Before he was crowned King Edward VII, Queen Victoria’s son “Bertie” was supposedly seen as a gambler and playboy. Ridley, in The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince, reveals a more complex figure after researching his life in the royal archives.
Did you always have an interest in writing about Edward VII?
It’s always been a period of history, the Edwardian Period, that I enjoyed, so he is the logical person to do. I only came to royal history quite recently. It’s only recently that historians have looked at and that’s wonderful because it means there’s so much stuff people don’t know about. It’s a very exciting area.
How did you get the opportunity to work in the royal archives at Windsor?
I was incredibly fortunate that they agreed. They have a review process of all the applications, and particularly for a biography, it’s quite a commitment on their part. Maybe there was a sense that there hasn’t been a biographer using the archives on Edward VII since 1963, and it was time for a new one. You can also say and write things that you couldn’t have 50 years ago. You can write much more freely about certain things, such as Queen Victoria’s attitude toward her children or Edward VII and his mistresses.
You present Bertie as a well-rounded individual, formed by his circumstances in many respects. Were you surprised by your findings, especially in comparison with the notes of the previous biographers?
Yes, that did surprise me. He was much better than I expected. The typical picture of him is a very self-indulgent, overweight playboy king, who was also quite a lazy king. I grew much fonder of him as I went along. He managed to grow up. Towards the end you warm to him, I hope? And he was having such fun being king, wasn’t he?
What was your favorite find among the archives?
One of the things that made my heart beat faster is with this great black hole with his mistress, Daisy Warwick. It was impossible to tell what was going on between them. All the memoirs talk about it in a general sense. Suddenly, I saw that in his very dull diary, which is a list of the people that he sees and the trains that he catches—with no full sentences—there was this symbol, a backwards “D”. I worked out that he only wrote that symbol when he saw Daisy. I realized he saw her the whole time, and that was very exciting. What he had been trying to do was hide everything: all the documents, all the love letters were burned. All the letters from Alexandria were burned after he died. There’s a bit of detective work in trying to build up what was really going on.