie put her under.

The Plan

Bertie was a challenge to Prince Albert. As disturbing as Bertie's behavior and development was, Albert sought to draw up a program for the boy's education. His German adviser Stockmar assisted him. It became known as "The Plan". The program was developed to provide for both Bertie's special difficultuies and the position tat e was to one day ascend to--King of England. Albert was not unaware of the difficulties as he was no stranger to the nursery. Still he was hopeful of success. It was not sesined to be put into operation until Bertie was 7 years old and ready to be turned over to a tutor. Until that time, Albert did not plan to put any real pressure on the boy. It was decided to to just work on basic reading and writing and sitting still long enough to have a few basic lessons. [Bennett, p.218]

Prince Albert made a real effort to provide an educational program that catered to Bertie's needs. Lessons were limited to 5 hours and included a range of diversified sibjects, some of which like drawing were more a pleasurable diversion than academic study. A half hour of math, for example, was to be followed by a half hour of drawing to make lessons more interesting. There was an hour after lunch in which Berties was incouraged to read story books. No religious ibstruction was to be given, nor was he compeled to attend church services until he was 8 years old.

In contrast, Vicky at the same age had been working for the entire morning without any strain. The difference to Albert was striking. The Plan was certainly suitable for any boy of average intelligence. It was less burdonsome than a modern primary school and much less demanding than that the course prepared for Albert and his brother Ernest. [Bennett, pp. 218-219] Some historians have crititicized Albert with excessive severity toward Bertie. It is possible that pushing a backward boy might today seem like cruelty. It must, however, be viewed in the context of the time. Nothing was nown at the time about educating backward children. At the time, a childf behaving as Bertie did would be more likely viewed as recalcitrant and were dealt with very severely.

Some authors have complained that Bertie was never given a holiday from his studies and this was used as evidence of cruelty on his father's part. Actuallym this does bnot appear to have been the case. Actually both Lady Lyttelton and Stickmar complained of the frequency with whuich the children were taken from their studies for excursions aboard the royal yacht. One author insists that few children were as free as those of the royal family. They were encouraged to bathe in the sea, play on the sand ay Osborne, go on pony expeditions in Scotland, and engage in other outdoor pursuits. Albert told a friend, "An outdoor life is best for children." [Bennett, p.219]

Lack of Progress

Bertie made little progress by the age of six years. He did not evenunderstand that he was the Queen's heir and his curriosity was not aroused by his title--even though he commonly accompanied his parents. The royal family took a tour of Cornwall in the royal yacht. Albert soought to use the opportunity to explain to Bertie that he would some day be king. Bertie was, however, confused because the crowds kept cheering , "The Duke of Cornwall forever." (Bertie washe oldest son was to be the Prince of Wales, but he had not yet, invested so his title was the Duke of Corwall.) His father proceeded to give poor Bertie an erudite explanation of the Black Prince. Of course this just confused the boy more than he was to begin with. [Bennett, p.218]

Albert's Concern

Albert found it very difficult to accept the fact that his son, especially his eldest son, was below average. Albert had no idea how the boy was to be raised if he was indeed capable of learning? He woried about the succession to the throne.


The English royals did not attend schools, but were educated by tutors. This was to change in future generations. Given the situation at the time in England's public (private schools), Albert was not about to challege precedent and send the princes there. The public schools had indifferent if not outright poor teaching and were rife with bullying and neglect. Thomas Hughes' novel, Tom Brown's School Days, describing the situation was not published until 1857, but the nature of the schools was well known to Prince Albert had the staff of the royal household.

Henry Birch (1849-51)

Berie in March 1849 was put in the carge of Henry Birch who had been a master at Eton. This was a year later than they had planned. Birch had won university prizes at King's College, Cambridge. He had been a popular teacher at Eton. One historian says that even more than his scholarship was his normality who thought that perhaps by putting his high-strung child in calm hands that the boy would benefit. In fact, it was more difficult finding qualified tutors than on he continent. Qualified young men pursued careers in public (private) schools schools rather than serve as tutors as was common on the continent. Birch did not prove very successful with Bertie. At Eton, Birch dealt with normal boys. He found it impossible to reach Bertie. He could not understand thd boy's excitability, his sudden and unpredictable rages, and lack of curiosity. Birch could not even fall back on a frequent tool of teachers--humor. Bertie appears to have had no sence of humor at all. Birch simply did not know what to do with the boy. He followed "The Plan" and made no suggestions for changing it. Finally after 2 years and little to show for it, Albert decided that Birch had to go. Stranfely as soon as it was announced, Bertie who had shown no sign of affection, giving Birch a seeies of notes and presents. [Bennett, p.220-221]


Albert and Victoria were greatly disappointed at Bertie's failure to benefit from 2 years under Birch. One historian suggests they asked for too much advice. They certainly got a wide range of responses. Dr. Varsin was an exponent of freedom and fresh air. He suggested that Bertie be allowed to run wild for a while. Albert sarcastically remarked that he could only guess what would be said about that. A phrenologist was allowed to examined Bertie's head. (Phrenology was a popular notion of the day that a person's character could be deduced by studying a persion's scull.) The phrenologist, Dr. Combe, determined that Berie was excitable and obstinate and need to be strengthened in self esteem. Albert commented that he knew this very well already.

Frederick Weymouth / Waymouth Gibbs (1851- )

Finally it was decided to engage a second tutor. Albert chose Frederick Weymouth Gibbs, a 29-year old Cambridge don with a admirable reputation. (a reder reports, "In your site his name is spelled Weymouth, as in the English city, but not in our family. Gibbs's great grandmother was Hannah Newcomen nee Waymouth, so his association with the family was quite remote, but the spelling is consistent.") One account said that to be to be assured of success. Gibbs was a humorless, prematurely aged scholar. He had a distressing family history, his mother was insane. Of course there was quite a difference in teaching clever university students than a backward boy. Gibbs reported that after working with Bertie, he discovered that the future king was " a person half silly. .... He was very rude this afternoon, throwing stones in my face. .... Running first in one place, than in another, he made faces and spat, and used a great many bad words." Albert thought he saw some improvement in the boy. He found Bertie quite companionable when they went to Scotland after the Great Exhibition. They went deer stalking together. This was perhaps the first time in that Albert began to see some hope for his son. [Bennett, pp.221-222]

We are not sure about the tutoring sessions. I believe that Gibbs began in 1851. We do know that at least by 1854 that Mr. Gibbs was working with both Affie and Berie. Presumably the boys were taken their lessons earlier, perhaps from the beginning, we do not yet have confirmation of this. Berie was 3 years older than Affie, but so backward that the two presumably could have worked together when the tutoring first began. I'm not sure how long the tutoring lasted.

There does not appear to have been a radical change. As late as 1857 there were continuing problems with Bertie. Prince Albert decided to separate Berie and Affie who had been studying together. I'm not sure precisely what precipitated this decission. Presumably Affie egged on by Bertie was acting up in their lessons. Affie looked up to his older brother and it is normal in such situations for the younger boy to copy the antics and even rudeness of the older boy. Some cite this episode as strictness or even cruelty in separating the boys. In fact, the decession was taken to ensure that Bertie would not make it impossible for Affie to get his lessons. The decission was in fact taken to protect Affie. Unlike Berie who would become king, it was assumed that Affie like the oter princes would have to make their way in life and thus needed a proper education. One historian reports that Bertie suffered from the loss of his companion. [Bennett, p. 210.] It is unclear how Affie took the separation.


Bertie did learn to speal French and German, in part because the languages were spoken in the nursery and by his parents. Thus he learned much as a child learns his mother tonuge rather than by academic study. In virtually every aspect of his academic studies, history, math, science and other disciplines, his achievement was woefully deficient. [Wilson, p. 273.]


We are not sure what Bertie and Affie normally wore for their lessons. A tutor began working with Berie in 1849. His parents had hoped to begin tutoring him earlier, but he was just too backward and imature. I do not know how he was dressed when the tutoring began. An available images in 1854 shows the boys wearing comfortable open-necked sirts, ligt vests, short dark jackets, and light-colored long trousers. They also wore matching peaked caps with military styling. A 1857 portrait shows Berie dressed in much the same manner. I am not possitive that this is the way that they actually dressed for their lessons, but it seems quite likely. These outfits seem much as a boy might have dressed at one of Britain's prestigious public (private) schools at the time.


After Bertie finished his tutoring sessions he was enrolled in Cambridge University. He was more interested in hunting and beagling. His father agonized on how much actual work to demand. I do know that Bertie was a Cambridge in 1861. I am not sure when he actually began his studies. It was at Cambridge that the two last spoke. Albert in an already weakened state had traveled there to speak to his son about an indiscression that had surfaced in the European press--the Nellie Clifden affair. The Prince Consort was exposed to the elements and the Queen for the rest of her life blamed Bertie for her husband's death. Actually Bertie had studied at Christ Church, Oxford underArthur Penrhyn, a noted scholar of ecclesiatical hostory. At Cambridge he studied under Charles Kingsley, the regius professor of history. The Prince Consort had carefully chose both men. Bertie paid littloe attention to academics while at university. He instead occupied himself with hunting, fishing, drinking, and persuing ladies. As a result, when after his marriage, it rquired considerable imagination for Oxford's chancellor Lord Derby to compose a speech for the ceremony awarding Bertie a degree in civil law during 1863. The speech was delivered in Latin, meaning Bertie could not understand a word of it, and focused more on the beauty of the Princess of Wales than the Prince's acadameic achievements. [Wilson, p. p. 273.]


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

Wilson, A.N. The Victorians (W.W. Norton & co.: New York, 2003), 724p.


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Created: April 30, 2001
Last updated: August 4, 2003