Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Edward VII: The Last Victorian King

Edward VII: The Last Victorian King

3.0 3
by Christopher Hibbert

See All Formats & Editions

A riveting biography that vividly captures the life and times of the last Victorian king.

To his mother, Queen Victoria, he was "poor Bertie," to his wife he was "my dear little man," while the President of France called him "a great English king," and the German Kaiser condemned him as "an old peacock." King Edward VII was all these things and more,


A riveting biography that vividly captures the life and times of the last Victorian king.

To his mother, Queen Victoria, he was "poor Bertie," to his wife he was "my dear little man," while the President of France called him "a great English king," and the German Kaiser condemned him as "an old peacock." King Edward VII was all these things and more, as Hibbert reveals in this captivating biography. Shedding new light on the scandals that peppered his life, Hibbert reveals Edward's dismal early years under Victoria's iron rule, his terror of boredom that led to a lively social life at home and abroad, and his eventual ascent to the throne at age 59. Edward is best remembered as the last Victorian king, the monarch who installed the office of Prime Minister.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“The writing of history is an exercise in instruction; but that is no reason why it should not also be an exercise in rhetoric, for there is a voluptas to the texture of history that is best conveyed by good writing. Gibbon understood this, so did Macaulay and so did Carlyle in his own crabbed fashion. And so does Christopher Hibbert.” —The New York Times

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Sold by:
Sales rank:
File size:
1 MB

Read an Excerpt

Edward VII

The Last Victorian King

By Christopher Hibbert

Palgrave Macmillan

Copyright © 2007 Christopher Hibbert
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-230-61075-0


'Poor Bertie'

In many things savages are much better educated than we are.

Within a few months of the birth of her first child, Queen Victoria discovered herself to be pregnant again. And by the early autumn of 1841 she was feeling thoroughly out of sorts. It was not only that she was often sick and nearly always depressed, that she viewed the prospect of another delivery with both trepidation and distaste; she had had to say good-bye to her beloved Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, a parting that had distressed her deeply, and there now seemed a danger that she might lose the Princess Royal, too. For 'Pussy', so fat and healthy a baby at first, was becoming thin and pale, fretful and peevish. The Queen shut her mind to the fear that there was any real danger; but the weakness of the child fussed and worried her much. She felt 'very wretched ... low and depressed'.

On more than one occasion in October there had been a sudden fear that the birth of her second baby might be premature, so that when the pains returned on 8 November, the Queen thought at first that this was another 'false alarm'. The new Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, was coming to dinner the following evening and she decided not to put him off. The next day, however, there could be no further doubt. 'My sufferings were really very severe,' the Queen later recorded. 'And I don't know what I should have done, but for the great comfort and support my beloved Albert was to me during the whole time. At last at twelve m[inutes] to eleven, I gave birth to a fine large Boy ... It was taken to the Ministers for them to see.'

The ministers were delighted to see so obviously robust a baby, and so was the country at large. No heir had been born to a reigning monarch since the appearance of George III's first child, almost eighty years before; and this new birth led royalists to hope that the monarchy, which the young Queen was once more making respectable and popular, was secure from a decline into its recent disrepute. Salutes were fired, crowds gathered in the streets to cheer and sing 'God Save the Queen', and the Prime Minister made reference to the nation's enthusiasm in a speech at the Guildhall, which was decorated for the occasion with illuminated letters spelling 'God save the Prince of Wales'. The Times described the 'one universal feeling of joy which ran throughout the kingdom'. 'What a joy!' wrote the boy's grandmother, the Duchess of Kent, expressing a common opinion. 'Oh God, what a happiness, what a blessing!'

Nowhere was his arrival more welcome than in the palace nursery, for he was not the least trouble. Healthy, fair and fat, 'a wonderfully large and strong child', he smiled readily, digested his food without trouble, and made those gurgling, crowing noises so pleasing to the ears of nursemaids. His mother was very pleased with the look of him, with his 'very large dark blue eyes', his 'finely formed but somewhat large nose' and his 'pretty little mouth'.

'What a pretty boy!' the people called out when they saw him being taken to be inspected by the Duke of Wellington at Walmer Castle. 'Bless his little face! ... Show him! Turn him this way! ... How like his father!'

To his mother, indeed, the resemblance to his father was his principal virtue. And when, on 25 January, he was baptized in St George's Chapel, Windsor, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, honoured with a christening cake eight feet wide, and given the names Albert Edward, the Queen decided that the best thing about 'the Boy' was that he now had his dear father's name. She had refused to heed Lord Melbourne's advice that Edward, 'a good English appellation', might precede Albert, 'which had not been so common nor so much in use since the Conquest'. The child was 'to be called Albert and Edward [was] to be his second name'—and that was that. But the name was far from enough: he must be made to resemble his father in every way; any tendency to infantile vice must be rigorously suppressed; any hints that he might, if left unchecked, grow up like his mother's wicked uncles must be carefully watched so that the necessary steps could be taken to counter so appalling, so calamitous a development. 'You will understand how fervent are my prayers, and I am sure everybody's must be, to see him resemble his father in every, every respect, both in body and mind,' the Queen wrote to her Uncle Leopold, King of the Belgians; 'I hope and pray he may be like his dearest papa.'

The nursery in which 'the Boy's' growth was so anxiously observed was under the supervision of Mrs Southey, a worthy, old-fashioned fogey who declined to make any concessions to modern ideas and still wore a wig. But while Mrs Southey, who had been recommended by the Archbishop of Canterbury, had been considered adequate enough when there was but one child to look after, she was not a suitable person to deal with the added responsibility of two. She went out too often, leaving her charges in the care of underlings inclined to squabble. She was not sufficiently firm or vigilant enough to ensure that the strict rules of the nursery were observed: that the two children must never be left alone for an instant; that no unauthorized person must ever be admitted to see them; that there must not be the slightest variation in the daily routine without prior consultation with the parents. It was felt that a lady of high birth would be better suited to superintend the nursery, to control the tantrums of the Princess Royal and to report intelligently upon the development of the Prince of Wales. And so, after consultation with various advisers, this most important post was offered to Lady Lyttelton, eldest daughter of the second Earl Spencer and widow of the third Baron Lyttelton.

The choice was a fortunate one. Lady Lyttelton was a gifted woman, understanding, good-natured and sensible. 'Princessy', as she called her elder charge, did not take to her at first, screaming with 'unconquerable horror' when she arrived; and thereafter, though bawling less, treating her new governess with a kind of irritable reserve which was finally overcome by Lady Lyttelton's patience and tact. With the Prince of Wales, who appeared to like her from the beginning, Lady Lyttelton had no such problems. He continued to flourish, remaining constantly in 'crowing spirits' and in the best and calmest of tempers. He looked people full in the face through his 'large clear blue eyes'.

This early stage of placid equanimity did not, however, last long. As his sister grew stronger in health and less fractious in temper, she was also recognized to be extremely sharp and quick-witted. Precociously forward, active, animated, 'running about and talking a great deal', she was, at the same time, 'all gracefulness and prettiness', in the opinion of Lady Lyttelton; and in that of her mother's half-sister, Princess Feodora, an 'irresistible ... treasure ... a darling child'. The Prince of Wales, on the contrary, was becoming increasingly difficult. At the age of two he was considered to be 'as forward as the majority of children of his age', if 'no more'; but the next year—although 'very handsome' and 'most exemplary in politeness and manner', 'bowing and offering his hand beautifully, besides saluting à la militaire—all unbidden'—he was considered 'very small in every way ... not articulate like his sister, but rather boyish in accent [and] altogether backward in language'. Two years later Lady Lyttelton had cause to complain of his being 'uncommonly averse to learning' and requiring 'much patience from wilful inattention and constant interruptions, getting under the table, upsetting the books and sundry other anti-studious practices'. By the age of five he was causing the 'greatest distress' to his French governess, Mlle Hollande.

His father neither now nor later troubled to conceal the fact that Victoria, the Princess Royal, was his favourite child. When he came into the nursery his eye alighted upon her with pleasure. He loved to play bricks with her and to put her on his knee while he played the organ; but in the contemplation of his son his countenance became troubled and apprehensive. The Queen also seemed to prefer her daughter to her son and spent far more time with her, always helping her with her Sunday lesson which the little boy was left to do on his own. One day he asked her 'to do his little Sunday lesson with him sometimes'; and the Queen admitted to having been 'much touched' by this, as though she had previously been quite unaware of his need of her attention.

He began to stammer; and his sister teased him for it, imitating him, driving him to fury. One afternoon they had 'a tremendous fight' when brought down to their parents' room; so the next day they were brought down separately but, the one being taken into the room before the other had been led away, they fell to quarrelling again.

It was worse when other children were born; and when they, too, proved to be brighter than the Prince of Wales, who was now known as 'Bertie' rather than 'the Boy'. Princess Alice was born in 1843, Prince Alfred the following year, Princess Helena in 1846. And Bertie—still a pretty boy 'but delicate looking' in Lord Macaulay's opinion—found it quite impossible to maintain the intellectual lead he ought to have had over them. By the time he was six he had already been overtaken by Princess Alice, who was not only more than eighteen months younger than himself but who was 'neither studious nor so clever as the Princess Royal'.

The Queen could but hope that in time the child would improve; and, for the moment, she comforted herself with the discovery that once they were out of the distasteful 'frog stage', as she called it, children could be good company. She enjoyed playing games with them, rowdy games like blind-man's-buff and fox-and-geese, and quieter ones like beggar-my-neighbour. She danced quadrilles with the Prince of Wales as her partner, and on summer evenings she went for little walks with him and helped him to catch moths. She watched him rehearse plays with his brothers and sisters under the direction of their conscientious father, who made them 'say their parts over and over again'. 'Children,' she decided, 'though often a source of anxiety and difficulty are a great blessing and cheer and brighten up life.'

By the time she made this entry in her journal, a detailed plan of education for the children had been drawn up by their father and set down by him and the Queen in a memorandum dated 3 January 1847. The younger children were to be placed in a separate class from the two elder, who were to begin their more advanced lessons in February. Particular attention was to be paid in these lessons to English, arithmetic and geography; and an hour each day was to be devoted to both German and French. The Queen herself was to give religious instruction to the Princess Royal; but the Prince's education in this subject was to be entrusted to Lady Lyttelton and her assistant governess, Miss Hildyard. Miss Hildyard was also to supervise the children's daily prayers which they were required to repeat kneeling down. If the governesses wished to make any alterations in the syllabus, or to propose outings, rewards or punishments, the Queen must always be consulted in such matters.

Lady Lyttelton herself did not believe in the severe punishment of young children as one was 'never sure' that it was fully understood by the culprits 'as belonging to the naughtiness'. But Prince Albert believed that physical chastisement was on occasions necessary to secure obedience. Even the girls were whipped and required to listen to lengthy admonishments with their hands tied together. At the age of four Princess Alice received 'a real punishment by whipping' for telling a lie and 'roaring'. The Prince of Wales, of course, received even harsher treatment; but there was no improvement in his behaviour. His stammer did not improve, his sudden rages grew more violent and prolonged.

Occasional doubts were expressed about the suitability of so strict and unvarying a regime for a child of the Prince's temperament. Even his parents' influential and masterful friend and adviser, Baron Stockmar, who joined their anxious discussions and submitted a series of memoranda on the Prince's education while supporting the view that the strictest discipline was necessary, gave it as the opinion of one who had been trained as a doctor that a system of continuous study and organized pursuits 'if fully carried into effect and especially in the earlier years of the Prince's life would, if he were a sprightly boy, speedily lead to a cerebral disease, and if he was constitutionally slow, induce inevitable disgust'.

The parents were not convinced. The ghosts of King George IV and his brothers seemed to hang continually about the room where the worried discussions between the parents and their advisers took place. Not many years before, members of the government had been harassed by fears that the discontent of the English people might well break out into revolution. Republicanism was still an active political force. Any future king would have to be a most exceptional man if the monarchy were to survive; and he could not hope to survive were he not to receive an education of unremitting rigour, rigidly supervised, and kept under constant surveillance. Baron Stockmar, who had already increased Prince Albert's anxiety by warning him that he and the Queen ought to be 'thoroughly permeated' with the truth that their position was a more difficult one than that of any other parents in the kingdom, now told the Queen that the errors in the education of her uncles—who had, in fact, been given a far sounder training than her grandfather, King George III—had 'contributed more than any other circumstance to weaken the respect and influence of royalty in this country'. Both the Queen and Prince Albert were persuaded that this was so, and neither was impressed when Lord Melbourne advised them not to set too much store by education which might 'mould and direct the character' but rarely altered it. They preferred to believe that discipline must continue to be harsh and that the syllabus must remain exacting so that the grand object of the Prince of Wales's education might be fulfilled. This object, declared the Bishop of Oxford, one of those numerous experts consulted by the parents, must be none other than to turn the Prince of Wales into 'the most perfect man'.

When the Prince was two years old the Queen had already made up her mind that before he was six at the latest he 'ought to be given entirely over to the Tutors and taken entirely away from the women'. And early in 1848 a careful search began for a man who could be entrusted to take over from Lady Lyttelton the duties of creating a Prince 'of calm, profound, comprehensive understanding, with a deep conviction of the indispensable necessity of practical morality to the welfare of the Sovereign and People'.

The choice eventually fell upon Mr Henry Birch, a handsome, thirty-year-old master at Eton where he had formerly been captain of the school. Birch took up his duties, at a salary of £800 a year, in April 1849 and immediately began to regret that he had done so. He found his charge 'extremely disobedient, impertinent to his masters and unwilling to submit to discipline'. It was 'almost impossible to follow out any thoroughly systematic plan of management or thoroughly regular course of study' because 'the Prince of Wales was so different on different days', sometimes cooperative but more often refusing to answer questions to which he knew the answers perfectly well. The Prince was also extremely selfish and unable even 'to play at any game for five minutes, or attempt anything new or difficult without losing his temper'. When he did lose his temper his rage was uncontrollable; and after the fury had subsided he was left far too drained and exhausted to bring his mind to bear on his work. He could not bear to be teased or criticized; and though he flew into a tantrum or sulked whenever he was teased, Birch thought it best, 'notwithstanding his sensitiveness, to laugh at him ... and to treat him as boys would have treated him in an English public school'. His parents thought so, too; and they caused him anguish by mocking him when he had done something wrong or stupid. 'Poor Prince,' commented Lady Lyttelton one day when he was derided for asking, 'Mama, is not a pink the female of a carnation?' The Queen also considered it essential to put him sharply to silence when, as children will, he made up stories about himself. Charles Greville heard from Lord Melbourne's sister-in-law, Lady Beauvais, that any 'incipient propensity to that sort of romancing which distinguished his [great] uncle, George IV', was instantaneously checked. 'The child told Lady Beauvais that during their cruise he was very nearly thrown overboard, and was proceeding to tell her how, when the Queen overheard him, sent him off with a flea in his ear, and told her it was totally untrue.'

Although he approved of such remonstrances, Mr Birch did not disguise his belief—a belief shared by Prince Albert's friend, Lord Granville—that the policy of keeping the Prince so strictly isolated from other boys was one of the reasons for his tiresome behaviour. It was Birch's 'deliberate opinion' that many of his pupil's 'peculiarities' arose from the effects of this policy, 'from his being continually in the society of older persons, and from his finding himself the centre round which everything seems to move'. Surely it would be better if pupil and tutor were not so constantly in each other's company. Birch recorded:


Excerpted from Edward VII by Christopher Hibbert. Copyright © 2007 Christopher Hibbert. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

CHRISTOPHER HIBBERT, "a pearl of biographers" (New Statesman), is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the author of Disraeli (Palgrave Macmillan), The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici, The English: A Social History, and Cavaliers and Roundheads. He lives in Oxfordshire, England.

Christopher Hibbert (1924-2008), "a pearl of biographers" (New Statesman), is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the author of Disraeli (St. Martin's Press), The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici, The English: A Social History, and Cavaliers and Roundheads. He lived in Oxfordshire, England.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Edward VII 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
DukeofChutney More than 1 year ago
Any one interested in wanting to understand the time period before WW1, this is must read. Edward VII established the Edwardian Era and with it, its morals, behavior, and attitudes. Christopher Hibbert is able to get across to the reader the essence of the times and Edward's life w/o bogging the reader down in useless details.
JudithCarol More than 1 year ago
If Barnes & Noble accepted Nook Book returns, I would have returned this book, I felt like I was rereading the 1964 Philip Magnus biography of Edward VII, if you have read another biography of Edward VII. especially the excellent Philip Magnus "Edward VII" do not waste your time or money.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago