Edward VII (9 November 1841 – 6 May 1910) was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, King of the Commonwealth realms, and the Emperor of India. He was the son of Queen Victoria and the first British monarch of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. He reigned from 22 January 1901 until his death on 6 May 1910.
Before his accession to the throne, Edward held the title of Prince of Wales, and has the distinction of having been heir apparent to the throne longer than anyone in English or British history. Edward's reign, now called the Edwardian period, saw the first official recognition of the office of the Prime Minister. He became the first British monarch to visit Russia (1907). Edward also played a role in the modernization of the British Home Fleet and the reform of the Army Medical Services, after the Boer War.
Edward was born on 9 November 1841 at Buckingham Palace. His mother was Queen Victoria, the only daughter of Prince Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent and granddaughter of King George III. His father was Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, first cousin and consort of Victoria. Christened Albert Edward at St. George's Chapel, Windsor on 25 January 1842, he was known as Bertie throughout his life.
As the eldest son of a British sovereign, he was automatically Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron Renfrew, Lord of the Isles and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland. As a son of Prince Albert, he also held the titles of Prince of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and 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 and a Knight of the Garter on 9 November 1853 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 favor of his younger brother, Prince Alfred, later Duke of Edinburgh.
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, Bertie embarked upon a rigorous educational program devised by the Prince Consort, and under the supervision of several tutors. However, unlike his elder sister, the Prince of Wales did not excel in his studies. He tried to meet the expectations of his parents, but to no avail. He was not a diligent student and his true talents were those of charm, sociability, and tact. Other observers in his youth found him to be spoiled, lazy, and occasionally cruel.
The Prince of Wales hoped to pursue a career in the British Army, but this was denied him because he was heir to the throne. He did serve briefly in the Grenadier Guards in 1861; however, this was largely a sinecure. He was advanced from the rank of lieutenant to colonel in a matter of months. In October 1859, he matriculated as an undergraduate at Christ Church, Oxford. In 1861, he transferred to Trinity College, Cambridge, but he never received a degree.
In his youth, he gained a reputation as a playboy. In December 1861, his father died from typhoid two weeks after visiting Bertie at Cambridge; Prince Albert had reprimanded his son after the latter's affair with an actress became the subject of newspaper gossip. The Queen, who was inconsolable and wore mourning for the rest of her life, blamed Bertie for his father's death. She regarded her son as frivolous, indiscreet, and irresponsible. As a joke of the period went, "How is the Queen like the weather? Because she reigns [rains], and reigns, and reigns... and never gives the poor son [Sun] a chance."
Once widowed, Queen Victoria effectively withdrew from public life, but shortly after the Prince Consort's death, she arranged for her son to marry Princess Alexandra of Denmark, the beautiful elder daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark. The couple wed at St. George's Chapel, Windsor on 10 March 1862.
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 was met with disapproval in certain circles because most of Victoria's relations were German, and Denmark was at loggerheads with Germany over the territories of Schleswig and Holstein. Victoria herself was of two minds as to whether it was a suitable match. After the couple's marriage, she expressed anxiety about their lifestyle and attempted to dictate to them on various matters, including the names of their children.
Edward treated his marriage with indifference, keeping mistresses throughout his married life, including actress Lillie Langtry, and Jennie Jerome, the mother of Winston Churchill. His last "official" mistress, society matron Alice Keppel, was even
present at his deathbed in 1910 at his express written instruction; one of Keppel's great granddaughters was later to become the mistress and wife of a future Prince of Wales and one of Edward's great-great grandsons.
During Victoria's widowhood, he represented her at public gatherings. But even as a husband and father, Bertie was not allowed by his mother to have an active role in the running of the country. Several incidents—including a court appearance in a notorious divorce case—brought Bertie bad press and caused him to be regarded as unsuitable material for a future monarch.
He enthusiastically indulged in pursuits such as gambling and country sports. Edward was also a patron of the arts and sciences and helped found the Royal College of Music.
An active Freemason throughout his adult life, Edward VII was installed as Grand Master in 1874, giving great impetus and publicity to the fraternity. He regularly appeared in public, both at home and on his tours abroad, as Grand Master, laying the foundation stones of public buildings, bridges, dockyards, and churches with Masonic ceremonial. His presence ensured publicity, and reports of Masonic meetings at all levels appeared regularly in the national and local press. Freemasonry was constantly in the public eye, and Freemasons were known in their local communities. Edward VII was one of the biggest contributors to the fraternity.
When Queen Victoria died on 22 January 1901, Bertie became king. Then 59, he was the second oldest man to ascend to the throne in British history (the oldest having been William IV, who ascended at age 64). To the surprise of many, he chose to reign under the name Edward VII instead of Albert Edward I. The new King chose the name Edward because it had been borne by six of his predecessors, and no English or British sovereign had ever reigned under a double name. Edward VII and Queen Alexandra were crowned at Westminster Abbey on 9 August 1902.
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. One of his most important foreign trips was an official visit to France in spring 1903 as the guest of President Émile Loubet. This visit helped create the atmosphere for the Anglo-French Entente Cordiale, an informal agreement delineating British and French colonies in North Africa, and making virtually unthinkable the wars that had so often divided the countries in the past. Negotiated between the French foreign minister, Théophile Delcassé, and the British foreign secretary, the Marquess of Lansdowne, and signed on 8 April 1904 by Lord Lansdowne and the French ambassador Paul Cambon , the Entente marked the end of centuries of Anglo-French rivalry and Britain's splendid isolation from Continental affairs.
"Uncle of Europe"
Edward VII was, mainly through his mother and his father-in-law, 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, King Alphonso XIII of Spain, and Carl Eduard, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha were Edward's nephews; King Haakon VII of Norway was his son-in-law and nephew by marriage; King George I of the Hellenes and King Frederick VIII of Denmark were his brothers-in-law; and King Albert I of Belgium, Manuel II of Portugal, King Ferdinand of Bulgaria, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, and Prince Ernst August, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, were his cousins. Edward's volatile relationship with his nephew, Wilhelm II, exacerbated the tensions between Germany and Britain in the decade before World War I.
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 Herbert Henry Asquith. The King died before the Liberal victory in the 1910 general election resolved the situation, but he discreetly let Asquith know his willingness to appoint additional peers, if necessary, to enable the budget's passage in the House of Lords.
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 learn the role. He ensured that his second son and heir, who would become George V of the United Kingdom, was better prepared to take the throne. Edward VII is buried at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.
Edward's life was dramatised in the 1975 British television series Edward the Seventh , also known as Edward the King or The Royal Victorians, and starring Charles Sturridge as the adolescent Edward, Timothy West as the adult Edward and Annette Crosbie as Queen Victoria.
Titles from birth to death
Here are Edward's styles in chronological order:
- His Royal Highness The Duke of Cornwall
- His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales
- His Majesty The King