As the eldest son of the sovereign, Albert Edward was automatically Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay at birth, and a month later, he was created Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester. The prince was named Albert after his father and Edward after his maternal grandfather, Edward, Duke of Kent, however he was known as Bertie within the family. As a son of Prince Albert, Bertie also held the titles of Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Duke of Saxony, and stood in line to inherit the duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha as his uncle, Ernst, had no heirs. Since Bertie was already second in the line of succession to the British throne, he renounced his claims to the duchy to his brother, Alfred.
Queen Victoria and Albert were keen to give their son a solid education in preparation for his future role as king, however Bertie was not an adept student and his parents were disappointed. While Bertie had a series of tutors during his childhood, he later attended the University of Edinburgh for a year, then Christ Church, Oxford, and lastly, Trinity College, Cambridge. Away from the strict expectations of his parents, Bertie actually began to enjoy his lessons but it would be his romantic liaisons that would cause the most damage. When rumours surfaced the Prince of Wales was having a liaison with an actress, Nellie Clifden, his ailing father was sent to issue a reprimand. The Prince Consort died of typhoid just two weeks later and an inconsolable Queen Victoria blamed her son.
Queen Victoria arranged for Bertie to be sent on an extensive tour of the Middle East, visiting Egypt, Jerusalem, Damascus, Beirut and Constantinople. Meanwhile, the queen was searching for a suitable bride for him and her eldest daughter, Vicky, suggested the very beautiful Alexandra of Denmark. While the queen liked the idea, she was hesitant because Denmark was embroiled in a struggle with Prussia over the twin duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, and Alexandra would be marrying into a family whose loyalty lay with Germany. As it turned it out, Alexandra was the only suitable candidate and Vicky arranged a meeting for them when Bertie returned from his tour.
Bertie and Alexandra were married at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, on 10 March 1863, and they settled into Marlborough House, London, while Sandringham House in Norfolk became their country retreat. Although the marriage seemed happy enough, Bertie continued to see his numerous mistresses but Alexandra seems to have accepted it. Bertie’s more famous mistresses were: actress Lillie Langtry; Lady Randolph Churchill (the mother of Winston Churchill); Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick; actress Sarah Bernhardt; and Alice Keppel. One of Alice Keppel’s great-granddaughters, Camilla Parker Bowles, became the mistress and subsequent wife of Charles, Prince of Wales, one of Edward’s great-great-grandsons.
Queen Victoria never allowed her son to have an active role in the running of the country and she barred him from seeing the official documents she was sent from the government, however some ministers sent Bertie copies of dispatches in secret. Bertie’s relationship with his mother deteriorated when he insisted on siding with Denmark over the Schleswig-Holstein issue, mainly out of loyalty to his wife. However, when Bertie became seriously ill with typhoid in the winter of 1871, the queen was gravely concerned he would die like his father and there was much relief when he recovered.
On 26 September 1875, Bertie went on an eight month tour to India where he was dismayed to witness how badly the natives were being treated by British officials because of the colour of their skin. Lord Salisbury, the Secretary of State for India, was forced to issued new guidance as a result and at least one resident was removed from office. When Bertie returned home, Queen Victoria was given the title Empress of India due to the tour’s success.
Bertie and Alexandra had six children, however their last child, Alexander John, died a day after his birth and they would later lose their eldest son, Albert Victor, to influenza just weeks before he was due to marry Mary of Teck. The following year, Mary would marry Bertie’s second son, George, who was now behind his father in the line of succession. The Prince and Princess of Wales were devastated by the loss of Albert Victor and Bertie told his mother he would’ve happily traded his own life instead.
When Queen Victoria died on 22 January 1901, Bertie ascended the throne as Edward VII, eschewing his full name even though it had been his mother’s intention for him to rule with her beloved husband’s name. The use of Edward with the numeral VII caused problems in Scotland though as the previous Edwards had been English kings who had sought to vanquish Scotland, therefore the numeral was occasionally omitted north of the border. Edward’s coronation was scheduled for 26 June 1902, however it had to be postponed when the king developed appendicitis which was still a dangerous condition at that time. Unlike today, surgery was not the preferred option as there was a high risk of mortality, however Edward’s doctor performed a small incision to drain out the pus and the king duly recovered.
Edward was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 9 August 1902 and he began refurbishing the royal residences, as well as reintroducing the traditions his mother had foregone in her widowhood. Edward was also nicknamed the “uncle of Europe” as he was related to most of the European royal houses through his siblings and he didn’t hesitate in making personal visits. As has already been established, Edward was particularly dismayed by racial prejudice and he abhorred the racial slurs that were in common use at that time. The king wasn’t shy about airing his opinions and his outlook went along way to increasing tolerance during his reign.
Edward’s reign was never destined to be a long one since he had succeeded late in life but his heavy smoking began to take a toll on his health as he suffered from frequent bouts of bronchitis. In March 1910, Edward collapsed while on holiday in Biarritz and he decided to stay longer to convalesce, however when he returned the following month, he was still visibly ill. Queen Alexandra, who was visiting her brother in Greece, was told the king was seriously ill and she immediately returned to be with him.
The day after Alexandra returned home, Edward suffered a series of heart attacks but he refused to go to bed. Later in the evening, the king lost consciousness and died fifteen minutes later. Alexandra refused permission for Edward’s body to moved from his bed for eight days, but she did allow people to pay their respects. The king was buried on 20 May 1910 at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.
Edward was the longest-serving heir apparent in British history until he was surpassed by his great-great-grandson, Prince Charles, on 20 April 2011. Edward was also the longest serving Prince of Wales (59 years and 45 days) until he was surpassed by Charles on 9 September 2017.