From the least important this family came to be the greatest and largest of the Houses of Saxony and gave birth to four lines of kings:
- Prince Leopold in 1816 was married to Charlotte, only child of King George IV of Great Britain and heir to the British throne. But Princess Charlotte and her baby both died in 1817. Later, probably because of his importance through this marriage and because of his well-known popularity, the Belgian people, when they became an independent nation in 1831, offered him that throne; he accepted and became the first King of Belgium as Leopold 1, and the founder of the line of kings of Belgium.
- In 1818 Leopold's sister, Victoria, was married to Prince Edward of Great Britain. The only child of this marriage was Queen Victoria, who succeeded to the English throne in 1837. Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha became the husband of the Queen in 1840, the Prince Consort of Great Britain, and the founder of the new German dynasty in England.
- Of the children of Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the eldest of his three sons became by his marriage to Maria II, Queen of Portugal, titular King of thai country as Ferdinand II, and so founded the Saxe-Coburg dynasty of Portugal. Manuel II, ex-King of Portugal, through his grandmother, Princess Maria-Pia of Savoy, was related to the royal family in Italy, as she was a sister of King Humbert I of Italy and also of Amadeus of Aosta, who was King of Spain from 1870 to 1873. Through his wife, he was the son-in-law of William, the royal prince of Hohenzollern, and a nephew of Ferdinand, Crown Prince of Roumania.
- The youngest son died childless and the second son, August, became the founder of the German branch of this family, August married a Princess of Orleans in 1843, and of this marriage there were four children, three of whom are now living The youngest son was elected Hereditary Prince of Bulgaria in 1887 and became its Czar (Czar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria) in 1908; he founded a new reigning dynasty of the Saxe-Coburg-Gothian family.
The name Saxe-Coburg-Gotha came to the British Royal Family in 1840 with the marriage of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert, son of Ernst, Duke of Saxe-Coburg & Gotha. Queen Victoria herself remained a member of the House of Hanover. In 1837, the year of the Queen's accession, a bargain between the sovereign and Parliament was made by which the former renounced the hereditary revenues of the crown enjoyed by her royal predecessors in consideration of a civil list granted during the Queen's lifetime and occupancy of the throne. In 1837 this was an excellent bargain for the country.
The Prince Consort Albert died on December 14, 1861, at the early age of forty-two. In the twenty years from Victoria's marriage to her husband's death, when she was elaborating, by her own conduct, the traditions and duties of a Constitutional sovereign, the Prince Consort was her closest adviser. The Queen was profoundly affected by his loss. For ten years she remained in comparative seclusion.
With the rise of imperialism, there was a change. For imperialism is a faith as well as a business; as it grew, the mysticism in English public life grew with it; and simultaneously a new importance began to attach to the Crown. The need for a symbol—a symbol of England's might, of England's worth, of England's extraordinary and mysterious destiny—became felt more urgently than ever before. The Crown was that symbol: and the Crown rested upon the head of Victoria. Thus it happened that while by the end of the reign the power of the sovereign had appreciably diminished, the prestige of the sovereign had enormously grown.
Yet this prestige was not merely the outcome of public changes; it was an intensely personal matter, too. Victoria was the Queen of England, the Empress of India, the quintessential pivot round which the whole magnificent machine was revolving—but how much more besides! For one thing, she was of a great age—an almost indispensable qualification for popularity in England. She had given proof of one of the most admired characteristics of the race—persistent vitality. She had reigned for sixty years, and she was not out. And then, she was a character. The outlines of her nature were firmly drawn, and, even through the mists which envelop royalty, clearly visible. In the popular imagination her familiar figure filled, with satisfying ease, a distinct and memorable place. It was, besides, the kind of figure which naturally called forth the admiring sympathy of the great majority of the nation.
Duty, conscience, morality—yes! in the light of those high beacons the Queen had always lived. She had passed her days in work and not in pleasure—in public responsibilities and family cares. The standard of solid virtue which had been set up so long ago amid the domestic happiness of Osborne had never been lowered for an instant. For more than half a century no divorced lady had approached the precincts of the Court. Victoria, indeed, in her enthusiasm for wifely fidelity, had laid down a still stricter ordinance: she frowned severely upon any widow who married again. Considering that she herself was the offspring of a widow's second marriage, this prohibition might be regarded as an eccentricity.
Albert Edward, the eldest son, but second child, of Queen Victoria, and the recent occupant of the throne of the British Empire, was born November 9, 1841, at Buckingham Palace, London. It is notorious that for many years the provision made by Parliament for the Prince of Wales and his family was miserably inadequate to the obligations publicly imposed on him. Practically, the more costly social and public duties of monarchy had devolved almost entirely on the Prince of Wales, togetlicr with enormous charges for entertainment, hospitality, and charitable subscriptions compulsorily entailed on the leader of English society by the Queen's practical retirement from the public eye. For more than a generation the Prince had borne the larger part of the social and pecuniary burdens that naturally fall on the sovereign, and had sustained them on a modest Parliamentary grant of smaller proportions than the income of many Americans and Englishmen of private station.
As prince of Wales, Edward was given no official duties by his mother, and consequently found the time to build quite a reputation as a womanizer. Bertie's many extramarital affairs ranged from brief flings to longstanding relationships with Lillie Langtry, Alice Keppel, and others (including his beautiful and long-suffering wife, Princess Alexandra of Denmark).
The Prince was no saint, and was the last person in the world to wish to be set up on a pinnacle as such. He was subject to exactly the same weaknesses, frailties and errors of one kind and another as ordinary mortals, and gave way to them occasionally. That he did not do so more frequently was a subject for congratulation, for certainly no man living was exposed to greater temptations. His morals were neither better nor worse than those of the majority of his countrymen, and it was precisely this fact that endeared him to them. The sympathy thus established between Prince and people contrasted strongly with the unpopularity of his father, whose blameless behavior was generally regarded by the English as a reflection on their own conduct.
It was not, therefore, to any moral perfections that the Prince was indebted for the immense influence which he exercises, not alone in his mother's dominions, but throughout the world — an influence immeasurably greater than that of many a king or emperor. Nor was it in any way attributable to the voice, which, as heir to the British throne, he might reasonably be expected to have enjoyed in the administration of his country's government. For his mother's sense of duty prevented him from taking any active part in the affairs of state. No; the explanation of the enormous influence that he commanded was to be found in his tact. No other Prince of the blood possessed this quality to such a superlative degree.
Most of all this tact was apparent in his management and direction of English society, which he ruled with a rod of steel concealed in a sheath of velvet. He guided it solely by tact and experience; and no prejudice, no preconceived ideas or theories were permitted to stand in the light of his decrees. For instance, it was thanks to him, and to him alone, that ill feeling toward the Jewish people had disappeared, and that Hebrews — who in the early days of the Victorian era were not admitted to the full rights and privileges of ordinary citizenship — were to be found occupying seats in the House of Lords, on the bench of the Supreme Court of Judicature, and in the very front rank of the most smart, aristocratic and exclusive circles of society.
Edward VII began his reign with the usual acclamations of the vulgar, the vulgar in this instance including everybody, all his little failings forgotten or hidden well out of sight. He had certain good qualities of amiability and a Philistine tolerance for other people's sins which endeared him to rich and poor, from archbishops down to turf bookmakers, and the man in the street. He would make an excellent king for twentieth century England. His nephew, the Emperor William, came forward to stand his sponsor in face of the world, an evil conjunction, for William was the Apostle of European violence.
The longest and most important period of King Edward's life was spent as heir-apparent to the British throne, during the sovereignty of his illustrious mother, Queen Victoria of immortal memory. During this period he established himself firmly in the affections of the British people and the inhabitants of "the Dominions beyond the Seas." His brief reign as Edward VII, which constituted the second period of his eventful and useful life, was filled with splendid achievements in the interests of international peace and comity, effected by means of the rare tact and diplomatic skill that he had ever at command.
From the days of his early manhood until he had almost reached the age of sixty, he moved in the fierce light that beats about the heir-apparent to the greatest throne on earth, and as the decades of his career passed into history the world grew to understand that Albert Edward was a prince indeed, a real man among men, broad-minded, filled with human sympathies, liberal in heart and deed, embodying and setting forth the principles of true fraternity. As Prince of Wales, he regained the title of "first gentleman of "Europe" which had been proudly worn by one of his ancestors. In the case of Albert Edward, the title was no misnomer. Go where he would, he found and made friends, won by his rare qualities of mind and heart, and by his pre-eminent tactfulness, which was perhaps his most conspicuous attribute.
When Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, succeeded to the British throne in 1901, and assumed the title Edward VII, he was undoubtedly the best known man on earth. His form and features were familiar to more millions of the world's inhabitants than those of any other living man, and it is only a just tribute to say that all who knew his features respected and esteemed the man. Ascending the throne at the beginning of the 20th century, after a reign marked by dazzling accomplishments of human endeavor, Edward VII took his place among the monarchs of Europe with all the prestige of a splendid and successful career.
Throughout his brief reign, he seemed a mighty instrument for good in maintaining the peace of Europe. When a German war scare hovered over England without any cause apparent to the outside world, it was the tact of King Edward and the good sense and clear-headedness of the German Emperor that co-operated to disperse the war clouds.
Under his sovereignty the British dominions beyond the seas prospered as never before; but in the last years of his life, grave constitutional questions arising at home caused the popular monarch serious concern. For the first time in recent history, the sovereign of England became a buffer between political parties. some times regarded as of Liberal proclivities in English politics, he did not incline to the Tories any more than he did to the Liberals, and neither could claim him as a partisan. King Edward was called upon to support a Liberal government and its Radical allies in a fierce attack upon an ancient institution of the Empire.
He was relied upon by the Liberal party to give guarantees of action in regard to the House of Lords. The government wished his co-operation, or at least a guarantee of his probable co-operation, for political effect, in the matter of creating a sufficient number of new peers to overcome a hostile majority in the Upper House of Parliament, and the anxiety under this unprecedented situation, hardly to be endured by a feeble constitution, is widely believed to have hastened the end of the popular king.
After a brief reign of nine years, Edward VII, King of Great Britain and Ireland, and Emperor of India, died at Buckingham Palace, London, on the night of May 6th, 1910, in the 69th year of his age. His actual illness, so far as immediate serious results are concerned, was of short duration. His majesty contracted a severe cold, and a little later pneumonia developed. His last words were reported as "Well, it is all over, but I think I have done my duty."
After a social primacy of forty years in which he steered society out of the doldrums of Mid-Victorianism and incidentally set fashions which decades later still touched clothes, food, travels. He was able to modernize the monarchy, to make it at once fashionable and popular at home, and to attain abroad a position held by none of his predecessors. If he had not the mastery of Europe, as one foreign diplomatist averred, he was unquestionably the greatest of its personalities, its Uncle.
This King of England was not as other men. He was not a mere figurehead, a ceremonial chief of state, an hereditary president conveniently saving his countrymen the trouble of choosing some politician, whose chameleon tints had grown neutral with age, to represent them collectively for a period of years. He was an embodiment of the mystery of authority; in the words of the mediaeval English lawyers, he was the Vicar of the Great King. He was the Christian symbol of government in a society which consists of a partnership between the dead, the living, and the unborn. King Edward VII fulfilled the popular conception of kingship with a completeness no other English sovereign had equaled since the Tudors.
Stricly speaking the only British monarch of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was King Edward VII, who reigned for nine years at the beginning of the modern age in the early years of the twentieth century. King George V replaced the German-sounding title with that of Windsor during the Great War. The name Saxe-Coburg-Gotha survived in other European monarchies, including the Belgian Royal Family and the former monarchies of Portugal and Bulgaria.
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