“Victorian England: We know what that was supposed to mean all priggish prudery and "we-are-not-amused" harrumphing. Except now we know it wasn't all that . . . [Catharine Arnold’s] new biography focuses deliciously on the women who shared the scandalously plentiful sex life of Queen Victoria's eldest son, the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII.” USA Today
Edward Prince of Wales, better known as “Bertie,” was the eldest son of Queen Victoria. Charming and dissolute, he was a larger-than-life personality with king-size appetites. A lifelong womanizer, Bertie conducted his countless liaisons against the glittering backdrop of London society, Europe, and the stately homes of England in the second half of the 19th century.
Bertie’s lovers were beautiful, spirited, society women who embraced a wide field of occupations. There was Lillie Langtry, the simple Jersey girl who would become an actress and producer; “Daisy” Brooke, Countess of Warwick, the extravagant socialite who embraced socialism and stood for Parliament as a Labour party candidate; bisexual French actress Sarah Bernhardt, celebrated for her decadent appeal and opium habit; and by total contrast the starchy Agnes Keyser, who founded a hospital for army officers. One of Bertie’s most intriguing liaisons was with American heiress Jennie Churchill, unhappy wife of Sir Randolph Churchill and mother of Sir Winston.
While the scandals resulting from his affairsfrom suicides to divorceswere a blight on the royal family, Bertie would become a surprisingly modern monarch. His major accomplishment was transforming the British monarchy into the modern institution that we know today and ensuring its survival in a period when every other European dynasty collapsed in the wake of WWI.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Anne Flosnik is an accomplished, multi-award-winning British actress, with lead credits for stage, television, commercials, industrials, voice-overs, and audiobooks. She has garnered three AudioFile Earphones Awards, including for Little Bee by Chris Cleave, and four Audie Award nominations.
Read an Excerpt
A YOUTHFUL INDISCRETION
I never can or shall look at him without a shudder.
— QUEEN VICTORIA
Following a privileged but loveless childhood, the young Prince of Wales paid dearly for his sexual initiation. Indeed, if Bertie did not pay for it with his life, then he paid for it with another man's life. This would be the verdict according to Queen Victoria, who believed that her son's behavior contributed to the sudden death of Prince Albert at just forty-two years old.
Bertie had led a sheltered life, surrounded by nursemaids and tutors, trained for his role in the British royal family from his earliest years. To assist Bertie in this task, he had a "governor," or mentor, in the form of Colonel Robert Bruce, who had accompanied Bertie on trips to Europe and America and for a year at Christ Church, Oxford, followed by further study at Trinity College, Cambridge. This latter experience of higher education confirmed that Bertie, though bright and alert, would never really be "university material." As a result, Prince Albert decided that the nineteen-year-old Bertie would benefit from a spell in the army, which might be "a good field for social instruction." During the Cambridge Long Vacation, which ran from June until the end of September, Bertie was attached to the Grenadier Guards for ten weeks at the Curragh, a military camp outside Dublin.
At first excited by this taste of army life, Bertie was soon crestfallen to discover that the army was not just about horses, guns, and combat but was set about with rules and the Queen's Regulations. Every moment of his time had to be accounted for, from dawn until dusk. Bertie was whisked from place to place so quickly, his "feet scarcely touched the ground" in the words of another famous cadet. Although Bertie dressed in the uniform of a staff colonel, as a concession to his birth, he was required to undergo a rigorous training "in the duties of every rank from ensign upwards." It was confidently predicted that within ten weeks Bertie would acquire the skills to command a battalion and be competent "to manoeuvre a Brigade in the Field." Alongside this, he had to acquire the appropriate social graces of an army officer, dining twice a week in the Grenadier Guards officers' mess, once a week in other messes, and hold a dinner party for other officers. This was a tall order. If the Prince Consort had thought that this schedule would serve to keep his son out of trouble, he was wrong. After seven weeks, Bertie's commanding officer considered him to be totally inadequate to perform the duties of a staff colonel. To make matters worse, when Bertie's "Uncle George," the Duke of Cambridge, visited the camp, Bertie's CO ordered him to perform the duties of a subaltern while still dressed as a colonel. When Bertie protested, he was told that his drill was imperfect and his voice indistinct. "I will not try to make the Duke of Cambridge think that you are more advanced than you are." The fact was that Bertie did not want to be a soldier. He possessed neither the inclination, the athleticism, nor the pure enjoyment of army life. It was also abundantly clear that an all-male environment was not for him. But army life did at least offer one compensation. A group of convivial young officers, shocked at Bertie's sexual innocence, procured the services of a young Irish actress and good-time girl named Nellie Clifden. Nellie was smuggled into Bertie's quarters and told to wait for him in bed. What happened next was clearly the most successful event of Bertie's brief and otherwise unexceptional spell in the army. Bertie commemorated their subsequent meetings in his diary:
6 Sept Curragh N. C. 1st Time
Bertie was smitten, and continued to see Nellie when he returned to England, "installing her at lodgings at Windsor." Not only was Bertie grateful to Nellie for his sexual initiation, he seems genuinely to have fallen in love with her. Unfortunately, Nellie, who had also become the mistress of the young Lord Carrington, went around London boasting about her relationship with the young Prince of Wales and even hinting at their forthcoming nuptials. The potential embarrassment of Nellie's presence cannot be overestimated, particularly as a suitable bride had already been selected for Bertie.
The search had been on for a bride for Bertie since the prince turned sixteen. Bertie's older sister, Vicky, now Crown Princess of Prussia, had been delegated to the task by the queen. King Leopold of Belgium and Queen Victoria's trusted courtier Baron Stockmar had also been recruited to search for a wife who would keep Bertie "out of mischief." When Baron Stockmar told Prince Albert that he could not, really, organize an arranged marriage, Prince Albert replied that everyone had told him, "You must marry the Prince of Wales soon, unless you do so he is lost."
During the summer of 1860, Vicky could be found underneath a chestnut tree, studying the Almanach de Gotha to find the right bride for her brother. The Almanach de Gotha, which might be described as the bloodstock manual for European royalty, was an indispensable authority on monarchies and their courts, reigning and former dynasties, princely and ducal families, and the genealogical, biographical, and titular details of Europe's highest level of aristocracy. Vicky had her work cut out for her as she turned the pages of this royal mail-order catalog. Princesses did not grow on trees, and there seemed to be something wrong with every one of them, particularly as Queen Victoria would settle for nothing less than perfection. The fortunate princess would have to be beautiful, dutiful, clever, quiet, virtuous, Protestant, and royal.
Marie of Altenburg was dismissed on the grounds of dressing badly and being in possession of an offensive mother. Augusta of Meiningen was "a very nice, clever good girl" but too young. There was a choice of Weimar girls, but they had delicate constitutions and were not pretty. The Princess of Sweden was too young, and Princess Hilda of Dessau was too old. Princess Marie of the Netherlands was "clever and ladylike" but suffered from being plain and physically infirm. As for Princess Alexandrine of Prussia, she bore the crippling twin disadvantages of being "not clever or pretty." Anna of Hesse looked like a good prospect, and had the "fewest disadvantages" according to Vicky, but even she suffered from twitchy eyes, bad teeth, and an abrupt manner. Marie of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was "quite lovely" but ruled out on the grounds of being a Roman Catholic. Finally, Elisabeth of Wied, although somewhat dowdy, was a strong, healthy girl with a fresh complexion but was boisterous and uninhibited. Elisabeth subsequently became Queen of Romania and a prolific writer under the pseudonym Carmen Sylva.
So many princesses having been ruled out, just one possibility remained: Princess Alexandra of Denmark, daughter of Prince Christian. However, despite Alexandra's "beauty, her charms, her amiability, her frank natural manner and many excellent qualities," there was just one thing wrong. Princess Alexandra was not "Prussian" and Queen Victoria wanted her son to marry a woman of German ancestry. The queen also disapproved of King Frederick VII of Denmark, Princess Alexandra's colorful uncle, who "lived openly in sin and was seldom sober." King Frederick's first two marriages had ended in divorce, and his third wife, Louisa, was a ballet dancer. The king was rumored to be in a same-sex relationship with his close friend, Carl Berling, who had fathered a child on Louisa. But despite his eccentricities, alcoholism, and unconventional private life, King Frederick was much loved. He had the common touch, and could speak to anyone. As King Frederick had no official heirs, Princess Alexandra's father, Prince Christian, a cousin, was appointed heir apparent and succeeded to the throne when Frederick died in 1863.
It wasn't just Princess Alexandra's wicked uncle whom Queen Victoria objected to. The queen had also taken a dislike to Princess Alexandra's mother, who came from the House of Hesse-Cassel, a dynasty noted for being high-spirited, pleasure-loving, and frivolous,characteristics embodied by Princess Mary, so fat she needed two chairs to sit on and was a notorious flirt.
In fact, Princess Alexandra's mother was a devoted homemaker who raised her children to be practical and self-reliant. Princess Louise even had her own rejoinder to the worried comments about Princess Mary, telling Princess Alexandra that if she ever saw her flirt like Mary, she would box her ears.
Despite Queen Victoria's misgivings, it was clear that young Princess Alexandra was a keeper. Mrs. Paget, wife of Augustus Paget, the British diplomat to Copenhagen, confided in the queen that "it would be impossible to find anywhere a Princess better suited than Alix to be the wife of the Prince of Wales." A photograph was procured, and shown to Prince Albert, who took one look at it and said, "From that photograph, I would marry her at once."
Vicky interviewed Princess Alexandra's former nanny, who confirmed that Alix was "the sweetest girl who ever lived, full of life and high spirits, with a good constitution, and had never suffered from anything worse in her life than measles." When Vicky finally got to meet Alix for herself, she was entranced and wrote home that "I never set eyes on a sweeter creature. She is lovely! She does not seem the least aware of her beauty and is very unassuming. You may go far before you find another princess like Princess Alix. Oh, if only she was not a Dane and not related to the Hesses I should say yes — she is the one a thousand times over."
By this point, Queen Victoria was beginning to overcome her initial hostility toward Alix. Apart from anything else, she did not want to lose Alix to the Russian tsar, who had also expressed an interest. "It would be dreadful," Vicky reminded the queen, "if this pearl went to the horrid Russians."
Bertie was finally allowed to have some say in the matter after leaving the Curragh in September 1861 when he was invited to meet Alix for himself. Bertie traveled to Germany, where the Christians were staying at their shabby, run-down castle near Frankfurt, and the couple were finally introduced at the Cathedral of Speyer. As the bishop was showing the royal party around the frescoes, the two young people became detached from the party and wandered off by themselves. The next day, Bertie wrote home and told his parents that he had enjoyed meeting "the young lady of whom I had heard so much; and I can now candidly say that I thought her charming and pretty."
There was just one problem. Although Bertie had admired Alix, he now showed a peculiar reluctance to marry her and settle down. Perhaps Bertie entertained some preposterous fantasy of marrying Nellie Clifden; perhaps he was genuinely in love with Nellie, finding her far more appealing than Alix, who was, after all, a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl. Prince Albert, who knew nothing of Nellie's existence, simply reproached his son with a stern letter, telling Bertie that he must marry early because "it would be impossible for you to lead, with any chance of success or comfort to yourself, a protracted bachelor life." Bertie replied that he wanted to meet Alix again before he made up his mind, and was told that if he did so, he must propose to her immediately or release her from any further obligations. Bertie procrastinated and returned to Cambridge to continue his studies, which chiefly consisted of hunting with Natty Rothschild and expeditions to London to see Nellie. It was at this point that Lord Torrington, a courtier and gossip,took it upon himself to inform Prince Albert about Bertie's fling with Nellie.
The scene may be imagined: the queen, who had been supplied with a censored version of events but could understand their significance, called down fire and brimstone upon her firstborn son, while Prince Albert was horrified but characteristically measured and conscientious in his reaction. The prince resolved to find the truth about these allegations, despite being exhausted by a debilitating combination of neuralgia, toothache, insomnia, and anxiety. The prince was also deeply concerned about the effect this news would have on his wife's state of mind. Queen Victoria had recently lost her mother, a "DREADFUL, DREADFUL terrible calamity," causing her "fearful and unbearable outbursts of grief." The queen had retreated from public life, dining alone, spending considerable periods of time sitting in her late mother's rooms, and accusing Bertie of being insufficiently grief-stricken. In addition, Prince Albert's beloved young cousin, King Pedro V, had died of typhoid in Portugal. Now came the news that Bertie had been seduced by Nellie Clifden, already known in London society as "the Princess of Wales," and worries that this would endanger the marriage plans. Prince Albert was appalled, not just because Bertie had gone off the rails, but because Nellie might conceive Bertie's child, or pass off another man's baby as his.
"If you were to try and deny it," Prince Albert wrote to his son, "she can drag you into a Court of Law to force you to own it and there with you in the witness box, she will be able to give before a greedy Multitude disgusting details of your profligacy for the sake of convincing the Jury; yourself cross-examined by a railing indecent attorney and hooted and yelled at by a Lawless Mob!! Oh, horrible prospect, which this person has in her power, any day to realize! And to break your poor parents' hearts!"
Nothing was to be done, Prince Albert concluded, but to confess everything to Bertie's governor, Colonel Bruce. Bertie duly did so, although he refused to give the names of the fellow officers who had smuggled Nellie into the camp, and this was accepted as a matter of principle. Bertie admitted that he had yielded to temptation and that the affair was over. Bertie also apologized fulsomely to his father for the "terrible pain" he had caused. There was only one thing that would satisfy Prince Albert now: Bertie must agree to marriage, as soon as possible. If not, the consequences for England, indeed for the world, would be "too dreadful!"
Two days after writing this letter, Prince Albert went to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst to inspect new buildings for the staff college. The day had been cold and wet, and he returned to Windsor tired and aching with rheumatism. The following day, Prince Albert caught a cold, which did not improve matters, and neither did his habitual insomnia. Despite feeling so ill, on the following day, November 25, Prince Albert traveled to Madingley Hall in Cambridge, where Bertie was staying during his desultory studies at the university. It was another cold, wet day, but the prince took Bertie for a long walk and discussed the situation, arriving back at Madingley Hall exhausted. Prince Albert later told Vicky that he was at his lowest ebb, "much worry and great sorrow ... have robbed me of sleep during the past fortnight. In this shattered state I had a very heavy catarrh and for the past four days am suffering from headache and pains in my limbs which may develop into rheumatism." It was far worse than that. A week later, the prince contracted typhoid.
As Prince Albert lay dying, the queen refused to invite Bertie to Windsor Castle, blaming him for his father's illness. It was Princess Alice who sent a telegram to Cambridge and summoned him to Prince Albert's bedside. Vicky, who was pregnant at the time, was unable to make the journey from Germany. Even then, Bertie had no idea of the gravity of his father's condition. Bertie arrived at Windsor at three o'clock in the morning, in good spirits following a dinner engagement in London, and did not see his father until the following morning. To Bertie's horror, Prince Albert smiled up at him, but was unable to speak. It was left to Princess Alice to say calmly, "this is the death rattle" and then go and fetch her mother. Queen Victoria hurried into the room, and she and her children all knelt beside Prince Albert's bedside.
Queen Victoria said, "Es ist Kleines Frauchen" (It is your little wife), and Prince Albert bowed his head. Queen Victoria asked him for a kiss, and he did so. Then she went out of the room, inconsolable, before Princess Alice summoned her back in, to hold Prince Albert's already cold and dying hand. In his last two or three breaths, his fingers clasped hers. And then it was over. Queen Victoria stood up, kissed Prince Albert's forehead, and cried out bitterly, "Oh, my dear Darling!" and fell to her knees in mute despair, unable to utter a word or shed a tear."
Queen Victoria was led away to a sofa in the Red Room, where Princess Alice sat with her arms around her. Meanwhile, Princess Helena stood at the foot of the bed, sobbing violently, while Bertie stood near the sofa, obviously deeply affected, "but quiet."
Excerpted from "Edward VII"
Copyright © 2017 Catharine Arnold.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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.
Table of Contents
1 A Youthful Indiscretion 15
2 A Royal Wedding 25
3 "Gay Paree and London Lowlife" 32
4 Mordaunt vs. Mordaunt 44
5 Jennie Churchill, the Dollar Princess 50
6 The Aylesford Scandal 61
7 The Jersey Tomboy 72
8 Taking London by Storm 82
9 The Real Prince Charming 94
10 Royal Mistress 106
11 The Wheel of Fortune 119
12 Jennie and Randolph 127
13 My Darling Daisy 135
14 The Heart Has Its Reasons 146
15 She Stoops to Conquer 159
16 The Unforgivable Sin 171
17 The Tranby Croft Trial 183
18 The Socialite Socialist 199
19 Captain Laycock of the Blues 208
20 The Last Mistress: Alice Keppel 219
21 Golden Years 227
22 Famous Last Words 240
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Very boring. I was disappointed in this book.