Edward VII, who gave his name to the Edwardian Age but was always known as Bertie, was fifty-nine when he finally came to power in 1901. He was king for the last nine years of his life.
The eldest son of Victoria and Albert, Bertie was bullied by both his parents. Victoria blamed his scandalous womanising for Albert's early demise, and this richly entertaining biography reveals his power struggle with Queen Victoria as one of the stormiest mother-son relationships in history.
Denied any proper responsibilities, the heir to the throne spent his time eating ('Tum Tum'), pursuing women ('Edward the Caresser'), gambling, going to house parties and race meetings, and shooting pheasants. His arranged marriage to the stunning Danish princess Alexandra gave him access to the European dynastic network; but his name was linked with many beauties, including Lillie Langtry and Winston Churchill's mother. The most romantic - and the most dangerous - of his mistresses was Daisy Brooke ('Babbling Brooke') and the most political and manipulative was Alice Keppel.
But contrary to popular belief, the playboy prince was also an instinctive diplomat: when he eventually became king he did a good job, especially in foreign policy. He further confounded his critics by reinventing the monarchy and giving it a new role for the twentieth century. This magnificent and exhaustively researched book - which draws on numerous new discoveries and primary sources - gives Bertie due credit while painting a vivid portrait of the age in all its excess and eccentricity. (pb)