Sunday, 13 June 2010

All About Bertie - Part II

This is the second part of the post that began here. It’s from the notes I took while watching a programme about Edward, Prince of Wales, on BBC’s iPlayer.

One forgets that royal have a difficult balancing act between a) being God’s chosen with all the rights and entitlements thereof, and b) staying reasonably popular with the general population to avoid being beheaded. The programme said that Victoria and Albert took their rigid moral stance on life as a reaction to the unhappiness of their respective childhoods, which they attributed to the sexual antics of their parents. Nobody was apparently faithful to their partners and it all got rather sloppy and embarrassing. 

I gather that the common folk were happier that their royal family was above all that stuff, though the Victorian era is remembered as much for its hypocrisy and the ridiculousness of keeping a table’s legs covered, lest one be perceived as lewd. In any case, the straight-laced approach was good PR. However, when Victoria hid herself away in prolonged mourning for Albert, for pretty much the rest of her life, she was seen as selfish and lazy. The monarchy was becoming quite unpopular. Here they were, drawing a salary and doing nothing to earn it!

So, Bertie got out and opened hospitals, gardens, shopping malls, etc. He did all the showy, flashy, public activities like riding around in his fantastic State coach, that the royal family do today. They seemingly take their ‘public work’ quite seriously these days. Bertie didn’t know much about running the country – he’d never been allowed to learn -- but his social life had kept him informed about what went on. He knew about the problems with his nephew, Kaiser Wilhelm, and he knew enough to urge the navy to build new ships. Sensing that war was imminent, he went to France to find an ally.

The French were no respecters of aristocracy and they were very rude to him. The powers that be had no time for him. However, being Bertie, he went to the theatre to enjoy himself. As it happened, at the intermission he engaged in conversation with a then-famous French actress, kissing her hand and commenting on the last time he saw her perform and how wonderful she was. This somehow broke the ice. Bertie was known for his love of Paris and the fact that the parts he loved most were the brothels and the bars bothered the French not the least. He must have been very charming, as this event seemed to turn the tide in his favour. His visit was said to have secured the support of the French against the Germans. 

Given the intermarriage of royalty, Bertie was known as the "Uncle of Europe".  His son-in law was King Haakon of Norway.  Amongst his nieces were Victoria Eugenie, Queen consort of Spain; Alexandra, Tsarina of Russia; and Marie, Queen consort of Romania.  His brothers-in-law included King George I of Greece and Frederick VIII of Denmark.  The Kings Bulgaria, Portugal and Belgium were his cousins.  The German Kaiser Wilhelm was his nephew.  In spite of the fact that he'd not been considered particularly intelligent and although he'd not been given much practice in political affairs during his mother's lifetime, he had lots of contacts and he was a good diplomat.
Another way in which Bertie made himself memorable is that he made Buckingham the Palace that it is today. Apparently in Victoria’s day it was very dark and fusty, full of junk and clutter, not very grand at all. Bertie cleared away that that fustiness and instigated the light, elegant airy décor that Buckingham now enjoys.

A charmer with good taste though he was, Bertie ate way too much and far too often. He was fat and unhealthy. He smoked cigars and had emphysema. Bertie died in 1910 after not even a decade on the throne, at the age of 68. Alexandra’s grief was overwhelming. She wouldn’t let them remove his body. She said it was the first time she’d ever had him to herself! Even then, it was decided that Bertie would lie in state for 8 days. His popularity with the public was such that the queue of people waiting to pay their respects was 7 miles long.  His funeral was one of the largest assemblies of European royalty ever to take place

I like to think that though his parents didn’t seem to love him very much, he managed to make up for that during his adult life.


Toad said...

One of my favorite London shops is Bentleys. Bertie is their charming mascot.

Cigar smoking, fat men should get more respect.

Pauline Wiles said...

Wow, what a character.
Can't help but feel immensely sorry for Alexandra.