Edward VII

Edward VII (1841-1910) was king of Great Britain and Ireland from 1901 to 1910. His short reign was marked by peace and prosperity.

Born on Nov. 9, 1841, at Buckingham Palace, Edward VII was the eldest son of Victoria and Albert. Bertie, as he was nicknamed, proved unresponsive to the elaborate educational scheme his parents imposed. He gained command of German and French, some skill in public speaking, and little else. Beginning in 1859, he attended Christ Church, Oxford, for four terms, interrupted by an American tour in 1860. Formal schooling ended in 1861 at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Dismayed by what Queen Victoria called "Bertie's fall," which occurred with an actress in Ireland in 1861, his parents considered travel and an early marriage the best remedy. Discussion of Princess Alexandra, whose father was heir to the Danish throne, as a suitable bride preceded the Prince Consort's death in 1861. After a trip to the Holy Land, Edward married Alexandra at Windsor on March 10, 1863.

Despite Victoria's early determination to initiate Edward into affairs of state, she withheld the key to Foreign Office boxes during his long tenure as Prince of Wales because of his indiscretion. Edward's imprudence persisted during his exclusion from apprenticeship: he had to testify in the Mordaunt divorce case (1870); he was deeply involved in the Aylesford scandal (1876); and the Tranby Croft affair (1891) brought him to court again, this time as a witness to cheating at baccarat. Understandably, the tone of the prince's set alarmed the Queen and offended nonconformist consciences. But his hearty self-indulgence had an appeal transcending classes. As a winner at the racecourse and as an arbiter of taste, the prince was genuinely popular. The European web of dynastic marriages familiarized Edward with other royalties. He relished the spectacular state visits required by British diplomacy, but he did not make foreign policy.

When he succeeded to the throne on the death of Victoria in 1901, Edward was a portly, balding, bearded figure. He created the Order of Merit and introduced automobiles as royal transport. Edward supported Lord Fisher's naval reforms and Lord Haldane's reorganization of the army, but he was not as close to any ministers as Queen Victoria had been to Lord Melbourne and Benjamin Disraeli. The great constitutional crisis of his reign— whether to promise the Liberal ministry a creation of peers sufficient to overcome the Tory majority in the House of Lords, and, if so, on what conditions—was unresolved at his death. Edward VII died of bronchitis followed by heart attacks on May 6, 1910, and he was interred at Windsor.

Further Reading on Edward VII

Sir Sidney Lee, King Edward VII: A Biography (2 vols., 1925-1927), may be supplemented by Philip Magnus, King Edward the Seventh (1964). For the flavor of Edward's reign see S. Nowell-Smith, ed., Edwardian England, 1901-1914 (1964).

Additional Biography Sources

Pearson, John, Edward the rake: an unwholesome biography of Edward VII, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975.

St. Aubyn, Giles, Edward VII, Prince and King, New York: Atheneum, 1979.

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