King Edward VII Saxe-Coburg and Gotha of the United Kingdom
- Born: 9 Nov 1841, Buckingham Palace, London, England
- Marriage: Princess Alexandra Carolina Marie Charlotte Louise Julia of Denmark on 10 Mar 1863 in St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, Windsor, Berkshire, England
- Died: 6 May 1910, Buckingham Palace, London, England at age 68
- Buried: 20 May 1910, St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, Windsor, Berkshire, England
Edward VII (Albert Edward) was King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, and Emperor of India from 22 January 1901 until his death on 6 May 1910.
Before his accession to the throne, Edward held the title of Prince of Wales, and has the distinction of having been heir apparent to the throne longer than anyone in English or British history. During the long widowhood of his mother, Queen Victoria, he was largely excluded from wielding any political power but came to represent the personification of the fashionable, leisured elite.
Edward's reign, now called the Edwardian period after him, saw the first official recognition of the office of the Prime Minister in 1905. Edward played a role in the modernization of the British Home Fleet, the reform of the Army Medical Services, and the reorganisation of the British army after the Second Boer War. His fostering of good relations between Great Britain and other European countries, especially France, for which he was popularly called "Peacemaker", were sadly belied by the outbreak of World War I in 1914.
He was the first British monarch of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, which was renamed by his son, George V, to the House of Windsor.
Edward was born at 10:48 am on 9 November 1841 in Buckingham Palace. His mother was Queen Victoria, the only daughter of Prince Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent and granddaughter of King George III. His father was Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, first cousin and consort of Victoria. Christened Albert Edward (after his father and maternal grandfather) at St. George's Chapel, Windsor on 25 January 1842, his godparents were King Frederick William IV of Prussia, Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, King Consort of Portugal, the Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the Dowager Duchess of Saxe-Coburg-Altenburg and Princess Sophia. He was known as Bertie to the family throughout his life.
As the eldest son of a British sovereign, he was automatically Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland at birth. As a son of Prince Albert, he also held the titles of Prince of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and Duke of Saxony. Queen Victoria created her son Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester on 8 December 1841. He was created Earl of Dublin on 17 January 1850, and a Knight of the Garter on 9 November 1858 and a Knight of the Thistle on 24 May 1867. In 1863, he renounced his succession rights to the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in favour of his younger brother, Prince Alfred.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert determined that their eldest son should have an education that would prepare him to be a model constitutional monarch. At age seven, Edward embarked upon a rigorous educational programme devised by the Prince Consort, and under the supervision of several tutors. However, unlike his elder sister, the Prince of Wales did not excel in his studies. He tried to meet the expectations of his parents, but to no avail. He was not a diligent student\emdash his true talents were those of charm, sociability, and tact. Benjamin Disraeli described him as informed, intelligent and of sweet manner.
After an educational trip to Rome, undertaken in the first few months of 1859, he spent the summer of that year studying at the University of Edinburgh under, amongst others, Lyon Playfair. In October he matriculated as an undergraduate at Christ Church, Oxford. Now released from the educational strictures imposed by his parents, he enjoyed studying for the first time and performed satisfactorily in examinations.
The following year he undertook the first tour of North America by a British heir to the throne. His genial good humour and confident bonhomie made the tour a great success. He inaugurated the Victoria Bridge, Montreal across the St Lawrence River, and laid the cornerstone of Parliament Hill, Ottawa. He watched Blondin traverse Niagara Falls by highwire, and stayed for three days with President James Buchanan at the White House. Vast crowds greeted him everywhere; he met Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes; and prayers for the royal family were said in Trinity Church, New York for the first time since 1776.
In 1861, his studies were transferred to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was taught history by Charles Kingsley, but he never graduated. The Prince of Wales hoped to pursue a career in the British Army, but this was denied him because he was heir to the throne. He did serve briefly in the Grenadier Guards in the summer of 1861; however, this was largely a sinecure. He was advanced from the rank of lieutenant to colonel in a matter of months. In September that year, Edward was sent to Germany, supposedly to watch military manoeuvres, but actually in order to engineer a meeting between him and Princess Alexandra of Denmark, the eldest daughter of Prince Christian of Denmark. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had already decided that Edward and Alexandra should marry. They met at Speyer on 24 September under the auspices of Victoria, Princess Royal.
From this time, Edward gained a reputation as a playboy. In December 1861, his father died from typhoid fever two weeks after visiting him at Cambridge; Prince Albert had reprimanded his son after an actress, Nellie Clifden, had been hidden in his tent by his fellow officers during army manoeuvres in Ireland. The Queen, who was inconsolable and wore mourning for the rest of her life, blamed Edward for his father's death. At first, she regarded her son with distaste as frivolous, indiscreet, and irresponsible. She wrote, "I never can, or shall, look at him without a shudder."
Once widowed, Queen Victoria effectively withdrew from public life, and shortly after the Prince Consort's death, she arranged for her son to embark on an extensive tour of the Middle East, visiting Egypt, Jerusalem, Damascus, Beirut and Constantinople. As soon as he returned to Britain, arrangements were made for his engagement, which was acted out at Laeken in Belgium on 9 September 1862. Edward and Alexandra wed at St. George's Chapel, Windsor on 10 March 1863.
Edward and his wife established Marlborough House as their London residence and Sandringham House in Norfolk as their country retreat. They entertained on a lavish scale. Their marriage was met with disapproval in certain circles because most of Victoria's relations were German, and Denmark was at loggerheads with Germany over the territories of Schleswig and Holstein. When Alexandra's father inherited the throne of Denmark in November 1863, the German Confederation took the opportunity to invade and annex Schleswig-Holstein. Victoria herself was of two minds as to whether it was a suitable match given the political climate. After the couple's marriage, she expressed anxiety about their lifestyle and attempted to dictate to them on various matters, including the names of their children.
Edward had mistresses throughout his married life. He socialised with actress Lillie Langtry, Lady Randolph Churchill (mother of Winston Churchill), Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick, actress Sarah Bernhardt, Alice Keppel and wealthy humanitarian Agnes Keyser. The extent to which these social companionships went is not always clear, as Edward always strove to be discreet, but his attempted discretion was unable to prevent either society gossip or press speculation.
In 1869 Sir Charles Mordaunt, a British Member of Parliament, threatened to name Edward as co-respondent in his divorce suit. Ultimately, he did not do so but Edward was called as a witness in the case in early 1870. It was shown that Edward had visited the Mordaunts's house while Sir Charles was away sitting in the House of Commons. Although nothing further was proved, and Edward denied he had committed adultery, the suggestion of impropriety was still damaging.
His last mistress, society beauty Alice Keppel, was even invited by Alexandra to Buckingham Palace at his death in 1910. One of Keppel's great-granddaughters, Camilla Parker Bowles, became the mistress and then wife of Charles, Prince of Wales, one of Edward's great-great grandsons. It was rumoured that Camilla's grandmother, Sonia Keppel (born in May 1900), was the illegitimate daughter of Edward. However, Edward never acknowledged any illegitimate children. His wife, Alexandra, is believed to have been aware of most of his affairs, and to have accepted them.
During Victoria's widowhood, he represented her at public ceremonies and gatherings \endash opening the Thames Embankment, Mersey Tunnel, and Tower Bridge, indeed he pioneered the idea of royal public appearances as we understand them today. But even as a husband and father, Edward was not allowed by his mother to have an active role in the running of the country until 1898. He annoyed his mother by siding with Denmark on the Schleswig-Holstein Question in 1864 (she was pro-German), and in the same year annoyed her again by making a special effort to meet Garibaldi.
In 1870, republican sentiment in Britain was given a boost when the French Emperor, Napoleon III, was defeated in the Franco-Prussian War and the French Third Republic was declared. However, in the winter of 1871, Edward contracted typhoid, the disease that had killed his father, while staying at Londesborough Lodge. There was great national concern. One of his fellow guests (Lord Chesterfield) died, but the Prince managed to pull through. His near brush with death led to an improvement both in his relationship with his mother, as well as in his popularity with the public. He cultivated politicians from all parties, including republicans, as his friends, and thereby largely dissipated any residual feelings against him.
In 1875, the Prince set off for India on an extensive eight-month tour of the sub-continent. His advisors remarked on his habit of treating all people the same, regardless of their social station or colour. The Prince wrote, complaining of the treatment of the native Indians by the British officials, "Because a man has a black face and a different religion from our own, there is no reason why he should be treated as a brute." At the end of the tour, his mother was given the title Empress of India, in part as a result of the tour's success.
He enthusiastically indulged in pursuits such as gambling and country sports. Edward was also a patron of the arts and sciences and helped found the Royal College of Music. He opened the college in 1883 with the words, "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." He laid out a golf course at Windsor, and was an enthusiastic hunter. He ordained that all the clocks at Sandringham be put forward by half an hour in order to create more time for shooting. This so-called tradition of Sandringham Time continued until 1936, when it was abolished by Edward VIII. By the 1870s the future king had taken a keen interest in horseracing and steeplechasing. In 1896, his horse Persimmon won both the Derby Stakes and the St Leger Stakes; Persimmon's brother, Diamond Jubilee, won all five classic races (Derby, St Leger, Two Thousand Guineas, Newmarket Stakes and Eclipse Stakes) in a single year, 1900. Edward was the first royal to enter a horse in the Grand National; his Ambush II won the race in 1900. In 1891, he was embroiled in the Royal Baccarat Scandal, when it was revealed he had played an illegal card game for money the previous year. The Prince was forced to appear as a witness in court for a second time when one of the players unsuccessfully sued his fellow players for slander after being accused of cheating. The same year he became embroiled in a personal conflict, when Lord Charles Beresford threatened to reveal details of Edward's private life to the press, as a protest against Edward interfering with Beresford's affair with Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick. The friendship between the two men was irreversibly damaged, and their bitterness would last for the remainder of their lives. Usually, Edward's outbursts of temper were short-lived, and "after he had let himself go … [he would] smooth matters by being especially nice".
In 1892, Edward's eldest son, Albert Victor, was engaged to Princess Victoria Mary of Teck. Just a few weeks after the engagement, Albert Victor died of pneumonia. Edward was griefstricken. "To lose our eldest son", he wrote, "is one of those calamities one can never really get over". Edward told Queen Victoria, "[I would] have given my life for him, as I put no value on mine".
On his way to Denmark through Belgium on 4 April 1900 Edward was the victim of an attempted assassination, when Jean-Baptiste Sipido shot at him in protest over the Boer War. Sipido escaped to France; the perceived delay of the Belgian authorities in applying for extradition, combined with British disgust at Belgian atrocities in the Congo, worsened the already poor relationship between the United Kingdom and the Continent. However, in the next ten years, Edward's affability and popularity, as well as his use of family connections, would assist Britain in building European alliances.
When Queen Victoria died on 22 January 1901, the Prince of Wales became King of the United Kingdom, Emperor of India and, in an innovation, King of the British Dominions. Then 59, he had been heir apparent for longer than anyone else in British history. He chose to reign under the name Edward VII instead of Albert Edward, the name his mother had intended for him to use. (No English or British sovereign has ever reigned under a double name.) The new King declared that he chose the name Edward as an honoured name borne by six of his predecessors, and that he did not wish to diminish the status of his father with whom alone among royalty the name Albert should be associated. Some observers, noting also such acts of the new king as lighting cigars in places where Queen Victoria had always prohibited smoking, thought that his rejection of Albert as a reigning name was his acknowledgment that he was finally out from under his parents' shadows. The number VII was occasionally omitted in Scotland, in protest at his use of a name carried by English kings who had "been excluded from Scotland by battle". J. B. Priestley recalled, "I was only a child when he succeeded Victoria in 1901, but I can testify to his extraordinary popularity. He was in fact the most popular king England had known since the earlier 1660's."
He donated his parents' house, Osborne on the Isle of Wight, to the state and continued to live at Sandringham. He could afford to be magnanimous; it was claimed that he was the first heir to succeed to the throne in credit. Edward's finances had been ably managed by Sir Dighton Probyn, Comptroller of the Household, and had benefited from advice from Edward's Jewish financier friends, such as Ernest Cassel, Maurice de Hirsch and the Rothschild family.
Edward VII and Queen Alexandra were crowned at Westminster Abbey on 9 August 1902 by the 80-year-old Archbishop of Canterbury Frederick Temple who died only 4 months later. His coronation had originally been scheduled for 26 June but two days before on 24 June, Edward was diagnosed with appendicitis. Thanks to the discovery of anaesthesia in the preceding 50 years he was able to undergo a life-saving operation, performed by Sir Frederick Treves. This was at a time when appendicitis was not treated operatively and thus carried with it a mortality rate of greater than 50%. Treves, with the support of Joseph Lister, 1st Baron Lister, performed a then radical operation of draining the infected appendix through a small incision. The next day he was sitting up in bed smoking a cigar. Two weeks later it was announced that the King was out of danger. Treves was honoured with a baronetcy (which Edward had arranged before the operation) and appendix surgery entered the medical mainstream for the first time in history.
Edward refurbished the royal palaces, reintroduced the traditional ceremonies, such as the State Opening of Parliament, that his mother had foregone, and founded new orders of decorations, such as the Order of Merit, to recognise contributions to the arts and sciences. The Shah of Persia, Mozzafar-al-Din, visited England around 1902 on the promise of receiving the Order of the Garter. Edward refused to give this high honour to the Shah, because the order was in his personal gift and the Government had promised the order without the King's consent. His refusal threatened to damage British attempts to gain influence in Persia, but Edward resented his ministers' attempts to reduce the King's traditional powers. Eventually, he relented and Britain sent the Shah a full Order of the Garter.
"Uncle of Europe"
As king, Edward's main interests lay in the fields of foreign affairs and naval and military matters. Fluent in French and German, he made a number of visits abroad, and took annual holidays at Biarritz and Marienbad. One of his most important foreign trips was an official visit to France in spring 1903 as the guest of President Émile Loubet. Following on from the first visit of a British or English king to the Pope in Rome, this trip helped create the atmosphere for the Anglo-French Entente Cordiale, an agreement delineating British and French colonies in North Africa, and making virtually unthinkable the wars that had so often divided the countries in the past. Negotiated between the French foreign minister, Théophile Delcassé, and the British foreign secretary, the Marquess of Lansdowne, and signed on 8 April 1904 by Lord Lansdowne and the French ambassador Paul Cambon, the Entente marked the end of centuries of Anglo-French rivalry and Britain's splendid isolation from Continental affairs. It also was an attempt to counterbalance the growing dominance of the German Empire and its ally, Austria-Hungary.
Edward VII, mainly through his mother and his father-in-law, was related to nearly every other European monarch and came to be known as the "uncle of Europe". The German Emperor Wilhelm II, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse and Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha were Edward's nephews; Queen Victoria Eugenia of Spain, Crown Princess Margaret of Sweden, Crown Princess Marie of Romania and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia were his nieces; King Haakon VII of Norway was 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; and King Albert I of Belgium, Kings Charles I of Portugal and Manuel II of Portugal, King Ferdinand of Bulgaria, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, and Prince Ernst August, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, were his cousins. Edward doted on his grandchildren, and indulged them, to the consternation of their governesses. However, there was one relation whom Edward did not like\emdash his difficult relationship with his nephew, Wilhelm II, exacerbated the tensions between Germany and Britain.
He became the first British monarch to visit the Russian Empire in 1908, despite refusing to visit in 1906, when Anglo-Russian relations were still low in the aftermath of the Dogger Bank incident, the Russo-Japanese war and the Tsar's dissolution of the Duma.
Edward involved himself heavily in discussions over army reform, the need for which had become apparent with the failings of the South African War. He supported the re-design of army command, the creation of the Territorial Army, and the decision to provide an Expeditionary Force supporting France in the event of war with Germany. Reform of the navy was also suggested, and a dispute arose between Admiral Lord Charles Beresford, who favoured increased spending and a broad deployment, and the First Sea Lord Admiral Sir John Fisher, who favoured scrapping obsolete vessels, efficiency savings, and deploying in home waters, as a means of countering the increasing menace of the German fleet. Edward lent support to Fisher, in part because he disliked Beresford, and eventually Beresford was dismissed. Beresford continued his campaign outside of the navy, and Fisher resigned. Nevertheless, Fisher's policy was retained.
In the last year of his life, Edward became embroiled in a constitutional crisis when the Conservative majority in the House of Lords refused to pass the "People's Budget" proposed by the Liberal government of Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith. The King let Asquith know that he would only be willing to appoint additional peers, if necessary, to enable the budget's passage in the House of Lords, if Asquith won two successive general elections.
Edward was rarely interested in politics, although his views on some issues were notably liberal for the time, e.g. during his reign he said use of the word "nigger" was "disgraceful" despite it then being in common parlance. While Prince of Wales, he had to be dissuaded from breaking with constitutional precedent by openly voting for Gladstone's Representation of the People Bill in the House of Lords. On other matters he was less progressive\emdash he did not favour Irish Home Rule (initially preferring a form of Dual Monarchy) or giving votes to women, although he did suggest that the social reformer Octavia Hill serve on the Commission for Working Class Housing. Edward lived a life of luxury that was often far removed from that of the majority of his subjects. However, his personal charm with people at all levels of society and his strong condemnation of prejudice went some way to assuage republican and racial tensions building during his lifetime.
In March 1910 the King was staying at Biarritz when he collapsed. He remained there to convalesce while Asquith remained in London trying to get the Finance Bill passed. The King's continued ill-health was unreported and he came in for some criticism for staying in France whilst political tensions were so high. On 27 April he returned to Buckingham Palace, still suffering from severe bronchitis. The Queen returned from visiting her brother, King George I of Greece, in Corfu a week later on 5 May.
The following day, the King suffered several heart attacks, but refused to go to bed saying, "No, I shall not give in; I shall go on; I shall work to the end." Between moments of faintness, the Prince of Wales (shortly to be King George V) told him that his horse 'Witch of the Air' had won at Kempton Park that afternoon. The King replied, "I am very glad": his final words. At half-past-eleven he lost consciousness for the last time and was put to bed. He died at 11:45 pm.
As king, Edward VII proved a greater success than anyone had expected, but he was already an old man and had little time left to fulfil the role. In his short reign, he ensured that his second son and heir, who would become King George V, was better prepared to take the throne. Contemporaries described their relationship as more like affectionate brothers than father and son, and on Edward's death George wrote in his diary that he had lost his "best friend and the best of fathers … I never had a [cross] word with him in my life. I am heart-broken and overwhelmed with grief". Edward received criticism for his apparent pursuit of self-indulgent pleasure but he received great praise for his affable and kind good manners, and his diplomatic skill. As his grandson wrote, "his lighter side … obscured the fact that he had both insight and influence." "He had a tremendous zest for pleasure but he also had a real sense of duty", wrote J. B. Priestley. Lord Esher wrote that Edward was "kind and debonair and not undignified \endash but too human". Edward VII is buried at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. As Barbara Tuchman noted in The Guns of August, his funeral marked "the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last."
Edward was afraid that his nephew, the Kaiser, would tip Europe into war. Four years after his death, World War I broke out. The naval reforms and the Anglo-French alliance he had supported, and the relationships between his extended royal family, were put to the test. The war marked the end of the Edwardian way of life.
The lead ship of a new class of battleships, launched in 1903, was named in his honour, as were four line regiments of the British Army\emdash The (Prince of Wales's) North Staffordshire Regiment, The Prince of Wales's Leinster Regiment (Royal Canadians), The Prince of Wales's Own (West Yorkshire Regiment), and The Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry\emdash and three yeomanry regiments\emdash King Edward's Horse, The Prince of Wales's Own Royal Regiment of Wiltshire Yeomanry Cavalry and the Ayrshire Yeomanry Cavalry (Earl of Carrick's Own). Only one of these titles is currently retained in the Army, that of The Staffordshire Regiment (The Prince of Wales's).
A statue of King Edward VII and supporters constructed from local granite stands at the junction of Union Gardens and Union Street, in the city centre of Aberdeen. An equestrian statue of him, originally from Delhi, now stands in Queen's Park, Toronto. Other equestrian statues of him are in London at Waterloo Place, and in the city of Sydney, Australia, outside the city's Botanic Gardens.
Many schools in England are named after Edward; two of the largest are in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, and Sheffield. King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital is amongst the foremost teaching and medical care providing institutions in India. King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women in Subiaco, Western Australia, is the largest maternity hospital in the Perth metropolitan area. Two other Perth landmarks are named in his honour, Kings Park and His Majesty's Theatre, the latter a rare example of an Edwardian Theatre. The only medical school in the former British colony of Singapore was renamed the King Edward VII College of Medicine in 1921, now part of Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, the students' hostel adjoining the College of Medicine building retains King Edward's name. The Parque Eduardo VII in Lisbon, King Edward Avenue, a major thoroughfare in Vancouver, and King Edward Cigars are also named after him.
Edward's life was dramatised in the 1975 British television series Edward the Seventh, also known as Edward the King or The Royal Victorians, and starring Charles Sturridge as the adolescent Edward, Timothy West as the adult Edward and Annette Crosbie as Queen Victoria. Edward was also portrayed in The Duchess of Duke Street, where he had a love affair with Louisa Trotter that only ended when Edward became King. The series was actually based on the story of Rosa Lewis, an Edwardian society cook who had risen from the ranks of a scullery maid to own the famous Cavendish Hotel. However, there is no evidence that Edward VII had an affair with Rosa. He is also portrayed in the 2003 BBC miniseries, The Lost Prince, and in one episode of Upstairs, Downstairs. King Edward is a significant character in George MacDonald Fraser's novel Mr. American, and also appears in Flashman and the Tiger by the same author. Edward appears as the narrator and detective protagonist in three period mysteries by Peter Lovesey, Bertie and the Tinman, Bertie and the Seven Bodies, and Bertie and the Crime of Passion. Edward (as the Prince of Wales), was also portrayed by James Robertson Justice in the 1968 film, Mayerling, directed by Terence Young and starring Omar Sharif and Catherine Deneuve.
King Edward VII made wearing tweed, Homburg hats and Norfolk jackets fashionable. He popularised the wearing of black ties with dinner jackets, instead of white tie and tails, and pioneered the pressing of trouser legs from side to side in preference to the now normal front and back creases. The tradition of men not buttoning the bottom button of suit-coats is said to be linked to King Edward VII, who supposedly left his undone due to his large girth. His waist measured 48 inches (122 cm) shortly before his coronation. He introduced the practice of eating roast beef, roast potatoes, horseradish sauce and yorkshire pudding on Sundays, which remains a staple British favourite for Sunday lunch.
House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
Albert, Duke of Clarence
Louise, Princess Royal
Maud, Queen of Norway
Prince Alexander John
Alexandra, Duchess of Fife
Maud of Fife
Edward married Princess Alexandra Carolina Marie Charlotte Louise Julia of Denmark, daughter of Christian IX King of Denmark and Louise of Hesse-Kassel, on 10 Mar 1863 in St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, Windsor, Berkshire, England. (Princess Alexandra Carolina Marie Charlotte Louise Julia of Denmark was born on 1 Dec 1844 in Yellow Palace, Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Sjælland, Denmark, died on 20 Nov 1925 in Sandringham House, Norfolk, England and was buried on 28 Nov 1925 in St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, Windsor, Berkshire, England.)