Born in 1841 as the eldest son of Queen Victoria, who was to have the longest reign of any British monarch up to that point, Edward spent many years as Prince of Wales before becoming king in 1901.
Edward and his mother did not get on well, due largely to his playboy lifestyle as a rich young man with little to do apart from enjoy himself. Victoria blamed Edward for hastening the death of her beloved Prince Albert in 1861. This came about when Albert, already ill with typhoid, journeyed to Cambridge, where Edward was studying at Trinity College, to remonstrate with him after an affair involving an actress. Albert’s health worsened after the trip and he died two weeks later.
As a result, Victoria would not involve Edward in matters of state and he therefore had even more free time in which to indulge his passions for horseracing, shooting, gambling and women. His marriage to a Danish princess (Alexandra) in 1863 did nothing to slow him down in these respects.
However, although Edward’s many dalliances with women other than his wife could be glossed over in Victorian society, his involvement in an illegal game of cards in 1890 was a scandal that shocked many people.
This was the Tranby Croft affair that concerned an action for slander brought by Colonel Sir William Gordon-Cumming in July 1891. He had been accused of cheating during a game of baccarat (a gambling card game that was illegal at the time) held during a house party, of which Edward was a member, at Tranby Croft in Yorkshire the previous September. Gordon-Cumming sought to clear his name by bringing an action for slander against his accusers and Edward was called as a witness during the ensuing court case.
Edward was exposed as not only having taken part in an illegal activity but – as an Army Field-Marshall – not having reported Gordon-Cumming to his commanding officer for the same offence, and for being a cheat. Indeed, he did everything he could to persuade the Colonel to drop the case and thus hush everything up.
However, when Edward eventually became king in 1901, at the age of 59, everything changed. He carried out his royal duties with full responsibility and was very popular with the British people. The short “Edwardian Age” was one of relative prosperity and liberality that people would later look back on with fond nostalgia.
Edward was also very active as an ambassador for his country, both in Europe and the British Empire.
However, Edward’s late arrival on the throne meant that his reign was unlikely to last long. He died in 1910 at the age of 68.© John Welford