Portrait of Alice Keppel, c. 1890s
|Born||Alice Frederica Edmonstone
29 April 1868
Duntreath Castle, Strathblane, Scotland, U.K.
|Died||11 September 1947
|Resting place||Cimitero degli Allori, Florence|
|Spouse(s)||The Hon. George Keppel (m. 1891)|
Sonia Cubitt, Baroness Ashcombe
|Parents||Sir William Edmonstone, 4th Baronet
Mary Elizabeth Parsons
Keppel was born at Duntreath Castle, the family seat of the Edmonstone baronets in Scotland. She was the youngest child of Sir William Edmonstone, 4th Baronet. In 1891 she married The Honourable George Keppel and they had two daughters. She became one of the best society hostesses of the Edwardian era. Her charm and discretion impressed London society and soon brought her to the attention of the future king Edward VII in 1898, whose mistress she remained till his death, lightening the dark moods of his later years, and while at the King's court, she held considerable influence.
Early life 
Alice Frederica Edmonstone (known to her family as "Freddie") was born on 29 April 1868 in Strathblane, Scotland to Sir William Edmonstone, 4th Baronet, and Mary Elizabeth Edmonstone, née Parsons, of Woolwich Dockyard. Her father was the 4th Baronet Edmonstone and a retired Admiral in the Royal Navy; her grandfather had been Governor of the Ionian Islands. Keppel grew up in Scotland, at Duntreath Castle, Loch Lomond.
Duntreath Castle had been the Edmonstones' home since the 14th century, when they acquired it and its land as a wedding present of King Robert III of Scotland to his daughter Mary. Keppel was the youngest of one brother and seven sisters. Uninterested in her sisters because of the age differences between her and them, she was inseparable from her brother, "beloved Archie".
On 1 June 1891, at the age of 22, Keppel married The Honourable George Keppel, son of the 7th Earl of Albemarle and four years her senior. The Keppel family had a history of service to the British royal family, being descendants of Arnold Joost van Keppel, who had accompanied king William III of England to Britain in 1688 and been given the title of Earl of Albemarle in 1696. The Hon. Mr and Mrs George Keppel had two daughters: Violet Trefusis (1894-1972) and Sonia Cubitt, Baroness Ashcombe (1900-1986).
Her husband's comparative lack of money led Keppel to engage in affairs with richer men in order for the family to keep up with the lifestyle of London society in those times. Keppel began her first affair with Ernest Beckett; members of the Keppel family believed that Beckett was the biological father of Keppel's daughter, Violet. Keppel also had an affair with Humphrey Sturt, 2nd Baron Alington. Keppel's husband once said of her: "I do not mind what she does as long as she comes back to me in the end." Her affairs were conducted with his knowledge, and despite his attachment to his wife, he also engaged in his own affairs. "Very fond of women himself, he raised no objection to the prince's friendship with his wife", wrote historian Christopher Hibbert. Despite affairs on both sides, one of her daughters described her parents' marriage as a "marriage of companionship of love and laughter".
Society hostess 
Keppel became a key figure and one of the best known society hostesses of the Edwardian era. As a superb hostess, she treated even her enemies kindly, and invariably knew the choicest scandal, the price of stocks, and the latest political move. She had a sharp wit and grew up to become the typical aristocratic Scotswoman, but was also kind, without pettiness, prejudice or malice. She never spoke ill of anyone and almost never lost her temper. Her elder daughter wrote that "she not only had a gift of happiness but she excelled in making others happy, she resembled a Christmas tree laden with presents for everyone".
Sir Harold Acton, a writer, aesthete, and bon vivant of the next generation, who was a child during the Edwardian era, described Keppel: "None could compete with her glamour as a hostess. She could have impersonated Britannia in a tableau vivant and done that lady credit." Keppel was the inspiration behind the character "Mrs. Romola Cheyne" in Vita Sackville-West's novel, The Edwardians.
Keppel was considered one of the most beautiful women of her time. She was hailed as one of the beauties of the "naughty nineties". She had alabaster skin, big blue eyes, small waist, chestnut hair and a big bust.
Life as a royal mistress 
In 1898, 29-year old Keppel met Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), the 56-year-old heir apparent to the throne. It was not long before she became one of Edward's many mistresses, despite a twenty-six year age difference. The Prince instantly made her "La Favorita" and his semi-official mistress. Keppel lived at Pleasure House, East Sutton, Kent, where Edward visited her regularly, and her husband conveniently left during the visits. Her relationship with Edward would last until his death in 1910. Keppel was one of the few people in Edward VII's circle who was able to defuse his cantankerous mood swings. She was able to turn the often bored, petulant, aggressive monarch into the genial, tolerant and witty sovereign whom his people loved.
In the documentary, The life story of Alice Keppel, biographer Diana Souhami described Keppel as the "perfect royal mistress". She combined the roles of wife, mother, friend, lover, and political advisor to create an entirely new type of royal mistress. Edward's wife, Alexandra of Denmark, was fond of her and tolerant of the liaison. She preferred Keppel to Edward's previous mistress, Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick, whom she disliked for being indiscreet when she flaunted her position. Millicent Leveson-Gower, Duchess of Sutherland, Lady Warwick's half sister, remarked that the prince was "a much pleasanter child since he changed mistresses".
Through her royal association, Keppel became richer. The King encouraged his friends like Sir Ernest Cassel to build funds that would keep her financial and social position secure. Privy purses had not been wide-open for a long time. Instead, the King gave Keppel shares in a rubber company, which in time earned her £50,000 (Almost 7.5 million today), and he also engaged his own bankers and financial advisers to handle her investments. He also got her husband a well-paid job. Historian Christopher Hibbert wrote: "George cheerfully went to work for Sir Thomas Lipton, who obligingly found him employment at the prince's instigation." With her influence, Keppel also secured her brother, "beloved Archie", a place in the royal household: he became Groom in Waiting for the last three years of King Edward VII's reign. Keppel provided for him and his family.
Position at court 
After Edward became king in 1901, Keppel's discretion made her an ideal conduit between the monarch and his ministers. Keppel never used her position to influence him politically, nor had she any interest in doing so. But she had a way of presenting a topic to him so that he was willing to listen and give it credence, even if his personal opinion differed. The Viceroy of India remarked that "there were one or two occasions when the King was in disagreement with Foreign Office, and I was able, through her to advise the King with view to the foreign policy of the government being accepted." The chic and articulate Keppel, "La Favorita", was at the center of it all, a highly visible—and equally respected—member of his court.
Keppel's influence was not highly visible; rather she employed her strengths—discretion, tact, and social savvy—behind the prestigious scenes her royal lover occupied. Her one obvious contribution to the political arena is her role as a recognized Liberal hostess, acting as a go-between for Edward and noted Liberals. She put her skills as conversationalist and hostess to good use to advance Edward VII's causes. What impact she had cannot be determined, but it is obvious that the King relied heavily on Keppel and her advice. Biographer Raymond Lamont-Brown claims: "He completely trusted Alice and through her...he could make his political opinion known. A message to Alice was enough to get a controversial subject casually dropped into conversation to gauge effect, which was reported back to the King. Her attempts at modesty were foiled by Prime Minister Asquith and his wife." In a letter to her, Asquith once thanked her for her "wise counsel", obviously intimating that Keppel held private political discussion with the most prominent politicians of the day. Whatever her political role, she never alluded to it, and shied discreetly away from credit for any political victory. Most of all, Keppel disliked it when any mention of her political association to the king was made in public. Years later, when Margot Asquith's memoir was published in 1933, she was irritated by her mention of the king's dependence on her as a political advisor.
Although Keppel was renowned for her persuasive abilities, her attempts to separate the king from his smoking and massive meals were in vain. Her concerns are indicated in her letter to Portuguese Minister, Marquis de Soveral shortly after Edward suffered from a slip and fall: "I want you to try and get the King to see proper doctor about his knee....do what you can with your famous tact and of course don't tell anyone I wrote to you." Her direction for the king's health would be ignored until his death.
End of reign 
Edward's death made Keppel so hysterical that at his deathbed she had to be dragged out of his room by guards. Embarrassed by her behavior, she later tried to minimize her dramatic outburst, but eventually admitted that she'd been unable to control herself. The Edwardian age was over at the King's death, and with it Keppel's reign as La Favorita. The new king and queen, George V and Mary of Teck, ushered in a more conservative age with a less glittering court, at which Keppel was not welcome.
Later life 
In November 1910, Keppel and her husband abandoned London for the solitude of the continent. She claimed that it was for her daughters' education, but in reality, it was to escape the sudden reversal of her life. The family spent two years travelling in the Far East and Ceylon. On their return to Britain they bought a new house at 16 Grosvenor Street in London. However, they soon moved to Italy, where they bought Villa dell' Ombrellino near Florence, and lived there for the rest of their lives. The villa had been at various times the home of the scientist Galileo, the poet Foscolo and the scholar C. E. Norton. Keppel commissioned the architect Cecil Pinsent to lay out the villa terrace with bisecting paths, which she named a 'Union Jack garden'; and after her death her daughter, Violet Trefusis, maintained the villa and its garden.
On 11 December 1936, Edward VII's grandson, Edward VIII, abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, a divorcée. Keppel, dining at the Ritz, was heard to declare: "Things were done much better in my day."
On 11 September 1947, two months after the birth of her great-granddaughter, Camilla Shand, Keppel died of cirrhosis of the liver. George Keppel followed his wife to the grave within weeks; it was said he could not see the point of living without her. They had been married for 56 years.
See also 
- Keppel 2011.
- Souhami 1996, p. 15.
- Souhami 1996, p. 17.
- Souhami 1996, p. 19.
- Lot details: Alice Keppel 1996.
- Souhami 1996, p. 22.
- Wilson 2003, p. 23.
- Wilson 2003, p. 26.
- Aronson 1988, p. 224.
- Lamont-Brown 2001, p. 63.
- Lamont-Brown 1999.
- Graber, p. 109.
- Aronson 1988, p. 195.
- Graber, p. 112.
- Graber, p. 114.
- Mahon 2011.
- Dilley 2003.
- Graber, p. 115.
- Wilson 2003, p. 31.
- Souhami 1996, p. 4.
- Wilson 2003, p. 33.
- Nelson 2001, p. 46.
- Souhami, Diana (1996). Mrs Keppel and Her Daughter. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 0312195176.
- "Lot Details: Alice Keppel". DNW. 11 June 1996. Retrieved 5 March 2012.
- Aronson, Theo (1988). The King in Love: Edward VII's Mistresses: Lillie Langtry, Daisy Warwick, Alice Keppel. U.K: Harpercollins. ISBN 978-0-7195-4526-9.
- Mahon, Elizabeth Kerri (2011). Scandalous Women: The Lives and Loves of History's Most Notorious Women. Perigee Trade. ISBN 978-0-399-53645-8.
- Wilson, Christopher (2003). The Windsor Knot. Kensington. ISBN 978-0-8065-2386-6.
- Keppel, Alice (17 April 2011). "Royal Mistress (Scotland)". Retrieved 5 September 2012.
- Lamont-Brown, Raymond (2001). Edward VII's Last Loves: Alice Keppel and Agnes Keyser. Sutton Publishing. ISBN 978-0750926379.
- Carroll, Leslie (2008). Royal Affairs: A Lusty Romp Through the Extramarital Adventures That Rocked the British Monarchy. NAL Trade. ISBN 978-0-451-22398-2.
- Lamont-Brown, Raymond (29 January 1999). "Historical Notes: A perfect and popular royal mistress". The Independent. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
- Nelson, Michael (2001). Queen Victoria and the discovery of Riviera. I. B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84511-345-2.
- Graber, Katherine. "One Whirl of Amusements " Examining the evolving role of the royal mistress from Lillie Langtry to Alice Keppel".
- Dilley, Ryan (11 July 2003). "Camilla's inherited role as royal mistress". BBC News. Retrieved 8 May 2012.
- Bafta Award winning television series Edward the Seventh (1975)
- Justwebit: "Free Information on the Famous or Infamous Women in the Near Past (Part 1)".
- Commire, Anne, ed. (2007) Dictionary of Women Worldwide. 25,000 women through the ages. 3 vols. Waterford, CT: Yorkin Publications
Further reading 
- Holroyd, Michael (2011). A Book of Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers. London: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux. ISBN 978-0-374-11558-6.
- Priestley, J. B. (1970). The Edwardians. London: Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-60332-5.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Alice Keppel|
- Portraits of Alice Keppel at the National Portrait Gallery, London
- Mrs. Keppel and her daughter a Book Review