Entertaining and different, this is an enjoyable study of a flawed yet characterful Prince of Wales seen through the eyes of the women in his life. Edward Vll, who gave his name to the Edwardian Age and died in 1911, was King of England for the final 10 years of his life. He was 59 when at last he came to the throne. Known as Bertie, the eldest son of Victoria and Albert, he was bullied by both his parents. Although Bertie was heir to the throne, Victoria refused to give him any proper responsibilities, as a result of which he spent his time eating, betting, and womanising. Bertie's numerous mistresses included the society hostess Daisy Brook ('Babbling Brook'), Lillie Langtry and Alice Keppel. When Bertie finally became king, he did a good job, especially in foreign policy. This colourful book gives Bertie due credit, while painting a vivid portrait of the age in all its excess and eccentricity, hypocrisy and heartbreak.
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A charming pleasure-seeker who did the job his way
The reign of King Edward VII ("Bertie" to his family) was expected to be a disappointment by most. But he would have not have been shocked by this verdict, it was one he had been hearing for most of his life. A gambler and a philanderer, his bad behavior was not only whispered among the upper class, but also ended up as fodder for the unwashed masses when he ended up in court a few times. His most horrible crime was that he was not the carbon copy of his late father Prince Consort Albert, an offense that Queen Victoria could not forgive.
This is an excellent, thorough book on the life of future King Edward VII. It is also very even-handed on the good and bad aspects of the man himself.
In some ways, it's extraordinary that he did as well as he did. Prince Albert had high expectations for his children, especially Bertie, the heir. He devised a rigorous education for them. His oldest child, the Princess Royal Victoria, excelled while Bertie did not. Of course, this must have been the fault of poor strange Bertie, not the teachers and certainly not Prince Albert's program. In response to this failure, his education became more difficult, not less. and leaving him little free time, not that he would have been allowed to socialize with boys his own age if he did have free time.
As a young man away from home, his male friends introduced him to a "loose woman" who became his mistress. An aghast Prince Albert hurried to confront his son about his behavior. Prince Albert's health declined soon afterwards, leading to his death.
The fractious attitude of widowed Queen Victoria towards Bertie became a constant problem. Heartbroken by the loss of her beloved husband, Queen Victoria always blamed Bertie's dissolute behavior for Albert's death. Her punishment of him was of the most unproductive kind. For years, she forbade him any involvement in governmental affairs even after he expressed an interest, essentially making sure her heir was unprepared for his eventual responsibilities. It also gave him lots of free time to engage in the type of profligate lifestyle that his father had been determined to curtail. Bertie knew his mother was disappointed in his present behavior, but also knew that no penance he could do would have earned her forgiveness and healed the relationship. Queen Victoria even had Bertie and his new wife, beautiful, sweet Alexandra of Denmark spied on by the staff, to try to make sure both followed her directions. Not a perfect husband to Alexandra, he nonetheless backed her over the Queen during the war between her home country of Denmark and Germany (favored by the Queen) and the diplomatic problems that it caused.
Though not officially allowed in governmental affairs, Bertie stepped into the royal role that his reclusive mother refused to fill after Albert's death: the social role. Always impeccably dressed Bertie and Alexandra performed almost all of the public functions as representatives of the royal family. They were a glamorous pair, probably a big contrast to the stiff and stolid Victoria and Albert. Infidelity in an upper class man was still acceptable as long as there was discretion and a devoted wife at the side. Bertie's letters to mistresses are surprisingly mundane - no husband would read these lines and grab a pisol. His unwelcome court appearances were the result of getting dragged into the limelight by the indiscreet misdeeds of others in his circle. He was open-minded for his time: he welcomed successful Jewish financiers into his social circle and he did not discriminate among race (though he opposed women's rights).
His accession to the throne happened late in life. By then, he was aware of his own strengths and weaknesses. His interest in foreign relations, convivial manner and good relationships with the royalty of other contries (many of them relatives) were put to the good use on behalf of England. Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm's forceful, intrusive manner was annoying to the quiet Russian Tzar Nicholas II. King Edward VII told the Tzar that he had no wish to offer unsolicited advice like Wilhem. He had been a help to the young Tzar years earlier at the death of Tzar Alexander II (Alexandra's sister was the Tzarina). He and Alexandra comforted the grieving family, and performed all of the traditional Russian mourning rituals as members of the late Tzar's family (even kissing the lips of the rapidly decaying body), gaining the respect of the Russian public. King Edward VII's personality, his ability to put people at ease, and his shrewdness of the public impact of social behavior were his biggest assets and he made use of them in his reign.
I hesitate to use the word 'perfect', but I really can't fault this audiobook. This biography is as good as any I have read: informative and entertaining from start to finish, painstakingly researched, and beautifully written. At the end, I almost felt I had known Bertie and experienced some of the claustrophobia of the court, counter-balanced by the freedom which came with money and position at the top of the social ladder. It is expertly read by Carole Boyd who has just the right voice for this genre. Her voices for the various characters, her facility with accents, and correct pronunciation of foreign words and names are very impressive. Bertie, Ridley and Boyd - perfect combination.