The Heir Apparent: A Life Of Edward VII, The Playboy Prince, by Jane Ridley
This book was not an officially sanctioned royal history, but it certainly offers a highly flattering picture of King Edward VII in such a way that provides him with some surprising support given his reputation. The author not only provides a sympathetic look at Edward VII’s long struggle to find something productive to do in Britain’s constitutional monarchy but also seeks to plumb the depths and origins of the disconnect between Edward’s behavior and his reputation. The author is particularly hard on Albert and Victoria as parents, which makes this book a part of the overall debate on Victoria’s reign and the question of the place of the British monarch within the political system of their constitutional monarchy, in which Edward VII plays a surprising role both in his conduct as crown prince and titular heir apparent and in his brief reign as a king, which ended during the crisis of the House of Lords losing its veto power over a budget dispute with liberals where the prerogative of the Lords was finished thanks to the impatience over democratic power in an England that was decisively turning against the past.
This book is about 600 pages long and is divided into three parts. After a family tree of Edward VII and his wife Alexandra as well as an introduction, this book begins with nine chapters that talk about Edward VII’s youth (I), starting with his parents’ marriage (1) as well as Edward’s childhood as a strange boy (2) and his early encounter with the lures of the flesh (3), his fall into disgrace (4), his marriage (5), his struggle in dealing with the view that he was unfit to ever become king (6), his wife’s health struggles (7), his establishment of Marlborough House and his relations with Harriett Mordaunt (8), and the horrible year of 1870-1871 (9). After that the author discusses his expanding middle as an heir apparent (II), with chapters on his political resurrection (10), his time in India (11), the Aylesford Scandal (12), his relationship with Lillie Langtry (13), his political apprenticeship (14), his reputation as Prince of Pleasure (15), his dealings with his nephew Wilhelm (16), more scandal (17), his struggle against his nemesis in the early 1890’s (18), his relationship with Daisy Warwick (19), and his understanding that everyone is in God’s hands as he dealt with assassination attempts as his mother grew old and frail (20). Finally, the book concludes with his time as king (III), with a look at his reputation as the Caresser (21), his rise in reputation due to his savvy (22), his time as peacemaker (23), his role as uncle of Europe (24), his crankiness as he aged (25), his careful dealing with a political crisis (26), and this his period as the people’s king just before dying (27), after which the book concludes, provides an afterword about Bertie’s relationship with biographers, as well as the usual acknowledgments, notes, and index.
In reading this book I had some reason to be empathetic towards Edward VII, and that is not something I thought I would be able to have towards someone like that. Edward VII had to deal with an abusive father and was consistently misunderstood and even had people seeking to minimize his role in history to make him seem like a more marginal person than he was. And the author manages to draw a great deal of compassion and even empathy for Edward VII without minimizing his flaws of character, only pointing out that while he was not a particularly good husband to his wife Alix, who was deaf for many years and thus unable to participate in the sort of witty conversation he most appreciated, his womanizing and predation were not quite at the levels that he was thought to be at, even if he certainly did behave in rather unwise ways and some of his habits, including gluttony and smoking, did his health no favors and did not give him the sort of long life that may have ensured the domestic tranquility of Great Britain to a greater extent than ended up being the case. This is a book that not only illuminates a historical figure but also points one to the possibilities that would have existed had he lived longer or been able to have a more open place in Britain before his mother’s death.