Given Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s physical infatuation with each other, their first child, Princess Victoria, called Vicky, was born nine months after their wedding. The queen was busy with her duties as monarch and could spare little time for her baby, seeing her only twice a day. Within a year of Vicky’s birth Albert Edward, known as Bertie – the future King Edward VII – was born. The queen now had a healthy male heir. “Our little boy is a wonderfully strong and large child,” she wrote proudly. “I hope and pray he may be like his dearest Papa.” With the succession reasonably assured, it might be thought a rest from the risk of childbearing would be appropriate. Not so. Over the next five years another three children were born: Alice, Alfred and Helena.
“While Queen Victoria gave birth to many children, she did not necessarily like babies. “An ugly baby is a very nasty object,” she protested, “the prettiest are frightful when undressed… as long as they have their big body and little limbs and that terrible froglike action”. Nor could she contemplate breastfeeding them, finding the whole process repulsive. A wet nurse was therefore employed for all her children, as Victoria devoted herself to Albert. The result was four more children: Louise, Arthur, Leopold and Beatrice. Victoria had nine babies over 17 years – a tremendous physical feat, and a dangerous one given the high rates of maternal mortality at the time.” (History Extra)
Victoria turned over the children to Albert while she continued on with her regal duties. Albert, a product of an intense German education, expected much of his children. Sometimes too much. There were lessons in languages, especially French and German, along with mathematics, science, Latin, geography, and music. These were mixed with corporal punishment for not performing to expectations. Fortunately for Vicky, she was quite bright. Some of the other prince and princesses were less so. Victoria idolized Albert and often told her children “none of you can ever be proud enough of being the child of such a father who has not his equal in this world.” She wished for her sons to be mini-Alberts, molded in their father’s image.
Unfortunately, for their eldest son, Albert Edward, known as “Bertie,” such aspirations knew constant failure. From an early age Bertie obstinately refused to conform to his father’s plan for the royal children’s education. Here was no renaissance prince in the making: despite being stuffed with facts and theory, he found learning difficult and was unable to concentrate. The intense pressure on the backward young prince produced a negative reaction. History Extra tells us, “Albert’s plan for the heir to the throne of the greatest empire the world had ever seen turned out a complete failure. Instead of the longed for polymath his son turned out to be a dunce. Victoria complained about his ‘systematic idleness, laziness – disregard of everything.’ The worried parents consulted a phrenologist, a modish quack who claimed the shape of the head affected the brain. His diagnosis confirmed everything they feared: ‘The feeble quality of the brain will render the Prince highly excitable… intellectual organs are only moderately well developed. The result will be strong self-will, at times obstinacy.'”
Dynastic duty was a priority for Prince Albert. After arranging the marriage of Victoria, Princess Royal to the Prussian court, Albert turned his attention to Bertie and Alice. As Albert’s duties increased, his queen often complained of his deteriorating health and his excessive attention to their children. In 1860, Albert arranged a marriage between Bertie and Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Always aware of the royal family’s public image the betrothal was portrayed as a love match. The Victorian public, in an era of pious rectitude, demanded a pure marriage in which the heir to the throne appeared to be virtuous and chaste.
However, Bertie was far from chaste. He was a man who devoted his life to pleasure. He often had others arrange trysts for him. “In the summer of 1861 Bertie attended a training camp with Grenadier Guards in Dublin. His fellow officers arranged for a ‘lady of easy virtue’ to join him for the night. The story of the prince’s trysts got back to his parents and provoked in Albert a furious, almost hysterical, response. How could his son, he demanded, ‘thrust yourself into the hands of one of the most abject of the human species, to be by her initiated in the sacred mysteries of creation?’ Everything that Albert had been working for seemed threatened. He warned Bertie that ‘you must not, you dare not be lost; the consequences for this country and the world at large would be too dreadful.'”
Frustrated by his son’s actions, Albert made the journey to Cambridge to ring the peal over Bertie’s head. It was a rainy day, but Albert and Bertie walked in the rain while discussing the expectations of being the Prince of Wales. Albert returned to Windsor after securing an apology from his son, but he was soaked through. Soon he ran a fever, and he took to his bed. Prince Albert never recovered. He passed at the age of 42. Queen Victoria’s grief was extreme. It marked the rest of her life. She blamed her “foolish” son for his father’s death. For years she barely could tolerate being in the same room with him.
So great was Victoria’s disappointment in her eldest son that after Albert’s death she excluded Bertie from all but the most ordinary and insignificant social duties. Although she insisted that Albert Edward would always be afforded the highest respect for his position as her heir, she never shared the ins and outs of the running of the kingdom with him.