by Susan Flantzer
The eldest son and second of nine children of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, King Edward VII was born on November 9, 1841 at Buckingham Palace. He was given the names Albert Edward in honor of his father and his maternal grandfather Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, and was called Bertie by his family. The infant prince was christened at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, on January 25, 1842 by William Howley, Archbishop of Canterbury. His godparents were:
- King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia
- Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge (his great-uncle)
- Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (his great-uncle)
- The Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (born Duchess Marie of Württemberg, his step-grandmother)
- The Dowager Duchess of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg (born Landgravine Karoline Amalie of Hesse-Kassel, his step-great-grandmother and the step-mother of Prince Albert’s mother)
- Princess Sophia of the United Kingdom (his great-aunt)
Bertie had eight siblings:
- Victoria, Princess Royal (1840-1901) married (1858) Friedrich III, German Emperor and King of Prussia (1831-1888), had four sons and four daughters
- Princess Alice (1843-1878) married (1862) Ludwig IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine (1837-1892), had two sons and five daughters
- Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1844-1900) married (1874) Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna of Russia (1853-1920), had one son and four daughters
- Princess Helena (1846-1923) married (1866) Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein (1831-1917), had two sons and two daughters
- Princess Louise (1848-1939) married (1871) John Campbell, Marquess of Lorne, 9th Duke of Argyll (1845-1914); no issue
- Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught (1850-1942) married (1879) Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia (1860-1917), had one son and two daughters
- Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany (1853-1884) married (1882) Princess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont (1861-1922), had one son and one daughter
- Princess Beatrice (1857-1944) married (1885) Prince Henry of Battenberg (1858-1896), had three sons and one daughter
As the eldest son of the British monarch, he was automatically Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay at birth. Through his father Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, he also was Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and Duke of Saxony. When Bertie was one month old, he was created Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester. Bertie’s parents were determined to give him an education that would prepare him for his future role, but he did not have the aptitude for studies. Instead, his strengths were his social skills.
Bertie’s father, Prince Albert, died on December 14, 1861. The month before, Prince Albert had been informed of rumors that Bertie was having an affair with an Irish actress while doing army service in Ireland. Already feeling ill, Prince Albert went to Ireland to discuss the affair with his son. For the rest of her life, Queen Victoria blamed Bertie for his father’s death.
Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and her husband Prince Albert had been seeking a bride for their eldest son, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, known in the family as Bertie. Victoria and Albert’s eldest daughter Victoria, Princess Royal, Crown Princess of Prussia, known as Vicky in the family, was enlisted to help with the search. Princess Alexandra of Denmark, the daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark and Louise of Hesse-Kassel, had originally been fifth on the list of potential brides, but Vicky thought Alix, as she was called in her family, would be the perfect match for Bertie and she sent back glowing reports of her to Victoria and Albert. Prince Albert came to the conclusion that Alix was “the only one to be chosen. Vicky then arranged the first meeting between Alix and Bertie in Speyer Cathedral on September 24, 1861. On September 9, 1862, after the death of his father in December 1861, Bertie proposed to Alix at the Royal Palace of Laeken, the home of his great-uncle, King Leopold I of the Belgians. The couple was married at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle on March 10, 1863. Queen Victoria, in perpetual mourning for Prince Albert, watched the ceremony from Catherine of Aragon’s Closet overlooking the left side of the altar.
Bertie and Alix six children:
- Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale (1864 – 1892), engaged 1891 to Princess Mary of Teck
- King George V (1865 – 1936), married 1893 Princess Mary of Teck; had issue
- Princess Louise, Princess Royal (1867 – 1931), married 1889 Alexander Duff, 1st Duke of Fife; had issue
- Princess Victoria (1868 – 1935), unmarried
- Princess Maud (1869 – 1938), married 1896 King Haakon VII of Norway; had issue
- Prince Alexander John (April 6, 1871 – April 7, 1871)
The Prince and Princess of Wales, Bertie and Alix, made their homes at Marlborough House near Buckingham Palace in London and at Sandringham House in Norfolk, England. Sandringham House had been purchased by Queen Victoria for Bertie and Alix, d is still a privately owned residence of the British monarch.
During his marriage, Bertie had quite a number mistresses. Apparently, Alix knew about many of them and accepted them. Among the women, Bertie socialized with were: the actress Lillie Langtry; Lady Randolph Churchill (born Jennie Jerome in the USA, was the mother of Winston Churchill); Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick; actress Sarah Bernhardt; and Alice Keppel who was his last mistress. Alice Keppel is the great-grandmother of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
After waiting 59 years, Bertie became king upon the death of his mother on January 22, 1901. The coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra was held at Westminster Abbey on August 9, 1902. Originally scheduled for June 26, it had to be postponed because the new king developed appendicitis. Bertie and Alix had begun the idea of the royal family’s public appearances as we now know them during Queen Victoria’s withdrawal after her husband’s death, and they continued this during Bertie’s reign. The king had royal palaces repaired and reintroduced traditional ceremonies, such as the State Opening of Parliament, that Queen Victoria had ceased to participate in.
King Edward VII was known as “the Uncle of Europe” because he was related to many other royals:
- Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany was his nephew
- Tsar Nicholas II of Russia was his nephew by marriage
- Queen Victoria Eugenie of Spain, Crown Princess Margaret of Sweden, Queen Marie of Romania, Queen Sophie of Greece, and Empress Alexandra of Russia were his nieces
- King Haakon VII of Norway was both his nephew by marriage and his son-in-law
- King George I of Greece and King Frederick VIII of Denmark were his brothers-in-law
- King Albert I of Belgium, Tsar Ferdinand of Bulgaria, and King Carlos I of Portugal and King Manuel II of Portugal were his second cousins
Bertie’s habits did not keep him in the best of health. He ate too much and usually smoked twenty cigarettes and twelve cigars a day. He began to suffer from chronic bronchitis. In March 1910 while vacationing in Biarritz, France, Bertie collapsed and remained in Biarritz to recuperate. On April 27, 1910, he returned to Buckingham Palace. Queen Alexandra had also been away, but started her return trip home as soon as she knew about her husband’s condition and arrived in London on May 5.
On May 6, 1910, Bertie insisted that his valet dress him in his frock coat and formal clothes before he received his private secretary Francis Knollys and his good friend Ernest Cassel. During the afternoon, the king suffered a series of heart attacks, but he refused to be put into bed, sitting instead in a chair. Alix sent for Alice Keppel, Bertie’s mistress, and arranged for her to see the king during one of his periods of consciousness. His son George, soon to be king, told him that his horse, Witch of the Air, had won at Kempton Park that afternoon. The king replied, “I am very glad,” which were his last words. After waiting 59 years to become king and reigning for nine years, King Edward VII lapsed into a coma and died peaceably just before midnight on May 6, 1910 at the age of 68.
King Edward VII was buried at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, on May 20, 1910. Barbara Tuchman opens The Guns of August, her great book about World War I, a war which would cause the extinction of many European monarchies, with this:
“So gorgeous was the spectacle in the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun. After them came five heirs apparent, seven queens – four dowagers and three regnant – and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last.”