That Edward VII was unfaithful to his long-suffering wife, Alexandra of Denmark, is undeniable, but despite how poor his reputation is, there is actually a surprising dearth of information on who, when and where. Edward, or Bertie as he is better known (his given name was Albert Edward), maintained a coterie of female companions, but who actually rose to the level of mistress is debatable. Among the most famous of these women is Alice Keppel.
It’s fitting to acknowledge Maud of Wales this winter as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge prepare to visit Oslo for the first two days of February. The Norwegian Royal Family is an interesting one, and while we’ve acknowledged them in passing here on this site, we’ll follow up with a more in-depth look later this month in preparation of the tour. In the meantime, it’s worth taking a look at the familial ties between Norway and Britain thanks to the marriage of Edward VII’s youngest daughter.
George V ascended the throne following the death of his father, Edward VII, on May 6, 1910. Though the royal house was still branded “Saxe-Coburg-Gotha” and not yet Windsor, his reign was a remarkable step towards modernity and away from the stifling Victorian atmosphere that had so defined his grandmother’s reign. George and his wife, Mary of Teck, had long established themselves as not only reliable members of the Royal Family, but two who didn’t put much stock in formality or ceremony. While Edward VII had never allowed guests to sit while he was standing or retire to bed before he and his wife, Alexandra, George quickly did away with such practices, instilling a more “country home” environment into his residences.
And while his father had always kept a close eye on the machinations of Western Europe, tied so tightly to the family thanks to the intermarrying of cousins, George was more concerned with the longevity and health of the British Empire. It was from these instincts that he hashed out a plan to follow up his coronation in Westminster Abbey with one in Delhi and a royal tour to each of his dominions. As Prince of Wales, he had conducted a successful tour of India in 1904, while his father had made a similar trek in the 19th century. Indeed, it was only Queen Victoria, the first British Empress of India, who never made the journey.
The brief relationship between Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Mary of Teck is a nice little tale of what could have been, except that how events unfolded was better for all. Albert Victor was the eldest son of the Prince and Princess of Wales, and, as such, second-in-line to the throne on which his grandmother, Queen Victoria, sat. Born two months prematurely on January 8, 1864, he grew into a young man of questionable virtue and value, a fact which opened the opportunity for a penniless young woman with fading ties to the British monarchy to find herself primed to become the UK’s next queen consort.
Queen Victoria is rightfully known as the “Grandmother of Europe” thanks to how many of her descendants found themselves on European thrones by the dawn of World War I. The role of her junior male counterpart rightfully belongs to King Christian IX of Denmark. Less well-known than his British peer, four of Christian’s six children would end up crowned heads, while the remaining two played equally as important roles in the makeup of Western Europe as it careened into the 20th century.
If there was one element that impacted the psychological makeup of Edward VII more than any other it was the fact that he was a disappointment to his parents, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. That’s not conjecture – it was something they took pains to verbalize to him, write to him and discuss about him to others. His complete and total failure to meet their exacting and lofty standards for a perfect prince and heir was so plainly understood by the entire Royal Family and the Queen’s government that it practically howls off the historical record.
Some of Queen Victoria’s children are burned into history books via their dynastic importance. Others are referenced as mere links between Britain and the continent, becoming the parents of later European rulers who were key to World War I. The middle of these nine children, Princess Helena, was not one such person. To me, she stands out as the child who looks the most like her mother.
A month ago I wrote a post about Edward VII and Alexandra of Denmark where I pointed out similarities between the two of them and the current Prince of Wales and his late ex-wife, Diana. There was one bizarre coincidence, however, which I forgot to highlight: one of Edward VII’s best-known mistresses was Alice Keppel, who happens to be the great-grandmother of none other than Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. Given the similarities between Diana and Queen Alexandra, and Camilla’s direct descent from Mrs. Keppel, the whole thing does feel a bit like a historical wink.
This is surprisingly apropos of the ongoing royal visit to Italy because today Camilla brought up her regret that her mother sold a villa in Florence once owned by Alice and Camilla has girlhood memories of playing there. She revealed to reporters covering the tour that she hoped to buy it back someday and leave it to her grandchildren.
Louise has always been my second-favorite of Queen Victoria’s daughter (the first being Vicky) and all of her daughters hold a special place in my heart since they’re some of the first figures in British history in which I became interested. I still distinctly remember reading Jerrold M. Packard’s book on all of them for first time when I was about 10 and it’s been re-read many times since. The length of their mother’s reign and the unprecedented change that Western Europe went through over the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century put them at the epicenter of the dramatically changing role that Europe’s Royal Families held (if they made it through without being abolished). Indeed, many of Queen Victoria’s daughters would make dynastically significant marriages, their own children ruling or taking places of prominence at courts around the globe.
Louise wouldn’t be one of them, but her uniqueness in shying away from that fate, frankly, makes her interesting.
There have been comparisons made between Edward VII and Queen Alexandra of Denmark to Prince Charles and the late Diana, Princess of Wales. Like Charles, Edward, or Bertie as he was known intimately, found himself waiting for the throne far longer than anticipated. Both men are the eldest sons of monarchs with the longest-running reigns in British history, Elizabeth II only having surpassed Queen Victoria in 2015.
Both men had to create some semblance of a life for themselves from within a role that dictated and entitled them to nothing, while still constricting their movements and options. Setting aside fortune, it’s service with tepid reward. Both men caused embarrassment to the monarchy with their personal lives. And both men showed themselves quite capable of rising to the occasion, showing an astute comprehension of what skills they brought to the table and how best to wield them.