A new biography details the life of the late king, Edward VII, who turned 100 this past Sunday. The book, The Mad King, is by Geoffrey Wansell, and was published this year. It is the culmination of more than a decade of research, interviewing more than 200 witnesses and piecing together rare archival material. The BBC has published an extract from the book. You can read the full extract below or visit this link to read the whole article.

A “Mad” King

The book opens inauspiciously with the death of King George, “the peacemaker”, who had reigned for just 19 years. His son, King Edward VII, had been an invalid since birth, and was being cared for by his grandmother, Queen Victoria. Shortly after King George’s death, Edward VII, who had been staying at Balmoral, the Queen Victoria’s residence in Scotland, returned to London. He wanted to see his son King George’s funeral, which was held in London on Friday, 10 December 1881. At the funeral, Edward VII is said to have approached the pallbearers and offered to shake hands with them. He did not approve of the handshakes traditionally given at a funeral, as it was seen as a sign of closeness to the deceased.

Throughout the rest of the book, Wansell alternates between describing Edward VII’s life and the troubled times in which he lived, with occasional short chapters on other topics such as his love of dogs, hunting, and horse racing. The book also contains several biographical sketches of the king’s well-known contemporaries, many of whom have featured in movies and television shows (like Sherlock Holmes, for example).

The biography describes Edward VII as a “deliberate, whimsical, self-indulgent, and mischievous monarch”. It also claims that he was “notoriously pro-German” during the First World War, and that he was closely linked to the royal family of Germany. Interestingly, the author states that the king was driven by his need for excitement, and that he surrounded himself with people whom he could manipulate. For example, he would often have staff members fetch and carry for him, as he found it easier to direct them than to ask his guests to help.

The Mad King has a foreword by Prince Charles. In it, he states that the book will give the reader a sound understanding of Edward VII, and that it is an important moment in history, as it was the last year of his life. He also praises the book for its detailed and comprehensive A-Z of the king’s life.

Happy Birthday

On Sunday, the 100th birthday of King Edward VII, the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme spoke to Simon Louzell, the king’s great-grandboy and CEO of the Edward VII Hotel in London. He offered his own thoughts on the king, whom he called “one of the most extraordinary men ever to sit on the throne.”

“He’s been pretty much a legend since he was born,” said Louzell. “Not many people can say they’ve spent a century serving under three monarchs. He’s the ultimate gentleman…He’s a real character. I think he’s going to be missed.”

The hotelier also spoke about the difficulties of running a business in today’s climate. “We’re going through some pretty tough times,” he said. “It’s not just the pandemic. It’s been tough for everyone. People aren’t as interested in luxuries as they used to be, so it’s harder to make a profit as a hotel.”

Louzell also said that he expects the anniversary to be celebrated in a way that is both appropriate and fitting. “He was a great king, and everyone should recognise that he was a great king,” he said. “But he was also a great human being, and we should celebrate that as well.”

Wansell’s extensive research also yielded many interesting facts about the king’s reign, such as the colour of his teeth, which were reportedly bright red. The author writes that the king had a large collection of Faberge eggs, which he would often gift to his guests. He also liked to play odd records at full volume, as his staff would often complain about the loud music after working hours were over. Finally, although the king was always referred to as “mad” or “crazy”, his biographer states that Edward VII was in fact highly intelligent and accomplished, citing his good penmanship, his love of languages, and his knowledge of history, as examples.

As a centenarian, the king undoubtedly had many more interesting stories to tell. Perhaps one day, we will learn more about his life and reign, as well as the rest of his remarkable story. For now, let’s celebrate this extraordinary man, whose birthday we will always remember.