The Heir Apparent, A Life of Edward VII, The Playboy Prince by Jane Ridley
Royals make the worst parents. Take poor Edward VII or Bertie as he was known to familiars. Raised by aristocratic wolves, (his parents Queen Victoria and Prince Albert) Bertie was given a lousy education, zero encouragement, and no real responsibilities until he inherited the throne in late middle age.
Historians have treated Bertie no more kindly than his parents, but in her biography The Heir Apparent author Jane Ridley persuasively argues that Bertie was a better man and monarch than his detractors claim.
Bertie (1841-1910) was the eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s nine children. His older sister Vicky, Empress of Germany and mother of the infamous Kaiser William II, was a bright child and as her father’s favorite received an excellent education. On the other hand, Bertie’s parents decided early on that he was a dolt and treated him accordingly.
One would think that massive attention would have been paid to the educational needs of the heir to the British Empire, but Victoria and Albert entrusted the Prince of Wales’ education to unimaginative, second rate tutors and a Spartan regimen.
Released from his gloomy childhood, Bertie embarked upon the life of pleasure for which he is well known. His marriage to Danish Princess Alexandra, of whom he was genuinely fond if not faithful, didn’t stop him from affairs with dozens of women including Lillie Langtry, Alice Keppel, and Lady Randolph Churchill. Bertie was a generous patron and remained on friendly terms with most of his former mistresses.
Since Queen Victoria didn’t share her responsibilities, Bertie was unusually ill prepared when he ascended the throne at age sixty. But as Jane Ridley points out, in some respects he surpassed his mother.
In sharp contrast to the widowed Victoria, who spent the last forty years of her life in virtual seclusion, Edward VII made himself extremely visible, opening hospitals and Parliament, something Victoria rarely bothered with. He reintroduced splendor, ceremony, public display and traveled extensively. He was sensitive to the concept of a constitutional monarchy, a notion that Victoria, an absolutist at heart, didn’t fully embrace. In 1901, with monarchies teetering across Europe, Bertie’s visibility was more than just for show.
On the eve of WWI, Bertie demonstrated deft diplomatic skills, especially challenging as he was related to all the major players, specifically as uncle to Kaiser William of Germany and the Czar of Russia.
Edward VII died in 1910 after a nine year reign. He was a better King than expected, but it is intriguing to contemplate what kind of ruler (and man) he could have been under different circumstances.