Was this wealthy, fancy dress clad turn of the century socialite both the secret daughter and mistress of King Edward Vll? Her youngest child and only son, Edward James, who was born at the height of his mother’s royal affair, certainly believed this rumor to be true. He states his belief in his mother’s royal parentage emphatically in his memoir, Swans Reflecting Elephants – My Early Years, but, not surprisingly, only darkly hints at his mother’s widely presumed affair with the monarch who lent his name to the Edwardian Age. This sordid tale definitely leaves far more questions than answers. “Was Evelyn James Edward Vll’s daughter?” “Was she at least aware of the rumor that he might be her father when she began her affair with the then Prince of Wales?” “Was Edward aware of this rumor?” It stands to reason that if Edward James was able to intelligently hypothesize concerning his mother’s possible genetic ties to the House of Windsor, his mother, and Edward the Caresser, were certainly aware of the possibility as well. Yet they embarked on an affair anyway. Given the extent to which this sordid tale exposes the possible moral depravity of a monarch whose debauchery has thus far been romanticized by virtually historian whose written about his life, it’s understandable why most of them have chosen to leave this chapter of his life out of their biographies.
Despite spending the last 20 years of his life suffering from periodic bouts of impotence, Edward Vll was more than virile enough to have possibly fathered Evelyn Elizabeth Forbes, who was born in 1868 to Lady Helen Forbes, née Moncreiffe, wife of the 4th Baronet Forbes of Newe. In 1889 Evelyn married William James, the scion of an uber rich American merchant family that had settled in Liverpool. They purchased West Dean House, a sprawling estate in West Sussex that dates back to the Mediaeval age, the next year and soon became popular among the aristocracy for their lavish costume balls and weekend hunting parties. Evelyn was known to be particularly lively and pleasure loving. She was also noted for her amateur theatrical talent.
Philip Magnus writes in his seminal biography, King Edward the Seventh, that the then still Prince of Wales was a regular house guest of the James’ by 1900. He also hints that it was around this time that the affair between Edward and Evelyn began. Despite having recently bestowed the role of maitresse en titre on Mrs. George Keppel, the Prince of Wales apparently had more than enough room in his amorous affection for Mrs. James, and their liaison soon became so indiscreet and widely known that it inspired a stanza in a bawdy, unpublished ballad by celebrated poet Hilaire Belloc.
“A sturdy matron will be set to cope
With Lord—-, who isn’t ‘quite the thing’,
And gives his wife the leisure to elope
And Mrs. James will entertain the King!”
Among the first weekend parties that Edward Vll attended as king was held at Chatsworth, the estate of the Duke of Devonshire, in January of 1901. Philip Magnus notes that both Alice Keppel and Evelyn James were in attendance at that house party as well. While one could easily engage in conjecture concerning the manner in which the King’s most well known mistresses entertained him in the early morning hours while being guests under the accommodating Duke’s roof, it should be noted that the morbidly obese monarch, whose coronation had to shortly be postponed because of a last minute emergency operation, wasn’t up to much amorous activity throughout the last decade of his life. In King in Love, noted author Theo Aronson repeats the often quoted joke concerning Edward Vll’s lack of sexual vigor at that time. Supposedly while engaged in intercourse with Alice Keppel one evening while staying aboard a friend’s yacht, Edward interrupted the coitus when he suspected he could hear someone coming. His mistress immediately replied that whoever was coming, it certainly wasn’t His Majesty!
This joke, apocryphal though it might be, lies at the crux of the matter. Though no explanation could excuse Edward Vll willingly keeping romantic company with a woman who might have been his daughter, he could have done so in the knowledge that, because of his increasingly bad health, he wasn’t going to have sex with her. There’s no doubt that Evelyn’s youngest child and only son, Edward, was not the King’s natural son. Born in 1907, the boy was not only named after Edward Vll, but the King gladly agreed to be the boy’s godfather.
Some of the regular readers of this blog might remember a bawdy little short story the author posted some time ago entitled Royal Incest, or the Tale of Edward Vll and Lady Greene. While that story was completely fictitious, and the author wasn’t even aware of the late King’s rumored conjugal history with the 4th Baronetess Forbes and her daughter, Evelyn, at the time he wrote that piece, the historical implications of this chapter of Edward Vll’s life, if proven to be true, are all too real. The author must admit that he’s always been baffled by the efforts of various historians since the 60’s to not only rehabilitate King Edward Vll’s legacy, but to bestow upon him a far greater place in British history than he justifiably deserves. Though he was a more intelligent statesman than most of his contemporaries, and certainly his mother, gave him credit for being, particularly in regards to foreign policy, he was nonetheless a lazy, spoiled, neurotically self indulgent over grown child that demonstrated on several occasions throughout his private life that he refused to grow up. He may also have engaged in incest. Given that DNA testing could only be dreamed about by scientists at the turn of the century; and given the extent of Edward’s profligacy; plus the fact that contraception wasn’t in wide usage during Edward’s lifetime; and it’s really doubtful he or any woman he slept with ever availed themselves of the practice; it only makes moral sense that he would wish to avoid seducing a young woman that was even suspected of being his child. The fact that he didn’t
damns him more than the scores of women he cheated on his wife with ever could. That is, of course, presuming that this historical rumor is true.