Bee Wilson writes:
Asked in an exam at the age of 16 whether kings should be elected, the future Edward VII answered: ‘It is better than hereditary right because you have more chance of having a good sovereign, if it goes by hereditary right if you have a bad or weak sovereign, you cannot prevent him reigning.’ By Bertie’s feeble standards, this was a flash of insight. For the 59 years that he was prince of Wales, his mother despaired of him. In 1863, she wailed in a letter to her daughter Alice that Bertie – now 21 – ‘shows more and more how totally, totally unfit he is for ever becoming King!’ Neither Victoria nor the constitution could prevent him from ascending to the throne on her death. It didn’t matter. Bertie – this generally amiable but foolish and corpulent cigar-smoking, tiger-shooting adulterer – was a perfectly respectable king. All he had to do was be himself and his people adored him. In the end, like his mother, he gave his name to an age.