752 pages, Random House, ISBN-13: 978-1400062553
The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, The Playboy Prince by Jane Ridley is a well-written, well-researched book on the life, loves, and tribulations of Bertie, the eventual King Edward VII. The portrait Ridley paints of Victorian England, about this son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, is a tutorial on Edward and, especially, how Princes of Wales were prepared to inherit the throne…or not prepared, in Bertie’s case. The author has done a very fine job of searching the diaries, the letters, and pertinent historical events which took place in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, and seeing as she was given access to the previously unpublished and almost completely unknown cache of letters of Bertie and used them as the basis for her biography, this should come as no surprise. Unfortunately, the new research may not have been as extensive or revealing as she had thought of Bertie’s character, for Ridley seemed hamstrung by whatever was absent – or disappointed because Bertie was just not that fascinating after all, for despite the wonderful way in which she laid out the Victorian world for the reader, I found myself bumping into repetition and a kind of overall flatness to the book. The world changed significantly during the reign of Queen Victoria and King Edward, but as Ridley readily admits, Bertie did not, using his station as Prince of Wales to drink and party till the wee hours. He showed little enthusiasm about much, and here was the problem for me. With no real interest in anything he never developed into someone of stature or agent of change, despite all the opportunity. With that said, upon becoming King, Bertie, now King Edward (not Albert I; sorry, mum) became the “Father of the Nation” as this latter-day Prince Hal seemed at last to have grown up. The respect he engendered amongst the politicians in his own realm and the statesmen overseas was real and reciprocated, leading one to wonder what kind of a man he might have been if the ole’ Queen had given him the job he was always hankering after.