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on November 4, 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
It's difficult to imagine the time and effort that Jane Ridley devoted to her book The Heir Apparent, a long and painstakingly detailed biography of King Edward VII of England. The author has a career-long commitment to studying the history of Great Britain and its monarchs, and delving into archives that had been untouched for a century or more must have been extremely exciting. The author, I'm sure, found her work especially satisfying since discovery of new documentation was due, in good part, to her efforts to make the biography as accurate and complete as possible. When the portrait that emerged from her decade-long study of this massive collection of forgotten or previously ignored sources came to constitute a substantial revision of long-standing assumptions about the role and importance of Edward VII, I'm certain that Ridley was thrilled. She had created something genuinely new: a picture of early 20th Century England that differed significantly from other interpretations.

The eldest son of long-reigning Queen Victoria, the youthful Edward VII, then known as the Prince of Wales and nicknamed Bertie, showed little promise as a prospective British monarch. Insofar as his future required disciplined intelligence and scholarly cultivation, the transition from the high-sounding but devoid-of-duties Prince of Wales to the demanding role of King in a constitutional monarchy seemed a move that Bertie was sure to bungle. Ignorant and ineffectual monarchs are commonplace throughout European history, but the proud Victoria had hoped to produce something much better.

Ironically, the length of Victoria's reign and her lack of confidence in Bertie both contributed to turning him into a womanizer, hard-luck gambler, world-class glutton, and general purpose do-nothing. After all, there were no obligations, whether legally prescribed or traditionally observed, to impose purposeful activity on the Prince of Wales. In the absence of special talents to develop, interests to pursue, or the Queen's request for his assistance, becoming a royal playboy seemed a predictable way to go. The fact that Victoria inexplicably blamed her beloved husband's death on his knowledge of Bertie's first sexual misadventure only made matters worse. Victoria went into permanent mourning, withdrawing from public life, but refused to step aside for Bertie's ascendance to the throne. Without purpose, Bertie drifted into a pattern of dissipation that endured even after he married Princess Alexandra of Denmark.

Bertie's redemption, as Ridley sees it, came after Victoria's death, during his relatively brief time as King. Though he persisted in his sexual adventurism and otherwise gave pride of place to pleasure, his social and political skill in working with others in comparably high positions finally came to the fore. While the King had little power in a constitutional monarchy, especially after Victoria's long and reclusive reign, the author lauds him for the personal persuasive force that he exerted at the highest levels both at home and abroad. Ridley credits Edward VII with with providing the decisive influence that led to the joining of Great Britain, France, and Russia in the entente cordiale, a united front that soon faced the evermore bellicose Germany in World War I. As Ridley sees it, had it not been for the social aptitude, natural charm, and instinctive political acumen of Edward VII, Europe might have become a very different and hostile place, with implications for today that might have been profound.

It is with regard to these latter developments that Ridley parts company with other scholars in that she gives what she judges to be long overdue credit to Edward VII for his behind-the-scenes diplomatic accomplishments. Other observers have noted little difference between the sybaritic Prince of Wales and King Edward VII. Whether or not Ridley is right, she makes a strong case that the playboy Prince became a dutiful and hardworking King, in spite of his continued self-indulgence.

Inevitably, a biography of Edward VII will be loaded with titillating gossip. Sometimes, I think, Ridley includes too much of this, and the reader's attention begins to wane. Nevertheless, her descriptions of how the Prince and then King spent his spare time are historically illuminating. The accounts of shooting vacations bespeak an unacknowledged cruelty and perversion of sportsmanship beyond anything I've previously imagined. Now I know why members of the aristocracy often owned enormous tracts of wooded land and employed game keepers. On a typical shooting day, it was not at all uncommon for ten or twenty blue-bloods armed with shotguns to kill more than a thousand pheasants or grouse, driven towards them as they waited in their stands to shoot indiscriminately at a veritable cloud of birds. The disposition of the products of such a slaughter is not told.

Whether or not one construes such a grotesque activity as sport, it speaks volumes as to the resources available to the high born and wealthy. Edward VII's one reported glimpse of the condition of the poor in England left him shaken and horrified. Clearly, he had never imagined such misery and degradation, and to his credit, as King he devoted a good deal of effort to charitable ventures. Nevertheless, the gluttony, bed-hopping, and high-priced cruises and vacations taken for granted by Edward VII and his kind stood in the sharpest possible contrast to the lives of most of the population of Great Britain. This is well known, but Ridley displays it so graphically that it takes on new meaning.

Edward VII was a man of his time. I think the author may have unwittingly exaggerated his accomplishments as King, but she does show us forcefully that he was a wounded soul who had been treated with inexcusable, neurotic cruelty by his mother, and that was something that stayed with him.

There is so much information in this well written book that a review can give it only a cursory gloss. Whether intended or not, the author's treatment of Edward VII's life leaves the reader with a renewed and sobering appreciation of the finite nature of our time on earth, and the eventful and changing character of a fairly long life course. The Heir Apparent is long and extremely detailed, but I found reading it well worth the time and effort.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
King Edward VII's reign lasted only 9 years, but it is usually remembered as a sort of Golden Age of British eminence, a time when two-fifths of the world was ruled from London and the seas were dominated by an all powerful Royal Navy. King Edward VII's popular image is well suited for that conception: a large, powerful, domineering man, self-confident and vain, a roue who moved from one mistress to another as well as a statesman who maintained the peace. Jane Ridley's new biography of the King validates many of these conceptions, but with the help of some new material calls others into question.

It is easy to be appalled by the circumstances under which Edward VII spent his boyhood. He was raised under an exhausting and unimaginative regimen which did not suit him, and was continually reminded by his parents Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of how much depended on him and how disappointed they were that he did not live up to their expectations. He might have grown up a bitter and badly warped personality, but instead he became a kindly, if sometimes thoughtless individual who loved fun and games. His mother refused to allow him to play any role in government, meaning that he had to fill his days with amusements. He was married at a young age to the beautiful Princess Alexandra, and he indulged himself with a series of romantic affairs and a number of semi-official mistresses, including Lillie Langtry. Ridley's account of those years is enlivened by some new material made available to her for the first time from the Royal Archives and from other sources, providing new details on some of the Prince of Wales' love affairs (which may or may not all have been physical in nature but did result in at least one illegitimate child) and on some of the notorious scandals in which he became embroiled, including the Mordaunt Divorce, the Aylesford Affair, and the Tranby Croft Scandal. She also deals with some of the more serious activities the Prince was involved in, including his efforts to improve conditions for the poor in East London.

Edward VII took the throne at age 59 in 1901. His reputation meant few people took him seriously, but Ridley makes it clear that his reputation as a good King and as a Peacemaker are not undeserved. He attempted to play an active role in government, sometimes to the discomfiture of the elected leadership, which had to educate him on the proper role of a constitutional monarch. In foreign affairs he really led the way by helping to better relations with France and Russia and in attempting to keep the peace in Europe, often making use of his position as "Uncle of Europe" by relying on his numerous family connections to influence foreign powers. By the time he died in 1910 King Edward VII was highly popular and widely regarded as a good, if not great, monarch.

Jane Ridley's biography is a sympathetic one, though she does not gloss over the King's personal failings. I enjoyed reading the quick character sketches she provides for the courtiers, family members, and government officials with whom King Edward interacted. Her analyses of the King's influence on British foreign policy in the years leading up to World War I are perceptive as well. It is easy to understand from this biography why the British people cheered so loudly for "Good Old Teddy!" and mourned so deeply when he died.
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VINE VOICEon November 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Albert Edward, the future king Edward VII, seemed a most unlikely candidate for a successful monarch. An "heir apparent" for longer than anyone except Prince Charles, he did not ascend the throne until he was fifty-nine. Even his mother, the redoubtable Queen Victoria, thought him an unworthy successor and blamed him for the death of her beloved husband, Albert. Bertie, as he was know to the family, preferred to leave the inhospitable and monastic life of Buckingham Palace to spend time drinking, gambling and enjoying a long series of mistresses. And yet, he proved to be most effective upon becoming king, counting among his successes strengthening the defence of the realm while improving relations with Britain's allies.

In this meticulously researched and very well written history, Ms. Ridley made excellent use of her unrestricted access to royal archives at Windsor Castle. What emerges is not only a delightful biography of Edward, but also an engaging glimpse of the era in which he lived. This is truly living history.
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on March 5, 2014
This is a very well researched book on the life, loves, and tribulations of "Bertie" alias King Edward VII. The author has done a very fine job of searching the diaries, the letters, and pertinent historical events which took place in the late 19th century and early 20th century. However, the book does have some major flaws. The author needs to return to school and study carefully with a skilled grammar educator since the book is loaded with poor grammar. The author and the editor with Random House have allowed poor use in many "run-on" sentences; incorrect usage of the subjunctive mode; poor pronoun usage in that the referent source is confusing; and multiple names for the same person which leaves the reader guessing. These distractions do not destroy the value of the fine research carried out, but do confuse the reader too often and are simply unnecessary. I expect more from an author and the editor who was supposed to properly edit the publication.,
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on November 9, 2015
This was quite an interesting read, but at least for me, more so for the insights to Queen Victoria (an especially her relationship with Albert), and the lifestyles of the royal and titled society of the time. I have to admit that about a third of the way through the book it felt rather repetitive in terms of Bertie/Edward as it felt like the same situations over and over - he was a cad and after establishing that fact, well it was him bouncing from woman to woman. So most of the bits about Edward felt more gossipy than anything, again at least for me. The real enjoyment of this one was, as mentioned earlier, the details about the Queen mother and society of the time.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have always been fascinated by the British Royal family, and you would be hard pressed to find a more colorful royal than King Edward VII. Jane Ridley gives us a very revealing look at the man who spent more time as Prince of Wales than any other prince in British history in The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince. She was granted unrestricted access to the papers of Edward VII in the Royal Archives, and thousands of them were never seen before by outside researchers. The profile shows King Edward, known a Bertie, in a new light. This is especially important because "after his death the politicians attempted to write him out of diplomatic history."

Albert Edward (Bertie) was the second child and oldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. From the start, Bertie was a disappointment, lagging far behind his oldest sister, Vicky. It wasn't that Bertie was dumb. More likely, he was a lazy and unmotivated student. He was the type of child who responded to positive reinforcement and kindness--something not to be found with his strict parents, who insisted on stricter tutors. The prince grew up to be a social, likeable, but hedonistic adult.

With Bertie, it was a question of the chicken of the egg. Did Victoria's refusal to give him any active role in her government lead to his self-indulgent lifestyle? Or did Bertie's pleasure-seeking ways keep Victoria from trusting him with state matters? Bertie over-indulged in everything from women to food to gambling to smoking.

Ridley claims that through her research, she realized that Bertie "grew up" and that "My affection grew for the man condemned to the lifetime of indulgence and political impotence while he waited for his mother to die." Yes, Bertie was a better King than he ever was a Prince of Wales. He spoke fluent German and French and through his constant travels, was a roving ambassador for England. He was the first constitutional monarch and modernized the monarchy. He was active in foreign policy and through his nieces and nephews, was considered the uncle of Europe. And he brought back ceremony and strict protocol--something that had lapsed under Victoria. He also made himself available to his subjects, and was well-loved by them. But I still see a man who neglected his wife, had more mistresses than we will ever know, "borrowed" large sums of money from his Jewish friends, drove some of his friends toward bankruptcy when he visited them for weekend house parties, and could easily write-off friends when he disapproved of something (even trivial). While I admire many aspects about Bertie, I'm still not sure that I warmed to him as a person.

Jane Ridley did a commendable job in writing this biography. If I found one weakness, it is that there is virtually nothing about Bertie's three daughters. But in other aspects, The Heir Apparent is the best work about King Edward VII to come along in almost 50 years.
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on June 18, 2015
I didn't want this book to end. Edward's story is better than any soap opera because it's absolutely true. Ridley did an excellent job in juggling all the remarkable aspects of his personality and life story. Well written, historically accurate, and wonderfully juicy. A good read for anyone who thinks history is boring.
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VINE VOICEon November 3, 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
It's a cliche to say that a book "reads like a novel," but I found it true here: the account of Edward's life is so vivid and detailed that I became emotionally involved to a degree unusual for a historical work. It gets off to a fast start: as is traditional for biographies, it starts with an account of the subject's parents and grandparents, which is usually a section ripe for skimming or skipping, but not here. Instead, we're treated to an entertaining and amusing account of the "race for an heir" which occurred after the death of Princess Charlotte in 1817, and the book continues in this vein, with numerous surprising and engaging accounts of Edward and his far-flung family.

Ridley was given unprecedented access to the royal archives and in many places in the book it feels like we're looking over the shoulders of the characters as we read their mail, in an era before telephones, where important matters (of state and flirtation) were generally entrusted to pen and paper. The book ranges over Edward's entire very large family. As expected, we get a lot of information on his upbringing by Victoria and Albert (much deeper than anything I'd read before); there's a good analysis of Edward's relationship with his nephew Kaiser Wilhelm; and Ridley even finds space to briefly but adequately refute the Eddy/Ripper theory.

As expected, Edward's relations with women were a major part of his life. I had no idea of the enormous number of women with whom he engaged in flirtations of one degree or another -- it sometimes seemed that half the interesting women in British society were somehow involved with him! Ridley discusses the degree to which these relationships were physical, and tends to put most of them in the category of simple flirtations, but as she admits, it's hard to know (in 2013) exactly what went on during those afternoon assignations while complaisant (or indignant) husbands were conveniently absent.

Any shortcomings? I did find myself getting a bit bogged down in the lengthy discussion of political affairs after Edward's accession to the throne, especially the treatment of the constitutional crisis of 1909-10, and (having been a fan of The Duchess of Duke Street years ago), I missed reading about Rosa Lewis. But these are quibbles. Once you pick this up, be prepared to spend several days immersed in Edward's world. A good book to take on a long quiet vacation.
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on January 16, 2014
Jane Ridley's new book, "The Heir Apparent", is an exhaustive but comprehensive look at the life of Edward VII, King of England from 1901-1910. The eldest child of Queen Victoria, Edward, known as Bertie for most of his life, led a charmed existence that defied the boundaries of the Victorian age. Socially outgoing, Bertie was known for his dinner parties, his cigar smoking, his shooting adventures and for his courtship of women outside of his marriage to Queen Alix. His excesses were both frowned upon and accepted by the public, giving his mother fits and starts for years and years.

Much of the book centers not only on these attributes but also on the relationship of Bertie to his mother. It's really surprising that they got along as well as they did, given their different and distinct natures. Not willing to share any power with Bertie, Victoria kept, or at least tried to keep, a tight rein on her philandering son, mostly without success. Long stretches of "The Heir Apparent" are devoted to decades of Bertie's social life but there are revealing aspects of how Bertie finally grew into the King he was to become.

His eight-plus years as king saw Europe getting closer to war and even Bertie, now King Edward, predicted that war would come and that his nephew, Kaiser William, would start it. While author Ridley nicely relates the transition of Edward from prince to king, I think she might give a little too much credit to Edward for the changes in the monarchy. After decades of a colorless monarchy, the monarchy itself was bound to change. The fact that Edward was at the center of it certainly helped but the case that he was a strong king leaves me a little curious at the end as to why, exactly, other than he wasn't his mother. Her shadow loomed large even during his reign. While certainly not a hagiography, Ridley, no doubt, thoroughly enjoys her subject.

"The Heir Apparent" is a fine read even if the dozens of names are hard to keep up with over the course of the book. There is a lesson here in English politics and for the uninitiated this can be a bit of a weight for the reader, but nonetheless there is much fascination in the life of Edward VII to warrant a read. I recommend it.
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on December 27, 2013
Dr. Jane Ridley is a British scholar who is to be commended for this excellent biography of King Edward VII (1841-1910. "Bertie" as he was known to his circle of aristocratic friends was the second child and first son born to Queen Victoria (1819-1901). Bertie was isolated by his stern father and mother. Prince Consort Albert kept the lad under tight wraps having him privately tutored. Bertie attended both Oxford and Cambridge leaving without a degree. He served for a while as a Colonel in the military but spent most of his long tenure as Prince of Wales as a party animal.
Bertie was wed to Princess Alexandra of Denmark who was a beauty but had little brain power, His list of mistresses from low class prostitutes such as Nelly Clifton to well born and wealthy wives of his friends., Among the legion of the obese monarch's lovers are Lily Langtry the famous public beauty from the isle of Jersey; Lady Daisy Warwick; Alice Keppel (one of Camilla Parker-Bowles relatives); Jennie Churchill the New York born mother of Winston Churchill; French actress Sarah Bernhardt and countless more in all the major countries of nineteenth century Victorian Europe. Bertie was involved in several scandals concerning his amours as well as the famous Tranby Croft cheating at cards scandal in which he was forced to testify in public. Bertie and Alexandra had five children seeing the early death of their son Eddie who was the heir to the throne. Their second son George became King George V from 1910-1936 while their son Edward VIII was King of England for ten months in 1936 before forsaking the throne for Mrs. Simpson his American lover and future wife.
Bertie led a life of sybaritic indulgence. He enjoyed hunting, theatre, opera, chasing women and eating gargantuan meals as he was lavishly entertained at Britain's country homes of the very wealthy He loved cigars and dining in late evening rendezvous with his many women friends.. Bertie traveled widely enjoying Paris and German watering holes where he took the cure. He loved horse racing and his horses won the English Derby on several occasions, He sought to prevent war in Europe dying before World War I became reality. King Edward hated Kaiser Wilhelm II his sister Vicky's German Kaiser son and help cement the Triple Entente with France and Russia. The Tsar of Russia Nicholas II's mother was Minnie the sister of Queen Alexandra.
Bertie had a long and complex relationship with Queen Victoria. The queen blamed him for his father Albert's death from typhoid and disapproved of his fast life lived at Marlborough House.
Bertie was not the brightest jewel in the British crown's history but he did perceive that modern kingship was all about putting on a show for the nation. He was beloved by his people at the end of his short reign.
Jane Ridley has written one of the best accounts of an English monarch I have read it years. Her research into the royal archives and Bertie's thousands of letters has led her to become an expert on the Edwardian world and the man who ruled with tolerance and wit. Bertie was noted for his friendship with Jewish persons which is a refreshing fact about the playboy prince. He demanded formality in dress and court etiquette and could be cruel. Overall Edward VII was a much better king than his critics would have guessed from his hedonistic lifestyle.
the book includes period photographs and a useful index and textual notes, Enjoy this excellent biography of Edward VII!
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