Edward VII (Albert Edward; November 9, 1841 – May 6, 1910) was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the British Dominions, and Emperor of India from January 22, 1901 until his death in 1910.
The eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and nicknamed “Bertie”, Edward was related to royalty throughout Europe. He was Prince of Wales and heir apparent to the British throne for almost 60 years.
During the long reign of his mother, he was largely excluded from political influence and came to personify the fashionable, leisured elite. He travelled throughout Britain performing ceremonial public duties, and represented Britain on visits abroad.
His tours of North America in 1860 and of the Indian subcontinent in 1875 proved popular successes, but despite public approval, his reputation as a playboy prince soured his relationship with his mother.
As king, Edward played a role in the modernisation of the British Home Fleet and the reorganisation of the British Army after the Second Boer War of 1899–1902. He re-instituted traditional ceremonies as public displays and broadened the range of people with whom royalty socialised.
He fostered good relations between Britain and other European countries, especially France, for which he was popularly called “Peacemaker”, but his relationship with his nephew, the German Emperor Wilhelm II, was poor.
The Edwardian era, which covered Edward’s reign and was named after him, coincided with the start of a new century and heralded significant changes in technology and society, including steam.
Edward habitually smoked twenty cigarettes and twelve cigars a day. In 1907, a rodent ulcer, a type of cancer affecting the skin next to his nose, was cured with radium. Towards the end of his life he increasingly suffered from bronchitis.
He suffered a momentary loss of consciousness during a state visit to Berlin in February 1909. In March 1910, he was staying at Biarritz when he collapsed. He remained there to convalesce, while in London Asquith tried to get the Finance Bill passed.
The king’s continued ill health was unreported, and he attracted criticism for staying in France while political tensions were so high. On April 27, he returned to Buckingham Palace, still suffering from severe bronchitis. Alexandra returned from visiting her brother, King George I of Greece, in Corfu a week later on May 5.
On May 6, Edward suffered several heart attacks, but refused to go to bed, saying, “No, I shall not give in; I shall go on; I shall work to the end.” Between moments of faintness, his son the Prince of Wales (shortly to be King George V) told him that his horse, Witch of the Air, had won at Kempton Park that afternoon.
The king replied, “Yes, I have heard of it. I am very glad”: his final words. At 11:30 p.m. he lost consciousness for the last time and was put to bed. He died 15 minutes later. The Prince of Wales succeeded to the throne as King George V.
Alexandra refused to allow Edward’s body to be moved for eight days afterwards, though she allowed small groups of visitors to enter his room. On May 11, the late king was dressed in his uniform and placed in a massive oak coffin, which was moved on May 14 to the throne room, where it was sealed and lay in state, with a guardsman standing at each corner of the bier.
Despite the time that had elapsed since his death, Alexandra noted the King’s body remained “wonderfully preserved”. On the morning of May 17, the coffin was placed on a gun carriage and drawn by black horses to Westminster Hall, with the new king, his family and Edward’s favourite dog, Caesar, walking behind.
Following a brief service, the royal family left, and the hall was opened to the public; over 400,000 people filed past the coffin over the next two days. As Barbara Tuchman noted in The Guns of August, his funeral, held on 20 May 1910, marked “the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last.” A royal train conveyed the king’s coffin from London to Windsor Castle, where Edward was buried at St George’s Chapel.