King Edward the Old – It Finally Happened Today, January 22, 2017

On this date in 1901, Edward VII was proclaimed king after about a million years as Prince of Wales. OK, not a million. But 60. Then he became king because Victoria died which left almost everybody heartbroken. And in 1910 he died after eight years on a throne he waited decades for.

His reign was not entirely uneventful. Nor indeed was his Princeship of Wales. Evidently "Bertie", as his family always called him, had a very good time indeed as heir to the throne, with actresses, noblewomen and professionals including at a Paris establishment with custom furniture now on display in a museum, which definitely did not amuse his mother, including the bit where he was almost named as respondent in a divorce suit by an MP and did have to testify in the case.

Victoria blamed her husband Albert’s rising from his sickbed in 1861 to visit and reprimand his son over a singularly indiscreet indiscretion with an actress for causing Albert’s death from typhoid just two weeks later, and once wrote to Edward’s older sister that "I never can, or shall, look at him without a shudder." But Edward also pioneered royal appearances doing things like opening the Thames Embankment and the Tower Bridge.

As King he not only presided over a widening of the social circle around the royals and a refurbishing of public ceremonies, and a needed modernization of the army and navy following the Boer War. He also supported and promoted a far-sighted rapprochement with France while distrusting his cousin Kaiser Wilhelm II, and gave his name to a languid but elegant era in which Britain’s decline from its once-unchallenged world dominance military, economic and cultural seemed only a gentle hint borne on a breeze rippling the leaves on stately oaks and beeches lining manor drives.

Then he died fairly young at 68, more than slightly unthin, and is remembered today as who was that guy after Victoria that wasn’t still king when the Great War started? To which the answer, surprisingly, is also that he was the guy saved from then generally fatal appendicitis right before his coronation by a pioneering and surprisingly modern-sounding surgical procedure of draining pus through a small incision.