25 January 2022
King Edward VII - Born Too Early
This second child of Queen Victoria, the last monarch of the House of Hanover, and of her consort and first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, was born on 9 November 1841 in Buckingham Palace. He was christened Albert Edward at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle on 25 January 1842. The boy was named Albert after his father and Edward after his maternal grandfather, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn. He was known as “Bertie” to the royal family throughout his life.
As the eldest son of the British monarch, Edward was, at birth, automatically Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay. As a son of Prince Albert, he also held the titles of Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Duke of Saxony. He was created Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester on 8 December 1841; Earl of Dublin on 17 January 1850; a Knight of the Garter on 9 November 1858; and a Knight of the Thistle on 24 May 1867.
Hauling such a lengthy train of hereditary titles must have been an awesome prospect to the young child. In 1863, he renounced his succession rights to the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in favour of his younger brother Prince Alfred.
Edward wished to pursue a career in the British Army, but Queen Victoria vetoed that idea outright. She and Prince Albert were determined that their eldest son should have an education to prepare him to be a model constitutional monarch. At age seven, Edward embarked on a rigorous educational programme, devised by Albert, and supervised by several tutors. Unlike his elder sister Victoria, Edward did not excel in his studies. Academic achievements were not to be his forte. He tried to meet the expectations of his parents, but to no avail. He was not a diligent student. It’s likely he did not acquire his insights and knowledge from books.
The innate and truest talents of Edward resided in what we now hideously call “inter-personal relations”. He was not manipulative, nor was he a clever beguiler. He possessed genuine charm, touching tact, social graces, and an affability that was oftentimes the human touch in a mechanized domain. From his royal perch, he managed to effect the soft rebuttal to a sphere of ever-increasing mechanization, industrialization and, according to English novelists, starting with Dickens and ending with D.H. Lawrence: de-personalization.
Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, whom Queen Victoria immensely favoured, described Edward as: “informed, intelligent, and of sweet manner.” This child was quite engaging, an outgoing personality amidst a circle of connivers continually seeking favour with the Queen, and with the Prince. A more introspective child might have become only more introspective, even neurotic.
Stuffed to the royal gills with his secondary-level studies, Edward was then tutored by a personal governor, Robert Bruce. His next step along the didactic road was an educational trip to Rome, as in “school’s out of the country for a while.” Those initial months of 1858 led to a summer at the University of Edinburgh.
There, Edward studied under the tutelage of, among other erudite professors, the chemist Lyon Playfair who had a thought-provoking effect upon him. In October, he matriculated as an undergraduate at Christ Church, Oxford. He’d been freed from the educational strictures imposed by his parents, and, thriving in that liberty, he began to enjoy academic pursuits for the first time in his life. He thus performed very satisfactorily in his examinations.
In 1861, Edward transferred from Oxford to Trinity College, Cambridge. There he was tutored in history by Charles Kingsley, Regius Professor of Modern History. The efforts and approach by Kingsley elicited the best academic performances of Edward’s life. This pragmatic prince looked forward to attending the lectures of Kingsley. After so many years of stuffy scholastic impositions upon him, this future king discovered delight in book-learning, in learning. It was at this campus that this young man of nineteen years became enamoured of edification, and of the opposite sex.
His scholastic studies were on pace with his romantic pursuits, all of which were not in keeping with the rigid moral precepts of the Queen. Edward had been pretty much a novice in sexual matters until he’d spread his wings and reached Cambridge. Once there, he opened his eyes to learning, not just from books, but from the world of women. That carnal universe, not necessarily one of the heart, was one from which he would never willingly depart.
For me, the saddest aspects of reading about the life, and death, of King Edward VII involve the tremendous antipathy toward him by his mother, Queen Victoria. He seemed to always have been a disappointment in her eyes. The sorrowful truth about this queen is that she did not like children, or babies. She detested pregnancy and childbirth, although she cottoned to chloroform during labor, and she grandly reveled in her marital life with the handsome and virile Albert.
She resolutely, even stubbornly, deemed one of her royal roles as that of breeding marital mates for the royal and aristocratic families of Europe, reaching clear across the continent to Russia. Some of her children and grandchildren eerily resembled each other. Cousins Czar Nicholas II of Russia and King George V of the United Kingdom appear to have been separated at birth! One can easily see the calmly sad and dispassionate eyes of mother Victoria in her son Albert; and one might wonder if that offspring bore at least some of her willfulness, albeit his was expressed through audaciously different modes.
Queen Victoria absolutely and unceasingly blamed her son, Edward, for the death of his father in 1861 at the age of forty-two. Throughout the remainder of her life, a total of forty years, Victoria unrelentingly held the incorrect conclusion that her husband had died because of having tried to rein in this amorous young man from scandal.
Try carrying that burden through your life, the false accusation of having killed your father. I’ve personally known individuals who attempted to carry the same yoke of that unfair burden — with much less achievement of worth and merit.
The illicit conquests and liaisons of this man were not peccadilloes in terms of the society of his time, but they were not the blackmail-bait of the non-society of our times. His wife knew of his infidelities, and, it seems, she accepted them. She was Princess Alexandra of Denmark, whom Edward wed in 1863 in the arranged marriage that his queen mother excelled at finagling.
Edward and Alexandra were reputedly friends, a rarity in many marriages, royal or otherwise. She loved him, and, in his own way, he loved her. He was extremely discreet about his dalliances and romances, claiming not to have fathered any illegitimate children. I marvel at his accomplished acceptance of self, and at the amount of respect granted to him by a press that, today, known as The Media, would make profitable tabloid mincemeat of his private life, while also secretly envying and emulating the man.
Edward was viciously excluded from political influence and decision-making by his widowed mother who concurrently chose to defer much of her own governmental decision-making to her Prime Minister, Cabinet officials, and advisors. Prince Albert had been the quietly strong power behind her throne; she was not about to allow this womanizing son to have any hand, or say, in the governing of Great Britain. This heir apparent very dutifully made the rounds of the kingdom, performing those ceremonial public tasks that subsequently became the programmed schedules of the British Royal Family.
He toured North America in 1860, before the outbreak of the Civil War; and he journeyed to India in 1875. Even his earning the title of Empress of India from the Parliament for his mother did not endear him to her. Admiration, approval, acknowledgement, even attentiveness were not his to glean from Queen Victoria. The murderer of her beloved Albert could not redeem Edward in her grief-stricken eyes.
Queen Victoria died on 22 January 1902. Edward immediately became King of the United Kingdom, Emperor of India, and, as an added new bonus, King of the British Dominions. I wonder how overjoyed he was at his ascension, his titles, his rule over a kingdom that his mother had dominated all of his life, sixty years worth, and then a few more, since her coronation in 1937 at the age of eighteen. This king chose his royal name of Edward VII, and not his given name, Albert Edward, which was the name that his mother had determined he would use. Yet again he would oppose her dictate, though for the most honorable of intentions.
This king would use his own appellation, for his own reason. He did not wish to “undervalue the name of Albert” and thereby diminish the status of his father with whom “the name should stand alone.”
Such a filial tribute is to be cherished. It is rarely given, much less spoken, by a king toward his father. He’d had to bury two sons of his own, in 1871, and in 1892. In 1871, he undertook the incredibly painful task, with tears rolling down his face, of placing his firstborn child and youngest son in the coffin. This infant had succumbed twenty-four hours after being born. His eldest son, the heir apparent, died at the age of 28 from pneumonia during the pandemic known as the Russian flu.
Edward was an unusually popular king, well-liked, and, methinks, well-understood. He played a large hand in the modernization of the British Home Fleet; he also re-organized the British Army after the Second Boer War of 1899-1902. Due to his lengthy time practicing and performing his civic duties as heir apparent, Edward re-instituted the traditional ceremony as a formal, public performance in the kingdom. On the personal front, King Edward VII expanded the scope of personages with whom the Royal Family socialized. All the better for his romantic prospects!
While his mother had fostered political alliances through marrying off her children, this son fostered bonds between Great Britain and many other nations of Europe, France, in particular. Those bonds would come in handy in the very near future, after the death of this King on 6 May 1910. Edward had been a shrewd and practical political royal. He cultivated politicians from all parties, including republicans, as his friends. Any inhospitable feelings toward him were thus effectively dissipated. He had to dispel the cruel ghosts that his mother had kept alive for far too long.
This king has been largely forgotten in terms of his enormous achievements in the political world of his time. He was instead all too facilely summed up as having granted his name to the era, the Edwardian era, merely because of his fashion sense, which was indeed splendid and impeccably timeless. He probably did not set out to inspire classics in a wardrobe that expressed his natural aesthetic sensibilities. I’ve a feeling he would have mocked the mere idea of a fashion consultant!
Edward became a bellwether and connoisseur of men’s fashions — internationally. Because of his personal tastes in clothing and in accessories, the wearing of tweed, Homburg hats, waistcoats, and Norfolk jackets became fashionable. He also popularized new preferences in evening wear: black ties with dinner jackets instead of white tie and tails.
He introduced the pressing of trouser legs from side to side, as an alternative to front and back creases, which are now the norm. The stand-up, turn-down shirt collar was originated as a fashionable style by this Prince of Wales: it was created specifically for him. This apparel, designed by Charvet, Joseph-Christophe Charvet, was the HRH shirt collar.
He was most fastidious about proper dress, to the point where he rebuked others, including government officials, regarding improper dress, and, horrors, the inappropriate pairing of separates. As the Prince of Wales, he’d openly criticized Lord Salisbury for wearing the wrong official trousers with a differing formal coat of governmental authority. The thoughtless peer had worn trousers from his post of the official maritime authority, Trinity House, with a coat worn by a privy councillor.
Salisbury, in his own defense, informed the Prince of Wales that his mind must have been occupied by some subject of less importance: an international crisis.
Edward was a man of snazzy style but also of extraordinary practicality. His sizable girth prevented him from fully buttoning the bottom button of a waistcoat (or vest in America). He therefore left the last button undone. A tradition began that has yet to be ended, or replaced by another custom. I’ve seen the thinnest of persons with the bottom button of a vest unbuttoned.
His eating habits certainly were robust. The traditional Sunday lunch in Great Britain — roast beef and potatoes with horseradish sauce and Yorkshire pudding — was initiated by Edward. He did not drink to excess, but did enjoy a glass of champagne and an occasional port. Other than the habitual and excessive smoking of tobacco, his biggest vice was the sins of the flesh. His spirit was always willing and, evidently, so were those of the women of his choice.
The lists of his lovers and tabulations of his conquests are to be found elsewhere than on this site. Suffice it to say that the present decline in birth numbers in the United Kingdom would not be nearly as problematic if the spirit of the flesh, and the spirit of Albert Edward had reigned over the Sceptered Isle during the past fifty years. He closed his eyes and thought of England. Patriotic fertility might have received the same glorious fate as that of the traditional Sunday lunch in Great Britain.
His love of women and of fine clothes extended to games such as gambling, wherein, in 1891, he found himself caught up in a royal baccarat scandal. He’d played an illegal card game for actual money during the previous year. A court proceeding ensued, a rather nasty affair in which one of the players sued his fellow gamblers for slander after being accused of cheating.
Here, in the historic American West, the matter would have been dealt with quickly, without lawyers or a judge. A fist fight or brawl, perhaps involving gunplay, would have settled the question of foul play.
He liked to play, and he liked to win. His interest and participation were keen in horse-breeding, horse-racing, steeple-chasing, and golfing. He assisted in the design of a golf course at Windsor Castle. He was also an avid hunter, ordering all the clocks at Sandringham to be set half an hour ahead so as to provide more daylight time for shooting. It was an early and royal form of the golf-course Daylight Savings Time legislation in the United States. When a nation lays claim to a supreme authority enamoured of certain activities, who needs a horde of lobbyists to promote them?
This tradition of Sandringham Time ended in 1936 when it was abolished by King Edward VIII, he of the scandalously shortened reign due to his decision to marry Wallis Simpson.
The eager and devoted occupation and preoccupations of this future king partook of his patronage of the arts and sciences. He founded, by royal charter in 1882, the Royal College of Music. This conservatoire was formally opened by this Prince of Wales with the following declaration:
“Class can no longer stand apart from class. . . I claim for music that it produces that union of feeling which I much desire to promote.”
That union of feeling is a sentiment promoted, with honesty, by no sovereign, royal or common, anywhere in the world today. The desire to promote harmony among disparate souls may have been the desire, the fervent wish of a man born too early, in England. The turn of the 19th century into the 20th was a bumbling step toward the dissolution of all that Queen Victoria had held so dear; but had not known how to protect. She’d inhabited a place and a time that altered significantly by her death in January 1901. She’d remained too fixed in that glorious past of her epoch with her beloved mate, and thus could not envision the future.
Her son, Edward felt, or somehow saw, the currents of this wave-change, from the Old World to a newer world, one that remains in constant flux. That state of flux has become the never-ending status quo! Because Edward VII understood tradition, and the stability of tradition, he affixed his reign to those revered traditions, even to the institution, or the image, of marriage. England, lacking a constitution, must depend upon such traditions for its lifeblood of liberty. Here, then, is the perpetual agony of Great Britain: the erosion of tradition that results in not merely a loss of cultural identity, but the steady disintegration of liberty, and of a stable society.
To kill off the treasured traditions within a family is to vilely dismantle that basic unit of society. The kill off the revered traditions of the society within a nation, that dastardly objective might not be anarchy, but the outcome assuredly is. The individual within the society, and within the family, bears the responsibility of perpetuating real and meaningful traditions for the future generations.
Great Britain, and England specifically, struggle to chart that civilized course of cultural continuity in a parliamentary sea of chaos and corruption. The corruption has caused the chaos, but presently the two evils appear inseparable. Tax-paid hypocrites partying for eight hours at a stretch is not a tradition to be tolerated by any patriot in any nation.
Such problems of governance are viewed as predominantly political. Those problems are, at base, at heart, cultural, and moral. It’s trite to blame a politician for one’s personal woes. That duplicitous creature, however, follows the crowd; he doesn’t lead it. The current crowd, those masses of humanity in the United Kingdom tackle each day so as to not lose their moorings. The politicians have profited from that savage confusion of citizens lost at sea, overwhelmed by apathy and indifference, the children of dashed hopes. That sea is composed of the murky waters of despair, and gloom. On shore are to be found the fortress of self-reliance, responsibility, faith in the individual.
I contend that Edward VII was ahead of his time in understanding his beloved homeland as a deeply traditional but democratically-inclined nation. His mother, Queen Victoria, loathed the entire concept of democracy. Oddly enough, her personal tastes uniquely possessed the common touch; her inclinations and preferences struck a common chord with the commoners whom she kept at a definite distance. Perhaps her innate sense of wishing to be of service, of use, of goodness to her subjects guided her in expressing herself in ways that were, indeed, of service, of use, of goodness to the peoples of the United Kingdom. When she died, after a widow’s bereavement of forty years, those royal subjects were said to have felt relief that their Queen no longer mourned, no longer lived in sorrow, embalmed alive in her anguished grief.
It is an intriguing possibility for me, for anyone, to contemplate: had the decisive power behind the throne, the consort Prince Albert lived a much longer life — would the future of England, of the United Kingdom have been altered in many ways?
Would the suffocation and the strangulation of liberties in England by the civil servants, those civil serpents, have become so unbreakable, to the point where elected officials grovel at the feet of those un-elected overlord beasts?
Power hates a void. Royal power hates a void even more. The disengagement, even abandonment, by the morosely mournful widow named Queen Victoria of many governmental choices, in complete deference to her ministers, permitted the growth of the State in a land where the barons of yore had wrestled away from the King the powers that the citizenry presently demand as their birthrights. Magna Carta was formed at the point of a sword. That royal charter of rights was then granted at the point of many swords by King John in 1215.
The citizens of any nation must own and safeguard vigilance as the surest weapon against tyranny. The pathetic excuses today for leaders, everywhere, are the consequences of free men and free women behaving as if freedom is a done deal, day-in, day-out. I highly doubt that even the Playboy King VII played with life in such as reckless manner.
Edward was said to have exhibited a quick temper, that was followed by an attempt to smooth over the furor. His nature was one of observing the flow of events, and then if the flow suited him, of going with that flow. He was, in my opinion, a tenacious man who was born well ahead of his time. He was industriousness in an inventive, innovative, and, um, fruitful way. A King Edward VII would have ingeniously livened up a post-war England, with the type of plucky bon vivant view of his nation that would have told the British intellectuals just where to go — over to France!
The reign of King Edward VII endured all of nine years, from 22 January 1901 to 6 May 1910. His malady of bronchitis was caused by decades of daily smoking 20 cigarettes and 20 cigars. After suffering several heart attacks, he staunchly refused to take to his bed. He stated, “No, I shall not give in; I shall go on; I shall work to the end.”
The words and phrasing sound vaguely familiar . . .
One could easily recognize the fiercely steadfast mother in the son. His final words came in response to learning from his own son, who would shortly become King George V, that his race horse, Witch of the Air, had won that afternoon at Kempton Park:
“Yes, I have heard of it. I am very glad.”
His supremely loving wife, the queen-empress Alexandra did not permit the removal of the body of her husband from his death bed for eight days. She then assented to the approach of visitors into the room that held her deceased beloved, and to the formalized and historic customs of a royal funeral. The late king-emperor was dressed in his uniform, and set into a massive oak coffin. The momentous ceremonies and tributes to mourning, to glory, and to grandeur were then underway. More than 400,000 people filed past the coffin of their late King-Emperor during two days of his laying in state at Westminster Hall.
On 20 May 1910, there took place a solemn convocation of individuals of royalty, of rank, and of respect, such as the civilized world had not yet seen. A royal train carried the coffin of King Edward VII from London to Windsor Castle, where this illustrious and gentle mortal was laid to rest, at the age of sixty-eight, in St. George’s Chapel.