Friday, August 12, 2016

The Heir Apparent - Jane Ridley

The Heir Apparent
Title: The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince
Author: Jane Ridley
Publication Date: 10/14/10
Pages: 752
How I Found It: I can't remember precisely, but is it really surprising that I did?
Date Completed: 6/25/16

Summary: Son and heir to Queen Victoria, Bertie bucked the morals and expectations of the Victorian Era. He's been painted in history as "the Playboy Prince." Yet, there is much more to his story than his extramarital dalliances. 

What I Thought: While I probably know slightly more than the average person about Queen Victoria (strictly because of my royalty obsession), before reading this book I could not have told you the name of her heir. My knowledge was a near blank between Victoria and King George VI (subject of The King's Speech and father to Queen Elizabeth II). In a way, I'd like to think of myself as working backward in British royal history. I know so much about the current crew, but I want to continue learning about their ancestry. After all, Queen Alexandra (Alix to family) was the Duchess Catherine of her day.

Before making it far into the book at all, I was struck by the similarities between Bertie, future Edward VII, and our modern Prince Charles. Particularly in young life, there were many parallels between the two. Both have extremely popular, long-reigning mothers who kept the throne from them decades longer than expected. Both had sex scandals rock their public image. This quote about Bertie's rise to the throne after Victoria's death screamed 'Charles' to me: "The accession of an overweight fifty-nine-year-old philanderer hardly thrilled the imagination." If that doesn't fall in line with the tabloid dream of Elizabeth handing the throne straight to William, I don't know what does. When Charles does take the throne, it will be very interesting to see if and how the parallels between himself and Bertie continue. He can hardly be ignorant of them. After all, he's spent his entire life being groomed for the role of monarch; he undoubtedly knows his family's history. 

Ridley really dug in and did intense research for this book. Apparently it started out as a reflection on Bertie's relationships with women and evolved into a full biography from there. The overtones of his relationships still drive much of the text, and I liked that. The man was clearly dominated by powerful women throughout his life. From his mother, to his wife, to his many mistresses, he continually surrounded himself with the opposite sex and seemed often to wilt under their strong personalities. 

The book is quite long and quite thorough. It's a very in-depth look at Bertie, both before and after he became King Edward VII. As expected, I found some bits more interesting than others. Throughout, I appreciated Ridley's no-nonsense approach to the material. Plenty of scandal surrounded Bertie, but Ridley does her best to cut through it and look strictly at the facts. At one point, she says, "This melodramatic hypothesis [in regards to rumors about Queen Victoria's parentage] is entirely speculative, and there is not a scrap of historical evidence to support it." This exact sentence is missing from SO many historical tomes. I loved that she focused on what can be proven, acknowledged what could not be, shared it all, and left the reader with a solid sense of reality. 

I mentioned this in my review of The Royal Nanny as well, but I wanted to mention it here, too. I read these books simultaneously and that really enhanced my experience of both. On one hand, I saw the meticulously researched historical record. On the other, I got a fictionalized account surrounding Bertie's direct descendants. It was interesting to see both author's take on him. Granted, the historical fiction touches on him much less, but I felt very connected to his character because of reading Ridley's work.

I fully recognize that many of you would not enjoy this book. We're deep diving into royal obsession now. I get that. However, it's a wonderful biography and really interesting, particularly knowing what follows. Watching Bertie begin to transition the royal family away from the Victorian era and into the modern one is fascinating. He is an important figure, particularly since he held the responsibility of following such an iconic one. We'll see how Prince Charles handles his similar challenge. 

Quote I Loved: "By projecting monarchy as tradition, Bertie was, in fact, modernizing and reforming it."

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: Probably not this specific book, but I'd like to read more about the British Royal Family of this era

A Reduced Review: My royal obsession reaches new heights with this incredibly thorough, informative, and interesting biography of King Edward VII.

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