EDWARD VII. (Albert Edward) (1841-1910), king of Great Britain and Ireland, and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas, emperor of India, the eldest son and second child of Queen Victoria and of Albert, prince consort, was born at Buckingham Palace on the 9th of November 1841. He was created prince of Wales and earl of Chester on the 4th of December following, and was baptized on the 25th of January 1842. In his childhood he was educated by the dowager Lady Lyttelton; and in his boyhood successively by the Rev. Henry Mildred Birch, Mr F.W. Gibbes, the Rev. C.F. Tarver and Mr Herbert W. Fisher. He afterwards resided at Edinburgh, studying chemistry in its industrial applications under Professor (afterwards Lord) Playfair at the university; at Christ Church, Oxford; and at Trinity College, Cambridge. In November 1858 he was made a knight of the Garter and a colonel in the army. In 1859 he travelled in Italy and Spain, and in 1860 paid a visit as "Lord Renfrew" to the United States and Canada.
Upon the completion of his Cambridge course in June 1861 he joined the camp at the Curragh. The prince consort died on the 13th of December, and in 1862 the prince of Wales went for a tour in the Holy Land (February-June) under the guidance of Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, afterwards dean of Westminster. Early in 1863 he was sworn of the privy council, and took his seat in the House of Lords as duke of Cornwall. The estate of Sandringham, in Norfolk, was purchased for him out of the savings of his minority, and his town residence was fixed at Marlborough House.
His impending marriage to the princess Alexandra, daughter of Christian IX., king of Denmark (b. December 1, 1844), had already been announced, and took place on the 10th of March at Windsor, the beauty and grace of the princess captivating the heart of the nation. Parliament granted the prince an income of £40,000 a year, exclusive of the revenues of the duchy of Cornwall, and he relinquished his right of succession to the duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Prince Albert Victor, afterwards duke of Clarence, was the first offspring of the marriage, being born on the 8th of January 1864. The births followed of Prince George Frederick Ernest Albert, afterwards duke of York (see George V.), on the 3rd of June 1865; Princess Louise Victoria Alexandra Dagmar, by marriage duchess of Fife, princess royal, on the 20th of February 1867; Princess Victoria Alexandra Olga Mary, on the 6th of July 1868; and Princess Maud Charlotte Mary Victoria, afterwards queen of Norway, on the 26th of November 1869.
From the time of their marriage the prince and princess were prominently before the country. Queen Victoria remained in retirement, but they filled her place at important public functions. The prince's readiness to promote every worthy cause was most marked; no one was a more constant attendant at meetings for objects of public utility of a non-political nature, and his speeches were always characterized by excellent sense. The most important external event of these years was a tour to Egypt, undertaken in 1869 in company with the duke of Sutherland, Sir Samuel Baker and others, an account of which was published by Mrs William Grey. The prince also visited Ireland more than once, and opened the International Exhibition of 1871.
On the 23rd of November 1871 it was announced that the prince would be prevented from paying a visit which had been arranged to the Maharajah Dhuleep Singh by a feverish attack. It soon appeared that the malady was typhoid, contracted as was supposed, on a visit to Scarborough. The case became so serious that on November 29 the queen and Princess Alice hurried to Sandringham. On the 1st of December there was a slight rally, but on the 8th so serious a relapse occurred that for some days the prince's life was despaired of. Under the skilful treatment of Sir William Jenner, Sir William Gull and Sir James Paget, however, the crisis was surmounted by December 16, and by Christmas day the danger was regarded as virtually over. On the 27th of February 1872 a thanksgiving was held at St Paul's, amid imposing demonstrations of public joy.
In January 1874 the prince of Wales attended the marriage at St. Petersburg of his brother, the duke of Edinburgh, with the grand-duchess Marie of Russia. In the same year he paid a historic visit to Birmingham, where Mr Joseph Chamberlain, not yet a member of parliament, received him officially as mayor. In March 1875 it was officially announced that he would make a visit to India, carrying out an idea originally conceived by the first Indian viceroy, Earl Canning. He was supposed to travel as heir-apparent, not as representative of the queen; but the characters could not be kept apart, and in fact the prince's visit was a political event of great importance. Leaving England on October 11, he was received at Bombay by the viceroy, Lord Northbrook. Here he met a very large number of Indian feudatory princes, whose acquaintance he subsequently improved by visiting at their courts during the seventeen weeks which he spent in the country. During these four months the prince travelled nearly 8000 m. by land and 2500 m. by sea, became acquainted with more rajahs than had all the viceroys who had reigned over India, and saw more of the country than any living Englishman. The visit led up to the queen's assumption of the title of empress of India in the following year.
The prince's life after this date was full of conspicuous public appearances. In 1885 he visited Ireland at a time of much political excitement, and was received enthusiastically in many quarters and without symptoms of ill-will in any. In 1886 he filled the presidency of the Indian and Colonial Exhibition, opened the Mersey Tunnel, and laid the first stone of the Tower Bridge. In 1887 a large share of the arrangements for the queen's Jubilee devolved upon him. On the 27th of July 1589 his eldest daughter, Princess Louise, was married to the duke of Fife. In the autumn he paid a semi-incognito visit to Paris, where he was always highly popular, viewed the Exhibition, and ascended the Eiffel Tower. In 1890 he opened the Forth Bridge. On the 14th of January 1892, however, a heavy blow fell upon him and his house by the death of his eldest son, Prince Albert Victor, duke of Clarence, after a brief illness. The young prince, who with his brother George had made the tour of the world (1879-1882) in H.M.S. "Bacchante," and after a short career at Oxford and Cambridge was just settling down to play his part in public life, had recently become engaged to Princess Victoria Mary of Teck (b. May 26, 1867), and the popularity of the heir to the crown had been increased by the expression of his satisfaction at his son's bride being an English princess. On the 6th of July 1893 the broken thread was reunited by her marriage to Prince George, duke of York.
The year 1894 was a busy one for the prince of Wales, who became a member of the royal commission on the housing of the poor, opened the Tower Bridge, attended the Welsh Eisteddfod and was duly initiated, and paid two visits to Russia - one for the marriage of the grand-duchess Xenia, the other for the funeral of the tsar, his brother-in-law. In 1896 he became first chancellor of the university of Wales, and his first act after his installation at Aberystwyth was to confer an honorary degree upon the princess. He had already been for some years a trustee of the British Museum. On the 22nd of July 1896 his daughter. Princess Maud, was married to Prince Charles of Denmark, who in 1905 was offered and accepted the crown of the new kingdom of Norway. The arrangements for the queen's Jubilee of 1897 depended upon the prince even more than those of the corresponding celebration in 1887: he rode on the queen's right at the great procession to St Paul's, and as an admiral of the fleet presided at the naval review at Spithead. In July 1898 the prince had the misfortune to fracture his knee-cap while on a visit to Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild, but completely recovered from the effects of the accident. In December 1899, while passing through Brussels on his way to St Petersburg, he was fired at by a miserable lad named Sipido, crazed by reading anarchist literature. Fortunately no injury was done.
It was the especial distinction of Albert Edward, while prince of Wales, to have been a substantial support of the throne before he was called upon to fill it. This cannot be said of any of his predecessors except Edward the Black Prince. He was exemplary in the discharge of his public duties, and in his scrupulous detachment from party politics. He was a keen patron of the theatre, and his thoroughly British taste for sport was as pronounced as his inclination for most of the contemporary amusements of society. The "Tranby Croft Case" (1890), in which Sir William Gordon Cumming brought an unsuccessful libel action for having been accused of cheating at a game of baccarat, caused some comment in connexion with the prince's appearance in the witness-box on behalf of the defendants. But it did him no disservice with the people to have twice won the Derby with his horses Persimmon (1896) and Diamond Jubilee (1900) - his third victory, in 1909, with Minoru, being the first occasion on which the race had been won by a reigning sovereign; and his interest in yacht-racing was conspicuously shown at all the important fixtures, his yacht "Britannia" being one of the best of her day. His activity in the life of the nation may be illustrated by his establishment (1897) of the Prince of Wales's (afterwards King Edward's) Hospital Fund, his devotion to the cause of Masonry (he was first elected grand master of the Freemasons of England in 1874), and his position as a bencher of the Middle Temple, where he also became (1887) treasurer.
On the death of Queen Victoria on the 22nd of January 1901, the question what title the new king would assume was speedily set at rest by the popular announcement that he would be called Edward the Seventh. The new reign began auspiciously by the holding of a privy council at St James's Palace, at which the king announced his intention to follow in his predecessor's footsteps and to govern as a constitutional sovereign, and received the oaths of allegiance. On the 14th of February the king and queen opened parliament in state. Shortly afterwards it was announced that the visit of the duke and duchess of York to Australia, in order to inaugurate the new Commonwealth, which had been sanctioned by Queen Victoria, would be proceeded with; and on the 16th of March they set out on board the "Ophir" with a brilliant suite. The tour lasted till November 1, the duke and duchess having visited Australia, New Zealand, the Cape and Canada; and on their return the king, on November 9, created the duke prince of Wales and earl of Chester. Meanwhile parliament had settled the new civil list at £470,000 a year, and the royal title had been enlarged to include the colonial empire by an act enabling the king to style himself "Edward VII., by the grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and of all the British Dominions beyond the Seas, King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India." At the end of May 1902 the long-drawn-out war in South Africa came at last to an end, and the coronation was fixed for the 26th of June. But on the 24th, amid general consternation, the king was announced to be suffering from perityphlitis, necessitating the immediate performance of an operation; and the coronation, for which unprecedented preparations had been made, had to be postponed. The operation - performed by Sir Frederick Treves - was, however, so marvellously successful, and the king's progress towards recovery so rapid and uninterrupted, that within a fortnight he was pronounced out of danger, and soon afterwards it was decided to hold the coronation service on August 9. Though shorn of much of the magnificence which would have been added to it in June by the presence of foreign royalties and the preparations for a great procession through London, the solemnity duly took place on that date in Westminster Abbey amid great rejoicings. The king spent several weeks (partly in a yachting trip round the coast and up to Stornoway) in recruiting his health, and on the 25th of October he went in procession through the main streets of south London, when he was most enthusiastically received. Next day the king and queen attended St Paul's cathedral in state to return thanks for his restoration to health. On New Year's day 1903 the coronation was proclaimed in India at a magnificent durbar at Delhi.
At home the king opened parliament in person in February 1903, and on the 31st of March he sailed from Portsmouth to pay a visit to the king of Portugal at Lisbon, leaving Lisbon for Gibraltar on the 7th of April. On the 11th he held a review of the garrison troops and next day left for Malta, and the tour was continued to Naples (23rd of April). On the 27th of April he was received at Rome by the king of Italy - the first time an English king as such had been there; and two days later he paid a visit to Leo XIII. at the Vatican. On May day he was received in Paris by President Loubet. Later in the year return visits were paid to England by President Loubet (July) and the king and queen of Italy (November). On the 11th of May His Majesty paid his first formal visit to Edinburgh, and held courts at Holyrood. In July the king and queen went to Ireland, and though the Dublin corporation refused to vote a loyal address the reception was generally cordial. In September the king took his annual "cure" at Marienbad, and paid a visit to Vienna, where he was received by the Austrian emperor. In 1904 again the king and queen went to Ireland; in June the king was cordially received by the German emperor at the yacht-races at Kiel, and he included a visit to Hamburg, where the welcome was hearty. In November the king and queen of Portugal were entertained at Windsor and at the Guildhall.
The success of King Edward as a promoter of international friendliness, and the advantage of so efficient a type of kingship, attracted universal attention, and treaties of arbitration were concluded by Great Britain with France, Spain, Italy, Germany and Portugal in 1903 and 1904. In his first two years the king had already earned the title of Edward the Peacemaker, and established his position as a source of new strength to the state. This reputation was confirmed in the years which followed, during which the royal hand was to be seen in the progress of foreign affairs in a manner somewhat new to old-fashioned politicians. The entente with France was promoted by his influence, notably by his reception of President Fallières in England in 1908. It was noticed that the permanent under-secretary for foreign affairs, Sir Charles Hardinge, generally accompanied the king, as one of his suite, on his visits abroad: and the conclusion of the Anglo-Russian agreement (1907) - which was attributed with some reason to royal policy - was hotly criticized in Radical quarters. It was pointed out that neither the foreign secretary (Sir E. Grey) nor any other secretary of state accompanied the king on his foreign visits. These objections were, however, scouted by the government, and undeniably public opinion approved of the sovereign's personal activity in a Sphere peculiarly his own. The strengthening of British influence in Europe, which was the marked result of the Anglo-French and Anglo-Russian ententes, and of the closer ties between England and countries like Portugal and Spain (whose young king Alfonso married Princess Ena of Battenberg, King Edward's niece), had, indeed, temporarily the effect of rousing German suspicion, the view taken being that the object of British foreign policy was to isolate Germany; and during 1907 and 1908 the political situation was coloured by the discussions in the press with regard to Anglo-German rivalry. But in February 1909 the king and queen paid a state visit to the Kaiser in Berlin, where the greatest cordiality was displayed on all sides; the event was prepared for, in both countries, as a means of dispelling the clouds which had gathered over the relations between England and Germany, and the success of the visit proved once more how powerful King Edward's personality could be as an agency for peace and international amity.
During the year 1909, however, the political situation at home was developing into an acute constitutional crisis, which seemed likely to involve the Crown in serious difficulties. Mr Lloyd-George's budget convulsed the House of Commons and the country, and was eventually rejected by the House of Lords; and the Liberal government now put in the forefront of its programme the abolition of the Peers' "veto." As was hinted, not obscurely, later by the doctors, King Edward, although certainly not prejudiced against a Liberal ministry, was seriously disturbed in mind and health by the progress of events, which culminated in the return of Mr Asquith to office after the elections of January 1910, and in his statement that, if necessary, guarantees would be sought from the Crown for the purpose of enforcing the will of the representative chamber. A remarkable sign of the king's discomfort was his insertion, in the official "King's Speech" at the opening of parliament, of the words "in the opinion of my advisers," in connexion with the passage dealing with the House of Lords. The king had been far from robust for some little time, and while he was taking change and rest at Biarritz in the early spring of 1910 he had a bronchial attack which caused some anxiety, although the public heard nothing of it. When he returned to England there is no doubt that he was acutely affected by the prospect of being forcibly dragged into the political conflict. In the country at large there was indeed considerable confidence that the king's tact and experience would help to bring order out of chaos; but this was not to be. Within two days the public heard with consternation that he was ill, and then was dead. On May 5 it was announced that he had bronchitis; and he died at 11.45 P.M. on the 6th, of heart failure. On May 17, 18 and 19 there was an impressive lying-in-state in Westminster Hall, attended by unprecedented crowds; and on May 20 the burial took place at Windsor, after a great funeral procession through London, the coffin being followed by the new king, George V., and by eight foreign sovereigns - the German emperor, the kings of Greece, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Norway, Belgium and Bulgaria - besides the archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria (heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary), the prince consort of Holland and many other royalties, and a number of special ambassadors, including Mr Roosevelt as representative of the United States. Mourning was as sincere as it was universal; for not only England and the British Empire, but the world, had lost a king who was both a very human man and a tried and trusted statesman.
Queen Victoria's long reign had solidly established the constitutional monarchy; it remained for her son to rehabilitate the idea of English kingship by showing how the sovereign could be no less constitutional but personally more monarchical. While prince of Wales he had had little real training in statecraft, but when he became king his genuine capacity for affairs was shown. Ably advised by such men as Lord Knollys and Lord Esher, he devoted himself to the work of removing the Throne from its former isolation, and bringing it into touch with all sections of the community for the promotion of social happiness and welfare. His own love of pageantry and his interest in the stately ordering of court functions responded, moreover, to a marked inclination on the part of the public and of "society" for such things. It was significant that even Radicals and Socialists began to advocate extensions of the prerogative, and to insist on the active part which the Crown should play in public life. The king won the genuine affection and confidence of the people; and in Queen Alexandra he had an ideal consort, to whom all hearts went out.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)