Edward VII – The Uncle of Europe


King Edward VII

King Edward VII

 

The 9th November 2016 marks the 175th birthday of Edward VII, who ruled over the United Kingdom from January 1901 to May 1910.

The eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Albert ‘Edward’ was born on the 9th November 1841 in London. Affectionately referred to as ‘Bertie’ by his family, Edward was brought up in an almost militant regime to prepare him for his time spent on the throne.

Edward studied at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, as was tradition for members of the Royal family, before announcing a desire to pursue a career within the military. However, the Queen disapproved, wanting to keep her son safe to rule Great Britain on her passing. Regardless, Edward joined the military for a brief period, and in his short time spent in the army, rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel through honorary promotions.

In March 1863, an arranged marriage was created by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert; Edward would be wed to Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Together, the pair would have six children together, five of whom would live to see adulthood. However, Edward’s affections strayed shortly after his engagement to Alexandra, beginning an affair with actress Nellie Clifton. This would begin a spiral of misery for the Royal family; Albert was so angry that he personally disciplined Edward. Two weeks later, Albert would be struck down with typhoid and sadly pass away in December 1861. This would push Queen Victoria into a deep depression, blaming Edward for Albert’s death, never to forgive him. Seemingly unlearned from this, Edward would go on to have a number of affairs throughout his marriage with a variety of women, including Lady Churchill, Winston’s mother, and Alice Keppel, the great grandmother of Camilla Parker Bowles, the wife of the Prince of Wales.

 

Edward with his mother (right) and Tsar Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra and baby Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna (left), 1896

Edward with his mother, Queen Victoria (right) and Tsar Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra and baby Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna (left), 1896

 

With Victoria retreating from the public eye, Edward would represent her at state events, however he held no responsibility in state matters. Taking a seat in the House of Lords, Edward would serve as the Duke of Cornwall, but with no administrative duties, would spend most of his time out and about in the London social scene, eating, drinking and gambling, as well as building a reputation for himself as being quite the playboy.

In January 1901, Queen Victoria passed away, and Edward was crowned King in August of the following year. Waiting 59 years to take his rightful place, before the Prince of Wales, Edward VII was the longest heir apparent in British history. Upon being crowned, Edward threw himself with full enthusiasm into the role, bringing a sparkle back to the monarchy which had previously dulled. A charismatic character, Edward soon won the hearts of the British public. Well educated, Edward’s ability to speak both French and German fluently made meetings across Europe effortless, where he was able to negotiate the Triple Entente between Britain, France and Russia, which would go on to play a vital role in the First World War. In the years that followed the Boer War, Edward played a strong role in rebuilding the military, pushing forward to ensure an army medical service was introduced, as well as the construction of modern Dreadnought battleships.

Edward’s reign on the throne ran between 1901 and 1910, a period referred to as ‘The Edwardian Period’, and was seen as the golden age for the upper class across Britain. Although the class system remained in place, rapid industrialisation increased Britain’s economic opportunity and created conditions which brought with them more social mobility, and as a result, social change. This brought on a rise in socialism and the amount of attention paid to the poor, as well as a push for women’s right to vote.

 

Queen Alexandra and King Edward VII

Queen Alexandra and King Edward VII

 

In 1909, the “People’s Budget” created a constitutional crisis. This was a legislation which called for unprecedented taxes on the rich and radical social welfare programs. This budget was overseen by Harold Asquith, the Liberal Party Prime Minister and his chancellor, David Lloyd George. Behind closed doors, Edward would plead with lords in the Conservative party to pass his budget in an effort to avoid political division. To break this deadlock, the Chancellor advised Edward to create a number of Liberal positions within the House of Lords, adding that this would offset the “no” vote. However, Edward refused, arguing that this matter be decided in the democratic fashion of a general election. This issue would remain unresolved until Edward’s son and predecessor, George V, would take the throne.

Edward VII was a regular smoker; he’d often smoke 12 cigars and 20 cigarettes a day, which would eventually catch up to him, developing a fatal case of bronchitis. During an event in France, Edward would briefly lose consciousness, and on Apil 27, 1910, the King would return to London. Just over a week later, Alexandra would return from Greece. The following day, she would inform their children that Edward was gravely ill. On May 10th, Edward would suffer a series of heart attacks, and sadly passed away. He was buried on May 20th, 1910, in a funeral attended by a huge gathering of royalty. Since his death, Edward VII has been remembered for his charming personality and his diplomatic ability.