(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)
I got this book because I was doing research into the Cleveland Street scandal so most of it is incidental to my purpose but interesting nevertheless. Eddie, who was suspected of involvement in this, was ‘a delicate child, quiet, apathetic and a slow developer.’ Supposedly, he ‘dawdled’ when dressing in the morning, was ‘a good boy at heart’ and reminded his father (who kept his portrait over his bed after he died) of his own younger self.
Where the author mentions homosexuality, she either dismisses it or moralises about it.
It is well-researched, with 99 pages of footnotes.
King Edward the VII, affectionately called Bertie, was fifty-nine when he took the throne in 1901, upon the death of his mother Queen Victoria. To everyone’s great surprise, this playboy prince sobered up and became an extremely effective leader and the founder of England’s modern monarchy.
Then again, his mother had become such a recluse, in her obsessive mourning for Albert, that anything could have been an improvement.
You’ve heard of ‘Edward the Confessor’. Here’s ‘Edward the Caresser.’
The royal world into which Prince Albert Edward was born in 1841 was one still scarred by the mad, bad Hanoverians of the 18th century. Their legacy of illegitimate offspring, inherited insanity and vicious familial power struggles haunted both Queen Victoria and her cousin and consort, Prince Albert — a fascinating, domineering figure in Ridley’s telling, who was raised in a decadent minor German court and became obsessed with purifying the palace. Albert invented the phrase and concept of the “the royal family,” grasping presciently the power that the new house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha could hold as a “beacon of bourgeois domesticity” rather than as a byword for debauchery.
Unfortunately for his children, this meant a stringent policing of behaviour and a rigorous program of private education, under which Bertie — who never willingly read a book — stumbled and suffered. His bride, the Danish princess Alexandra, known as Alix, was chosen for him before he was 20 in a match masterminded by his older sister Vicky, newly married to the future German Emperor Frederick III. Theirs was still a Europe governed by dynastic alliances and insistent upon the (outward) sexual purity of royal children at the time of marriage. Although Bertie protested that he was too young, his parents made haste, knowing that the pretense that the union was “a love match” rather than an arranged, political marriage “depended upon keeping him in a state of pent-up sexual frustration so that he fell madly in love at first sight.”
One can’t help feeling sorry for ‘Bertie’. Thick and lazy he may have been but to have his mother breathing down his neck like that.
And one can feel sorry for royalty as a whole, trapped in a life of duty in the public gaze that they didn’t ask for but which is merely an accident of birth.
Victoria didn’t like to confuse monarchy with religion – didn’t she know she was supreme governor of the established church?
Bertie was one of the few of the aristocracy not to be anti-semitic.
I didn’t realise that many customs emanate from him, e.g. leaving a waistcoat’s bottom undone was his practice after putting on weight. So too rolling up trouser legs. Group photos started at Sandringham.
And very few readers will have known what Catherine of Aragon’s closet is. I was lucky to have a guided tour.
I had to look up ‘camarilla’ = a group of courtiers or favourites who surround a king or ruler. Usually, they do not hold any office or have any official authority at the royal court but influence their ruler behind the scenes.
And find out who Dorothy Hodgkin was = advanced the technique of X-ray.
Exiles from the imperial court were royally entertained at Marlborough House. Among them was Blanche, the half-American Duchess of Caracciolo, who scandalized London society that winter, going out shooting in a kilt and smoking cigarettes. Her ailing husband was cruelly teased by a prankster who dressed up as a doctor and told him he was dying, while his valet disguised himself as a priest and heard his last confession. Soon the duchess was pregnant, and she gave birth to a daughter named Alberta Olga, in honor of Bertie, who was the baby’s godfather and rumored—probably falsely—to be her father, too.
For a man as sexually rampant as Bertie, a celibate marriage might seem a cruel mockery. But, as the dean perceived, Bertie was “deeply attached to the Princess, despite all the flattering distractions that beset him in society”; he genuinely wanted to “be more careful about her.” At first, the death of their baby son strengthened the marriage. “What my angelic blessed Bertie was to me all this time no words can describe, a true angel!” wrote Alix. “If anything could have bound us closer together, it is this, our first great sorrow.”
Ever since the Mordaunt case, the radical Reynolds’s Newspaper had voiced a strident republicanism. The paper was the publication of G. W. M. Reynolds, an ex-Chartist dedicated to fighting the class war and exposing royalty as an undeserving burden on the taxpayer. It cruelly recorded the death of the baby Prince John thus:
We have much satisfaction in announcing that the newly born child of the Prince and Princess of Wales died shortly after its birth, thus relieving the working men of England from having to support hereafter another addition to the long roll of State beggars they at present maintain.
“Many of the women with whom he began relationships …refused to go quietly. Blackmail, pregnancy, even a court case were to return to haunt him. There was no such thing as a relationship without consequences.”
“King Edward, who “smoke cigars, was addicted to and entente cordials, married a Sea King’s daughter and invented appendicitis,” pursued a policy of peace that “was very successful and culminated in the Great War to End War.”
“which his Holiness recently received me in Rome.” Wyndham noticed”
“A 1970 survey of dreams about Queen Elizabeth II found that people continued to dream about Queen Victoria seventy years after her death, so deeply was her narrative encrypted in the subconscious of the British people. (Brian Masters, Dreams About the Queen, Blond and Briggs, 1972, pp. 83–84.)”
“Money and sexual scandal have been the twin demons of the monarchy since the 20th century….as Bertie’s successors were to discover, projecting monarchy as a ‘family firm” placed an unreasonable pressure on its members to lead exemplary lives.”
The chain-smoking Eddy was aimless and lackadaisical and distressingly prone to put his foot in it. He was remarkably sweet-natured, however, and Alix’s favorite. Bertie, though, was infuriated, and teased him for his dandified clothes and the tall “masher” collars he wore to hide his abnormally long neck (“Eddy-Collar-and-Cuffs”). To stiffen his son and keep him out of trouble, he resolved to send Eddy on a six-month tour of India.
Bertie had a meeting with his equerry Lord Arthur Somerset, the superintendent of his stables, and instructed him to see that Eddy was properly equipped with saddlery for his Indian tour, arranging for him to meet the prince on 30 September 1889. At the last minute, Somerset wired to excuse himself from the meeting, as he was obliged to leave “on urgent private affairs” for Dieppe.
Lord Arthur Somerset was the third son of the Duke of Beaufort. Known as “Podge,” he was a major in the Royal Horse Guards (the Blues), a tall bachelor with luxuriant ginger facial hair. “He was inclined to fat; his small eyes were on the watch.” No one would have guessed that he was in the habit of visiting a homosexual brothel on Cleveland Street. Podge’s vice had come to the attention of the authorities in July 1889, when a postboy apprehended for theft had been found with the princely sum of eighteen shillings in his pocket. Questioned by police, the boy confessed that he and two others had received the money as payment for “indecent acts” with men at number 19, Cleveland Street, near Fitzroy Square. Under Section 11 of the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act, “gross indecency” between two men, whether public or private, was a criminal offense. Policemen kept watch on the house in Cleveland Street and spotted Lord Arthur, who was identified by the postboys and then interviewed by detectives.
Podge waited uneasily during the summer, as the case against two men who had procured the boys came to court. He attempted to bribe a young male prostitute, a waiter from the Marlborough Club, but this led him straight into a police trap. By the end of September, the case against him was complete, but the government hesitated to issue a warrant. A homosexual scandal at Marlborough House was the last thisig Lord Salisbury wanted.
Lord Arthur Somerset’s movements and conversations are documented in the letters he wrote to his friend Reginald (Regy) Brett, later
Lord Esher, a married man and closet homosexual. Brett preserved these letters and bound them into a volume he entitled “The Case of Lord Arthur Somerset.” This forms one of the chief sources for the tangled events that ensued.
In London on 5 October, Lord Arthur saw his commanding officer, Oliver Montagu. They agreed that the prince must be told, and Podge wrote a letter confessing his sins. Montagu undertook to go to Fredensborg, where Bertie was on holiday with Alix’s extended family, to see the prince, “so as he may hear the right story first.”
“I don’t believe it,” Bertie told Dighton Probyn, the eccentrically bearded comptroller and treasurer of his household. “I won’t believe it any more than if they had accused the Archbishop of Canterbury.’
From Fredensborg, Bertie ordered Probyn in London to clear up Lord Arthur’s case. “Go and see Monro [the police commissioner], go to the Treasury, see Lord Salisbury if necessary.”81 On the evening of 18 October, Probyn saw Lord Salisbury for a few minutes on King’s Cross station before he caught the 7:30 train home to Hatfield. On the same night, Lord Arthur Somerset fled the country.
Later, in the House of Commons debate on 28 February 1890, Salisbury was accused of entering into a criminal conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. The case against him turned on the fact that Arthur Somerset escaped to France on the same night as the King’s Cross meeting. Salisbury denied the charge, but doubts have always lingered. Might Probyn have hurried around to the Marlborough Club, where Somerset was staying, and tipped him off? Salisbury’s biographer considers that the prime minister felt justified in warning Somerset, out of a sense of class loyalty to his father the Duke of Beaufort.”
Bertie wrote to the PM to say how glad he was to learn that “no warrant is likely to be issued against the ‘unfortunate Lunatic’ (I can call him nothing else) as, for the sake of the Family and Society, the less one hears of such a filthy scandal the better.”85 On 12 November, however, the warrant was issued at last, charging Lord Arthur Somerset with “gross indecency” with other male persons contrary to the Criminal Law Amendment Act. By then, he was living in a villa in Monaco. He never returned to face charges.
Lord Arthur Somerset always maintained that his refusal to stand trial was more than a mere matter of saving his own skin. His real reason he explained in the letters he wrote from abroad to Brett. These documents reveal a sensational story: that Arthur Somerset was a scapegoat who went into exile in order to shield the name of Prince Eddy, who had also visited the Cleveland Street brothel.
Soon the rumors about Eddy’s involvement in the scandal were circulating in London, and an article in The New York Times (10 November 1889) actually mentioned him by name. This caused a “great pother” in the Prince of Wales’s household, and when Bertie returned to London in mid-November, Marlborough House swung into action to suppress the gossip. Oliver Montagu implored Lord Arthur Sotherset to return and stand trial in order to clear Prince Eddy’s name.86 Somerset refused. Nor did he make any attempt to protest the prince’s innocence. He explained his predicament in a letter to Brett:
I cannot see what good I could do P[rin]ce E[ddy] if I went into court. I might do harm because if I was asked if I had ever heard anything against him—whom from?—was any person mentioned with whom he went there etc?—the questions would be very awkward. I have never mentioned the boy’s name except to Probyn, Montagu and Knollys when they were acting for me and I thought they ought to know. Had they been wise, hearing what I knew and therefore what others knew, they ought to have hushed the matter up, instead of stirring it up, as they did, with all the authorities. I have never . . . ever told any one with whom P[rin]ce E[ddy] was supposed to have gone there. I did not think it fair as I could not prove it & it must have been his ruin. I can quite understand the P[rince] of W[ales] being much annoyed at his son’s name being coupled with this thing but . . . it had no more to do with me than the fact that we (that is P[rin]ce and I) must both perform bodily functions which we cannot do for each other. . . . If I went into Court and told all I know no one who called himself a man would ever speak to me again. Hence my infernal position.
Bertie was furious with Arthur Somerset. He wrote to Carrington on 2 January 1890: “I hardly like to allude any more to the subject of AS as it is really a too painful one to write about—and his subsequent conduct makes me wish that he had never existed.”
It’s possible, as one account suggests, that the rumors about Eddy visiting the Cleveland Street brothel caused such consternation to Marlborough House “not because they were false but because they were true.” An alternative scenario suggests that the rumors about Eddy and Cleveland Street were slanders that were deliberately spread and embroidered by Lord Arthur Somerset. In his letter to Brett, quoted above, Somerset concedes that he cannot prove the rumors about Eddy visiting Cleveland Street. After his ignominious flight, he needed to vindicate himself and show he was a man of honor. What better way than to claim that he had voluntarily gone into exile in a chivalrous bid to throw his cloak over the young prince?
Whether or not Prince Eddy did, in fact, frequent Cleveland Street—or whether he was gay or, more likely, bisexual—is perhaps not the issue. The real point is that Eddy had become the story, and that made him a liability.
Lord Arthur Somerset was exceptionally well placed to damage Eddy because of his family connections. His sister, Blanche, with whom he kept in close contact throughout the drama, was married to the Marquess of Waterford, older brother of Lord Charles Beresford. In his attempt to damp down the scandal, Oliver Montagu wrote to Blanche Waterford complaining that some female members of her family had been “insinuating things about Prince Eddy.” The woman he had in mind was her sister-in-law: Mina Beresford. Mina had given Daisy Brooke’s incriminating letter to Lord Waterford for safekeeping. She must have known about the Lord Arthur Somerset/Eddy story, and she had every motive to spread damaging rumors. The Cleveland Street scandal was intimately linked to the Beresford affair. Both were fueled by the fury of Mina Beresford.
No doubt Bertie was unaware, but Archbishop Benson was an unfortunate example to choose; his wife, Mary Benson, was a lesbian, and his three sons were homosexuals.
Knollys was accused of leaking against Salisbury. During the debate on 28 February 1890, the Liberal MP Henry Labouchere, the editor of Truth, was challenged to supply the name of his informant for the allegation that Salisbury had tipped off Probyn about the warrant for Lord Arthur Somerset’s arrest. He theatrically wrote a name on a piece of paper, and then tore it up into tiny pieces. Afterward, an MP picked up the pieces, and revealed that the name was Sir Francis Knollys. This prompted Knollys to give an explanation to the PM in an interview with Schomberg McDonnell. According to McDonnell’s memo, Knollys admitted that he had seen Labouchere in November, but claimed he had told him only one thing: that Lord Arthur had fled on the same day as the King’s Cross meeting. “Sir Francis Knollys assures me that with the exception of the above remark he said literally nothing,” noted McDonnell.
A memo by Schomberg McDonnell, Salisbury’s private secretary, appears to vindicate Salisbury. It records an interview with a certain General Marshall, who claimed to have been alerted by Colonel Pearson, the assistant commissioner of police, about the damning evidence against Lord Arthur Somerset. Marshall told Pearson to warn Probyn. This memo is minuted by Salisbury in red ink: “If General Marshall’s impression is accurate Probyn played me an ugly trick for he did his best to make me assent to a letter which would have implied that he had obtained his information from my conversation. He told me that he had no communication with Somerset for several weeks before the flight.”
Bertie had at last concluded that Eddy’s army career was “simply a waste of time.” Eddy was worryingly lacking in energy and self-esteem. Carrington watched him visit Wycombe and make a speech: “When he sat down he turned round and said to me, ‘I have made a rare ass of myself.’ It is pathetic to see how little confidence he has in himself.” Bertie suggested three alternatives. Plan number one was to send Eddy on a long sea voyage to the colonies, out of reach of temptation. Queen Victoria put her foot down. Eddy, she said, had been “dosed” with the Colonies. She urged Bertie’s option two: a European tour.
He has been . . . nowhere but to Denmark in Europe. He is only able to speak French badly and German equally so. He has never, like every other Prince . . . been in contact with any other court but Berlin or seen fine works of Art . . . [He ought] not merely go to young colonies, with no history, no art and nothing but middle class English speaking people . . . If the Prince of Wales is afraid of his making a mesalliance which the Queen is not afraid of, Australia, Canada etc. would be worse in its dangers in this respect.
Bertie, however, was concerned not with Eddy’s education, or lack of it, but with his dissipated behavior, a subject he dared not mention to his mother, as Knollys explained in a note to Salisbury: “Unfortunately [the Queen’s] views on certain social subjects are so strong that the Prince of Wales does not like to tell her the real reasons for sending Prince Eddy away, which is intended as a punishment and as a means of keeping him out of harm’s way, and I am afraid that neither of these objects will be attained by his simply travelling about Europe.”
Bertie’s third option was a surprise: to marry Eddy off to Princess May of Teck. Princess May was the daughter of Queen Victoria’s first cousin Mary, the Duchess of Teck, known to many as Fat Mary. The Duke of Teck was the son of Duke Alexander of Wurttemberg, who made a morganatic marriage to a Hungarian countess. The blight of “commoner’s” blood meant that, instead of succeeding to the throne of Wurttemberg, the Duke of Teck was reduced to “vegetating inconspicuously in England, pruning roses.” Incapable of living within their means, the Tecks ran up large debts; they were pursued by their creditors, and, after the humiliation of auctioning their possessions in 1883, spent two years in exile in Florence.
Perhaps Bertie knew too much about Rosebery. In August 1893, at Homburg, he had helped to rescue him from the mad Marquess of Queensberry. The homophobic marquess, who was the father of Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie), the lover of Oscar Wilde, was convinced that his eldest son, Lord Drumlanrig, private secretary to Rosebery, was having a homosexual affair with Rosebery. He arrived in Homburg determined to “out” “that boy pimp and boy lover Rosebery.” He was met by the police and interviewed by the Prince of Wales, who told him, “We are quiet people at Homburg and don’t like disturbance.” The scandal took another turn in October 1894, when Drumlanrig was found dead during a shoot. The official verdict was accidental death, but dark rumors circulated of suicide and homosexual cover-up, and Rosebery lived in terror that the vicious marquess would denounce him.
When Rosebery offered himself as a suitor for Princess Victoria, he was sharply rebuffed by Alix. Toria, as she was known, was intelligent—not as pretty as Maud, but very “light in hand” according to Carrington. Years later, as an old lady, Anita Leslie recalled Toria reflecting that “there had been someone perfect for her but they would no’t let her marry him—And we could have been so happy— The man, Anita later discovered, was Rosebery.65 At the time, the millionaire widower prime minister seemed far from ideal. Not only did his involvement in politics rule him out,66 but he was nineteen years older than Toria, painfully insomniac, and dogged by damaging rumors of homosexuality. And the fact was that Alix did not want her daughters to marry.
Daisy’s son was born on 21 March 1898. The child was christened with only one name, Maynard, which was Daisy’s maiden name, and the godfathers were Cecil Rhodes and Lord Rosebery, both sexually ambivalent men rumored to be homosexuals. The child was passed off as Lord Warwick’s, but plenty of clues pointed to another father of this baby born after a gap of thirteen years. Bertie’s name was sometimes mentioned, and the “D” symbol does indeed cluster around the Diamond Jubilee in June 1897, when the baby was presumably conceived. Bertie took an interest in the “Diamond Jubilee” baby, as he called it in the letters he wrote to Daisy, but this need not imply paternity. Daisy herself was in no doubt that the father was Joe Laycock.” Having a child by another man was the exit route that Lillie Langtry had chosen from her relationship with the prince, and in Daisy’s case, as with Lillie, Bertie behaved generously, showing no sexual jealousy. Daisy by now had three children by three different men. No wonder that she made a virtue of sexual freedom, telling Lord Rosebery, who she fruitlessly pursued, that “Far too much fuss, in my opinion, is ma by women about personal morality which, after all, is entirely a ma for the individual.” Of the damage done to her children or other people’s marriages, Daisy seemed unaware.