See biographies by S. Lee (2 vol., 1925-27), P. Magnus (1964), K. Middlemas (1972), J. Pearson (1975), and G. St. Auban (1979).
Edward VII (Albert Edward; 9 November 1841 – 6 May 1910) 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. He was the first British monarch of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, which was renamed the House of Windsor by his son, George V.
Before his accession to the throne, Edward held the title of Prince of Wales and was 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 political power and came to personify the fashionable, leisured elite.
The Edwardian period, which covered Edward's reign and was named after him, coincided with the start of a new century and heralded significant changes in technology and society, including powered flight and the rise of socialism and the Labour movement. Edward played a role in the modernisation 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 work in fostering good relations between Great Britain and other European countries, especially France, for which he was popularly called "Peacemaker", was unable to prevent the outbreak of World War I in 1914.
As the eldest son of a British sovereign, he was automatically Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay at birth. As a son of Prince Albert, he also held the titles of Prince of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and was a 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, 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 Prince Albert, and under the supervision of several tutors. However, unlike his elder sister, Edward did not excel in his studies. He tried to meet the expectations of his parents, but to no avail. Although Edward was not a diligent student—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 an heir to the British 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. 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. Edward hoped to pursue a career in the British Army, but this was denied him because he was heir to the throne. His military ranks were honorary. 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 and his wife, Louise. 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 his elder sister, the Crown Princess of Prussia.
From this time, Edward gained a reputation as a playboy. Determined to get some army experience, Edward attended manoeuvres in Ireland, during which an actress, Nellie Clifden, was hidden in his tent by his fellow officers. Prince Albert, though ill, was appalled and visited Edward at Cambridge to issue a reprimand. Albert died in December 1861 just two weeks after the visit. Queen Victoria was inconsolable, wore mourning for the rest of her life and blamed Edward for his father's death. At first, she regarded her son with distaste as frivolous, indiscreet, and irresponsible. She wrote to her eldest daughter, "I never can, or shall, look at him without a shudder.
Once widowed, Queen Victoria effectively withdrew from public life. Shortly after Prince Albert's death, she arranged for Edward to embark on an extensive tour of the Middle East, visiting Egypt, Jerusalem, Damascus, Beirut and Constantinople. As soon as he returned to Britain, preparations were made for his engagement, which was sealed at Laeken in Belgium on 9 September 1862. Edward and Alexandra married 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 met with disapproval in certain circles because most of Queen 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. Queen Victoria was of two minds whether it was a suitable match given the political climate. After the couple's marriage, she expressed anxiety about their socialite 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; singer Hortense Schneider; prostitute Giulia Barucci; and wealthy humanitarian Agnes Keyser. How far these social companionships went is not always clear. Edward always strove to be discreet, but this did not prevent 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 damaging.
Edward's last mistress, society beauty Alice Keppel, was invited by Alexandra to her husband Edward's bedside at Buckingham Palace when he was dying 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.
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, a brush with death led to an improvement both in Edward's popularity with the public as well as in his relationship with his mother. While staying at Londesborough Lodge, near Scarborough, North Yorkshire, Edward contracted typhoid, the disease that had killed his father. There was great national concern, and one of his fellow guests (Lord Chesterfield) died. Edward's recovery was greeted with almost universal relief, and public celebrations, including the composition of Arthur Sullivan's Festival Te Deum. He cultivated politicians from all parties, including republicans, as his friends, and thereby largely dissipated any residual feelings against him.
In 1875, Edward 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. In letters home, he complained 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 by Parliament, in part as a result of the tour's success.
Edward was 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." At the same time, he enjoyed gambling and country sports and was an enthusiastic hunter. He ordered all the clocks at Sandringham to run half an hour fast to create more time for shooting. This so-called tradition of Sandringham Time continued until 1936, when it was abolished by Edward VIII. He also laid out a golf course at Windsor. 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. In 1900, Persimmon's brother, Diamond Jubilee, won five races (Derby, St Leger, 2,000 Guineas Stakes, Newmarket Stakes and Eclipse Stakes) and another of Edward's horses, Ambush II, won the Grand National.
Edward 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. A stickler for proper dress, he is said to have admonished the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury for wearing the trousers of an Elder Brother of Trinity House with a Privy Councillor's coat. Deep in an international crisis, the Prime Minister informed the Prince of Wales that it had been a dark morning, and that "my mind must have been occupied by some subject of less importance. The tradition of men not buttoning the bottom button of suit-coats is said to be linked to Edward, 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.
In 1891, Edward 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. In the same year Edward 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 grief-stricken. "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". Albert Victor was the second of Edward's children to die. In 1871, his youngest son, John, had died just 24 hours after being born. Edward had insisted on placing John in his coffin personally with "the tears rolling down his cheeks".
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, assisted Britain in building European alliances.
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. At a time of widespread anti-Semitism, Edward attracted criticism for openly socialising with Jews.
Edward VII and Alexandra were crowned at Westminster Abbey on 9 August 1902 by the 80-year-old Archbishop of Canterbury, Frederick Temple, who died only four months later. Edward's coronation had originally been scheduled for 26 June, but two days before on 24 June, Edward was diagnosed with appendicitis. Thanks to developments in anaesthesia and antisepsis in the preceding 50 years, he underwent a life-saving operation, performed by Sir Frederick Treves. This was at a time when appendicitis was generally not treated operatively and carried a high mortality rate. 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, Edward 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.
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 in 1902, expecting to receive the Order of the Garter. Edward refused to give this high honour to the Shah because the order was meant to be his personal gift and the Foreign Secretary, Lord Lansdowne, had promised the order without his consent. Edward also objected to inducting a muslim into a christian order of chivalry. 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 a special embassy to the Shah with a full Order of the Garter the following year.
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 a visit 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 ruling out any future war between the two countries. The Entente was negotiated between the French foreign minister, Théophile Delcassé, and the British foreign secretary, the Marquess of Lansdowne. Signed on 8 April 1904 by Lord Lansdowne and the French ambassador Paul Cambon, it marked the end of centuries of Anglo-French rivalry and Britain's splendid isolation from Continental affairs, and attempted to counterbalance the growing dominance of the German Empire and its ally, Austria-Hungary.
Edward, 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, Grand Duke Ernest Louis of Hesse and Duke Charles Edward of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha were Edward's nephews; Queen Victoria Eugenia of Spain, Crown Princess Margaret of Sweden, Crown Princess Marie of Romania, Crown Princess Sophia of Greece and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia were his nieces; King Haakon VII of Norway was both 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; King Albert I of Belgium, King Charles I and King Manuel II of Portugal, Tsar 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 and his difficult relationship with his nephew, Wilhelm II, exacerbated the tensions between Germany and Britain.
In 1908, Edward became the first British monarch to visit the Russian Empire, despite refusing to visit in 1906, when Anglo-Russian relations were strained in the aftermath of the Dogger Bank incident, the Russo-Japanese war and the Tsar's dissolution of the Duma.
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 H. H. 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. 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—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.
Edward usually smoked twenty cigarettes and twelve cigars a day. Towards the end of his life he increasingly suffered from bronchitis. In March 1910 the King was staying at Biarritz when he collapsed. He remained there to convalesce while in London Asquith tried to get the Finance Bill passed. The King's continued ill-health was unreported and he attracted criticism for staying in France whilst political tensions were so high. On 27 April he returned to Buckingham Palace, still suffering from severe bronchitis. Alexandra 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 p.m.
A statue constructed from local granite of King Edward VII and supporters stands on Union Street, 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 outside the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, Australia. There was a statue of the King in Statue Square in Hong Kong, but it has long since disappeared.
The lead ship of a new class of battleships, launched in 1903, was named in his honour. Many schools in England are named after Edward; two of the largest are in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, and Sheffield. King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital in India, King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women in Subiaco, Western Australia, and the King Edward VII College of Medicine student hostel in Singapore (part of Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine) carry King Edward's name. The Parque Eduardo VII in Lisbon, King Edward Avenue in Vancouver and King Edward Cigars are also named after him.
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, 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 – 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 had been afraid that his nephew, the German Emperor William II, 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, as well as the relationships between his extended royal family, were put to the test. The war marked the end of the Edwardian way of life.
|HRH Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale||8 January 1864||14 January 1892|
|HM King George V||3 June 1865||20 January 1936||married 1893, Princess Mary of Teck; had issue|
|HRH The Princess Louise, Princess Royal||20 February 1867||4 January 1931||married 1889, Alexander Duff, 1st Duke of Fife; had issue|
|HRH The Princess Victoria||6 July 1868||3 December 1935|
|HRH The Princess Maud||26 November 1869||20 November 1938||married 1896, Haakon VII, King of Norway; had issue|
|HRH Prince Alexander John||6 April 1871||7 April 1871|