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September 1861, Prince Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, was sent to Germany, supposedly to watch military manoeuvres, but actually in order to engineer a meeting between him and Princess Alexandra of Denmark, the eldest daughter of Prince Christian of Denmark and his wife Louise of Hesse-Cassel. Prince Christian would become King Christian IX of Denmark in 1863.

The Queen and Prince Albert had already decided that Edward and Alexandra should marry. They met at Speyer on September 24 under the auspices of his elder sister, Victoria, who had married Prince Friedrich of Prussia in 1858.

Albert Edward’s sister, acting upon instructions from their mother, had met Alexandra at Strelitz in June; the young Danish princess made a very favourable impression. Albert Edward and Alexandra were friendly from the start; the meeting went well for both sides, and marriage plans advanced.

Albert Edward gained a reputation as a playboy. Determined to get some army experience, he attended manoeuvres in Ireland, during which he spent three nights with an actress, Nellie Clifden, who was hidden in the camp by his fellow officers.

The marriage of the Prince of Wales with Princess Alexandra of Denmark, Windsor, March 10, 1863

Prince Albert, though ill, was appalled and visited Albert Edward at Cambridge to issue a reprimand. Albert died in December 1861 just two weeks after the visit. Queen Victoria was inconsolable, wore mourning clothes for the rest of her life and blamed Albert Edward for his father’s death. At first, she regarded her son with distaste as frivolous, indiscreet and irresponsible. She wrote to her eldest daughter, “I never can, or shall, look at him without a shudder.”


Once widowed, Queen Victoria effectively withdrew from public life. Shortly after Prince Albert’s death, she arranged for Albert Edward to embark on an extensive tour of the Middle East, visiting Egypt, Jerusalem, Damascus, Beirut and Istanbul.

The British Government wanted Albert Edward to secure the friendship of Egypt’s ruler, Said Pasha, to prevent French control of the Suez Canal if the Ottoman Empire collapsed. It was the first royal tour on which an official photographer, Francis Bedford, was in attendance.

As soon as Albert Edward returned to Britain, preparations were made for his engagement, which was sealed at Laeken in Belgium on September 9, 1862. Albert Edward married Alexandra of Denmark at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, on March 10, 1863. He was 21; she was 18.

The couple established Marlborough House as their London residence and Sandringham House in Norfolk as their country retreat. They entertained on a lavish scale. Their marriage met with disapproval in certain circles because most of Queen Victoria’s relations were German, and Denmark was at loggerheads with Germany over the territories of Schleswig and Holstein.

When Alexandra’s father inherited the throne of Denmark in November 1863, the German Confederation took the opportunity to invade and annex Schleswig-Holstein. The Queen was of two minds as to whether it was a suitable match, given the political climate. After the marriage, she expressed anxiety about their socialite lifestyle and attempted to dictate to them on various matters, including the names of their children.

Albert Edward and Alexandra were distant cousins from their mutual descent from King George II of Great Britain.

The Prince and Princess of Wales

Albert Edward had mistresses throughout his married life. He socialised with actress Lillie Langtry; Lady Randolph Churchill (mother of future Prime Minister Winston Churchill); Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick; actress Sarah Bernhardt; noblewoman Lady Susan Vane-Tempest; singer Hortense Schneider; prostitute Giulia Beneni (known as “La Barucci”); wealthy humanitarian Agnes Keyser; and Alice Keppel.

At least fifty-five liaisons are conjectured. How far these relationships went is not always clear. Albert Edward always strove to be discreet, but this did not prevent society gossip or press speculation. Keppel’s great-granddaughter, Camilla Parker Bowles, became the mistress and subsequent wife of Charles, Prince of Wales, Albert Edward’s great-great-grandson.

It was rumoured that Camilla’s grandmother, Sonia Keppel, was fathered by Edward, but she was “almost certainly” the daughter of George Keppel, whom she resembled. Albert Edward never acknowledged any illegitimate children. Alexandra was aware of his affairs, and seems to have accepted them.