Dirty Bertie: An English King Made in France by Stephen Clarke

Written in a self-consciously chatty style that contains too many asides and diversions that try far too hard to be witty, this is nonetheless an interesting exploration of the life of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

From the stultifyingly Puritan atmosphere of his childhood and adolescence, through the louche excesses of his frequent trips to Paris and Cannes, and finally to his short but unexpectedly successful reign as King and “peacemaker”, “Bertie” comes across as irresponsible, good-natured, surprisingly sensitive, and utterly self-indulgent: a “good bloke” who was a lousy husband and parent, but who nonetheless made himself into a successful diplomat and monarch.

Hinted at but kept safely at arms’ distance are the poverty and exploitation which underpinned the lifestyle HRH enjoyed – especially the sexual exploitation of women – while “Bertie’s” manifold failings as a husband and father are mentioned but not explored in depth. One senses the reader is meant to regard him with an indulgent sentimentality that acknowledges but prefers not to dwell on his moral hypocrisy, while at the same time celebrating his achievements as a self-made man.

Nonetheless, the author’s research is impressive, the narrative packed with useful historical titbits for trivia boffins; and as the title implies, the focus is on engagement and interest rather than insight and revelation. An easy read for a lazy afternoon or two.

(c) Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2018. All rights reserved.