One From the Archive: ‘Bertie: A Life of Edward VII’ by Jane Ridley ***

Bertie: A Life of Edward VIII is both a Sunday Times bestseller, and a shortlisted work for the Duff Cooper Prize, which Jane Ridley previously won in 2003.  Since its publication last year, it has been highly praised by critics and readers alike.

‘Bertie’ by Jane Ridley

Bertie was born in 1841, and was the eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.  He became king of England and its empire in 1901, following the death of his mother, and ruled until his death in 1910.  In Bertie: A Life of Edward VIII, Ridley has created an incredibly comprehensive biography of Edward VII, who gave his name to the Edwardian era.  His full name being Albert Edward, which he vehemently disliked, he was known to all by the nickname of Bertie, and that is how Ridley refers to him throughout.

Ridley has split her book into three sections – ‘Youth’, ‘Expanding Middle’ and ‘King’.  The chapters within these sections range from ‘Bertie’s Fall 1861’ and ‘Prince of Pleasure 1881-1887’ to ‘Annus Horibilos 1870-1871’ and ‘Scandal 1889-1890’.  Extensive family trees of both Bertie and his wife Alix (Alexandra, Princess of Schleswig-Holstein-Sanderberg-Glucksberg) have been included at the outset, and are incredibly useful tools in the wealth of the information which the book presents.  Bertie: A Life of Edward VIII has taken Ridley ten years to write, and is incredibly large.  The biography itself runs to just under five hundred pages, and the Notes and References for almost seventy more.

In Bertie: A Life of Edward VIII, Ridley has set out to show how, unlike the ‘vivid, candid and intensely human’ letters which Queen Victoria wrote to her eldest daughter Vicky, her correspondence to Bertie was ‘often judgemental…  Her anger leapt from the page, startling in its urgency even today’.  Indeed, Bertie’s life, particularly with regard to his childhood, was a very sad one.  Queen Victoria had not wanted to become pregnant so soon – finding herself expecting once again just a few months after giving birth to Vicky – and was ‘furious’ about it.  She developed post-natal depression and did not bond with her son in consequence.  Bertie was subsequently disliked and even bullied by his parents, who ‘recognised that he was less gifted than his sister’, whom both Victoria and Albert doted upon.  Such treatment caused Bertie to turn to comfort eating, gambling and having affairs.

Throughout, Ridley has decided to write her account of Bertie’s reign as ‘a story’, because she wished ‘to convey a sense of the king’s preoccupations and achievements’ and believed that such a narrative was the best way in which to do so.  She is correct – the biography is far-reaching and does include a lot of information, but it has been written in such a way that it never seems dry or repetitive.  Bertie: A Life of Edward VIII is thoroughly researched and well written, and is well worth a read if you have any interest whatsoever in its subject, or in the British royal family.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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