REAR WINDOW / Restless Royals: Prince, 40s, seeks international role

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JANUARY 1885: the Prince of Wales was angry with the Prime Minister about arrangements for a forthcoming royal visit to Ireland. Gladstone, while agreeing that the trip was a good idea, was insisting that the Prince pay his own bills.

The Prince's private secretary lamented in an official letter 'that the Government are invariably indifferent to what HRH does, or does not, do; and that this is annoying to him sometimes; that unless the Cabinet really think it desirable that he should undertake the proposed visit, he is reluctant to embark on it; that he feels that Mr Gladstone, on behalf of the Cabinet, should communicate with him on the subject and that, if the visit does take place, he should go to Ireland at the express wish of the Government; that he imagines that neither the Queen nor the Cabinet can suppose that he expects to derive any personal pleasure from the visit'.

The woes of the future Edward VII will be all too familiar to the present Prince of Wales, who last week was reported to be irritated by the Government's failure to exploit to the full the trading potential of his foreign visits. He was said to have been 'bemused' by a row over the availability of an official plane for his trip to the Middle East. This, he was said to believe, 'demonstrated the low priority given by Whitehall to such visits'.

In 1885, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, known to intimates as 'Bertie', was 43, a man in his prime without any true role in the world. He was friendly with the Kaiser and the Tsar and dined with Bismarck and the President of France, but he had little or no influence over public affairs.

His mother was no kinder to him than Gladstone, refusing to involve him in state matters and constantly bemoaning his frivolous, expensive lifestyle. And the more he was denied the former, the more he was inclined to indulge the latter.

Curiously, the goings-on that annoyed Queen Victoria endeared him to her subjects. Perhaps not his constant flitting between Biarritz, Cannes, Paris, Homburg, Marienbad and the larger country houses of England, but his very public dalliances with Lillie Langtry, Sarah Bernhardt and the Countess of Warwick. The country also liked to think of this libidinous, portly gent as a sportsman: a crack shot, an ace yachtsman, a canny racehorse owner and gambler.

Bertie was 59 when he succeeded to the throne; to his annoyance, many of his nephews and nieces were monarchs before him. His first act has been described as one of defiance: he set aside his mother's wish that he should be crowned King Albert Edward.

Today's Prince of Wales is now 45; should his mother live only as long as Queen Victoria, he will be 60 before he inherits. If she lives as long as her own mother, then who knows . . .

(Photographs omitted)

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