Dirty Bertie: An English King Made in France

Written by Stephen Clarke
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

Edward VII has traditionally been regarded as of little political importance; and his years as Prince of Wales largely viewed as a series of unsavoury scandals, love affairs, shooting parties and gambling. Stephen Clarke offers a different take on Bertie. Yes, he was a hedonist who enjoyed sex and parties, but he was also exceptionally good at P.R. Clarke argues that Bertie’s frequent visits to Paris (his French was excellent) allowed his talents to develop as they couldn’t in Britain. For example, he threw himself into the Presidency of the Paris Exhibition of 1878, determined that Britain’s contribution would be second to none – and succeeded. He successfully negotiated the shoals of the Entente Cordiale and established a good working relationship with the staunchly Republican politician Gambetta. He was also one of the few people who could restrain his unstable nephew, Kaiser Wilhelm. All these skills, Clarke argues, he learnt in France.

I thoroughly enjoyed Dirty Bertie (the sections on exactly what went on in high-class Parisian brothels are eye-popping). The tone of the book is light-hearted; nevertheless, Clarke has done his research and his insights into Bertie’s largely unrecognised talents are surely pertinent to the way his reign is viewed. Highly recommended.