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Edward VII: a role model for Charles?

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Prince Charles turned 65 last week. Some are asking the increasingly pressing question, is Charles too old to be King? He is the eldest Prince of Wales in history and if he ascends the throne he shall be the eldest British monarch to be crowned thus far. With the longevity of the female Saxe-Coburg Gotha line and that of the Bowes-Lyon’s he may well have a long wait ahead. As the Prince of Wales increases in age so too do the doubts about his ability to reign and many are looking towards his son, William. However, becoming King in older age is not all doom and gloom. Charles can look for inspiration to his great great grandfather, Edward VII, on the face of it an unlikely role model due to his reputation as a self-indulgent monarch.

As the eldest son of Queen Victoria, Edward was destined to be King/Emperor of the British Empire. He acceded to the throne at the age of 59 and is the previous holder (before Charles) of the title of longest serving heir. He suffered a terrible relationship with his mother, who unjustly blamed him for the death of her husband, the Prince Consort. As a result of this distrust, Albert (as Edward VII was known while Prince of Wales) was denied access to any state papers by his mother, who kept his role to a minimum. This damaged his reputation as, lacking an official occupation apart from numerous public appearances, the Prince of Wales was forced to entertain in order to occupy himself. Thus was born his notoriety as a playboy. However, the future King was not holding parties only for his entertainment; the guest-list swelled with bankers, politicians, journalists and editors, as well as some of the great writers of his day such as Rudyard Kipling.

Albert was unofficially preparing for his role as King by surrounding himself with the movers and shapers in society. His intellect and wit, as well as his understanding of political issues, won him the respect of the Prime Minister William Gladstone. Seeing the potential in the Prince, Gladstone allowed him access to state papers without the Queen’s knowledge in order to help prepare him for kingship. This system was continued by all of Gladstone’s successors, giving the Prince the political training his mother had denied him.

Newspapers from the turn of the 20th century show that Edward faced similar issues to his great-great grandson, Charles, today. Many doubted his ability to reign because of his socialising and associations with politicians such as Prime Minister Lord Salisbury. Likewise Charles is often accused of using his influence to promote his own interests such as the environment. Some also looked to the longevity of Victoria and the symbolism of her reign and doubted if the monarchy would continue without her. Many could not imagine a successor, just as today, with Queen Elizabeth II.

Although King Edward VII enjoyed only a nine-year reign, he proved many of his critics wrong. He drew on his contacts in the business, political and arts worlds, sweeping away many of the stale trappings of what he saw as an 18th century court, and replacing many courtiers with more productive advisors. He streamlined the internal systems of Buckingham Palace by establishing offices newly equipped with typewriters and an efficient record and archiving service. Edward also used his knowledge of European cultures gained from entertaining to conduct several royal tours, which helped Britain negotiate the minefield of Edwardian diplomacy. The most famous example was his 1903 trip to Paris, which led to the Entente Cordiale with France and is still in force today.

Aware of his advancing years, Edward devoted significant time to preparing his son, the future George V, for the day he would take up the throne. Unlike his mother Edward gave George full access to state papers and consulted him on all political matters, ensuring that no one would doubt his son's ability. It could be said that one of the greatest triumphs of Edward’s reign was the smooth transition to his son.

If Charles studies his ancestor's record he will see that the road to becoming King in later life is a rocky one, but by using his experience as Prince of Wales he could win over many of his critics. Arguably, Edward's critics were fiercer than those Charles faces, particularly those in republican quarters. Charles needs to appreciate that the future of the monarchy lies as much, if not more so, with William, whose current political inexperience is a hindrance. However if, like Edward, Charles recognises his shortcomings and dedicates part of his reign to help his son prepare for the throne, his greatest reward could be the successful reign of William.

Please note: Views expressed are those of the author.


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