What was the personality of Edward of Westminsters?
King Edward VII
2. The cheater
3. The trendsetter
4. The family man
On a Tuesday, November 9th, 1841, at exactly 10:48 a.m., the eagerly awaited heir to the throne Albert Edward of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, son of Queen Victoria and Prince Consort Albert, was born. His birth was enthusiastically celebrated by the people and the press, but there was also concern about how this prince would turn out: God should “so mold the Prince's heart and fashion his spirit that he may be a blessing and not an evil to the land of his birth. […] May he be […] disdaining to hide bad actions by high station, and endeavoring always by the example of a strict and moral life […] ”(Sydney Smith)1. Victoria, too, had great expectations of her son; he should “resemble his angelic dearest father in every, every respect, both in body and mind "2. But of course "Bertie" did not become the image of his father. Instead, he rebelled against the strict regiment of his home and was soon considered "a thorough and cunning lazybones" (Prince Albert)3who was only interested in "clothes, food, vacations, theater and country house parties".4 In fact, when he succeeded his mother to the throne at the age of almost 60, he was very successful.
This work tries to look at three different perspectives on Edward VII's personality: the stranger, the trendsetter and the family man. To this end, various sources are examined, including reports from contemporary witnesses and biographies. The sources are also compared with one another in order to show contradictions and similarities. The character image, which results from the different aspects, is summarized again briefly in the conclusion.
2. The cheater
At the request of his mother, after an affair with an Irish actress, Edward married the daughter of the Danish heir to the throne, Princess Alexandra, known as Alix. The wedding was supposed to be Edward's “salvation” after his “hard case” and Alexandra was chosen mainly because she was passive and had the corresponding “attractions to captivate him”.5 The two had only met once before the wedding, for an engagement. On the wedding day Edward was 21 years old, Alexandra was just 18. On March 10, 1863, the pompous wedding took place, not in Westminster Abbey, as it was traditionally held, but in St. George’s Chapel in Windsor. According to Sidney Lee, Edward's biographer, Victoria insisted that the late Albert would have liked it. Kinley Roby, on the other hand, believes that since Victoria was forever in mourning, she didn't want a big party or public. Nobody could convince her to take off the mourning robe at least for that day. In any case, the ceremony took place completely closed to the public. The people celebrated the rainy day anyway, even if they didn't see anyone.6 900 guests were invited to the wedding, including for example Bishop Wilberforce, who said “the most moving sight I ever saw”, and Benjamin Disraeli, according to whom the ceremony was “a fine affair, a thing to remember”.7 Only Queen Victoria later described her in a letter as "sad and dismal".8 Many sources agree that the Prince and Princess of Wales were deeply in love at the time of the wedding. E. F. Benson writes in "An Appreciation" that "he [Edward] was genuinely in love with his future bride and with the peerless charm and beauty of her"9. Edward's sister Victoria wrote of the two:
“It does one good to see people so thoroughly happy as this dear young couple are. Bertie looks blissful. I never saw such a change his whole face looks beaming and radiant. Darling Alix looks charming and lovely and they both seem so comfortable and at home together. Love has certainly shed its sunshine on these two dear young hearts [...] ”10
One of the few comments Alexandra made on the matter was: “You may think that I like marrying Bertie for his position; but if he were a cowboy I would love him just the same and would marry no one else! ”.11 At the same time, however, she also admitted to marrying someone she barely knew. But Edward also wrote to his mother about Alexandra:
"I cannot tell you with what feelings my head is filled, and how happy I feel. I only hope it may be for her happiness and that I may do my duty towards her. Love and cherish her you may be sure I will to the end of my life. "12
The young couple must have been very sympathetic to each other, but the great love that all these statements suggest is questionable. What an anonymous author wants to suggest in his book “The Private Life of King Edward VII” is definitely wrong: “The romantic love that induced him, when little more than a boy, to overcome all obstacles to his union with Princess Alexandra of Denmark , has never waned. "13 The very fact that the author thinks he always has to find new "evidence" speaks against it. Alexandra actually brought the qualities Edward liked in women. She is described by many of her acquaintances as "full of brightness and fun", "full of mischief", "fearless", with "warmth of manner" and "toughness".14 Alexandra and Edward also shared similarities, such as lack of intellectuality and an aversion to books and a passion for horse riding.15 But still Edward didn't keep his promise, had affairs again and again and later also mistresses. Roby attempted an explanation: After the wedding, Edward and Alexandra settled in Marlborough House in London, where they regularly received guests from different walks of life. Sandringham House in Norfolk served as their country house. In addition to the casual receptions, the young couple enjoyed themselves at galas, at races and in the theater. Edward in particular loved socializing and long conversations, liked to joke around and was a popular guest at dinner parties. Alexandra couldn't really take part in it because of a severe deafness that she had inherited from her mother. Roby also notes that Edward was actually "insatiable" in everything.16 Edward turned to other women and Alexandra learned to look over them.
His numerous affairs include aristocratic women such as Lady Warwick (from 1887), but also women from the population, such as Alice Keppel (from 1898), and from the theater environment, such as the actress Lillie Langtry (from 1877). As with the guests at his receptions, he made no class distinction in the choice of women. The fact that most of them were married didn't seem to bother him either.
Edward had his first major scandal in 1869: he was involved in the divorce suit from Sir Charles Mordaunt, who was part of the Marlborough County. Harriette Mordaunt, 21, had given birth to a child who had a slight inflammation of the eyes. However, the young mother thought she was born disabled and fell into postnatal depression. She told her husband that the child was not his, that she had committed adultery with several men and one of them was the Prince of Wales. There were letters in her desk, including eleven from Edward. These were published in the Times to prove that they were normal, friendly letters and nothing more. However, it turned out that Edward visited the Mordaunts once a week, even during Charles Mordaunt's absence. He was then called as a witness. He honestly admitted the acquaintance with her and the encounters without her husband. Here, too, Edward showed a very self-confident and winning demeanor and declared in "a very firm tone" that there was no criminal act between him and Lady Mordaunt.17 Alexandra and Queen Victoria stood behind him in this case and were convinced of his innocence. Most biographies agree that Edward was arguably innocent and further question whether Harriette Mordaunt ever committed adultery. Edward hoped that "by what I have said to-day the public at large will be satisfied that the gross imputations which have been so wantonly cast upon me are now cleared up".18 According to Sidney Lee, the people were relieved and the Times wrote an article about general relief and joy in the country; however, that was not entirely true. According to Sir Henry Ponsonby, London was "black with the smoke of burnt confidential letters".19 Edwards' image, which was already tarnished due to rumors of infidelity and high debts, suffered significantly from the trial. Queen Victoria put it this way:
“Still, the fact of the Prince of Wales's intimate acquaintance with a young married woman being publicly proclaimed, will show an amount of imprudence which cannot but damage him in the eyes of the middle and lower classes, which is most deeply lamented in these days when the higher classes, in their frivolous, selfish and pleasure-seeking lives, do more to increase the spirit of democracy than anything else. "20
So far Edward had always gotten away with a black eye, but not this time. For the first time in his life he was publicly booed and the newspapers were full of cartoons and criticism. He tried to cover it up, but the harsh scolding of the people hurt him very much and worried him.21
Edward's first official mistress was actress Lillie Langtry. The affair began in 1877, when Alexandra was practically deaf. In addition, she was in Greece for some time this year because of her health. The "Jersey Lillie" came to London with her husband Edward Langtry after their honeymoon and a short time later the whole city was taken with her self-assured demeanor and her beauty. Her admirers included Leopold, Edward's brother, the Belgian King and Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria.22 Lillie and Edward first met at a dinner party. She herself described the first meeting as follows:
"I happened to be standing by the fireplace when Sir Allen advanced to present me to His Royal Highness. For various reasons I was panic-stricken at the prospect and for one bewildering moment considered the advisability of climbing the chimney to escape but, my presence of mind returning, I stood my ground and made my curtsy […]. At the supper table I found myself seated next to the Prince who, however, extracted only monosyllabic replies either from myself or from my husband, the latter being even more dumb than I was. "23
Lillie went in and out of Marlborough House, Edward rode her in the park almost every evening, letting his hosts know that if he was invited, the Langtries should be invited too. So she soon became the socially most sought-after woman in England.24 This is also evident in her autobiography, where she writes:
“I remember on one occasion riding with the Prince well into the evening; etiquette demanded that I should ride on as long as His Royal Highness elected to do. Mr Langtry and I were, as usual, dining out […]. After a scrambling toilet we eventually arrived at the Clark-Thornhills ’in Eaton Square where we were due, to find it was nearly ten o’ clock. Everyone was waiting, of course, but before I could apologize my hostess greeted me pleasantly, saying: 'So and So on his way here saw you riding in the Park, and, as we know you couldn't get away, we postponed dinner indefinitely '. "25
1 Quoted from Kinley Roby, The King, the Press and the People. A Study of Edward VII. London: Barrie and Jenkins, 1975. p. 20.
2 Quoted from ibid. P. 39.
3 Decorated after C. Hibbert. “Edward VII”. In: Cannon, John and Anne Hargreaves. The Kings and Queens of Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. p. 345.
5 Roby. The King, the Press and the People. P. 92.
7 Both quoted from Sidney Lee. King Edward VII. A Biography. Volume 1: From Birth to Accession, 9th November 1841 to 22nd January1901. London: Macmillan & Co., 1925. p. 160.
8 Stanley Weintraub. The Importance of Being Edward: King in Waiting 1841-1901. London: John Murray, 2002. p. 124.
9 E. F. Benson. King Edward VII. An Appreciation. London [et al.]: Longmans, Green & Co., 1933. p. 57.
10 Quoted from Richard Hough. Edward and Alexandra. Their Private and Public Lives. London [et al.]: Hodder & Stoughton, 1992. p. 75.
11 Quoted from Weintraub. The Importance of Being Edward. P. 123. 2
12 Quoted in Hough. Edward and Alexandra. P. 75.
13 A Member of the Royal Household. The Private Life of King Edward VII (Prince of Wales 1841-1901). New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1901. p. 81.
14 Ibid. P.76.
16 Roby. The King, the Press and the People.
17 Hough. Edward and Alexandra. P. 138.
18 Quoted from Lee. King Edward VII. Vol 2. p. 183
19 Quoted from Weintraub. The Importance of Being Edward. P. 168. 4
20 Quoted in Hough. Edward and Alexandra. P. 137.
23 Lillie Langtry. The Days I Knew. To Autobiography. Holly Cottage [et al.]: Redberry Press, 1989. p. 47
24 Grapes. The Importance of Being Edward.
25 Langtry. The Days I Knew. P. 49.
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