Edward VII (Albert Edward Wettin) (9 November 1841 - 6 May 1910) was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Sea and Emperor of India from 22 January 1901 until his death on 6 May 1910. He was the only British monarch of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. He also has the distinction of having been heir apparent to the throne longer than anyone in English or British history.
In 1905, Edward officially recognized the office of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He became the first British monarch to visit Russia (1907). Edward also played a role in the modernization of the Home Fleet and the reform of the Army Medical Services, after the Boer War.
King of the United Kingdom
of Great Britain and Ireland
The future King Edward VII was born at Buckingham Palace, the second child and the eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Christened Albert Edward at St. George's Chapel, Windsor on 25 January 1842, he was known as "Bertie" throughout his life. As the eldest son of a British Sovereign, he was automatically Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Lord of the Isles, and Baron Renfrew from birth. As a son of Prince Albert, he also held the titles of Prince of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and Duke of Saxony. Queen Victoria created her son Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester on 8 December 1841. He was created Earl of Dublin and a Knight of the Garter on 9 November 1853 and a Knight of the Thistle on 24 May 1867. In 1863, he renounced his succession rights to the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in favor of his younger brother, Prince Alfred, later Duke of Edinburgh.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert determined that their eldest son should have an education that would prepare him to a model constitutional monarch. At age seven, Bertie embarked upon a rigorous educational program under the supervision of several tutors devised by the Prince Consort. However, unlike his precocious elder sister, Victoria, Princess Royal, the Prince of Wales did not excel in his studies. He was not a diligent student and his true talents were those of charm, sociability, and tact. He tried to meet the unrealistic expectations of his parents, but to no avail.
The Prince of Wales hoped to pursue a career in the British Army, but this was denied him because he was heir to the throne. He did serve briefly in the Grenadier Guards in 1861, however, this was largely a sinecure. He was advanced from the rank of lieutentant to colonel in a matter of months. In October 1859, he matriculated as an undergraduate at Christ Church, University of Oxford. In 1861, he transferred to Trinity College, Cambridge, but he never received a degree. In his youth, he gained a reputation as a playboy. In December 1861, the Prince Consort died from typhoid two weeks after visiting the Prince of Wales at Cambridge; Prince Albert had reprimanded his son after the latter's affair with an actress became the subject of newspaper gossip. The Queen, who was inconsolable and wore mourning for the rest of her life, blamed the Prince of Wales for his father's death. She regarded him as frivolous, indiscreet, and completely unsuitable to undertake any responsibility.
Once widowed, Queen Victoria effectively withdrew from public life, but shortly after the Prince Consort's death, she arranged for her son to marry Princess Alexandra of Denmark, the stunningly beautiful elder daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark and his wife, the former Princess Louise of Hesse-Cassel. The couple wed at St. George's Chapel, Windsor on 10 March 1862. There was disapproval in certain circles, because most of Victoria's relations were German, and Denmark was at loggerheads with Germany over the territories of Schleswig and Holstein, and Victoria herself was in two minds as to whether it was a suitable match. After the couple's marriage, she expressed anxiety about their lifestyle, and attempted to dictate to them on various matters, including the names of their children. The Prince and Princess of Wales had three sons and three daughters in all:
- Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale (8 January1864-14 January 1892).
- King George V, (3 June 1865-20 January 1936); married HSH Princess Victoria Mary ("May") of Teck and had issue.
- Louise, Princess Royal (20 February 1867-4 January 1931), declared Princess Royal, 9 November 1905, m. Alexander Duff, 1st Duke of Fife; and had issue.
- Princess Victoria (6 July 1868-3 December 1935).
- Princess Maud (26 November 1869-20 November 1938) m. HRH Prince Carl of Denmark, afterwards King Haakon VII of Norway, and had issue.
- Prince John (6 April-6 April 1871).
When Queen Victoria died on 22 January 1901, Bertie became king. At the age of 59, he was the oldest man to ascend to the throne in British history. To the surprise of many, he chose to reign under the name Edward VII instead of Albert Edward I. The new King chose the name Edward since it had been borne by six of his predecessors and no English or British Sovereign had ever reigned under a double name. Edward VII and Queen Alexandra were crowned at Westminster Abbey on 9 August 1902.
Edward's main interests lay in the fields of foreign affairs, naval and military matters. Fluent in French and German, he made a number of visits abroad. One of his most important foreign trips was an official visit to France in spring 1903 as the guest of President Emilé Loubet. This visit helped create the atmosphere for the Anglo-French Entente Cordiale, an informal agreement delineating British and French colonies in North Africa. Signed by the French foreign minister, Theophile Delcassé, and the British foreign secretary, the Marquess of Lansdowne on 8 April 1904, the Entente marked the end of centuries of Anglo-French rivalry and Britain's "splendid isolation" from continental affairs.
Edward VII was related to nearly every other European monarch and came to known as the "uncle of Europe." The German Emperor Wilhelm II, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, King Alphonso XIII of Spain, and Carl Eduard, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha were Edward's nephews; King Haakon VII of Norway was his son-in-law; King George I of the Hellenes and King Frederick VIII of Denmark were his brothers-in-law; and King Albert I of Belgium, Manuel II of Portugal, King Ferdinand of Bulgaria, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, and Prince Ernst August, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, were his cousins. Edward's volatile relationship with his nephew, Wilhelm II, exacerbated the tensions between Germany and Britain in the decade before World War I.
In the last year of his life, Edward became embroiled in a constitutional crisis when the Conservative majority in the House of Lords refused to pass the "People's Budget" proposed by the Liberal government of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. The King died before the Liberal victory in the 1910 general election resolved the situation.
As king, Edward VII proved a greater success than anyone had expected, but he was already an old man and had little time left to learn the trade of kingship. He ensured that his own heir, who would become George V of the United Kingdom, was better prepared to take the throne. Edward VII is buried at St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. He was succeeded by his second son, George V.
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Edward's life was dramatized in the 1975 British television series Edward the Seventh, also known as Edward the King or The Royal Victorians, and starring Charles Sturridge as the adolescent Edward, Timothy West as the adult Edward and Annette Crosbie as Queen Victoria.