Albert Edward, better known as Edward VII, was nicknamed “Bertie” by his mother, Queen Victoria. The heir apparent to the throne of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, he would become the Emperor of India, as well. Though destined to succeed the queen, she lived in fear of his taking over; believing him to be incompetent, unfit, and too morally corrupt to ever hold the position.
She was not entirely wrong. His home at Marlboro House became the nexus of a vast social, political, and economic network, as well as the source of scandal. To be part of the Marlboro House Set meant you had made it to the top. It also meant you were open to swapping husbands and wives, as well as having lovers on the side.
Despite having a wife and children, Edward VII enjoyed the company of prostitutes and had several mistresses. Some of the latter would influence his reputation, his career, and his own outlook in life.
Lady Harriet Mordaunt
Sir Charles Mordaunt was a Conservative MP and a baronet who lived at Walton Hall. Wealthy and powerful, he and his wife were also part of the Marlboro House Set, but Mordaunt was not willing to share her. As such, Bertie was never invited to their estate.
The baronet was known for his love of fishing trips, however, and rumor had it that Harriet enjoyed other men in his absence. Bertie was one of these. In 1896, Sir Charles returned unexpectedly, caught the two together, and the rest is history.
When Harriet gave birth to a blind daughter a year later, she saw it as punishment for her indiscretions. She told her husband that she did not know who the father was, and that Bertie could have been one of many.
Sir Charles sued for divorce and used letters she had exchanged with the heir apparent as sufficient grounds for attaining one. Bertie was called in to testify, further adding to the scandal. Though he walked away unscathed, it enforced the idea that he was above the law. It also destroyed Harriet who spent the rest of her life in an asylum.
Frances Evelyn Greville
Lady Frances nearly became Bertie’s in-law when Queen Victoria considered marrying her off to her other son, Prince Leopold. Leopold was not interested, however, so she instead married Lord Brooke, the 5th Earl of Warwick, making her a countess.
Another member of the Marlboro House Set, she was also an inveterate gossip. To her face, the group called her “Daisy,” but behind her back, she was the “Babbling Brooke.” Daisy would involve Bertie in a scandal over one of her lovers, as well as over the Royal Baccarat Incident which would destroy his reputation and teach him to temper his wilder side. It would also teach him the value of choosing his mistresses better.
For all her faults, however, Daisy did have a social conscience. Thanks to her, Bertie supported many public housing projects, social work, and other poor relief programs, some of which still exist today.
Despite being born wealthy and a renowned humanitarian in her day, Agnes was also a courtesan, but only to the very rich and powerful. Agnes and her sister had medical training, and at the request of Bertie, converted their London house into a hospital for the soldiers hurt during the Boer War. Today, it is the King Edward VII’s Hospital Sister Agnes. For her service, she became a Dame of Grace of the Venerable Order of St. John.
Agnes became a lifelong and favorite mistress of Bertie, even getting along with his wife, Princess Alexandra of Denmark. She also got along with the rest of the royal family, who accepted her as they had never accepted the others. Because of that, she was also the first (some argue the only one) to be accepted by the public as Bertie’s official mistress.
She never got married, an unusual state of affairs in those days, which has led many to speculate that she was deeply in love with the heir apparent. Whatever the case, she was his constant companion for the last twelve years of his life, staying with him even as he entertained other mistresses and enjoyed other courtesans and prostitutes.
Alice Frederica Keppel
The daughter of Sir William Edmonstone, the 4th Baronet, and the wife of Lieutenant-Colonel George Keppel, Alice and her husband did not have much money — at least not as much to maintain the lavish lifestyle typical of the Marlboro House Set. To make up for it, Alice became a courtesan to the wealthy, so it did not take long for Bertie to notice her.
He was already with Agnes at the time the two met, creating a strange trio that somehow worked. Like Agnes, Alice got along well with Alexandra. Though Alice was never completely embraced by the royal family in the same way that Agnes was, she was accepted up to a point.
It was even commented by other members of the Marlboro House Set that Alice had a somewhat calming effect on Bertie, who was renowned for his temper tantrums. Even better, she could control him, keeping him in line up to a point. Unlike the Babbling Brooke, she also was renowned for her discretion and sense of diplomacy.
When Edward VII lay dying in 1910, Alice was even allowed to stand by his bedside together with Alexandra. It seems she may have genuinely loved him because she ended up becoming hysterical, which required her to be dragged away.
Other prominent mistresses included the actresses Lillie Langtry and Sarah Bernhardt, the famous singer Hortense Schneider, and the prostitute to the powerful: Giulia Barucci. Rumor has it that he even had an affair with Lady Randolph Churchill, Winston Churchill’s mother.
Despite his hedonism or because of it, Edward VII was better suited to power than his mother was. It also made him a modern leader, in better touch with others.