In public, the Victorians were some of the stuffiest, snobbiest, most repressed people in history. Behind closed doors, it was a different story. In private, Victorian England was rife with drink, debauchery, and scandal—and no one did it better than Queen Victoria's infamous son, King Edward VII. His bedroom escapades fueled the gossip mill for centuries and his mother was utterly ashamed of him, but more than anything, "Dirty Bertie" knew how to be a royal with style.
The future King Edward VII was born on November 9, 1841, in the lavish Buckingham Palace (where else?). His parents called him Albert Edward, but quickly took to calling him "Bertie." With one older sister, Bertie was the eldest son and therefore heir to the throne of England from the moment he was born. Those are some incredibly big shoes to fill—so it's no wonder he went a little crazy.
Ever notice how the wildest kids always have the strictest parents? Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, wanted to make sure their son learned how to be a proper king. Albert, in particular, took a special interest in young Edward's education—and that would mark the first of countless times that Edward disappointed his overbearing parents.
Edward's older sister, Victoria, was a brilliant little student—the prince...not so much. He desperately wanted to impress his parents, but he just wasn't cut out for the studious life. His tutors noted that while his academic abilities were lacking, the boy was nevertheless overflowing with charm—a trait that would serve him for his entire life.
But Victoria and Prince Albert weren't interested in charm. They looked at their son and saw a failure—and it was only a matter of time before Bertie cracked under the pressure.
Ok, so Edward wasn't a great student, but at 19 years old, he found his true calling in life: He took an official tour of North America as the Prince of Wales. He laid the cornerstone of Canada's Parliament Hill, he watched a tightrope walker cross Niagara Falls, and he stayed with President James Buchanan in the White House. Everywhere he went, massive crowds came to greet him.
After a tense childhood under the thumb of his overbearing parents, this trip opened up Edward VII to a whole new world—and he liked it.
Edward VII returned from his diplomatic trip a changed man. Years of facing his parents' disappointment had left him a rather shy boy with low self-esteem. The amazing success of his time in North America worked wonders, and suddenly the young man was bursting with confidence. And what's a wealthy, charismatic young royal to do with all that confidence?
Edward VII was about to discover his greatest love and his greatest vice: Women.
There's a reason people still read Jane Austen books today: 19th-century matchmaking puts today's soap operas to shame. In 1861, Edward's folks sent him to Germany, apparently to "watch some military maneuvers." If you think that seems like a pretty dubious reason to travel across the continent, you'd be right: Edward's parents had an ulterior motive.
Edward VII was now nearly 20 years old—it was long past time to find him a wife.
Edward showed up in Germany, and wouldn't you know it, the woman his parents wanted him to marry happened to be there at the exact same time! What are the chances? Edward met Princess Alexandra of Denmark, or "Alix" as her family called her, and the two of them hit it off. Pretty soon, their families had a marriage agreement in place—but there was just one problem.
Alexandra wasn't the only woman young Bertie was talking to. Oh, poor Alix...she had no idea what she was getting into.
You see, not long before traveling to Germany, Edward had taken another trip—this time to Ireland. Determined to get him some army experience, his parents sent him to live with the men in the barracks, but he got a whole lot more than he bargained for. In Ireland, Edward VII met actress Nellie Clifden; the first in a long, long line of mistresses.
But you know what they say: You never forget your first.
Edward and Nellie had met some time earlier at a party in England, and they must have hit it off. They "happened" to bump into each other yet again in Ireland, while Edward was conveniently away from his parents' prying eyes. They say you join the army a boy and you leave a man—well, that was certainly the case for Edward, but probably not for the reason most people would think.
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Edward's fellow cadets in Ireland were all too happy to enable the rebellious prince's dalliance. They allowed Nellie Clifden to hide out in their barracks for three days while she and Edward had their fun. So the story goes, Edward lost his virginity to Clifden during those three days—all notably before he met Princess Alexandra.
At 19 years old, Prince Bertie was having the time of his life—but it was all about to come crashing down.
If there's one thing Victorians liked to do, it's gossip, so it didn't take long for word of Edward's affair to reach his parents. His father, Prince Albert, was particularly horrified, and he made the trip to Ireland specifically to talk some sense into the boy. Little did he know, this trip would be the beginning of the end.
Prince Albert was already ill when he traveled to Ireland to tear his son a new one. The two of them apparently took a long walk in the rain together, and it did not go well. Not only did Albert's stern words do nothing to curb his son's womanizing (as we'll soon see), the pouring rain didn't do his health any favors. Albert passed from his illness just two short weeks after his talk with his son.
Edward was only 20 years old when he lost his father—but that was just the start of the nightmare.
Here are two key things to know about Queen Victoria: She loved her husband and she hated her son. So, how do you think she reacted when Prince Albert croaked just two weeks after going on a trip to yell at their total screw-up of a son? Victoria was beside herself with grief, and she wore mourning clothes for the rest of her life—but some of her pain turned to anger.
Victoria's dislike of her son had mostly bubbled beneath the surface before, but Albert's loss had changed everything.
Queen Victoria had never been fond of young Bertie, but that was mostly just because she thought he was a screw-up. When Prince Albert passed, Victoria outright blamed her son. While she once found him embarrassing, now she despised him. She ever wrote to her eldest daughter, "I never can, or shall, look at him without a shudder."
Between his grief over his father's passing and his mother's hatred, you'd think maybe this was the time where our Edward VII finally decided to smarten up and fly straight. But then you'd be seriously underestimating England's Prince.
Just over a year after his father's passing, Edward did at least one thing his departed dad wanted: He married Alexandra of Denmark at Windsor Castle on March 10, 1863. He was 21 years old, and she was 18. But the thing about Edward is, he looked at his wedding vows more like guidelines than actual rules. There was no wedding ring on earth that was going to keep Edward VII tied to one woman.
In fact, not even his father's final wishes could stop Edward from sleeping around.
One of the last things Prince Albert ever did was tell Edward to break it off with Nellie Clifden—and the young prince couldn't even do that! Edward started things right back up again with Nellie when he returned to London. If it's some small consolation to his parents, his affair with Clifden didn't last very long after that. But that's because Edward had started playing the field.
By all accounts, Edward and Alexandra's marriage was a happy one—but that's only because Alexandra put up with Edward's most scandalous habit: Edward was sleeping around even before he met Alix, and he continued to take mistresses for their entire marriage. No one knows the exact number, but historians have tied at least 55 women to Edward.
Fifty. Five. And those are just the ones we know about. Now take a guess: Do you think some of those affairs got Edward in hot water?
It was around this time that King Edward VII of England gained his most infamous nickname: Dirty Bertie. Not exactly the name you'd expect from a Victorian prince—but as you'll see, our Bertie more than lived up to the name.
There's a good chance that Edward had even more affairs than the 55 that historians have conjectured, and that's not even counting the working girls of Paris he loved so much. Yet, for all his debauchery, Edward was remarkably discreet, and more often than not, the society gossips could only guess at who was sharing the Prince's bed on a given night.
But the thing about affairs is, if you have enough of them, you start to leave behind some pretty...obvious evidence.
Despite his countless affairs, Edward never once acknowledged a single illegitimate child. Now, based just on the law of numbers, either he was the least fertile man alive, or he was lying. Our money is on the latter—and we've got the evidence to back it up.
In 1864, Lady Susan Vane-Tempest lost her husband. In her grief, she fell into the arms of none other than our guy Edward. Now, we get it: By all accounts, Edward was one heck of a charmer—but after a few years, this secret couple had a problem. A letter to Edward from one of Susan's confidantes in 1871 said that "the crisis was due within two or three months," a not-so-well-veiled allusion to Susan's pregnancy.
This is one of the first credible accounts of one of Edward's love-children—but sadly, this particular story has a tragic ending.
Lady Susan Vane-Tempest gave birth to Edward's alleged child in late 1871, but the infant's fate remains a mystery. Whether by choice or coercion, Susan never mentioned the child, and she took the secret to her grave when she passed in 1875 at just 36 years old. In the end, Lady Susan Vane-Tempest and her child were just a sad footnote on the long list of Edward's conquests.
But while Edward's affair with Lady Vane-Tempest ended tragically, it stayed almost entirely out of the papers. We can't say that about this next affair.
Edward VII lived in his mother's bad books, and a wild scandal in 1869 didn't help matters. Sir Charles Mordaunt, a Member of Parliament, planned to divorce his wife. OK, people get divorced all the time. The problem here was, he threatened to name none other than Dirty Bertie as a co-respondent in the suit. Basically, that means it was Edward's fault he was getting divorced.
Any guesses as to why Mordaunt blamed Edward?
As suspicious spouses are wont to do, Sir Charles started snooping around before he did anything drastic—and that's when he made a disturbing discovery. He jimmied open his wife's writing desk and found pages of letters from the Prince of Wales. While Edward was normally pretty good at keeping his affairs on the down-low, it seems he just couldn't resist writing love letters to his mistresses.
Now, the letters Mordaunt found were saucy, but they didn't actually prove Edward was sleeping with his wife. His next discovery was a lot more damning, though.
Gossip at the time claimed that Mordaunt came home early one day only to find his wife and the Prince alone in the house together. Once again, he didn't actually catch them in bed together, but this is the Victorian era we're talking about. Finding a man and a woman alone together was about as scandalous as it gets.
Understandably, Mordaunt was furious—but even still, most people would say his reaction went way too far.
According to the rumors of the day, Mordaunt found Edward and his wife lounging around with two white ponies. After Mordaunt kicked the prince out, his anger apparently hadn't subsided, and he had to take his rage out on something. He allegedly shot both of the ponies and made his wife watch. And you wonder why this poor woman strayed?
To this point, Edward had mostly done a good job of keeping his dalliances out of the papers, but there was nothing he could do this time.
In the end, Mordaunt didn't end up naming Edward as co-respondent in his divorce suit, but he didn't have to. He still managed to prove in open court that the prince had visited the Mordaunts' manor while Charles was away. The courts didn't find Edward legally responsible for anything, but the damage to his reputation was enough.
Edward's dirty laundry was out in public for all to see—but compared to the tragic fate of the Lady Mordaunt, I'd say Edward got off easy.
Pretty much any time a woman was put on trial for anything, the defense always played the same card: Hysteria. Lady Mordaunt was no different. Her lawyers claimed insanity as a defense for her adultery, and while it worked, the plea destroyed her life forever. While Edward was free to continue gallivanting across Europe, sleeping with anything that moved, Lady Mordaunt spent the rest of her life hidden from sight in a series of private cottages.
Eventually, her family moved her to a lunatic asylum, before she finally passed in utter obscurity. Unfortunately, the women who slept with Edward VII kept on meeting sad fates—and in 1871, Edward himself nearly did too.
Edward was still a young man and his scandals were starting to pile up, but here's the thing: The people couldn't help but love him! By all accounts, Edward was wildly charismatic and popular—and after what happened in 1871, they only loved him more. While staying in a hunting lodge, Edward came down with typhoid fever, the same disease that likely claimed his father.
One of his fellow guests actually lost his life to the disease, and as Edward clung to life, the entire country waited with bated breath.
Edward eventually recovered from typhoid, and all of England rejoiced! Sure, the prince was a bit of a handful, but he was still beloved, and losing him so young would have been a national tragedy. And it's little wonder people loved him so much. Despite his faults, Edward VII was...kind of an amazing guy?
Those around Edward couldn't help but remark that the prince, despite having the bluest blood possible, treated everybody with dignity and respect, no matter their class or color. On a trip to India, his letters home show that the racism he found in the country sickened him: "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."
Today, that's just baseline human decency, but in the heyday of the British Empire, that kind of talk was pretty much unheard of. It's easy to write Edward VII off as a hedonist, but there was a lot more to him than met the eye.
One of the biggest scandals surrounding Edward VII wasn't actually so scandalous after all. People could put up with his affairs and his gambling, but for many of Britain's upper crust, he crossed the line when he started fraternizing with the Jewish Rothschild family. Anti-Semitism was rife in the "proper" English society at the time, but Edward was the Prince of Wales and didn't care what anyone thought.
In hindsight, who do you think was the black sheep? The crazy party boy who treated all people equally, or the polite and manicured elites who thought they were superior to everyone else? Hmm...
Edward VII was ahead of his time in more ways than one. The man didn't just like a good time—he knew how to dress the part too. A style icon, Edward shaped men's fashion all across Europe. Pretty soon, men all over the continent were imitating his style, be it tweed suits, Homburg hats, or Norfolk jackets. We even have Edward to thank for black tie events.
Before he came along, men tended to wear white ties and tails to fancy evenings, but Edward preferred a simple black tie, and the look stuck. Still, that's not even Edward's biggest contribution to the world of men's fashion...
You know how you're not supposed to do up the bottom button of a waistcoat or suit jacket? According to some, that's because of our guy Edward. Thanks to his considerable belly, Edward always left the bottom button on his jackets unbuttoned. Men started to copy the Prince's habit, and the practice continues to this day.
Yes, Edward always wanted to look his best. After all, he had married women to chase! If you thought we were done with Edward's affairs, you'd be sorely mistaken. We're just getting started.
Edward managed to keep his affairs out of the papers for a few years after the Mordaunt scandal, but it was only a matter of time before he started turning heads once again. In 1877, he went to the theater and fell head over heels for one of the actresses. Her name was Lillie Langtry, and he had to have her. The fact that she had a husband never came into the equation.
What followed would prove one of the most intense affairs of Edward's life.
After Langtry entranced him on stage, Edward quickly engineered a meet-cute. He showed up at a dinner party she was attending and arranged it so that he sat right next to her. As was the custom, the host sat her husband at the complete opposite end of the table. The consummate charmer, Edward and Langtry hit it off immediately.
It was only a matter of time before they ended up in bed together.
While Edward and Langtry were the talk of the town—the queen's son and a famous actress was quite a story—their affair burned out relatively quickly, at least by Edward's standards. They kept up their not-so-secret tryst for about three years, until Langtry hit Edward with a jaw-dropping truth: She was pregnant. That's where their affair ended for good.
Now, I know what you're thinking: Edward knocked up his mistress then abandoned her. Pretty scummy move, right? Well, actually, the truth is a lot more complicated than that.
Though it's impossible to know for sure, most historians believe Edward was not the father of Langtry's child. Apparently, he wasn't the only one who liked to play the field. And while Edward and Lillie's physical relationship ended when she became pregnant, this wasn't some dramatic falling out. The prince and the starlet remained on good terms for the rest of their lives, and Edward even continued to support Lillie financially for years.
It seems like, despite everything, Edward was genuinely a pretty decent guy at his core. Everyone could see it—except for his mother...
Now might be a good time to wonder: How did Edward find the time to have all of these crazy affairs? He was, after all, the Prince of Wales and heir to the throne of England. Didn't he have, you know, stuff to do? Well, to be perfectly honest: Not really. As we've said, Victoria thought her son was a complete and abject failure, and she didn't trust him to take part in any matters of state.
Aside from the occasional public appearance, Prince Bertie didn't really have much of anything to do—so it's little wonder he found some...interesting ways to spend his time.
Throughout the 1880s and 90s, Edward didn't spend that much time in England. Probably something to do with the fact that his own mother couldn't even stand to look at him. Edward wanted an escape, and he found it in the Parisian underworld, where he soon became something of a legend. If you thought Edward's English affairs were crazy, just wait 'til you hear what he got up to in the City of Love.
Edward likely patronized every high-class cathouse in Paris, but his favorite by far was the infamous Le Chabanais. He visited so often, he actually had his own room, complete with his coat of arms over the bed and an extravagant copper bathtub with a massive half-woman-half-swan figurehead. Years later, Salvador Dali actually bought said tub for 112,000 francs.
Le Chabanais quickly became a home-away-from-home for the prince—and let's just say, he got real comfortable there.
Thanks to Edward VII, Le Chabanais contained one of the most infamous pieces of furniture in history: The Siège D'Amour, or love chair. Made from only the finest wood and upholstery, Edward's love seat looks...bizarre. It doesn't look like it would be particularly comfortable to sit in, but that's because it wasn't designed for sitting.
Yes, this is exactly what you're thinking: Edward VII had a naughty chair.
Women were Edward's biggest vice, but he had plenty more to go around. Second on the list was probably food, and by the 1880s, Edward had a huge waistline to match his appetite. His enormous belly started to interfere with his...earthly desires. So, he had Louis Soubrier, a famous cabinetmaker, design the Siège D'Amour so he could still enjoy the fruits of the working girls—sometimes several at once—despite his considerable girth.
Still, think the Victorian era was all prim and proper? And somehow, we've still just scratched the surface of Edward VII's debauchery. With this guy, there's always another crazy story...
If you frequented the Parisian nightlife in the 1880s and 90s, you were bound to bump into Edward VII sooner or later. While he loved Le Chabanais and his Siège D'Amour, he knew that variety was the spice of life. He also enjoyed the city's nightclubs, especially the legendary Moulin Rouge, where he'd frequently appear with a new French socialite or actress on his arm every week. Compared to the grim and depressing London, where the shadow of his mother and her perpetual mourning hung over him like a stormcloud, it's little wonder Edward spent so much time in Paris.
But, life can't be all naughty chairs and burlesque shows—despite what it seems like, Edward actually had a huge family to take care of back home.
It might shock you to hear it, but all this time Edward had been living it up in Paris, he actually had a whole brood of kids back in England. Apparently, his constant affairs didn't keep Edward VII from his marital duties. Despite his infidelity, Edward and his wife Alix (remember her?) had six children together, starting with the eldest, Prince Albert Victor.
In fact, even with his truly wild escapades over in Paris, Edward had a surprisingly tender family life.
What can we say, Victorians were weird? By all accounts, Princess Alexandra was totally fine with her husband's womanizing. She even welcomed several of his mistresses into their home and acknowledged them in public. While it's entirely possible she buried her resentment deep down—these are Victorians we're talking about, after all—every account seems to show that Alix was totally fine with it.
Honestly, Edward sounds pretty exhausting, maybe it was just easier for her? Either way, they stayed close even at the height of Edward's trips to Paris—but that doesn't mean their life at home was entirely happy.
Edward and Alexandra had six children—but one of them was taken away far, far too soon. Their sixth and final child, Prince Alexander John, passed just a day after he was born. The loss devastated the couple, and they never conceived again. According to reports of that sad day, Edward personally laid their boy in his tiny casket "with tears rolling down his cheeks."
Losing Alexander was an incalculable loss, but sadly, that wasn't the end of their heartbreak. The couple would bury another one of their children before long.
Not even Edward could keep it up forever. Maybe it was just his age catching up to him, but in 1890, Edward VII confided in his son George that he was finally "getting too old for these amusements." Now, that's not to say he completely gave up womanizing. He had mistresses until the day he passed on. He just...slowed down a little. However, that just meant he found time for new bad habits.
And at the top of the list? Gambling. And since this is Edward VII we're talking about, it didn't take long before it got him into hot water.
Despite his frequent trips to Gai Paris, Edward had somehow managed to go a few years without a major public scandal—but all of that was about to change. In 1890, he joined a bunch of other upper-crust types at the home of one Arthur Wilson for some friendly, high-stakes baccarat. There were just two problems: First of all, the game was completely against the law to begin with. Second, Wilson caught one of Edward's friends, Sir William Gordon-Cumming, cheating.
This seems like child's play compared to the prince's usual "activities"—but this soon unraveled into one of the biggest scandals to rock the Royal Family in years.
Gordon-Cumming, like most people who get caught cheating, went on the offensive. He exploded on his accusers and demanded a retraction. Tempers flared, and the whole mess ended up going to court. This was bad enough for Edward, since everyone knew he was there that night, but it was about to get worse.
The court actually called Edward to testify, the first time any English court had called an heir to the throne to the stand in over 400 years.
In the end, the courts found Gordon-Cumming guilty of cheating. Victorians were weird, and they took things like that extremely seriously, so they kicked him out of the army and completely ostracized him from polite society. Meanwhile, the prince's reputation took a serious hit, and the public's opinion of him hit rock bottom.
But this was Prince Bertie we're talking about, the greatest charmer in all of England—the people weren't going to stay mad at him for long.
It seems like Edward never grew out of his "problem child" roots, so what happened when he had a problem child of his own? His eldest son, Prince Albert Victor, was next in line to the throne after Edward. It seems like the young prince took after his daddy, because when Albert Victor grew into a young man, rumors started swirling all around him too.
From wild affairs to male prostitution scandals to rumors that he was secretly Jack the Ripper, Prince Albert Victor managed to be nearly as scandalous as dear old dad—until the day tragedy struck.
Prince Albert Victor was only 27 years old and in the prime of his life when the Influenza Pandemic of 1889-92 ravaged England. Pandemics can prey upon rich and poor alike, and the strapping young prince fell victim to the disease. He passed from pneumonia on January 14, 1892, and Edward's heartbreaking letters reveal just how devastated he was.
Though the relationship between Edward and Queen Victoria had always been strained, the loss of Albert Victor at least brought them together for a time. In the days following Albert's passing, Edward wrote to his mother, "To lose our eldest son is one of those calamities one can never really get over...[I would] have given my life for him, as I put no value on mine."
For once, Edward and Victoria seemed to agree on something...
Between the loss of his son and the royal baccarat scandal, Edward seemingly put his womanizing aside for a time—but no amount of tragedy could get Edward to keep it in his pants for long. A few years later, he met Alice Keppel, a woman 26 years his junior. Even at 56 years old, Edward was still the same old scoundrel, and Keppel quickly became his mistress.
As we all know, Edward had had countless affairs by this point—but there was something special about Alice Keppel.
Keppel had at least one thing going for her in Edward's eyes: She was married, and clearly, the Prince was into that kind of thing. He started frequently visiting her at her home at 30 Portman Square. Her husband, for what it's worth, "conveniently" went out on the town whenever these visits occurred.
It must have been an awkward situation, to be sure, but at the very least, being Edward's mistress came with certain...advantages.
Edward tended to treat the women who shared his bed extremely well—often long after their affairs ended. He couldn't just flat out give Alice Keppel money from the Privy Purse, but instead, Edward gave her shares in a rubber company. She earned a cool £50,000 out of the deal—about $7.5 million today. Not too shabby.
Even her poor cuckolded husband got something out of the arrangement: Edward found him a new job with a way better salary. Hey, if it works for you, who am I to judge?
Edward VII enjoyed a good time more than just about anyone in England, and he didn't limit his indulgences to women. The Prince loved food as well, and reportedly ate five whole meals a day, most of them gluttonous, 10-course extravaganzas. And of course, he needed copious amounts of bordeaux and champagne to wash it all down with!
By the time he finally became king, Edward's waistline had ballooned to 48 inches. No wonder he needed that special chair!
Eating five different 10 course meals a day can't be healthy. Well, neither can going through 20 cigarettes and 12 cigars daily, but that didn't stop Edward! Maybe more than anyone else in history, Edward truly lived the motto: "We're here for a good time, not for a long time." But despite his rotundity and smoking like a chimney, Edward obviously never had trouble finding ladies.
No, the trouble came after he found them—as it did with the Lady Randolph Churchill, AKA Winston Churchill's mom.
Lady Randolph Churchill, known as Jennie to her friends, was no stranger to scandal. The same gossips who dished on Edward's many affairs had nearly as many stories about Jennie. It was only a matter of time before the two of them crossed paths. I would point out that Churchill was very much a married woman, but you and I both know that didn't really matter much.
Stop me if you've heard this one before: The gentleman husband comes home, only to find his wife alone in the company of the Prince of Wales. It happened with Sir Charles Mordaunt, and it happened with Lord Randolph. But that's not the only similarity. As with the Lady Mordaunt, Edward couldn't help but write Lady Randolph Churchill secret letters—and these ones were steamy.
First of all, Edward called Jennie "ma chere," and she affectionately called him "tum tum" in these letters. But that's not the scandalous part...
With the Victorians, you have to read between the lines. While a lot of them were freaks in the sheets, Edward especially, they would never be so bold as to be explicit in writing. That's why Edward's letters to Lady Randolph Churchill might not seem so crazy. So he would sometimes ask to visit her for "Japanese tea" and "entertainments," what's so wild about that?
Well, when you realize what he meant by "Japanese tea," you'll understand.
Edward definitely wasn't talking about green tea. For he and Jennie, "Japanese Tea" meant that she would serve him tea wearing nothing but a loose-fitting kimono. Three guesses as to what he meant by "entertainments."
Aside from Queen Victoria, almost everyone in England seemed to love Edward VII—but yet another scandal changed that. This one involved a love triangle. Daisy Greville was yet another of Edward's mistresses, but when she and the prince grew apart, she turned to his friend: Lord Charles Beresford. As affairs do (not every wife is as understanding as Princess Alexandra), things went south between them.
In the end, Edward involved himself in the whole mess, and he sided with Daisy. Obviously, this infuriated Beresford, and the dispute completely destroyed their once-close relationship. So there: The infinitely-likable Edward finally managed to make a single enemy. Congrats to him.
Edward's life was mostly affairs and scandal, but it wasn't entirely affairs and scandal. He also managed to find the time to deal with an assassination attempt. In 1900, a 15-year-old anarchist shot at him in a train station. But, befitting the amicable prince, even this attempt was pretty genial. The boy missed every single shot, causing no damage, and a jury ended up acquitting him because he was underage.
Nice and neat that one was! Good thing Edward dealt with it so quickly too, because less than a year later, Edward's life changed forever.
Dirty Bertie was the Prince of Wales for a long, long time. Queen Victoria was nothing if not resilient. But even Victoria couldn't live forever, and on January 22, 1901, she passed at 81 years old. Now, at the ripe old age of 60, he finally became King Edward VII, King of the United Kingdom and Emperor of India.
Victoria's worst fear had come true. Though their relationship had somewhat softened over the decades, she never quite got around to believing in her son. She spent her life assuming he'd make a terrible king—but Edward VII was full of surprises.
Edward VII's coronation went about exactly as you would expect: He invited several of his mistresses to attend, and even made sure the event organizers set aside a specific pew for "the King's special ladies." What, did you think becoming the King of England would change him? He just moved onto newer nicknames.
Dirty Bertie became "King Edward the Caresser" (a play on King Edward the Confessor), and our boy pretty much continued on with business as usual.
Queen Victoria never forgave her son for her husband's passing—so she couldn't see what was right in front of her: Scandals or not, Edward was one of the most popular men in England. The nation rejoiced when he became king. English writer J.B. Priestley even went as far as to call him "the most popular king England had known since the earlier 1660s."
And he did the people proud too: In the end, Victoria was wrong about her screw-up of a son.
As king, Edward finally earned a nickname that didn't sound seedy: People called him the Uncle of Europe because he was related to nearly every single monarch on the continent. He was a breath of fresh air after so many years of Victoria's stern and stuffy rule—but sadly, it didn't last long. Remember all those 10-course meals and stogies? Yeah, I think you can see where this is going...
Queen Victoria reigned for 63 years; Edward VII didn't even make it to 10. By 1909, his health began to fail. He fainted during a state visit to Berlin in 1909. He recovered, but this was just the start of his rapid decline. A year after that, he collapsed during a visit to France, and this time his condition was much more serious. And, because when it rains it pours, Edward's health troubles couldn't have come at a worse time.
England was in the midst of a constitutional crisis at the time of Edward's collapse. England had elected a Liberal government, but the staunchly conservative House of Lords refused to pass their budget. It was the kind of thing that needed Edward's complete attention, but the king was too sick to travel back to England. And, to make matters worse, his attendants kept news of his illness a secret, so everyone in England assumed he was just gallivanting off in France like the old days.
Well, they would learn the truth eventually.
Edward VII wasn't yet 70 years old, but his lifestyle had finally caught up to him. His health continued to get worse and worse, but contrary to what his mother believed, Edward took his role as king extremely seriously. On May 6, 1910, he suffered several heart attacks. His doctors tried to urge him to his bed, but he refused, saying, "No, I shall not give in; I shall go on; I shall work to the end."
And he did just that, because while he didn't realize it, the end was nigh.
Before long, Edward was too weak to stand. In a heartbreaking moment, his son George (the future King George V), tried to lift his spirits. George told him that his horse had won at Kempton Park earlier that afternoon. Edward faintly replied, "Yes, I have heard of it. I am very glad." Those were the last words he'd ever say.
Dirty Bertie. Edward the Caresser. King Edward VII. He passed on that night at 11:30 pm. He was 68 years old.
Queen Alexandra took over after Edward VII passed. She refused to allow anyone to move him for days after, though she allowed small groups of people to enter his room to pay respects. Finally, on May 11, she had her attendants dress Edward in his uniform and place him in a massive, custom-made coffin. Three days after that, she finally moved his body to the throne room to lie in state.
Strangely, Alexandra noted that Edward's body, now eight days cold, was still "wonderfully preserved." Good, I guess?
After lying in state for several days, Alexandra finally had attendants place Edward VII's remains on a carriage and began the long, sad walk to Westminster Hall, along with the rest of his family. But at least, to lighten the mood, Edward's favorite dog, an adorable Wire Fox Terrier named Caesar, trotted along beside them. The family remained for a short service before getting the heck out of there—because the floodgates were about to open.
Remember how I said Edward was one of the most popular kings in English history? When his funeral ended, attendants opened the hall to the public, and mourning crowds arrived in droves to pay their respects. Before Edward's burial, over 400,000 people filed past his coffin in just two days. The incorrigible prince turned beloved king was gone, and the people wanted to say goodbye.
When the Uncle of Europe passed, nearly every single monarch on the continent made the trip to pay their respects. One historian called the event, "the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last." After all, just a few short years later, WWI would tear Europe apart. Kingdoms fell, alliances broke, and Europe was never the same again.
In many ways, Edward VII's funeral was the day the old Europe disappeared for good.
We can't leave you without one final scandal. Edward would have it no other way! Many of Edward's mistresses wanted to say goodbye—but most of them did it with a lot more tact than Alice Keppel. When she heard that Edward was not long for this world, she dropped everything and ran to Buckingham Palace. When she arrived, she demanded entry, allegedly waving a letter from the king himself.
The guards relented and allowed Keppel inside—though I'm sure they would soon regret that decision.
Queen Alexandra handled her husband's end with dignity and grace. Keppel? Not so much. Completely unable to control herself, Keppel made such a scene that even the infinitely patient Alexandra had had enough. The Queen muttered, "Get that woman away," and had her guards take Keppel outside. Hey, what can we say, Edward had a certain effect on the ladies!
That was the end of Alice Keppel's time in the upper echelons of English society. Shockingly, Edward VII's son, the new King George V, didn't feel like having his dad's old mistress around and did not invite her to his new court. But, in a strange turn of events, Keppel did manage to find herself back with royalty...kind of.
Alice Keppel never returned to the English court, but guess who her great-granddaughter was? None other than the mistress, and eventual wife, of Prince Charles, Camilla Parker Bowles! Looks like old Chaz did his ancestor proud!
My mom never told me how her best friend died. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery.
Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.
I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. I knew that she was going to take it badly, but I had no idea about the insane lengths she would go to just to get revenge and mess with my life.
Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.
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