Lifestyle

Tuesday 29 July 2014

The romping royal who makes Harry look like a Trappist monk

John Costello

Saucy snaps and sexy romps saw Prince Harry receive a right royal dressing down from the queen on his return from Sin City.

The prince, who resumed his role as an Olympic ambassador at the Paralympics this week, was no doubt glad to deflect attention from his Las Vegas escapades.

However, when it comes to a roll call of romping royals, the queen is no doubt well aware that Prince Harry's antics would barely register.

Even Prince Charles's Tampongate (when he was recorded wooing Camilla with the line, "I want to be reincarnated as a tampon and live inside your trousers forever") and Diana's lengthy list of lovers pale in comparison to the long line of royals whose existence was constantly overshadowed by salacious sex scandals.

Take Tudor bad boy Henry VIII (crowned in 1509) and his six wives. He has been described as the male equivalent to Elizabeth Taylor, the difference being he often chose beheading over divorce when he grew tired of his spouses.

And the extracurricular activities of Charles II, who reigned from 1660-1685 and produced 14 illegitimate children, would even make the tabloids of today blush.

But while the romping royals largely went unpunished for their affairs, poor Edward II proved the exception. Despite producing four children with his wife Isabella of France (whom he married when she was 12), he also had a fondness for the men in his life.

The revelation of his gay relationships not only caused his lords to revolt, but ultimately ended his life after a red-hot poker was rammed into his back passage, according to a play by Marlowe.

However, the young prince who puts Harry in the ha'penny place is without a doubt Edward VII, according to a new biography.

Known to his family as Bertie, he was renowned for his inability to keep out of the beds of other men's wives, had his own regular room in a Paris brothel and even commissioned a 'seat of love', featuring a complicated design of stirrups and supports, to maximise his sexual pleasure.

After discovering her 20-year-old son had lost his virginity to a prostitute, Queen Victoria blamed Bertie for the death of Prince Albert in 1861, who she said had died from the shock of finding out.

His marriage to Princess Alexandra two years later did not tame Bertie's enormous sexual appetite. His afternoons were often spent calling on the wives of working men, a hobby he interspersed with trips to Paris to cavort with prostitutes in a bath filled with champagne.

"Being born into the Victorian period, which was based on a strict moral code, he certainly turned things in the royal household on their head," says Jane Ridley, author the new book Bertie: A Life Of Edward VII.

"He was alleged to have had at least 10 illegitimate children but much of his love life was stuff of rumour."

Unlike Prince Harry, Bertie was blessed with the knowledge that tabloid hacks would always turn a blind eye to his shenanigans.

"The huge difference between the Victorian press and nowadays was all of his private life was off limits," says Ridley.

"So none of his sexual scandals were reported. That meant he was able to get away with an awful lot more when compared to today's standards."

But Bertie could not keep everything hush-hush. He was dragged into the witness box by Sir Charles Mordaunt after the MP's 20-year-old wife confessed to an affair. Bertie denied all charges of improper conduct.

It was Prime Minister William Gladstone who pulled strings to ensure the Prince was not cross-examined, meaning his version went unchallenged.

His long list of lovers and unplanned pregnancies also meant the prince was often exposed to blackmail.

The brother of a high-class Parisian courtesan, La Barucci, demanded payment of £1,500 after her death or he'd put all of the Prince's letters of a 'delicate' nature up for public sale. The Prince promptly paid up.

His other mistresses included Jennie, the wife of Randolph Churchill and mother of Winston, and Edith, the wife of the Earl of Aylesford.

Unknown to Bertie, Edith was also having an affair with Lord Blandford, the elder brother of Randolph Churchill, a fact he became only too aware of one weekend when they were both house-party guests at the Aylesfords'.

Once the lights went out, Blandford crept down the corridor to visit his mistress. However, when he reached out in the darkness to touch the face of his lover he found himself stroking a beard.

Knowing the only bearded man at the house party was Bertie, Blandford murmured "Sir" and immediately beat a retreat.

However, just like Prince Harry, Bertie was seen as a loveable rogue and basked in the affections of the British public.

"British people don't warm to hard working and virtuous royals," says Bertie's biographer, Ridley, "so people really took to him."

So, there is no doubt that the queen is well aware that when it comes to royals, Prince Harry is just a chip off a very old block.

'Bertie: A Life Of Edward VII' is published by Chatto & Windus

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