Twitter is an incredible tool for facilitating discussion. Whether you want to determine if a dress is blue or gold, or just want to threaten Nuclear war with other world leaders, Twitter has something for you. So, when I tweeted a picture of a custom made ‘siege d’amour’ (or, love chair) King Edward VII (1841-1910), kept at the famous Le Chabanais brothel in Paris, Twitter had some questions. The chair is said to have allowed the playboy prince to pleasure two partners at once, whilst comfortably supporting the royal belly. The question in need of an answer was not so much the why, but the how. Exactly who, and indeed what, went in where had Twitter scratching its head.
Thankfully, Twitter is nothing if not a platform for sharing ideas and suggestions on how our present Queen’s great grandfather manoeuvred his way around a Parisian love chair were soon flowing thick and fast.
Edward VII, also known as ‘Dirty Bertie’ and ‘Edward the Caresser’, was a man of gargantuan sexual appetites, who rutted his way through available (and not so available) lady folk like a tomcat with three testicles. His mother, Queen Victoria, had hoped Bertie would take after his father, Prince Albert, and grow into a staunchly moral man. However, it was not to be. While serving in Ireland with the British army, fellow officers smuggled the actress, Nellie Clifton, into the then 19-year-old Bertie’s quarters to relieve him of his virginity. Word of Bertie’s dalliances soon got back to his parents and a concerned Albert took his son for a long walk in the rain to discuss his indiscretions. Shortly after, Albert died and Queen Victoria forever more blamed his death on the stress brought about by “that dreadful business”. Keen to dam up the breach in sexual propriety, Victoria saw to it Bertie was swiftly married off to the beautiful Princess Alexandra of Denmark. It’s highly unlikely Alexandra ever had a turn in Bertie’s love chair, but she managed to bare him five children nonetheless. But, marriage was never going to tame Bertie; he was just getting warmed up.
As well as siring legitimate issue, Bertie found time to have none-too-discreet affairs with Sarah Bernhardt, Lady Randolph Churchill, Mary Cornwallis-West, Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick, Alice Keppel, Agnes Keyser, Lillie Langtry, Lady Susan Vane-Tempest, Mademoiselle La Goulue, La Belle Otero, Hortense Schneider, and of course, the countless ladies serving the aristocracy in the brothels across Europe.
When the courtesan La Barucci (who called herself the “greatest whore in the world”) was introduced to Bertie, she promptly dropped her dress to the floor and exposed herself. When she was chastised by the assembled company for her disrespect, she quipped “I showed him the best I have and it was free”. It’s said when the Prince complained to actress Lillie Langtry that he had spent enough on her to “build a battleship”, she shot back “and you’ve spent enough in me to float one”. Bertie was 60 years of age by the time his assumed the throne in 1901, but even at his coronation “the King’s special ladies” had their own pew in Westminster Abbey.
Historian, Catharine Arnold, published an in depth study of Bertie’s love life earlier this year, and details his visits to the Moulin Rouge music hall, where his nickname was ‘Kingy!’ The dancer ‘La Goulue’ often yelled to him from the stage, “ello, Wales! Are you going to pay for my champagne?”
But, it wasn’t all can-can girls and music halls. With great power comes great irresponsibility and many paid the price for the Prince’s philandering. Bertie seems to have had a particular taste for married women and often selected his mistresses from the wives of his intimate circle of friends, who considered it their duty to King and cunt to turn a blind eye
Sadly, this was not the case with Lady Harriet Mordaunt whose husband, Sir Charles Mordaunt named the Prince as one of his wife’s lovers in the following divorce correspondence, forcing the Prince to appear in court. Following the birth of her daughter, Lady Harriet had sobbingly confessed to her husband that the baby wasn’t his and that "I have been very wicked. I have done very wrong. With Lord Cole, Sir Frederic Johnstone, and the Prince of Wales and with others, often and in open day." The Prince swore under oath that they had never had an affair, but when Lord Cole admitted adultery with Harriet (likely bribed by Bertie) the divorce was granted anyway. Disgraced and divorced at 28, Harriett was declared insane and spent the rest of her days in an asylum; collateral damage to the lusts of the powerful Prince of Wales.
If the Prince were alive today, the paparazzi, social media, and checks on constitutional monarchy would make it considerably harder for Bertie to indulge on the scale he did. Rather than waving the crown jewels at anything in a skirt, today it’s likely that Bertie would join the likes of Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen, David Duchovny, Robbie Williams, Russell Brand, and Tiger Woods in rehab, being treated for compulsive sexual behaviour. In fact, there are many historical figures that would no doubt be drying out in nooky rehab if they were around today.
Ancient Rome boasts a rollcall of sexually incontinent Emperors that make Silvio Berlusconi look like Jonas Brother. John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1647-1680) rutted his way through Restoration Britain like a man possessed. Legendary lover, Casanova (1725-1798) wrote he “was born for the sex opposite to mine, I have always loved it and done all that I could to make myself loved by it.” (In memoirs he tallies 130 lovers). Poet, Lord Byron (1788-1824), shagged anything that stayed still long enough (including his half-sister, Augusta, and over 200 male lovers during a holiday around Greece.) Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister, Pauline (1780-1825), took on so many well-endowed lovers that her doctors diagnosed her with an exhausted vagina. Actress, Tallulah Bankhead (1902 –1968) claimed that she had over 500 lovers. When the Kinsey report was published, Tallulah remarked that “the good doctor's clinical notes were old hat to me”. In his autobiography, basketball player Wilt Chamberlain claimed to have had over 20,000 sexual partners, whilst Fidel Castro is said to have slept with 35,000 women!
Bertie’s womanising was a constant headache for the royal family, especially his mother, who believed him utterly untrustworthy and severely limited his Royal responsibilities as a result. The more Victoria disapproved, the more extravagant Bertie became in his pursuits of pleasure (his chair alone is testament to that.) It’s very easy to romanticise the playboy prince, but it’s worth remembering that he occupied a position of enormous power and doubtless abused that to satisfy himself. For every courtesan dripping in diamonds, there were Harriet Mordaunts who paid the price. But one thing is for sure, whatever you think of his exploits, the pleasure of his love chair lies not only in its design, but in Twitter playing pornographic Pictionary with the possibilities over a hundred years later. Cheers, Bertie – you old tart.