King Edward VII (1841–1910) enjoyed the company of countless mistresses throughout his married life, yet after 60 years as heir to the throne, he only ruled as king for nine years. But what was Queen Victoria’s eldest son like as a young man?
A journal he kept during a trip through southern Europe and the Middle East in 1862 reveals Edward — who was 20 years old and the Prince of Wales at the time — was fascinated by travel, culture and, not surprisingly, women.
On Friday, the British Royal Collection Trust published online the young prince’s handwritten diaries to mark the opening of “Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East,” an exhibition of works by British photographer Francis Bedford, who accompanied Edward on his journey.
As the first photographer to be embedded on a royal tour, Bedford documented the group’s travels through Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon and Greece. He watched as the 20-year-old Prince of Wales met with rulers and politicians from far-off lands, documenting the trip in a collection of photos that have not been displayed together in public since Bedford’s debut exhibition in 1862. The photos he took of the young prince are some of the earliest shots ever taken of a member of the Royal Family.
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Edward’s diary entries detail his wild adventures in these unknown lands. In Damascus, he met the famous Jane Digby, known for her adventurous nature and scandalous romantic liaisons that spread across Europe and the Middle East. Edward wrote: “… we visited the house & garden of Mrs. Digby (formerly Lady Ellenborough, but is divorced, & married a Shehk who lives near Palmyra) … Mrs. Digby, was once very handsome, & is still very good looking ‘tho more than 50.” Later, on a visit to Jerusalem, the young prince noted in his diary: “… we rode to Souraya Pasha’s house, & he gave us excellent luncheon, or rather dinner, & 62 dishes were handed round! including desert [sic].” The Prince of Wales also writes about getting a tattoo from “a native.”
The young Edward VII was prudent about the details he included in his diaries. Sophie Gordon, curator of the photography exhibition, explained to the London Times: “It was written in the knowledge that Queen Victoria would almost certainly read it.”
The exhibition will be on display at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh through July 21, 2013.
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