The current aftermath of the United States’ 2016 historical election aside, November 9th is the birthday of Prince Albert Edward, affectionately known as Bertie, but formally known as and second child, King Edward VII of England. He was Queen Victoria’s eldest son, the Crown Prince, and later lent his name to the Edwardian Era that followed the Victorian one.
Albert Edward was born on November 9th, 1841. Like any royal biography, his life is a study in “waiting, isolation, and restriction.” It was thought Bertie (we’ll call him this since all of us are best of friends with the English monarchy) might have had a learning disability and was never a prolific writer nor student. Having to be compared to his genius older sister and his smart younger brother, Bertie could not live up to his parents’ rigorous academic regime. “At three and a half, he refused to do his lessons, upset his school books and sat under the table. His anxious parents concluded that this could only mean one thing: Bertie was retarded.”
Similar to his mother and sister’s upbringing he was not allow to have any friends and was constantly chaperoned. Other heads of state encouraged interaction and the Royals thought about sending him abroad at 15 years old for the first time to “Germany accompanied by a group of companions carefully picked from the best aristocratic families.” Needless to say, many of these companions found him socially immature. The following year Queen Victoria relented and he was allowed to start choosing his own clothes to wear at the age of 16. He always had a flair for the dandified outfits and military protocol when it came to sartorial etiquette. Even when Bertie “went to college” he was accompanied by professors and tutors who went to his house his mother had chosen for him. He never attended a class. He constantly struggled to learn in this isolation. His parents were terrified of him mingling and getting the wrong ideas.
As he grew up Bertie were drawn to the more hedonistic “wrong ideas.” His sexual conquests throughout his life are numerous and it earned him the nickname Dirty Bertie. As it was with the Victorian ideology of the aristocracy it was ‘acceptable’ for either spouse to have lovers, since marriage was almost always for convenience anyways. However, divorce was sheer poison that would tarnish the family reputation by having to recount details of every sordid affair and incriminating act in public court. Bertie also had a “sex chair” commissioned once his waistline become a hindrance. His parents always tried to minimize the opportunity for Bertie’s immoral ways especially prior to his marriage. Queen Victoria, is said to blame one of Bertie’s earliest sexual escapades for the demise of her beloved husband, Prince Albert, and thus resented and mistrusted her son until her dying day.
In a way to separate himself from his mother he gravitated toward Country House Parties The experience and privilege of hosting the Prince often caused more than one family to break the bank. As such, Bertie welcomed the nouveau riche such as the Americans and the Jews. He was an avid hunter at these house gatherings that extended for weeks and months, often his group killing thousands of birds and game before their departure. Bertie was not the best shot, but did enjoy himself immensely. In addition Bertie enjoyed traveling and went as often as he was allowed, while Queen Victoria loathe the mere idea of stepping off English soil, insisting that once her children grew and scattered to the royal courts of Europe that they visit her “at home” and not the other way around. However, the most unforgivable vice was not his smoking (which the Queen hated) nor his womanizing, but the gambling!
Bertie did not pen a tell-all diary, but was a die-hard journal writer. By journal, I mean notations of daily occurrences, he wrote in his own short-hand about which mistress he saw and the list of everyone at every Country House Party he stayed with. Other people’s impressions and recollections let us glimpse more into the man, from his mother’s absolute power of never relinquishing any state papers or duties to Bertie, thinking him too stupid to handle items of importance, to some other politicians praise of his social skills and ability to charm the people. Friends and lovers tell tales of his trip to Middle East to get inked; a tattoo of five crosses forming a Crusades Jerusalem Cross on his beard and grew a beard in act of defiance to his mother. They talked of his genuine concern with the welfare of others, desire to be needed and serve in an officially capacity. Bertie went so far to go undercover for the Royal Commission on Housing of Working Class to better investigate and report back to parliament of the atrocious and appalling conditions the other half lived.
In his desire to be of use he created “Welfare Monarch” and the importance for the public to see the Royals and not squirrel away in castle to mold for 50 years. *ahem* Victoria.–He also discovered the public needed to see both sides of the Royal Family, if at all. However, Bertie detested dragging his wife and children into the foray. He is often seen, painted, and pictured alone purposely because he knows what it is like to constantly be scrutinized for belonging to a group not of his choosing (the Royal Family) and did not want his own children to go through the same trials. If one of them “screws up” he hoped the whole world would take it in stride and not judge his heirs any less than someone their own age simply because they were of the Royal Family. In fact, the public lesson was driven home in 1891 when his gambling caused a scandal. “The press pointed out that the prince was not entitled to a private life. No matter how hard he worked at his public duties, the people still had a right to know what he did in private and a right to deplore his gambling, because he was the visible embodiment of the ‘Monarchical principle.'” The expectations of his parents and the public stifled him 59 years as the Crown Prince.
As a result of the modernizing the monarchy, he increased their ceremonial duties for grand openings, charities, dances, bazaars, ribbon cutting and the like. Including pubic mourning the loss of some of his children. He understood his family was the people’s family. The public was invested in their daily lives, experiencing (hopefully) the same highs and lows. Bertie as skilled in the art of politically smoothing things over in a casual relax intimate setting. His best work is not in the formal sphere but calling truce of nations over hunting and champagne.
As it was throughout his life, his popularity ebbed and flowed depending on the nature of public and his own actions. Granted he was almost 60 years old by the time he was to be crowned king. As luck would have it he had to undergo surgery a few days prior to the initial date. Given his robust lifestyle and the abscessed appendix the surgeon had to cut through four inches of fat before he could reach the ailing organ to remove it. The public was in a panic. Bertie obviously endured and went on to be crowned a few months later in front of no less than 8,000 people! Many who waited three hours in the rain or in the streets prior to the event and suffered through day long ceremony. In contrast, Prince William and Catherine Middleton’s Wedding in 2011 only had about 2,000 attendees.
Sadly, Bertie was King for less than a decade doing all he could before he succumbed to cancer brought on by his excessive smoking habit and penchant for rich foods. The cancer was coupled with bronchitis and a few heart attacks in his last days. And when the curtain closed the outpouring of grief was like never before seen. He loved the people as he could and what’s more he loved to be around people, solitude was the bane of his existence and sanity, by then the public knew this and mourned him so very deeply. King Edward VII drug the people of the world into the Modern Age. Happy Birthday, Sir!
**And a shout out to my own mother, who also share’s her birthday with the King!–HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MA!**