I once heart Jane Ridley talking in a BBC programme about Bertie and I was already taken by this. Often when reading this excellent book I heart Jane Ridley talking.
In my view it the the best account of Edwards VII' s life. She puts things more into persepctive. In the many biographies on Queen Victoria Bertie has a very difficult stand. Here things are looked at from his perspective. But be very clear: that is not at all a whitewash. Jane Ridley is not blind to his failings and flaws of his personality. Far from it. She is open in her assessments.I do not share all of them. But she offers them to the reader and one can draw one's own conclusion. One learns a hell of a lot about the whole period, his position in the family, his relationships, his views and his politics.
And on top: it is superbly written, very entertaining, but never shallow. I just wish every biography would be like this. Many thanks Jane Ridley for this book!
Professor Ridley has written a fascinating book about Bertie-one of the most besmirched kings of England. Contrary to popular belief, which regarded the king as an immature playboy Ridley makes it clear that Bertie, who was much disliked by his mother Queen Victoria, was a much better king than many others and played a very active role after he became king in 1901. True, as Ms. Ridley points out, Bertie was involved in many scandals which threatened the monarchy. However, Bertie matured in his thirties and this fact in itself led to a change in his Weltanschaaung. The book is excellent because it has many and unknown facts about Bertie. This was possible due to the fact that the author had unlimited access to hitherto thousands of unpublished or censored documents and letters-a thing she explains in a long chapter at the very beginning of the book. Bertie is portrayed as a multi-dimensional character and so are the other personae that played a substantial part in his life, especially his neglected and much-suffering deaf wife Alix, who put up with her husband's eccentricities. How the various historians saw and depicted Bertie is the subject of yet another interesting chapter in this biography which should be regarded as one of the best books of 2012. Highly entertaining and highly recommended for professional historians and history buffs as well!
When Queen Victoria died on 22 January 1901, she was succeeded by her son Bertie, Prince of Wales - he was 59 years of age. He reigned as King Edward VII until 6 May 1910. Expectations of King Edward VII were low: his favourite pursuits were gambling, racing, seduction and shooting and his life to that point had been self-indulgent and scandal-ridden. It looked like Queen Victoria's verdict was correct: `Bertie (I grieve to say) shows more and more how totally, totally unfit he is for ever becoming king.'
By the time of his death, Bertie had proven himself a capable king. King Edward VII worked hard, and demonstrated his diplomatic skills. In 1904 he was largely responsible for the Entente Cordiale with France, which provided Britain with an ally in Europe. In 1909 at the height of a constitutional crisis over the Parliament Act (which, when passed in 1911, deprived the House of Lords of its absolute veto on legislation), he was described by Prime Minister Asquith as being `a very good listener and quite a clever man'.
Albert Edward, the second of Victoria and Albert's nine children, was born on 9 November 1841. He was known as Bertie within the family throughout his life. Victoria disliked him, and he did not win Albert's approval. He was not regarded as being intelligent - a phrenologist said his skull showed signs of abnormality - , and his childhood (as depicted by Ms Ridley) was awful. The discovery of Bertie's first escapade with a woman was followed by his father's fatal illness, and it seems that Victoria never forgave him for this.
His marriage (in March 1863) to Princess Alexandra of Denmark proved fruitful (they had six children) but he continued to have affairs throughout his marriage. By the end of his life, Bertie appears as a conscientious and hardworking king. He was uncle to both the German Kaiser and the Russian Tsar, and worked hard behind the scenes to try to maintain peace in Europe.
I found this biography interesting: I'd previously only read about the scandalous aspects of Bertie's life (the mistresses and the self-indulgent lifestyle). This book sets a framework for his life and a context for his actions. It seems to me that as king he did the best job he could in the circumstances.
Professor Jane Ridley began work on this superb biography in 2003; her original idea, she tells the reader, was to write a short life of Edward VII, focusing on his relations with women: with his mother, Queen Victoria; with his sisters; with his wife, Queen Alexandra; and, not forgetting, his relationships with his mistresses - he was, after all, nicknamed 'Edward the Caresser'. However, Ms Ridley was then granted unrestricted access to the papers of King Edward VII in the Royal Archives, so her intended short life was set aside and she spent the next five years on her research for a much longer and more detailed biography. In her introduction, the author explains that although Bertie (the author refers to her subject throughout this biography as Bertie) guarded his private life very closely and, in his will, ordered that all his letters were to be destroyed, she was able to track down a substantial number of letters that have been preserved, and these letters alongside the papers in the archives and diary entries, have enabled Ms Ridley to write this impressive and very entertaining biography which not only reveals new information, but gathers together and reappraises what is already known about Edward VII.
Therefore, as we read through the 600 pages of this book, we learn about the difficult relationship Bertie had with his mother, Queen Victoria, and also with his father, Prince Albert; we learn of how Queen Victoria unfairly blamed Bertie for the death of Prince Albert who became ill after discovering Bertie's liaison with a woman of ill repute; we read of Bertie's marriage to the beautiful (and later, the long-suffering) Princess Alexandra of Denmark; of Bertie's constant philandering and of his relationships with his mistresses - who included Lillie Langtry, Jennie Churchill and Alice Keppel; and we learn of how Queen Victoria held onto her power and thought her eldest son was "totally unfit...for ever becoming King." We also read of when, eventually, he became King at the age of 59, he felt that it had come too late; however, we also learn that by the end of his short reign, Bertie - who understood the importance of public relations and was able to use his diplomatic skills to good effect both at home and abroad - was a surprisingly good king and, as the author comments in her 'Conclusion', Bertie grew up in his middle years; he was the first truly constitutional king, he understood and adapted to the changing role of monarchy and, in so doing, he modernised the monarchy and made it stronger. Ms Ridley also comments that after Bertie's death in 1910: "No one could have foreseen that the spoiled young prince of fifty years before - the son whose accession Queen Victoria dreaded - would have been universally mourned."
This is a brilliant, assiduously researched and richly detailed biography which is not only both scholarly and accessible, but also very entertaining to read and where Bertie, in his private and public role, almost leaps from the pages. The author's introduction is particularly interesting, especially when she describes how her impression of King Edward VII changed during the course of writing her biography and how her research revealed that, in contrast to the conventional view that Edward VII played a marginal part in the turbulent politics of his reign, his intelligence and achievements have been consistently under-estimated and he was, in fact, effective and politically astute and he excelled as a diplomat. Ms Ridley continues by commenting that, rather to her surprise, she found herself writing a revisionist account of the reign and that she came to respect and admire Bertie - as I imagine will many readers as they learn more about him during the course of reading this book. This biography is now going straight back into one of my bookcases to be read and enjoyed all over again at some point in the future; I also have Ms Ridley's 'Edwin Lutyens: His Life, His Wife, His Work' which has languished for years on my bookshelves and which somehow I have never got around to reading - however, having read and thoroughly enjoyed 'Bertie', I am now keen to rectify that omission.