On my last posting I spoke of my reading on someone’s blog a piece on King Edward the Seventh, and the acrimonious exchange in the comments section I had with another reader, “Jimmy”, an American from Texas, who suggested we English rid ourselves of our monarchy and get a president, just like in America.
This acted like a trip-wire setting off an explosive inside me. So I let “Jimmy” have it in the comment I posted in response, since, for a foreigner to insult our monarchy is to insult me. As a loyal Englishman, I could do no less than demand that Jimmy apologise, and if he didn’t, to demand satisfaction in the form of a boxing match or a duel with swords or pistols, otherwise I would seek Jimmy out and thrash him with my whip.
I do now realise that I acted impulsively, for my response set off the chain of events which has led me to become a hunted man in America, wanted by the police in all fifty states, and being forced to live like a rat underground in the basement of a demolished house in a city in Texas, the name of which I must keep secret for my personal safety.
The blogging piece on King Edward the Seventh being what began it all, I think it only fair to reproduce it in this posting, to put you more in the picture. So here it is:
“Across the wires, the electric message came: ‘He is no better; he is much the same’”.
These lines, as good an example as any of bad poetry, were written in November 1871 by Alfred Austin, the English Poet Laureate of the time, inspired by the serious illness, from typhoid fever, of the future King Edward VII when still Prince of Wales. This information I gleaned from Christopher Hibbert’s book, “Edward VII”.
Edward was the second child, and eldest son, of Queen Victoria. His older sister Victoria, the Princess Royal, became the mother of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. But we are getting ahead of our story.
Edward had an exacting upbringing. For six hours each day he was instructed in social economy, chemistry, algebra, and geometry. He was required to read the masterpieces of English, French, and German literature, and to write essays in these three languages on historical and biographical themes. He was also required to draw maps, master Latin, talk to famous scientists, and learn political economy. He was also taught riding, gymnastics, dancing, military exercises, skating, swimming, croquet, forestry, farming, carpentry, and bricklaying.
Such a regimen would have taxed the capacities of the most intelligent of children. Edward’s problem was that he wasn’t particularly intelligent and not at all intellectual – sort of like George Bush. It wasn’t that Edward was stupid; it was just that he was very ordinary. He lived in fear of his father, and doesn’t appear to have been much liked by his mother who said of him, much later on, that she never could or would look at him without a shudder.
Edward’s older sister by just a year, was, on the contrary, most intelligent and quick witted, and was the favourite child of her parents, Victoria and Albert. So it should not have come as a surprise that the young Edward frequently sought relief in outbursts of furious violence.
Once his boyhood years were over and his formal education ended, Edward had more time to do the things he liked, like having a good time. Even today, his name is associated with having a good time. Edward rode to the hounds, shot, drank, partied, gambled, gambolled, travelled, and had affairs with many women, including, most famously, Jennie Jerome, the glamorous mother of Winston Churchill.
Paradoxically, his marriage to Alexandra appears to have been harmonious, if not happy. She obviously knew of Edward’s many amorous liaisons, but she took them in her stride. His favourite mistress in later life was a Mrs Keppel. So tolerant was Alexandra, the queen, that when Edward was on his deathbed, she summoned Mrs Keppel to be at his bedside.
Edward was sixty when he became King of England – having waited an unusually long time. So, in the meantime, what else could he do but have a good time. His mother, Queen Victoria, had excluded him from the affairs of state, since she just didn’t like him. Besides, she wouldn’t have considered him up to the job. He didn’t, after all, read or engage in any intellectual pursuits, and he was becoming a public embarrassment because of his notorious womanizing, being named in not a few high-profile divorce suits.
Sometimes when in public he was booed, and there was consequent talk in high circles of England becoming a republic. Thus, Edward’s serious illness in 1871 was fortuitous, since it diverted attention from all the controversies surrounding him, while the citizenry prayed for his recovery.
But Edward, on assuming the kingship, became generally well-liked and respected, since he was sociable and not a snob – indeed, his mother had frowned upon many of his friends. But he stood on ceremony when people unknown to him became too familiar or took him for granted. And he embarked on his kingly duties with great zest, energy, and enthusiasm. He got rid of much of the detritus mouldering in Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, and travelled around making speeches, laying foundation stones, and meeting the people. He resumed the practise – which his mother had abandoned – of reading the annual speech to parliament, setting out the government’s agenda.
Being sociable and a good public speaker, Edward was a definite asset for imperial Britain when he had to meet and schmooze with other heads of state, whether kings or presidents. One such was his headstrong nephew, Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm, with whom Edward had many trying encounters. It was to Edward’s credit that he was able to deal with Wilhelm as well as he did.
Edward reigned only nine years before succumbing to heart problems – not surprising given his 240 lbs on a 5ft 7ins frame, the legacy of prodigious eating and drinking – and being a smoker to boot. He had been an anomaly – his libertine ways contrasting piquantly with the official puritanism of his mother’s reign, and with the prim and proper ways of his own son, King George V, who succeeded him. Edward’s reign was, indeed, like a morsel between two crusts of bread.
Despite his short reign, Edward’s stature as British monarch was such that his funeral in 1910, marked, in the words of Barbara Tuchman in The Guns of August “……the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place, and, of its kind, the last……”.
Edward’s legacy exists even today. If, for instance, you smoke cigars, it’s entirely possible you’ve smoked one called the King Edward Cigar, which is named after him. And if for Sunday lunch, you habitually tuck into roast beef, roast potatoes, horseradish sauce and Yorkshire pudding, you wouldn’t be doing so but for Edward, who introduced the practice of eating this meal on Sundays.
A mediocre piece, typical of the blogosphere, I’m sure you’ll agree. Had I never come across it, I’d still be living in my little rustic house in England instead of underground as a hunted rat in Texas. Oh, oh, how foolish I’ve been.
My only solace is that, assuming an infinite universe, there is a world identical to ours out there somewhere, where there is a man identical to me, having lived an identical (or parallel) life, but only to the point just before the above piece about King Edward appeared. Thereafter our parallel lives diverged, so that this other “me” is still living in a rustic house in England.