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King Edward VII Mordaunt Divorce Scandal

Updated on February 16, 2011

Prince Albert Edward was a grave disappointment to both of his parents. Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert were determined to redeem the monarchy in the eyes of the British public. Before Victoria gained the throne, there were a succession of 4 dissolute monarchs, all named George, one of which was mad and all were incompetent.

Queen Victoria vowed to be a better monarch and to raise her son to be a good and honorable king. But Albert, nicknamed Bertie, did not like to study and regularly threw tantrums. This was bad enough but it got worse when he grew up.

Albert and Victoria had kept their son away from the English aristocracy because they felt that the nobility was only concerned with pleasure and vice and not suitable companions to a future king. But Bertie disagreed, he took to the nobility and their ways very quickly. As Prince of Wales, he was the toast of society, with or without his wife, Princess Alexandra. Bertie felt no compunction about being faithful to his loving wife. He had several mistresses, flirted with everybody and regularly visited Parisian brothels.

It wasn’t only the men of the nobility who indulged in affairs. At this time it wasn’t shocking for a married aristocratic lady to be unfaithful. As long as she was discreet and had provided her husband with a couple of male children before being unfaithful, it wasn’t a problem. The husband usually had a mistress anyway. Most members of the nobility accepted this, one reason why Victoria thought they were unsuitable companions.

However, not all husbands accepted adultery calmly.  One flirtation that Bertie conducted was with young Lady Harriet Mordaunt. She was 21, married and a flirt. Bertie met with her on several occasions without her husband, or anyone else, being presents.  One day she confessed to her husband, Sir Charles Mordaunt, that she had been unfaithful with numerous men. And indeed she was unfaithful, as love letters her husband found confirmed.

Sir Charles would not accept the situation and he sued for divorce. Lady Harriet’s lawyer claimed that his client was insane.  The letters were introduced in court and Bertie was summoned to give evidence, since he was the author of some of them. This was the first time in history that a Prince of Wales had been in the witness box of a public trial.

The letters were not explicit and Bertie argued that they were just friendly letters. He said there was no “improper familiarity or criminal act.” Ultimately he did not appear in court for the husband, he had been petitioned by Lady Harriet’s counsel to prove the letters were innocent and that she was not unfaithful. Her family, who by this time had locked Harriet up in an insane asylum, argued that the her confessed affairs were delusions of a troubled mind.

Bertie was nervous about giving evidence “ I shall be subject to a most rigid cross examination by (Mordaunt’s attorney) who will naturally try to turn and twist everything I say in order to compromise me. On the other hand, if I do not appear, the public may suppose that I shrink from answering these imputations which have been cast upon me. Under either circumstances I am in a very awkward position.” But he did give evidence in February of 1870. Bertie declared convincingly that he was only a friend to Harriet. Later the letters were published and proved to be harmless chit chat.

Ultimately the case was dismissed and no divorce granted, not because no adultery was proven but because Harriet was insane. She spent the next 3 decades in an insane asylum. Princess Alexandra stood by her husband, as she always would. Queen Victoria took the scandal as another sign that her son was not living up to the standards set by her late consort, Prince Albert. This would not be the last scandal involving Bertie.


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