Happy Birthday, Bertie

Newfoundland - Scott #82 (1898)
Newfoundland – Scott #82 (1898)

At 10:48 a.m. on November 9, 1841, the future King Edward VII of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was born in Buckingham Palace, London.   He was the eldest son and second child of Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. He was christened Albert Edward at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, on January 25, 1842, named Albert after his father and Edward after his maternal grandfather Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn. He was known as Bertie to the royal family throughout his life.

As the eldest son of the British sovereign, Albert Edward was automatically Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay at birth. As a son of Prince Albert, he also held the titles of Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Duke of Saxony. He was created Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester on December 8, 1841; Earl of Dublin on September 10, 1849, or January 17, 1850; a Knight of the Garter on November 9, 1858; and a Knight of the Thistle on May 24, 1867. In 1863, he renounced his succession rights to the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in favor of his younger brother, Prince Alfred.

Portrait of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, oil on canvas painting by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1846. Commissioned by Queen Victoria. From the Royal Collection (RCIN 404873).
Portrait of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, oil on canvas painting by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1846. Commissioned by Queen Victoria. From the Royal Collection (RCIN 404873).

Before his accession to the throne, Albert Edward was heir apparent and held the title of Prince of Wales for longer than any of his predecessors. During the long reign of his mother, he was largely excluded from political power, and came to personify the fashionable, leisured elite. He travelled throughout Britain performing ceremonial public duties, and represented Britain on visits abroad. His tours of North America in 1860 and the Indian subcontinent in 1875 were popular successes, but despite public approval his reputation as a playboy prince soured his relationship with his mother.

When Queen Victoria died on January 22, 1901, Edward became King of the United Kingdom, Emperor of India and, in an innovation, King of the British Dominions. He chose to reign under the name Edward VII, instead of Albert Edward — the name his mother had intended for him to use — declaring that he did not wish to “undervalue the name of Albert” and diminish the status of his father with whom the “name should stand alone”. The numeral VII was occasionally omitted in Scotland, even by the national church, in deference to protests that the previous Edwards were English kings who had “been excluded from Scotland by battle”. J. B. Priestley recalled, “I was only a child when he succeeded Victoria in 1901, but I can testify to his extraordinary popularity. He was in fact the most popular king England had known since the earlier 1660s.”

As king, Edward played a role in the modernization of the British Home Fleet and the reorganization of the British Army after the Second Boer War. He reinstituted traditional ceremonies as public displays and broadened the range of people with whom royalty socialized. He fostered good relations between Britain and other European countries, especially France, for which he was popularly called “Peacemaker”, but his relationship with his nephew, the German Emperor Wilhelm II, was poor. The Edwardian era, which covered Edward’s reign and was named after him, coincided with the start of a new century and heralded significant changes in technology and society, including steam turbine propulsion and the rise of socialism.

Portrait of King Edward VII (1841-1910), oil on canvas painting by Sir Luke Fildes, 1902 replica of 1901 portrait. Gven to the National Portrait Gallery, London in 1912. (NPG 1691)
Portrait of King Edward VII (1841-1910), oil on canvas painting by Sir Luke Fildes, 1902 replica of 1901 portrait. Gven to the National Portrait Gallery, London in 1912. (NPG 1691)

Edward habitually smoked twenty cigarettes and twelve cigars a day. In 1907, a rodent ulcer, a type of cancer affecting the skin next to his nose, was cured with radium. Towards the end of his life he increasingly suffered from bronchitis. He suffered a momentary loss of consciousness during a state visit to Berlin in February 1909. In March 1910, he was staying at Biarritz when he collapsed. He remained there to convalesce. The King’s continued ill health was unreported and he attracted criticism for staying in France in the midst of a constitutional crisis. On April 27, he returned to Buckingham Palace, still suffering from severe bronchitis. Alexandra returned from visiting her brother, King George I of Greece, in Corfu a week later on May 5.

The following day, the King suffered several heart attacks, but refused to go to bed, saying, “No, I shall not give in; I shall go on; I shall work to the end.” Between moments of faintness, his son the Prince of Wales (shortly to be King George V) told him that his horse, Witch of the Air, had won at Kempton Park that afternoon. The King replied, “Yes, I have heard of it. I am very glad”: his final words. At 11:30 p.m. he lost consciousness for the last time and was put to bed. He died 15 minutes later.

Alexandra refused to allow the King’s body to be moved for eight days afterwards, though she allowed small groups of visitors to enter his room. On May 11, the late King was dressed in his uniform and placed in a massive oak coffin, which was moved on May 14 to the throne room, where it was sealed and lay in state, with four guardsmen standing at each corner of the bier. Despite the time that had elapsed since his death, Alexandra noted the King’s body remained “wonderfully preserved”. On the morning of May 17, the coffin was placed on a gun carriage and drawn by black horses to Westminster Hall, with the new King and his family walking behind. Following a brief service, the royal family left, and the hall was opened to the public; over 400,000 people filed past the coffin over the next two days.

As Barbara Tuchman noted in The Guns of August, his funeral, held on May 20, 1910, marked “the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last.” A royal train conveyed the King’s coffin from London to Windsor Castle, where Edward VII was buried at St George’s Chapel.

Scott #82 was released by the Dominion of Newfoundland in June 1898, a 2-cent vermilion stamp portraying Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, prior to his ascension as King Edward VII. This was a reissue of a stamp previously issued in orange on December 4, 1897. The stamps were recess printed by the American Bank Note Company, perforated 12. Stanley Gibbons calls this color scarlet, where it is numbered 87.

Dominion of Newfoundland Red Ensign
Dominion of Newfoundland Red Ensign
Coat of arms of Newfoundland and Labrador
Coat of arms of Newfoundland and Labrador

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