Keppel, Alice (1869–1947)
Keppel, Alice (1869–1947)
English aristocrat and influential mistress of King Edward VII. Name variations: Alice Edmonstone; Mrs. George Keppel. Born Alice Frederica Edmonstone in 1869 in Stirlingshire, Scotland; died on September 11, 1947, in Florence, Italy; youngest daughter of Admiral William Edmonstone and Mary (Parsons) Edmonstone (d. 1902); great-grandmother ofCamilla Parker-Bowles (b. 1949); married George Keppel (1865–1947, an army officer and brother of the earl of Albemarle), on June 1, 1891; paramour of Charles Windsor, prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII; children: (paternity uncertain) Violet Keppel Trefusis (1894–1972); Sonia Rosemary Keppel (1900–1986); and others.
The English aristocrat Alice Keppel was best known for being the mistress of Edward VII, king of England. The youngest daughter of Mary Parsons Edmonstone and Sir William Edmonstone, a Scottish admiral in the British navy, Alice was born in 1869 and grew up in a comfortable but not wealthy home in the old castle of Duntreath in Stirlingshire. Her education was good but not extensive, typical for a woman of her class.
In 1891, Alice married the Honorable George Keppel, youngest son of the earl of Albemarle. They were a loving couple throughout their marriage. They had two daughters, the writer Violet Keppel Trefusis and Sonia Keppel , both of whom adored their mother. (The paternity of Violet is in dispute.) Acquaintances describe Alice Keppel as humorous and charming, but with a shrewd intelligence and a keen grasp of British politics and economic events. All of these qualities attracted the attention of the Prince of Wales when he met Mrs. Keppel in February 1898 (he was 57, she 29). Albert Edward, called "Bertie" by his family and friends, was the outgoing and genial heir to the throne of his mother Queen Victoria .
Similar in personality despite their age difference, they began a romantic relationship which lasted beyond Edward's accession in 1901 until his death in 1910. Soon Alice was recognized as Edward's mistress, although neither ever spoke publicly of it, nor displayed any affection in public. But they were seen together frequently, attending social functions as a couple. Perhaps contrary to expectations, Edward and Alice each maintained good relationships with their spouses. Alice's husband George, an officer and a gentleman, handled his wife's indiscretion with upper-class aplomb for which he was awarded the Royal Victorian Order. George remained on friendly terms with the king, while Queen Alexandra of Denmark welcomed the arrangement. The queen preferred a quiet home life with her seven children to the constant parties, social engagements, and outdoor activities enjoyed by her husband. Restless and easily bored, Edward needed constant activity and new diversions. Alexandra was content to let Alice act as a second queen, as long as the affair remained discreet. The prudent Alice was a kind woman, and she seems to have gotten along well with Alexandra. In fact, they became friends and allies. When years later a grieving Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Warfield Simpson (1895–1986), Keppel remarked: "Things were done better in my day."
Before long those closest to Edward, including his wife and ministers, recognized that Alice had an unusual degree of positive influence over him. Of all of Edward's mistresses, including Lillie Langtry and Frances Evelyn Greville , Alice Keppel had the most influence. She was capable of calming him during his infrequent but violent fits of anger and knew how to keep him in good humor with gossip, card games, and other amusements. Known for her wit, beauty, good nature, deep voice, flair for cigarette smoking, and her ability to control the temper of the king, Keppel once apologized to her card-partner, an angry Edward, for a miscalled play with the line: "I never could tell a king from knave." Consequently, those around the king began to rely on her ability to handle him. They also appreciated her tact and discretion; although the relationship was widely known, she kept it as quiet as possible, so important in an era valuing outward appearances above all else. The king's ministers also used Alice's political knowledge and influence to their advantage, invoking her aid in convincing Edward to heed their policy advice. Keppel was known to have smoothed over one or two diplomatic matters and to have acted as an intermediary between the king and the Liberal regime of Prime Minister Sir Herbert Asquith.
In the course of the affair, Alice (and her husband) became quite wealthy. "Mrs. Keppel," notes Diana Souhami , "regarded adultery as a sound business practice." Edward showered her with gifts of clothing and jewels in addition to a large income. Since neither the Edmonstones nor the Keppels were particularly well off, the king's gifts allowed members of both families to be part of England's wealthiest elite. The Keppels also traveled extensively with the king, spending months at a time abroad, most often in France.
In May 1910, when King Edward died at age 70, Alice was deeply grieved, as were George and Alexandra. Alice decided to go abroad with her family during the transition to the reign of George V. In November 1910, the Keppels and their two daughters sailed to Ceylon, then to China, not returning to London until 1912. There Mrs. Keppel emerged once again as a popular hostess to London's high society. During World War I, George Keppel served in France; Alice followed him there, serving as a nurse in a field hospital.
Following the war, the Keppels retired to Italy, purchasing the villa known as L'Ombrellino in the hills overlooking Florence. Life at L'Ombrellino was leisured and slow-paced, spent entertaining friends, mostly English, French, and Italian aristocrats. The outbreak of World War II caused them to flee Italy for England by way of France, causing Frances Greville to sniff, "To hear Alice talk about her escape from France, one would think she had swum the Channel with her maid between her teeth." The Keppels returned to Florence in 1946. There Alice Keppel died in September 1947, at age 78. In 1995, Britain issued a stamp that had been approved by Queen Elizabeth II , featuring a mother and child; the mother was Alice Keppel.
Phillips, John, et al. The Last Edwardians: An Illustrated History of Violet Trefusis and Alice Keppel. Boston, MA: The Boston Athenaeum, 1985.
Souhami, Diana. Mrs. Keppel and Her Daughter. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1996.
Laura York , Riverside, California