The Edwardian Era

by Ellen Micheletti

The Edwardian era was a last fling for Society in Great Britain before the horrors of World War I. It was a time of elegant clothes and lavish parties. I've often wondered why it is not more popular among romance writers.

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The Edwardian era overlapped the Victorian era. After Prince Albert's death, Queen Victoria went into mourning for the rest of her life. For a very long time she refused to take part in public functions and she never again took part in Society. Her place in the social life of London was taken by her oldest son and heir Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (known as Bertie).

Bertie was the second child of Victoria and Albert. While he was not a stupid man, he was not as intellectually gifted as was his older sister Vicky. As he grew up, Bertie was kept on a rigid educational schedule and literally stuffed with facts and figures. This only caused him to rebel against books, and when he became an adult, he seldom read anything, preferring to get his information directly from people. Bertie grew up to be a charming man and a real people person, but he was easily bored and had to be entertained constantly. He was fond of shooting, the theatre, horse racing, food and especially women. Society hostesses racked their brains trying to come up with diversions to keep His Royal Highness happy when he was dining with them or staying at one of their houses.

Bertie lost his virginity at an Army camp when he met a pretty young woman named Nellie Clifden. When Prince Albert heard about it, he went to the camp to talk to Bertie and caught a chill which weakened him. Albert died shortly after this incident and Queen Victoria unfairly blamed his death on Bertie's fall from grace. The Victorian remedy to keep a young man from further sowing his wild oats was to find him a wife. In Bertie's case she had to be a Royal princess who was a Protestant and she had to be pretty. Victoria settled on Princess Alexandra of Denmark as Bertie's future wife.

Alexandra (known as Alix), was the Princess Diana of her day. She was beautiful - tall, slim and elegant and able to wear clothes and jewelry with grace and style. She set several fashions. To cover a small scar on her neck, she adopted high collared dresses and blouses for day and choker necklaces for evening. Her poodle-fringe hair style was adopted by many women, even those on whom it did not look very attractive (like her daughters). When Alix was left with a stiff knee after a bout of rheumatic fever, some of the women in Society copied her limp and called it the Alexandra Glide.

Bertie and Alix became the undisputed leaders of Society, the members of which spent their time in pursuit of pleasure. A popular pastime among the Prince of Wales' set was the large house party where members of Society would gather at each others homes to eat, drink, dance, hunt, play games and meet lovers. Edwardian Society was just as casual in its attitude toward sexual fidelity as Regency Society - as long as one followed the rules.

A young unmarried woman was off-limits. She was always chaperoned and expected to behave with the utmost propriety. After her marriage, her duty was to provide an heir for the family name and fortune plus a "spare" for the heir. After she had done this, she was free to indulge herself in love affairs provided she was discrete and nothing became public. If a few of the younger children in a family did not look like their father - well, one never commented on a likeness. As for the lady's husband, he could indulge himself with other married women as long as they had given their husbands an heir.

The Prince of Wales set the tone for these extra-marital goings on. He had many affairs ranging from casual ones with actresses to long-term relationships with several women. Bertie's first serious affair was with Lillie Langtry. She was accepted in Society as the Prince's "official" mistress and they remained friends even after the affair broke off. Bertie's next long term affair was with Daisy, Lady Brooke. He loved her very much for a time, and even referred to her as his "darling little Daisy-wife", but after she became devoted to politics, she began to bore him and they broke off their affair. They remained friends, however. Bertie's last serious affair was with The Honorable Mrs. George Keppel. Mrs. Keppel was liked by everyone because she was the soul of discretion and was able to keep Bertie amused and entertained. Even Alexandra tolerated Mrs. Kepple. When Bertie was on his deathbed, Alexandra sent for Mrs. Kepple to say goodbye to him. It is interesting to note that Mrs. Keppel is the great great-grandmother of Camilla Parker-Bowles, Prince Charles's love.

As for Alexandra, she had no affairs. Alexandra devoted herself to her five children (two boys and three girls) who called her "Darling Motherdear". She had a devoted swain in her equerry, Oliver Montague who loved her passionately, but platonically, for years. Bertie loved her too, in his own way. He was proud of her beauty and charm and went out of his way not to embarrass her in public. After he died, Alexandra was heard to say, "At least, he loved me the best."

 

Ellen is the editor of the Historical Cheat Sheet and an AAR Editor/Reviewer - you can email her via the link here
Find links to all of Ellen's Historical Cheat Sheet articles at the end of Servants



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