This richly entertaining biography chronicles the eventful life of Queen Victoria's firstborn son, the quintessential black sheep of Buckingham Palace, who matured into as wise and effective a monarch as Britain has ever seen. Read more...
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This richly entertaining biography chronicles the eventful life of Queen Victoria's firstborn son, the quintessential black sheep of Buckingham Palace, who matured into as wise and effective a monarch as Britain has ever seen. Granted unprecedented access to the royal archives, noted scholar Jane Ridley draws on numerous primary sources to paint a vivid portrait of the man and the age to which he gave his name.
Born Prince Albert Edward, and known to familiars as "Bertie," the future King Edward VII had a well-earned reputation for debauchery. A notorious gambler, glutton, and womanizer, he preferred the company of wastrels and courtesans to the dreary life of the Victorian court. His own mother considered him a lazy halfwit, temperamentally unfit to succeed her. When he ascended to the throne in 1901, at age fifty-nine, expectations were low. Yet by the time he died nine years later, he had proven himself a deft diplomat, hardworking head of state, and the architect of Britain's modern constitutional monarchy.
Jane Ridley's colorful biography rescues the man once derided as "Edward the Caresser" from the clutches of his historical detractors. Excerpts from letters and diaries shed new light on Bertie's long power struggle with Queen Victoria, illuminating one of the most emotionally fraught mother-son relationships in history. Considerable attention is paid to King Edward's campaign of personal diplomacy abroad and his valiant efforts to reform the political system at home. Separating truth from legend, Ridley also explores Bertie's relationships with the women in his life. Their ranks comprised his wife, the stunning Danish princess Alexandra, along with some of the great beauties of the era: the actress Lillie Langtry, longtime "royal mistress" Alice Keppel (the great-grandmother of Camilla Parker Bowles), and Lady Randolph Churchill, mother of Winston.
Edward VII waited nearly six decades for his chance to rule, then did so with considerable panache and aplomb. A magnificent life of an unexpectedly impressive king, "The Heir Apparent" documents the remarkable transformation of a man--and a monarchy--at the dawn of a new century.
Praise for" The Heir Apparent"
"Superb."--"The New York Times Book Review" (Editors' Choice)
"So often, after finishing a great slab of a biography, one feels a weary disenchantment with the project and its subject. Not in this case. I closed "The Heir Apparent" with admiration and a kind of wry exhilaration. If it was an overdose, it was an overdose of champagne."--"The Wall Street Journal"
"If "The Heir Apparent"] isn't "the "definitive life story of this fascinating figure of British history, then nothing ever will be."--"The Christian Science Monitor"
"Ridley is a serious scholar and historian who keeps Bertie's flaws and virtues in fine balance."--"The Boston Globe"
""The Heir Apparent" is smart, it's fascinating, it's sometimes funny, it's well-documented and it reads like a novel, with Bertie so vivid he nearly leaps from the page, cigars and all. From the first page, Ridley drew me into the story of (let's face it) someone I wasn't particularly interested in. Know an Anglophile? Buy them this book."--Minneapolis "Star Tribune""
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-09-23
- Reviewer: Staff
After researching in the royal archives at Windsor Palace for more than five years, Ridley, a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and professor of history at Buckingham University, wove together this marvelously rich biography of Edward VII (1841–1910). Called Bertie by his family, Edward’s inner life is teased out by Ridley through the correspondence of those around him. The resulting portrait is remarkably thorough, quite a feat considering the bulk of information that comes from the colossal, dramatic, and one-sided diaries and letters of Bertie’s mother, Queen Victoria (1819–1901). Victoria more often than not disapproved of Bertie and the archives reveal that this neglected child was driven by the need to be worthy of his parents. Continually dismissed, he becomes a closed-off youth, taking great joys where he could find them—far away from Victorian respectability. Ridley shows that for as much as Bertie is portrayed as a slovenly gambler and womanizer, by the time he ascended to the throne in 1901, at age 59, he had matured to play a significant role in reforming Britain’s monarchy. Readers both general and specialized will delight in Ridley’s work; it raises the bar for royal biographies to come. (Dec.)
Bad boy Bertie, the King of England
Anyone who feels a bit sorry for Prince Charles because he has been opening flower shows for decades while his mother reigns as queen should consider the case of his ancestor: Britain was very lucky indeed that Albert Edward, eldest son of Queen Victoria, inherited the throne when he was nearly 60 instead of, say, when he was 30.
As a young man, King Edward VII, known to family and friends as “Bertie,” was a gambler, glutton and womanizer. He was hardly a saint when he became king in 1901, but he had matured into a better man by then, and was a surprisingly good monarch.
Historian Jane Ridley was given unrestricted access to Bertie’s papers and has used them to produce a marvelously comprehensive and witty biography, The Heir Apparent.
Ridley acknowledges that she found it “hard to warm” to the young Bertie. His bad behavior was explicable enough: His royal parents were brutally hard on him, always carping and disappointed. His subsequent rebellion was almost a given. But the details of his scandals still make for shocking reading.
At his best, Bertie was affable, cosmopolitan and had an unerring instinct for saying the right thing. He was a generous and loyal friend to his former girlfriends—as long as they kept their mouths shut. But when they threatened public scandal, he sent in the heavies to intimidate and smear them. Ridley recounts episode after ugly episode.
Then, against all odds, he became a responsible king, usually more sensible than his prime ministers. Those prime ministers subsequently badmouthed him, downplaying his contributions. Ridley cuts through the politicians’ betrayals to show that the king was a moving force behind the Entente Cordiale with France and Russia, and did his best to deter his volatile nephew Kaiser Wilhelm from belligerence.
Even more importantly, Ridley argues, King Edward came to terms with the modern constitutional monarchy in a way Queen Victoria never did. He influenced but did not take sides. He put on a unifying public pageant without ever pretending that the Royal Family epitomized middle-class values. Some of his descendants might take note.