March 01, 2014

Read how Edward VII helped create modern Britain and a modern monarchy

The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy PrinceThe Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince by Jane Ridley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fantastic bio of King Ed, normally known as "Bertie" to his intimates, after his given first name, Albert. I learned a number of things about him, beyond having known about some of his "wastrel" background, that he was the impetus for a cigar brand, and he had a tumultuous relationship with his mother. Let's start with that given name and mother, Queen Victoria.

Somehow, somewhere, long ago, I had heard that Victoria, as a deathbed codicil to a personal will or something, had asked that no future king be called or styled Albert. Actually, she had wanted Bertie to name his eldest Albert and perpetuate an eternal line of King Albert, such was the quasi-narcissistic nature of her mourning for her husband. (Bertie and Queen Alexander named their oldest Edward, and Bertie told his mom her idea was dead on arrival.)

The philandering? Perhaps platonic, perhaps more, it continued even after he assumed the throne in 1901.

The maternal relationship? Stormy, especially before the ascendancy of Wilhelm II in Germany in 1888 then Victoria's diamond jubilee in 1897. She thought him unintelligent, cut him out of information about cabinet meetings, and disagreed on "sides" in the Schleswig-Holstein war of the early 1860s, which led to Prussia's rise under Bismarck, then the founding of the German Empire.

That said, by insisting on a public procession and more for both her golden jubilee in 1887 and the diamond, Bertie did as much as anybody, arguably, to save the monarchy, as tides of Republicanism were on the rise, and Victoria, by her perpetual mourning, including refusal to open Parliament and more in many years, was arguably failing her constitutional duties.

Ridley also shows how Edward, in his last years as prince and early ones as king, was key to the Entente Cordiale between Britain and France, yet worked to keep a hand out, unsuccessfully, to Wilhelm.

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