Edward Albert Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, despite the monicker, the quintessential Englishman: a playboy prince turned merry monarch, who gave his name to an entire, if brief, era, was ‘addicted to love’.
Though in truth, and in contemporary treatment terms, his addiction could be said to be to sex.
Moreover his life long relationship to alcohol might not seem too healthy to modern medical eyes, so much so that when he ‘joined’ his many, many ‘lady friends’ he had a rather unusual receptacle for his finest Champagne, a device that ensured indulging one obsession need not get in the way of feeding the other!
Edward VII had a soul-crushing wait to accede to the throne , as Prince of Wales he lived in the shadow of a doughty mother, biding his time for decades for a coronation that must have appeared as though it would never come.
A parallel perhaps with the long pause before taking on ‘the top job’ that Prince Charles is experiencing today.
The psychological effects of waiting until and beyond the age at which most people retire before starting one’s appointed career have been, then and now, the subject of much debate.
Whatever his frustrations, the King sought solace, and much else, in mistresses throughout his married life.
This constellation of ladies included among its more notable members Agnes Keyser (who he persuaded into a medical career of surprising renown), the famous actress Lillie Langtree, Lady Daisy Brooke (inspiration of the popular song “Daisy Daisy”), Lady Randolph Churchill (the mother of Sir Winston Churchill), Skittles, “The last ‘Victorian Courtesan” (as her blue plaque proudly reads) and near neighbour of Florence Nightingale and Scottish society hostess Alice Keppel, great-grandmother of the present Duchess of Cornwall (a case widely reported in the press to the chagrin of the Royal family).
His behaviour stood in marked contrast to the austere and aloof latter years of Queen Victoria’s reign. She had practically shut herself away in seclusion in her homes at Balmoral Castle and Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, following the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert.
But her son was determined to party! While his mother was nicknamed ‘the Widow of Windsor’, her second son became universally known as ‘Edward the Caresser’.
The Prince of Wales threw himself into the wild life, rather than shooting wildlife, the preferred past time for royal and aristocratic heirs. Edward was a frequent visitor to Paris, where he became a familiar face at racy venues such as the Café des Anglais and the Moulin Rouge, where he was affectionately, if mockingly, bestowed the title ‘king-ky’. He spent a huge amount of time, and money, at the notorious lavish brothel ‘Le Chabanais’, which first opened its doors in 1878.
In operation right up until 1946, this luxurious bordello was extremely popular with some of the world’s most famous and wealthy men – including many kings and crowned princes – and the future Edward VII spent much of the 1880s and 1890s making extensive use of its services.
‘Bertie’, as he was known to those closest to him (a term of endearment he would share with his grandson the later George VI) had his own special room decorated with his own royal coat of arms.
In this chamber where the King-in-waiting met his ladies, he did away with the flute or boule that others might use for a seductive glass or two of champagne and replaced it with a large ornate copper bath in the shape of a swan-necked mythological figure filled to the brim with bubbly.
The room became so famous that when the establishment closed down just after The Second World War many of its belongings were auctioned off, including the infamous bathtub, which was purchased by the artist Salvador Dali for 112,000 francs!
Whilst such conduct over an extended period of time would surely wind most of today’s celebrities, politicians or even princes in recurrent rehab sessions, Edward’s behaviour did nothing to impede his ultimate pathway to the crown. Only a skirt with death via acute appendicitis on the eve of coronation could do that… though therein lies another story!
Indeed, against all the odds Edward VII proved to be one of the most popular monarchs of the modern era, seen by some historians as creating the archetype of the role of committed and caring monarch and credited by others with preserving the fragile peace in Europe. A peace which did not long survive him.
Proof positive that what is seen fit for medical treatment in one age is simply regarded as extrovert behaviour in another and, perhaps, that the drinking and sexual habits of a person are not always evidence of whether they are Fit to Rule…
The towering figure of Edward VII appears on a number of our walks.
‘Fit to Rule’ is a tour of the places where the mighty have sought treatment and succour through history and seeks to find out whether they were well enough to be in charge at all!
‘One for the Road’ is one of our new walks for 2014, a ‘tongue in cheek’ look at some of the characters of Marylebone and the complex relationship between demon booze and healing!
Finally, ‘Medicine at War’ a history of warfare and the healing professions includes an examination of the role of Edward’s mistress Agnes Keyser in military medicine and includes a brief stop at the hospital that bears both their names.