Victorian England: We know what that wasÂ supposed to meanÂ âÂ all priggish prudery and “we-are-not-amused” harrumphing. Except now we know it wasn’t all that, a point driven home by a new biography that focuses â deliciously â on the women who shared the scandalously plentiful sex life of Queen Victoria’s eldest son, the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII.
The portly pepperpot of a prince could hardly be considered sexy, even then, but being heir to a 900-year-oldÂ monarchy had itsÂ charms, especially then. And with little else useful to do for 50 years,Â thanks to one of the worst royal mothers ever, Bertie, as he was called, indulged his sensual tastes for women’s company, often in bed.
At his 1901 coronation, he even invited some of hisÂ royal concubines to sit in a pew in Westminster Abbey designated for “the King’s special ladies.” They didn’t call him “Edward the Caresser”Â for nothing.
Now comes Edward VII: The Prince of Wales andÂ the Women He Loved (St. Martin’s Press, 250Â pp.,Â ***Â½ out of four stars), by journalist and pop historian Catharine Arnold, to give us the 411 on these women.Â Prostitutes and good-time girls, actresses and aristocrats, socialites and social-climbers, all took a turn in Bertie’s bed, becoming famous, at least among the royal, titled and rich set, for being the Prince of Wales’ mistress.
His lovers included:Â One of the first American dollar princesses, Jennie Churchill, Winston’s mum. One of the first pin-up beauties, Lillie Langtry, the original Jersey girl. The “divine” Sarah Bernhardt, the bisexual French stage actress with an opium habit.