Edward, eldest son of Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert, was born on this day into a strict upbringing that would ensure, as far as his parents were concerned, that he would be fit to rule as King. With this in mind he attended both Oxford and Cambridge universities and served in the army.
But Edward was his own man and at a young age became involved with an actress – the first of a string of mistresses. Outraged, Albert went to reprimand his wayward son, but within two weeks the Prince Consort was dead. An inconsolable Victoria partly blamed Edward for her beloved husband’s passing because of the stress he had caused.
Later, she was to say of Edward: ‘I never can, or shall, look at him without a shudder.’
In 1926 a sensational book allegedly written by an anonymous member of the diplomatic service was published. It was called The Whispering Gallery, Leaves from a Diplomat’s Diary, and included this extract:
“One of the saddest things in life,” Edward once said to me, “is that nearly every man is cut off, by differences in outlook and temperament, from his parents and children.
“I was as fond of my father as he allowed me to be. We didn’t understand one another. My mother, whom I greatly admired, hated me because she imagined that I had hastened my father’s death.
“I never in my life had a real heart-to-heart talk with her. Whenever we were together, either she was upbraiding me or I was chafing under her total inability to understand me and her refusal to trust me, which of course she construed into a fit of the sulks.
“Towards the end of her life we were mutually obnoxious and I never left her presence without a sigh of relief.”
The book was quickly exposed as a spoof – or “fake news” as it would be described a century later. It was not the work of a diplomat but of actor and writer Hesketh Pearson who was prosecuted – unsuccessfully – for fraud. Nevertheless, close observers of the royal scene believed that Pearson had accurately captured Edward’s anguish.
In the absence of parental approval Edward embarked on a life of indulgence becoming the archetypal playboy pursuing horse racing, eating, drinking, gambling, shooting – and other men’s wives.
He enjoyed a series of mistresses, including the leading actress of the time, Lily Langtry. But he was likeable, sociable, outgoing and popular.
In 1863, he married Princess Alexandra of Denmark and they had six children. In January 1901, Victoria died and Edward succeeded to the throne as King Edward VII. He was crowned in August 1902.
Published: November 2, 2017