Monday, March 18, 2013

Bertie in the Middle East

‘The anniversary of my Parents Wedding Day, what a sad day for poor Mama! We started at 10 A.M. sight seeing.’ This is Bertie, Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII writing in a diary during the first few days of a trip to the Middle East. The journey had been organised by his mother, Queen Victoria, who had never much liked her son, and partly blamed him for husband Albert’s death. The diary has just been made available online - with images of the handwritten pages and a transcribed text - as part of an exhibition of mid-19th century photographs taken by Francis Bedford on the tour. Although biographers have had access to other of Bertie’s diaries, they are said to be scrappy and laconic, and none - as far as I know - have ever been published.

Albert Edward (always known to his family as Bertie) was born in 1841 in London, the eldest son of Victoria and her prince consort, Albert. Apart from various other titles, he was created Prince of Wales when one month old. From around the age of seven he was subjected to a strict educational programme devised by Prince Albert. He attended both Oxford and Cambridge universities, and in 1860 undertook the first tour of North America by an heir to the British throne. The following year he was serving with the army in Ireland, where he had a liaison with an actress that caused a major scandal. Prince Albert visited his son to admonish him, and died two weeks later. Queen Victoria held her son partly responsible for the death of his father. She withdrew almost completely from public life, and thereafter denied Bertie any control over affairs of state, court and the royal family. Soon after Albert’s death, Bertie was sent on an extensive tour of the Middle East.

In 1863, Bertie married Alexandra, eldest daughter of Denmark’s Prince Christian (later king), and they had five children that survived to adulthood. They established themselves at Marlborough House in London and Sandringham House in Norfolk, and entertained on a lavish scale. Bertie, indeed, played a free-and-easy part in London life, and travelled abroad often. He had many affairs, some causing scandals, and was a familiar figure in the worlds of racing, sailing and gambling. When Victoria died in 1901, Edward succeeded to the throne as Edward VII, and he set about trying to restore some splendour to the monarchy, starting with an elaborate coronation in 1902

Edward VII - nicknamed ‘Uncle of Europe’ - was related to most other Continental royal families, a circumstance that led him to travel abroad often to help Britain’s foreign policy. He was the first British monarch to visit Russia. At home, he supported the government’s major military reforms, and he founded the Order of Merit to reward those who distinguished themselves in science, art or literature. In the last year of his life, King Edward was involved in a constitutional crisis brought about by the refusal of the Conservative majority in the Lords to pass the Liberal budget of 1909. He died in May 1910, before the situation could be resolved, and was succeeded by his son who became George V. There is no shortage of biographical information online, from the British Monarchy website, Wikipedia, the BBC, or from biography reviews at The Guardian or The New York Times.

Bertie was certainly a diarist, if only an occasional one. None of his journals have been published, but several biographers quote from, or mention, them. In describing his sources in The Importance of Being Edward - King in Waiting 1841-1901 (John Murray, 2000), Stanley Weintraub says: ‘King Edward’s diary survives at Windsor and is quoted by biographers and editors; however it is scrappy and usually laconic.’ Now, though, The Royal Collection Trust, established in 1993 by the Queen and chaired by Prince Charles, has made one Bertie’s diaries, of a trip to the Middle East, freely available online. The online publication - which was given little publicity of its own - is part of a bigger event, an exhibition of early photographs from the Middle East: Cairo to Constantinople.

According to the organisers: ‘This exhibition documents the Prince of Wales’ journey through the work of Francis Bedford, the first photographer to travel on a royal tour. It explores the cultural and political significance Victorian Britain attached to the region, which was then as complex and contested as it remains today. The tour took the Prince to Egypt, Palestine and the Holy Land, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece. He met rulers, politicians and other notable figures, and travelled in a manner unassociated with royalty - by horse and camping out in tents. On the royal party’s return to England, Francis Bedford’s work was displayed in what was described as “the most important photographic exhibition that has hitherto been placed before the public”.’

The following extracts are taken directly from the online exhibition.

10 February 1862
‘The anniversary of my Parents Wedding Day, what a sad day for poor Mama! We started at 10 A.M. sight seeing. We went first to the Palace which is a handsome building. The “Shönheits Gallerie” is well worth seeing, & the portraits are well painted, the pictures of Lady Ellenborough & Lady Milbanke (wh. are amongst them) are very good. The Ballroom is very handsome & so is the “Shlachten Saal.” The Queen was kind enough to receive me in her boudoir, wh. was very prettily arranged. She seems a very nice person, & must have been very pretty; I also made the acquaintance of her two sons, who seem nice, unaffected lads. We saw the two Theatres wh. adjoin the Palace, & a very pretty “Winter garten” with foreign plants & birds in it. From the Palace we visited the studios of Kaulbach, Pilaty [sic], Shraudolph [sic], Anschütz & Schwind. The two first are the two most celebrated painters. Kaulbach, showed us a beautiful fresco of the “Reformation” wh. he is painting & also a completed fresco of the “Battle of Salamis” wh. I admired immensely. Piloty, who painted the celebrated picture of Nero at the burning of Rome, which I saw last year at the Exhibition of pictures at Cologne, had not much in his studio, but the few things he had, we admired very much. We divided our day by lunching at 1.50. & Count Perponcher, who is now Prussian Minister at Munich, came to luncheon. After having eaten our fill, we proceeded in carriages to see the “Bavaria,” which is a monster female figure in bronze, cast out of the French guns wh. were taken in 1814 & 15. We went up inside the figure, & 7 of us could sit in the head, & 2 in the nose & eyes. From thence we visited the studio of Adam who paints animals, & very well too, we looked into Schwantaler’s [sic] studio were [sic] there were some good statues, but he was not at home. We then saw the Basilica, a very beautiful Church in Bysantine [sic] architecture, with a good deal of gold inside; it was built by King Louis of Bavaria (who has now abdicated) before going home we saw some excellent photographs, at a photographers called Albert. Mr. Bonar dined with us - & after dinner Louis, Keppel, Meade & I took a short walk. There was a very pretty ball going on at our Hotel, & Louis & I peeped into the room fr. a staircase, it seemed very gay & the ladies were well dressed & were decidedly pretty.’

21 May 1862
‘In the forenoon I wrote letters to England, wh. occupied all my time till luncheon. At 3 o’clock we rode to the Arsenal, with Sir H. Bulwer. The Capidan Pasha received us, & we had pipes & coffee. We then went into a Caique belonging to the Sultan wh. he has put at my disposal & we visited another part of the Arsenal, wh. is small but seems tolerably complete. We then took leave of the Capidan Pasha, got into our Caique & rode [sic] down the Golden Horn into the Bosphorus & went on board to see the Turkish ship that had met us at the Dardanelles. We remained a short time on board & then went ashore, not far off fr. the Sultan’s Palace, got on our horses again & rode back to the Embassy thro’ part of the town. In the evening [. . the] Sultan’s band played during dinner & very well.’

27 May 1862
‘At about 10.30. E. Leiningen Moore & I went to the Photographic Studio of M. Abdullah & were photographed (very successfully) “en carte de visite.” Abdullah, did took another photograph at the Embassy of a group of Sir H. & Lady Bulwer & all his staff, & myself & my suite. [. . .] At 4.30. we left the Embassy after having taken leave of Lady Bulwer. We then rode down to the landing place near Tophané Mosque, & were rowed about in our caiques passed past Seraglio Point; at a little after 6 we went on board the “Osborne” & took leave there of Sir H. Bulwer & all the Attachés &c. At 6.30. we wished Constantinople adieu, & steamed slowly down the Bosphorus leaving the beautiful town gradually in the distance, after having spent there a most agreeable week.’

9 June 1862
‘At Sea – A lovely day. A[t] 7. A.M. we had a bathe from the ship, in spite of one of the sailors telllin telling us that a shark of 10 feet long had been seen. In the middle of the day, we went through the “Passage de L’Ours” past the Island of Caprera, & saw Garibaldi’s house in the distance, & then passed thro’ the Straits of Bonnifacio.’

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