Saturday, 12 June 2010

All About Bertie - Part I

Here is another of the wonderful shows we watched one evening on BBC’s iPlayer. I love history, so that’s always the first category I search. This programme was about the eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who became Edward VII. No doubt most adults in the Western world have encountered some story about the exploits of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales – AKA Bertie. I certainly had, but I was ready to hear more!

Victoria and Albert were very strict parents and as heir to the throne Bertie had to be ‘trained’. This training involved keeping him busy with a schedule of improving activities that lasted from early morning through to the evening. When he got older he rebelled hard. Sadly, his parents openly referred to him as stupid and stubborn, undisciplined and foolish. 

As a young man, Bertie was sent off to military school where some of his fellow students sneaked a girl into Bertie’s room and he discovered sex. His father learned about this and, being a rigid, straight-laced type, Albert was extremely shocked by Bertie’s behaviour. It was almost immediately after this event that Albert contracted and died typhoid. Typhoid is a form of salmonella food poisoning and is no way related to emotional upset. Nevertheless, Victoria blamed Bertie for Albert’s death – when she wasn’t blaming Albert for being weak and ‘giving up’. She hardly spoke to him for the rest of her life.

Bertie was denied any serious involvement in state affairs and so made pleasure his business, scheduling social events to keep himself very busy. He spent a lot of time in Paris, and was particularly well known in the brothels and bars. Victoria married him off to Alexandra, a Danish princess. 

Alexandra adored Bertie, and though he loved her, he was by then addicted to pleasure – which meant other women and lots of them. 

 Lily Langtry had his attention for a while 

but his true love was Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick (who inspired the song, Daisy, Daisy)

 According to the programme, his infatuation with Daisy was so great that his wife, Alexandra, for a while left the court and spent time with her family in Denmark.   She did return, however and oddly enough, Bertie and Alex were considered to have had a 'happy' marriage.

Although it was not unusual for women to have affairs with a man higher up the social scale, with the knowledge of their husband, because it could improve the scoial standing of the husband, Berties involvement with women did occasionally put him at risk of being named in divorce suits.  Like Daisy, not all women only had affairs with Bertie and it all got a bit confused at times.  One of his lady friends, Harriett Sarah Moncrieffe, got herself in real trouble, became pregnant by a man other than her husband and then confessed all.  Bad move.  Her husband divorced her and the family was so horrified at the embarrassment that they decided she must be mad. I find it incredibly chilling to consider her punishment for getting pregnant: they sent her to an insane asylum for the rest of her life! She died 36 years later. Her husband took a second wife a couple of years after obtaining his divorce; he was 42, his new wife was 16.  Charming.  I’m told that this fate was not unusual, for unwed mothers or adulterous wives to be declared ‘morally insane’. 

Soon after Alexandra returned to Britain, along came Mrs. Keppel

who seems to have pretty much been given the role of a second wife and Alexandra appears to have become resigned to the situation. Mrs. Keppel’s great-granddaughter, Camilla, of course did rather better for herself, actually marrying the present Prince of Wales, albeit as a second wife and after a great deal of drama and tragedy.

When Queen Victoria finally fell off her perch after a 63  year reign, Bertie finally got the job he’d been waiting for.  In fact, his was the longest ever term as heir-apparent. When you think about it, it is rather odd being in the position of tapping your foot impatiently for your parent to die so you can take their job; then to have your child do the same with you. Not very nice, is it? Any how, it was noted at the coronation that he had all his women gathered together in one place, together to watch him being crowned. 

Even before the coronation, however, he began to assert his authority. For example, when the ship brought Victoria back from Isle of Wight where she died, the captain had the ship’s flag at half mast. When Bertie asked why, the captain replied, “Because the Queen is dead”. Bertie had the flag raised back up, “Because the King lives!”  

I say, well done, him!

to be continued…


James said...

Extremely fascinating ! I did not know that the current Mrs Prince of Wales was the great granddaughter of one of Prince Ailbert's girls. Thank you for a great post.

Pauline Wiles said...

Much more interesting than the history they made us wade through at school!
All rather sad, by modern standards, but you're right, hanging around waiting for a parent to die before you can start 'work' isn't much fun, regardless of the offspring's disposition.