Dirty bertie, p.1
Dirty Bertie, p.1Stephen Clarke
About the Book
About the Author
Also by Stephen Clarke
Map of Bertie’s Paris
Chapter 1: 1855: Amour at First Sight
Chapter 2: The Royal Cherry Is Unroyally Popped
Chapter 3: Bertie and the ‘Palace Dames’
Chapter 4: An Anglo-Danish Wedding and a French Marriage
Chapter 5: Sex and the City of Light
Chapter 6: Painting the Town Rouge
Chapter 7: If You Can’t Be with the One You Love . . .
Chapter 8: Savaged by the Press
Chapter 9: The French Try to be English
Chapter 10: Bertie Makes an Exhibition of Himself . . . Again
Chapter 11: The French Make Work for Idle Hands
Chapter 12: We All Like to Be Beside the Seaside
Chapter 13: Reaching an Anglo-French Entente
Chapter 14: Don’t Mention the War
Chapter 15: C’est la Fin
Afterword: Life After Bertie
About the Book
The entertaining biography of Edward VII and his playboy lifestyle by Stephen Clarke, author of 1000 Years of Annoying the French and A Year in the Merde.
Despite fierce opposition from his mother, Queen Victoria, Edward VII was always passionately in love with France.
He had affairs with the most famous Parisian actresses, courtesans and can-can dancers. He spoke French more elegantly than English. He was the first ever guest to climb the Eiffel Tower with Gustave Eiffel, in defiance of an official English ban on his visit. He turned his French seduction skills into the diplomatic prowess that sealed the Entente Cordiale.
A quintessentially English king? Pas du tout! Stephen Clarke argues that as ‘Dirty Bertie’, Edward learned all the essentials in life from the French.
About the Author
Stephen Clarke lives in France, where he divides his time between writing and not writing. His first novel, A Year in the Merde, originally became a word-of-mouth hit in Paris in 2004, and is now published all over the world. Since then he has published four more Merde novels, as well as Talk to the Snail, an indispensable guide to understanding the French, Paris Revealed, his insider’s guide to his home city, and 1,000 Years of Annoying the French, in which he investigates what has really been going on since 1066. A Sunday Times bestseller in hardcover, 1,000 Years of Annoying the French went on to become one of the top ten bestselling history books in paperback in 2011.
Research for Stephen’s books has taken him all over France. For Dirty Bertie he delved into French archives to hunt out nineteenth-century newspapers and kiss-and-tell autobiographies. He also visited the venues of Bertie’s French escapades, from grand chateaux to dingy cabarets. He has now returned to present-day Paris, and is doing his best to live the Entente Cordiale.
Also by Stephen Clarke
A Brief History of the Future
A Year in the Merde
Dial M For Merde
The Merde Factor
Talk to the Snail: Ten Commandments
for Understanding the French
1,000 Years of Annoying the French
Annoying the French Encore!
For more information on Stephen Clarke and his books, see his website at www.stephenclarkewriter.com
Read Stephen’s tweets at @sclarkewriter
Dirty Bertie: An English King Made in France
To Paris, which will always turn you into a Parisian . . .
if you have any sense.
And to N. and the Crimée Crew.
‘Edward VII reigns in London, but he rules in Paris.’
Émile Flourens, French Minister of Foreign Affairs
IF DNA TESTS had existed in the early twentieth century, they would certainly have confirmed that King Edward VII was of soundly Anglo-German stock. His father Albert was pure Teuton, with morals as stiff as a Kaiser’s moustache. His mother Victoria was at least half-German. And he was born at a time when ‘French’ was listed in every English-language thesaurus as a synonym of words like ‘devil’, ‘mortal enemy’, ‘loser’ and ‘cad’.
Strange, then, that Edward, or Bertie as his family called him, grew up to be a Frenchman. Although in theory there should have been no one in England more Victorian – with all the hypocrisy and self-denial that that implies – than Bertie, he was a fun-loving, smooth-talking, serial seducer who would nip across the Channel for champagne dinners, can-can dancing and a spot of amour whenever he could. Anglo-German by birth, by nature he became completely Parisian.
While researching Bertie’s escapades for my book 1,000 Years of Annoying the French, I was surprised to find that most of the history books had skirted over this vital French part of his life. Whole weeks in Paris would be dealt with in two or three lines – although we all know how much fun you can cram into a week in Paris.
I found lots of euphemisms about ‘adult pleasures’ and frequent complaints from Victoria about ‘horrid Paris’ and its ‘rottenness’; there were lists of louche-sounding names of the people Bertie met, and a few bawdy anecdotes, but very little detail. I couldn’t work out why.
Perhaps these writers thought that Bertie’s Parisian excursions were too frivolous for serious history? Or that his guilt-free sexual exploits in France were merely a sideshow compared to his long-term affairs with famous English mistresses like Lillie Langtry and Alice Keppel (the great-grandmother of Camilla Parker Bowles)?
This lack of French details was a shame, I thought, because Bertie was a semi-permanent fixture in Parisian life during probably the most exciting, creative period in the city’s history. The second half of the nineteenth century was a time when can-can dancing, Impressionism and the boulevards were born; when Montmartre, the Champs-Élysées and Parisian café culture came into their own; when prostitutes were everywhere, and adultery was practically an obligation for high-society men and women.
Bertie was an active participant in it all, and it made him the jovial, amiable man he became. He danced at the court of Emperor Napoléon III, agonized through the siege of Paris and was the very first guest to climb the Eiffel Tower. He fraternized with the most extreme French royalists and republicans, and was admired, respected and loved by all of them – as he was by almost everyone who met him, whatever their gender or nationality. Even the half-deranged Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany would calm down when he was with Bertie.
With this book, I have tried to tell – for the first time – the full, uncensored story of how the French taught a future King of England to seduce a whole planet.
Paris, January 2014
1855: AMOUR AT FIRST SIGHT
‘You have a very beautiful country. I would like to be your son.’
Thirteen-year-old Bertie to Napoléon III, Emperor of France
WHY DO WE modern Brits want to be friends with Europe? We disagree with most of the politics practised on the continent, and, if we’re honest, we also disapprove of much of the natives’ behaviour, from bullfighting to using kilograms, to refusing to let us win at sports we invented.
Yet, despite all this, we want to be amis with the continental Europeans, and our motive seems to be shamelessly selfish – we love to go there. In fact we always have loved to go ther
This is why, nowadays, we are careful to conduct our wars in far-flung, desolate places where no right-minded civilian would want to buy a holiday home or take a cookery course. What we don’t want is to repeat the errors of history and be excluded from the beaches, ski slopes and vineyards of places like France, Italy, Spain or even Germany.
Queen Victoria’s eldest son, Albert Edward, known to his family as Bertie, understood this at a time when most of his fellow countrymen were calling for ‘splendid isolation’, and when many Europeans wanted revolution in their own country and/or war with their neighbours.
Like us today, the future King Edward VII was much more interested in tourism than warfare. He loved what all of us love about mainland Europe – the spas, the food, the perfume of exotic sex. He was a thoroughly modern European. He could even speak their languages.
He was such an ardent admirer of continental pleasures that he earned himself the nickname Dirty Bertie in the English press, and spent much of his time until he became king running away from British public opinion. But what we shouldn’t forget is that Dirty Bertie – a man who, if loyalty cards had existed in the latter nineteenth century, would have earned platinum status at Paris’s louchest cafés and grandest brothels – eventually matured into a great diplomat: possibly Britain’s greatest ever.
It was Bertie who almost single-handedly kept Europe at peace at the turn of the twentieth century. It could even be argued (and this book will argue it) that if he had smoked a lot less and lived a few years longer, Europe would not have gone to war in 1914.
More than military threats and official alliances between countries, it was Bertie’s ceaseless round of get-togethers with his European friends and relatives1 that dissipated the clouds of war. A state visit from Bertie’s royal yacht or private train, some light banter over cigars, a few chummy dinners with the generals, and potentially explosive disputes about maritime supremacy or border manoeuvres were forgotten – at least until the next crisis.
And it was France that taught Bertie this bonhomie, this sunny, reassuring nature that made him popular with almost everyone he met, including the cuckolded husbands of his lovers and the almost permanently angry Kaiser Wilhelm.
It was the French who created one of the most successful seducers and most gifted diplomats that Britain has ever produced. The question is: how did they perform this miracle, on the son of Queen Victoria of all people?
Everyone needs a role model, and Bertie seems to have had two. In terms of European diplomacy (which, as we have seen, mainly involved keeping in touch with the extended family) it was probably his mother, Queen Victoria, although in later life she was too much of a hermit to be an inspirational figure. As far as his personality was concerned, it was definitely a Frenchman, the short-lived Emperor Napoléon III – a man who applied his uncle Napoléon Bonaparte’s battle tactics to the bedroom, and whose ambitions lay less in ruling over a continent than in ruling under a continental quilt.
If Napoléon III inspired Victoria’s eldest son to follow in his footsteps, it was because the French Emperor didn’t let a squat body, large nose and puffy eyes get in the way of a life of seduction. It was at the highly impressionable age of thirteen that young Bertie first saw Napoléon III in action.2 Despite his lack of classically good looks, the Emperor was the archetypal smooth-talking French lover, forever roaming his palace in search of new conquests amongst his beautiful courtiers. On one occasion, at a masked ball, he was in such a rush to consummate a new acquaintance that he instantly ushered his prey into a side room, only to be informed as he fought to undress her that the mademoiselle was in fact a monsieur.
Yet Napoléon III was no brutish boor. When a married Englishwoman, famed for her prudishness and for having slept in the same bedroom as her mother until the age of eighteen, visited him in Paris, she confessed that she was ‘tickled by’ his flirtatious ways. She wrote that:
I have seen him for full ten days, from twelve to fourteen hours every day – often alone . . . I know no one who puts me more at my ease, or to whom I felt more inclined to talk unreservedly, or in whom involuntarily I should be more inclined to confide . . .
Surely we are only a few sentences away from the ripping open of a bodice? As if to confirm this, on arriving back home in England, the same lady wrote to Napoléon in French saying that she had felt ‘penetrated and touched’ by his welcome, and that when she said goodbye to him it was with a ‘swollen heart’ after their ‘beautiful and happy days’ together. ‘You said “au revoir” on the boat,’ her letter reminds him, ‘and it is with all my heart that I repeat it.’ She closes with ‘tender friendship and affection’.
The love-struck words of a passionate woman. All the more surprising, then, to realize that they were written in 1855 by a 36-year-old Queen Victoria. Yes, even she could be ‘penetrated and touched’ by a Frenchman.
History has been slightly unfair to Victoria. The old Queen, stiff-lipped and corseted in her widow’s weeds, usually gets the blame for everything prudish and hung-up about nineteenth-century Britain. We only have to picture her and immediately our brains are cleansed of anything remotely erotic. She is the antidote to sex.
But as the above French letter (no pun intended, bien sûr) shows, Victoria was a woman like any other. And as an ageing widow, she shocked her children, including Bertie, by becoming very intimate with two of her male servants, Scotsman John Brown and Indian Abdul Karim – one man from a nation famed for its lack of underwear, the other from the country that gave us the Kama Sutra.
Whether Victoria ever indulged in physical relations with either servant has never been reliably established, and she almost certainly restrained from divan diplomacy with Napoléon III, but as her son Bertie was to prove, tight corsets and multi-layered petticoats never stopped anyone in the nineteenth century enjoying a healthy sex life, monogamous or otherwise.
In fact, the morally confused, sexually inhibited society that we generally call Victorian wasn’t totally Victorian by any means. It was also very Albertian. England’s famous prudery of the time originated largely from the Queen’s husband, Franz Albrecht Karl Emanuel von Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha – or Albert for short.
Prince Albert was the disciplinarian father who tied the straps on his eldest son’s moral straitjacket so tight that when they broke, the resulting sense of liberation sent him philandering across the whole of Europe (and especially France). It was Albert who tried to create an angelic Prince Albert Edward and spawned Dirty Bertie.
And the breaking point came during a royal family visit to Napoléon III’s court in Paris in 1855.
Being both a snob and a monarchist (theoretically the two can be separable), Victoria’s initial reaction to Napoléon III was unfavourable to say the least. For a start, he was the nephew of England’s arch-enemy, Bonaparte. Furthermore, he had originally been elected President of France after the expulsion of King Louis-Philippe in 1848,3 and had then staged a coup d’état and declared himself Emperor Napoléon III on 2 December 1851, the forty-seventh anniversary of Bonaparte’s own investiture.
In Victoria’s eyes, whether Napoléon III was an emperor or merely a president, he had originally come to power by removing a king, and was therefore a danger to Europe’s (and Victoria’s own) stability.
Victoria would also have known about Napoléon III’s decidedly racy past. His mother, Hortense de Beauharnais, was the daughter of Napoléon Bonaparte’s first wife, Joséphine. His father Louis was a younger brother of Bonaparte – legally, at least. When the child was born in 1808, Louis suspected Hortense of having been unfaithful, and only acknowledged paternity after pressure from big brother.
From the age of seven, the violent tides of early nineteenth-century French politics swept the future Napoléon III into exile in various countries, including two years, from 1846 to 1848, in London. It was here that he learnt conversa
Sadly for him, the feeling wasn’t mutual. When he came to power thirty-six years after Waterloo, Anglo-French enmity was alive and well and living in Britain. In August 1853, Victoria took eleven-year-old Bertie on an outing to the Solent for the Royal Naval Review, a show of strength that was specifically designed to remind Napoléon III of Trafalgar and the dangers of provoking his neighbours. It was the first event of its kind since 1814, the year before Waterloo, and the lead ship in the British fleet was a brand-new 131-gun warship, the Duke of Wellington, which had been hastily renamed after the death of the national hero who ended Napoléon Bonaparte’s career. Even the old Victory, Nelson’s flagship at Trafalgar, was present at the 1853 Review to give a salute to its young successors. Perhaps the only false note in this display of naval might was that Victoria and the royal family watched the proceedings from a yacht called Fairy.
The Brits weren’t the only people trying to put France’s new emperor in his place. The French upper classes were also being decidedly unwelcoming. The ‘real’ aristocracy – those whose family had been ennobled by a king rather than an emperor – saw Napoléon III and his Spanish wife, the Empress Eugénie, as parvenus. Meanwhile, other branches of the Bonaparte family were jealous of their cousin, and refused to join his court.
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