Hostess with the Mostest

04 29 alice keppelBack in October, I wrote about Lillie Langtry who was once the mistress of the Prince of Wales. Today I want to tell you about another of his mistresses, Alice Keppel, who was born Alice Frederica Edmonstone on April 29th 1868 in Strathblane, Scotland. She was the daughter of a Baronet and there doesn’t seem to be a great deal to say about her before she got married at the age of twenty-three to George Keppel, who was the son of the Earl of Albemarle. They were not rich, which would have been fine if they had been happy to live quietly. But they both enjoyed London Society, which was expensive.

The way they chose to manage this, was for Alice to take wealthy lovers who could help boost their income and also provide George with business opportunities. It all sounds a bit cold and calculating but it seems to have worked out pretty well for them. It wasn’t as though she was sneaking around, having affairs behind her husband’s back. He knew all about it and had plenty of affairs himself that she also knew about. Nor did it mean that they didn’t love each other, they stayed married all their lives and died within two months of one another in 1947. They raised two daughters, Violet and Sonia. They later described their parents’ marriage as a ‘companionship of love and laughter.’

Alice became one of the best known society hostesses of the Edwardian era. She was kind, witty, charming and never lost her temper. Her eldest daughter, Violet, described her as having “a gift of happiness but she excelled in making others happy, she resembled a Christmas tree laden with presents for everyone”. Her first lover was Ernest Beckett, who is worth mentioning because he may have been the biological father of Alice’s eldest daughter Violet and also because he was once my local MP. There were several others, but then she met the Prince of Wales.

She met Edward, in 1898 and soon became his favourite mistress. She remained with him through his coronation until his death in 1910. Alice was able, through her position, to secure good employment for both her husband and her brother. Although the King did not support her directly, he found someone to manage her business affairs and gave her shares in a rubber company that were eventually worth £50,000. Edward took Alice in his entourage almost everywhere he went. It seems she was one of the few people able to deal with his strange mood swings. The discretion, social finesse and conversational skills that made her a successful society hostess also made her an excellent buffer between the King and his Prime Minister. If any contentious issues needed to be raised she was able to smooth the way between them. Even the King’s wife, Queen Alexander, approved of her, preferring her to his previous mistress. It was said by another society hostess, the Duchess of Sutherland, that the King was “a much pleasanter child since he changed mistresses”. Which I think tell us as much about him as it does about Alice.

The only time she seems to have lost her composure was when she visited the king on his deathbed in 1910. The moment he lost consciousness, the Queen ordered the doctors to have her removed from the bedchamber. Alice became hysterical and had to be dragged away by guards. Her life was never quite the same after that and she was no longer welcome at court. She and George travelled the Far East for two years and then returned to London where they lived much more quietly. Alice helped run a hospital in Boulogne during the First World War. Then, in 1927, they bought a villa near Florence where, apart from during World War II, they lived for the rest of their lives. When her husband George was asked if he minded about her affairs he said: “ I do not mind what she does as long as she comes back to me in the end.” Which is what she did.

Before I leave Alice today, I want to tell you a little bit about her descendants too. Her eldest daughter Violet is best known for her passionate affair with Vita Sackville-West. Her younger daughter, Sonia married Roland Cubitt in 1920. Their daughter, Rosalind, married Bruce Shand in 1946. In 1947, their daughter Camilla was born. Camilla also fell in love with a Prince of Wales, Prince Charles. The great-great grandson of her great-grandmother’s famous lover. But Charles was married off to Diana, which went really badly for absolutely everyone. Camilla married Andrew Parker-Bowles. Then, all those awful things happened and now Charles and Camilla are married.

I don’t have any strong feelings one way or the other about our Royal family. But while I’m researching this blog, almost every day I come across people who were married to someone they hated for financial of political gain. So I’m glad those two got what they wanted.

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