The Scandalous Life of England's Ultimate 'Playboy Prince', Edward VII
The Scandalous Life of England’s Ultimate ‘Playboy Prince’, Edward VII

The Scandalous Life of England’s Ultimate ‘Playboy Prince’, Edward VII

D.G. Hewitt - July 8, 2019

The Scandalous Life of England’s Ultimate ‘Playboy Prince’, Edward VII
The Prince pictured on a hunting trip in India. Wikimedia Commons.

13. Queen Victoria might have wanted her son to keep away from public engagements, but Bertie loved the limelight

Thanks mainly to his playboy ways, Queen Victoria was reluctant to have her son involved in affairs of the estate. This became something of a vicious circle; since he had so few official engagements, the Prince of Wales found other ways to keep himself busy, and these usually involved women, drink, gambling or a combination of all three. At the same time, however, Prince Edward often took the initiative. According to some experts, it was ‘Bertie’ who invented the modern royal public engagement. For instance, he opened the Thames Embankment in person in 1871 and also cut the ribbon for Tower Bridge in 1894.

The Scandalous Life of England’s Ultimate ‘Playboy Prince’, Edward VII
The Prince pictured on one of his very first cars. Wikimedia Commons.

12. The Prince’s love of speed made him an early adopter of the automobile, even if he never went above 20mph

Towards the very end of the 19th century, the Prince’s friend, John Scott-Montagu, Second Baron of Beaulieu, took him for a ride in his car. Edward was immediately hooked. Despite the fact these early automobiles could barely go faster than a horse and carriage, the Prince of Wales soon earned a reputation for being a speed freak. He loved driving around the private roads of his Sandringham estate and converted the old stables into garages to hold his growing collection of automobiles (he loved red cars the most and, thanks to the Prince, these became highly fashionable among the ‘smart set’).

The Scandalous Life of England’s Ultimate ‘Playboy Prince’, Edward VII
Edward would sometimes drive his Daimler on public roads and meet his public. Wikimedia Commons.

11. Edward was one of England’s first car drivers, making the new technology highly fashionable

In 1900, the pioneering automaker Daimler built a new car for the Prince. It was, quite simply, a car fit for a (future) king, complete with a 1,526-cc twin-cylinder aluminum engine and dual ignition. Instead of a tiller, it boasted a steering wheel, which the Prince loved. And, when the Prince put his foot down, the car could hit a top speed of 24mph! Thanks to the Prince’s early enthusiasm, the Royal Family carried on using Daimlers as their official cars up until the 1950s, when they were replaced by Rolls Royce vehicles.

The Scandalous Life of England’s Ultimate ‘Playboy Prince’, Edward VII
Princess Alexandra has been called ‘the original People’s Princess’. Wikimedia Commons.

10. The Prince’s wife also loved driving and he was eventually persuaded to let her have a car of her own

Prince Edward wasn’t the only royal with a love of cars. His wife, Princess Alexandra, also loved to head out on the open road. Ever the traditionalist, the Prince of Wales insisted she sit in the back passenger seat while he drove them around their private estates. However, according to one biographer, the Prince soon grew tired of her habit of prodding her husband with a parasol and directing him where to steer. Before long, he relented to her pressure and agreed that she could have a car of her own.

The Scandalous Life of England’s Ultimate ‘Playboy Prince’, Edward VII
The Prince enjoying one of his great loves, hunting at Sandringham. Wikimedia Commons.

9. Edward loved hunting so much that he invented a new time zone so he could have more daylight for shooting

As well as eating, drinking and womanizing, one of Edward’s greatest loves was hunting. Above all, he loved shooting and would head to the county of Norfolk. Here, the Royal Family owned Sandringham Castle, a huge stately home set in sprawling grounds that were perfect for shooting. Whenever he was there, the Prince would order all the clocks to be put back an hour so he could enjoy an extra hour of hunting. This became known as ‘Sandringham Time’. The tradition endured long after Edward’s death. In fact, King Edward VIII only put an end to ‘Sandringham Time’ in 1936.

The Scandalous Life of England’s Ultimate ‘Playboy Prince’, Edward VII
The Prince celebrating victory in the 1890 Derbyl. Wikimedia Commons.

8. The Prince’s horses won some of Europe’s most important and prestigious races – earning their owner huge purses

Shooting wasn’t the only sport the Prince loved. Like many royals before and after him, he also developed a keen interest in horse racing. For a while, he was happy to watch and have an occasional gamble. By the 1890s, however, as a middle-aged man with great wealth, he decided to buy a racehorse of his own. Before long, he had a stable of thoroughbreds. In 1896, one of his best, a horse called Persimmon, won both the St Leger Stakes and the Derby Stakes. Another of the Prince’s horses, Ambush II, also won Britain’s most famous race, the Grand National, in 1900.

The Scandalous Life of England’s Ultimate ‘Playboy Prince’, Edward VII
The Prince of Wales has been heralded as an unlikely style icon. Daily Mail.

7. Edward was an unlikely fashion icon, with his clothing often more for comfort than style

As the Prince of Wales and the heir to the British throne, Edward was a traditionalist in many ways. When it came to style, however, he was very fashion forward. In fact, the gentlemen of London and much of the rest of Europe looked to the Playboy Prince for their fashion tips. Thanks to him, the Norfolk hat and the Homburg jacket became trendy in the 1890s. The Prince also was regularly seen in double-breasted frockcoats and with the bottom button of his waistcoat undone – both became popular, though it’s highly likely the Prince favored this way of dressing due to his sizeable gut!

The Scandalous Life of England’s Ultimate ‘Playboy Prince’, Edward VII
Prince Edward’s Royal Yacht makes a grand entrance into Malta. Wikipedia.

6. Did Edward really make roast beef and vegetables a classic English dish? Some believe he did

According to some social historians, it was Prince Edward who helped make roast beef and vegetables a staple of the Great British menu. Certainly, as Prince of Wales, he loved routine and enjoyed his roast dinner every Sunday and every holiday almost without fail. Indeed, when on a royal visit to India for Christmas 1875, the 34-year-old Prince ordered his boat’s chefs to serve up a roast beef banquet. The crew of the HMS Serapis not only did their duty, they also decorated the ship’s decks with fake snow, much to Edward’s delight.

The Scandalous Life of England’s Ultimate ‘Playboy Prince’, Edward VII
Edward’s tour of India was a great PR coup for him and the monarchy. Wikimedia Commons.

5. While touring India, Edward displayed views on race relations that were extremely progressive for the age

It was while touring India that another side to Edward emerged. Far from being a spoilt prince, by all accounts, he was generous and kind to every member of the royal traveling party. What’s more, at a time when many of those at the top of the British Empire were outright racists towards those they ruled over, the Prince of Wales lamented the poor treatment of Indians. In one letter to a close friend, he stated: “Because a man has a black face and a different religion from our own, there is no reason why he should be treated as a brute.”

The Scandalous Life of England’s Ultimate ‘Playboy Prince’, Edward VII
The Prince on a historic visit to Jerusalem. The Jewish Chronicle.

4. The Prince’s decision to have Jews in his inner circle led to some criticizing his judgment

Just as Edward had no time for the anti-Indian racism of so many of his peers, so too did he pay no attention to those who criticized him for having close confidants and even friends who were Jewish. While anti-Semitism may have been rife at the time, even in the ‘polite society’ of cosmopolitan London, Edward welcomed the Rothschild family, as well as individuals such as Ernest Cassel and Maurice de Hirsch into his inner-circle. This lack of discrimination is still appreciated by London’s Jewish community – indeed, the community erected a statue to Edward in Tower Hamlets, East London, 1911.

The Scandalous Life of England’s Ultimate ‘Playboy Prince’, Edward VII
King Edward VII was widely loved by his people and by foreign rulers. YouTube.

3. When he finally became King, Edward showed grace and humility – and was an instant hit with his subjects

He may have gained a reputation as a Playboy Prince, but Edward remained hugely popular with the British public. So, when Queen Victoria died in January 1901, and the crown passed to Edward, the new monarch was widely welcomed. According to the English novelist J.B. Priestly, who was a child when Victoria died, he “was in fact the most popular king England had known since the earlier 1600s.” Choosing to be crowned as Edward rather than as Albert Edward as his mother had wished, was a PR masterstroke. The public loved him for insisting that his father’s name “should stand alone”.

The Scandalous Life of England’s Ultimate ‘Playboy Prince’, Edward VII
Edward ditched his vices when he became King and focused on being a diplomat instead. Wikimedia Commons.

2. As monarch, Edward ditched the playboy lifestyle in favor of life as a traveling diplomat

As King, Edward VII would be known as the ‘Uncle of Europe’. To some degree, this was literally true; he was related to most of the monarchs on the continent, including the German Kaiser and even the Russian Tsar. Instead of carrying on his playboy ways at home, Edward insisted on reinventing the concept of ‘royal diplomacy’. He carried out numerous official visits to foreign states, easing rivalries and strengthening alliances. He also revitalized the monarchy’s role at home, bringing back the regal opening of Parliament, for example.

The Scandalous Life of England’s Ultimate ‘Playboy Prince’, Edward VII
Edward VII’s death marked the end of peaceful relations between Europe’s monarchies. Wikimedia Commons.

1. Edward’s death brought Europe’s royals together – within a few years, they would all be at war

Given his prodigious apatite and his love of cigars and cigarettes, the royal physicians were not surprised when Edward collapsed on a state visit to Germany in 1909. He returned to London but never really recovered. The king died on 6 May 1910. His body lay in state for 2 weeks. During this time, 400,000 of his subjects walked past his coffin to pay their respects. At Edward’s funeral, almost all of Europe’s royals came together, united in grief. Within a few years, however, they would all be at war.

 

Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince.” Washington Post, January 2014.

“Dirty Bertie: How royal playboy took Victorian Paris by storm with a three-way love seat.” Daily Express, October 2015.

“The King’s Racehorses.” The Hathi Trust.

“Edward VII: Biography & Facts.” Encyclopaedia Britannica.

“We’re all shocked! Read all about Edward VII’s scandalous sex life.” USA Today, June 2017.

“Edward VII’s Christmas Banquet Aboard HMS Serapis.” Royal Menus.

“The Fashions of Edward VII.” Bizarre Victoriana.

“Edward VII and his Jewish Court.” Anthony Allfrey. Thistle Publishing. 2013

“1900 Daimler: The first car fit for a king.” The Globe and Mail, September 2012.

“King Edward VII.” Gentleman’s Digest.

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