|Edward VII - to Camilla|
Edward was born Albert Edward the eldest son of Queen Victoria and her husband, Albert, and was always known to the family as Bertie. Prince Albert was a stellar representative of the German aristocracy of the time, which did nothing to ingratiate him with the English nobles. Albert believed in hard work, devotion to duty and avoidance of all things that could be considered temptation. Whereas his peers, the English noblemen, found it odd that he was constantly working and thinking of duty – never sitting back to relax and enjoy the pleasures that his birthright ensured him. Albert’s dismay with his eldest son and the English culture in general was summed up in this excerpt from a letter to his brother, Chancellor Metternich. ‘He has a curious nature. If he has no very great interest in things, he has more than enough in people. It is a trait which is very common in the royal family and which accounts for much of its popularity, but it is not without a distressing tendency for what is called here small talk.’
His mother thought little more of him and let her husband control their son’s day-to-day life. He seemed to be doing a good job until one day, while Bertie was studying at Cambridge, news arrived that he had placed a young woman there in a ‘very delicate situation’. Albert went to chastise his son in person, caught a chill and returned to Windsor Castle where he died shortly thereafter. Queen Victoria was never to forgive Bertie for ‘killing’ her beloved Albert. Her inability to forgive her son, her resolve to keep him in the dark with regard to the running of the country caused Bertie to form a ‘live for today’ attitude about life that further distanced him from his mother. He became famous for his sexual escapades and his series of mistresses.
According to the ‘Encyclopedia of Mistresses’ written by Dawn B. Sova Ph.D., the first of his acknowledged mistresses was Lillie Langtry. Lillie was a beautiful young woman from the island of Jersey who married the wealthy widower, Edward Langtry, to escape her home life. She found her marriage equally oppressive. After the artist John Everett Millais painted her in 1877, she became the world’s first ‘pin up’ girl. The Prince of Wales, Bertie, was so enchanted by the portrait that he invited Lillie to meet him. Thereafter, the couple spent much time together at the villa he had built for her. Lillie proved a very faithful mistress though Bertie was anything but. His most notable affair during this period was with Sarah Bernhardt. When the Prince decided he wanted out of the relationship, he helped Lillie establish herself as an actress - quite a successful one. Lillie went on to have affairs with George Baird, Scottish Millionaire, who reportedly paid her 5,000 pounds each time he beat her black and blue and Bertie’s nephew-in-law, Louis Battenburg (Mountbatten), father of Louis Mountbatten (Uncle Dickie) and Princess Alice of Greece, mother of Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, and great-uncle/mentor to Charles, the current Prince of Wales. Louis abandoned Lillie upon the birth of their daughter. She spent the last years of her life in a second unsuccessful marriage, traveling, funding public projects and even doing a bit of acting. At the time of her death in 1929 she was still considered a great beauty.
Sarah Bernhardt, another famous mistress of Bertie’s was born the illegitimate daughter of a Jewish milliner and a law student. Wanting more out of life, Sarah’s mother left her with a wet nurse and headed off to make money as courtesan (a high priced prostitute) all but abandoning her. As a matter of fact, when her wet nurse decided to remarry, she found Sarah’s mother had actually moved without leaving a forwarding address! As fate would have it, Sarah recognized her mother’s sister getting into a carriage one day with one of her ‘gentlemen’ and mother and daughter were reunited briefly before Sarah was sent off to school at a convent. When she was through with school she returned to her mother in France. She spent time with the colorful characters in mother’s life that convinced the melodramatic Sarah to become an actress. While acting in Spain she became the mistress of Prince Henri de Ligne of Belgium. His family convinced her that if Henri married a woman of her background, his life would be destroyed, as he would lose his title, his fortune and inheritance. She returned to her ill mother and gave birth to her only child, Maurice. She continued to be linked with rich and powerful men as her acting career soared. Bertie, a theater lover, became enthralled with Sarah. He would stop by the theater unannounced and would lavish her with jewels. She once convinced him to try acting and he made his debut/one-night-stand playing a corpse in a play in which she had the starring role. Bertie was a frequent guest in her home and the two became good friends as well as lovers from about the 1870’s through the 1890’s. She was one of the bevy of beauties seated in the King’s box at the Abbey during his coronation. Sarah died in 1923 when she was unable to recover from a fall that eventually mandated the amputation of almost her entire right leg. She continued acting until five days before her death when more than 30,000 mourners are said to have filed past her coffin to pay their respects.
Another of Bertie’s mistresses, whose life spilled over into the current monarchs, was Jennie Jerome, Lady Randolph Churchill. Her father, Leonard Jerome, over her mother’s objections, chose Jennie’s name after Jennie Lind a singer of the day. Leonard was a diplomat, who made a great fortune on Wall Street and was owner of the New York Times. Jennie was beautiful, bright and witty. She married the titled Randolph Churchill in 1874 and seven months later gave birth to their son, Winston, who later served his country in many capacities including Prime Minister under George VI and Elizabeth II. She was now in Bertie’s social circle and quickly became friends with him. She was soon sporting the expensive jewelry that he was known to give to women with whom he was intimate. Though their passions eventually cooled, they remained good friends throughout his life. Though Randolph died of syphilis in 1895, the still beautiful Jennie continued lead a colorful romantic life consisting of affairs and even marriages to men who were significantly younger than she. For example, in 1901 she married George Cornwallis-West who was only two weeks older than Winston and in 1918 she married Montagu Porch who was three years younger. Jennie was another of the bevy of beauties invited into the King’s box at the abbey during his coronation.
Though Bertie had many other mistresses in his lifetime, his final mistress is the most famous of all not only because she is rumored to be the only one that Queen Alexandra tolerated, but because her daughter, Sonia, is reported to be Edward VII’s daughter and Sonia is the great-grandmother of the mistress of the current Prince of Wales, Camilla Shand Parker-Bowles. Alice was born in Scotland to a titled family who was not wealthy. She married Colonel George Keppel in 1891 and gave birth to her first daughter, Violet, in 1894. Violet was to become more famous as the lover of writer Vita Sackville-West than for her own writing. Alice became Bertie’s mistress in 1898 and gave birth to her daughter, Sonia, in 1900. Alice was unique among mistresses as she was viewed as loyal to the king and with no agenda – not even a hidden one! It is said that she and her husband viewed her affair with the King as their duty to the crown and he was actually quite proud of the fact. Alice is also remembered for being good-natured with a deep, husky voice that the king found both soothing and seductive (like Camilla’s?). Though she was Bertie’s mistress for the final 12 years of his life, she supposedly did not influence any of his decisions, nor did she affect the fashion of the time. She spent her final years after 1910, the year of the King’s death, with her husband who died two weeks after she did in 1947.
Through Edward VII’s many mistresses he managed to change the strict protocol of the Victorian era, which stated people only left the class to which they were born with consequences. Edward, as his father noted, was very interested in people. He also took great interest in the arts and travel. This combination made him open to meeting people in all walks of life, from all sorts of backgrounds and also helped to make art more accessible to the masses that imitated his interest in it. He brought much color, pomp and circumstance back to the people who had missed the presence of their sovereign during Queen Victoria’s extensive mourning period. His love of people and travel also left a great legacy of alliances that proved vital during WWI. Most amazing, is how the mark of these personal relationships has been left on today’s royal family.