He was the eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and known to his family as ‘Bertie’. As Prince of Wales he did not meet his parent’s expectations of duty and during his mother’s long reign devoted himself to being self-indulgent. He was likeable, sociable and outgoing but became known as a playboy interested in horse racing, shooting, eating, drinking and other men’s wives.
In 1863 he married Alexandra of Denmark and the marriage was a reasonably happy producing 6 children. Alexandra tolerated his succession of mistresses who included Lille Lantry (actress), Lady Churchill (mother of Winston Churchill), Sarah Bernhardt (actress) and Alice Keppel (great-grandmother of Camilla wife of Charles the current Prince of Wales). Having mistresses was at the time not uncommon amongst the aristocracy, but his mother despaired of him and kept him away from taking an active part in politics even after Albert's death and she was elderly and retired to Balmoral and Osborne. In 1871 Edward survived a serious illness of typhoid which had killed his father. His eldest son Albert who was engaged to Mary of Teck died of pneumonia.
Edward was well received abroad and as heir-apparent toured India in 1875. When he finally became King Edward VII on the death of his mother in 1901, he frequently made trips to Europe including France where he contributed to the Anglo-French ‘Entente Cordiale’ signed in 1904, to Russia and the Triple Entente between Britain, Russia and France which a few years later would play an important role in affairs on the outbreak of World War I. He supported reform of the army following the Boer War, and Admiral Fisher’s expansion of the Royal Navy including building the new Dreadnought battleships.
The Edwardian period was seen as golden age for the upper class in Europe and America, but society was changing – socialism, women suffragettes, the Labour party and trade unions were becoming powerful and the founding of Britain’s Welfare State. ‘We are all socialists now’ he is reported to have remarked. In an increasing democratic society Edward saw the importance of displaying the mystique of pomp and circumstance of the monarchy, and seeing and being seen by the people. A role he and his successors took to well. He died of pneumonia at Buckingham Palace in 1910 and was succeeded by his second son George V (Royal family history: www.britroyals.com)