Portrait of Alice Keppel, c. 1890s
|Born||Alice Frederica Edmonstone
29 April 1868
Duntreath Castle, Strathblane, Scotland, UK
|Died||11 September 1947
|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.
Alice Frederica Edmonstone, (also called "Freddie" by her family), 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. It was a wedding gift from King Robert III of Scotland to his daughter Mary. Keppel was the youngest of one brother and seven sisters. She was much closer to her brother Archie than to her sisters.
On 1 June 1891, at the age of 23, 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 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 bond 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", stated 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".
Keppel became one of the best known society hostesses of the Edwardian era. As an hostess, she treated everyone kindly and knew about everything going on in the society. She was described as being witty, kind and never losing 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 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 also 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 immediately 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 smooth his strange mood swings. She was able to turn the cranky monarch into a happy man.
In the documentary, The life story of Alice Keppel, biographer Diana Souhami described Keppel as the "perfect royal mistress". She put together the roles of mother, friend and lover to form a completely different 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 showed off her position. Millicent Leveson-Gower, Duchess of Sutherland, Lady Warwick's half sister, stated that the prince was "a much pleasanter child since he changed mistresses".
Through her royal association, Keppel became richer. The King let his friends like Sir Ernest Cassel make funds that would keep her financial and position safe. Privy purses had not been wide-open for a long time. Instead, the King gave Keppel some portion in a rubber company, which later gained her £50,000 which is about 7.5 million today, and he also let his own bankers and financial advisers manage her businesses. He also got her husband a good job with a higher pay. Historian Christopher Hibbert stated, "George cheerfully went to work for Sir Thomas Lipton, who obligingly found him employment at the prince's instigation." With her influence, Keppel also found her brother Archie a place in the royal household: Archie was Groom in Waiting for the final three years of King Edward VII's reign. Keppel later took care of him and his family.
Position at court
In 1901, After Edward became king, Keppel's discretion made her a perfect communicator between the king and his ministers. She knew how to present a topic to him so that he would listen, even if sometimes he disagreed. The Viceroy of India once said 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."
Keppel's influence was using her discretion, finesse, and being a good conversationalist. Her most known contribution to politics was her role as an acknowledged Liberal hostess. She acted as a representative for Edward and noted Liberals. As a good conversationalist and hostess, it helped Edward VII's causes. What influence she had in politics is really unknown, but it is stated the King listened and depended on her advice. Biographer Raymond Lamont-Brown states: "He completely trusted Alice and through her...he could make his political opinion known. A message to Alice was enough to get an arguable topic dropped into conversation to gauge effect, which was reported back to the King." Prime Minister Asquith and his wife once thanked her for her "wise counsel" in a letter. However, she disliked it when any mention of her political involvement to the king was made in public. In 1933, when Margot Asquith's memoir was published, she was annoyed her name was mentioned as the king's political advisor.
Though Keppel was known for her effectiveness, she tried to separate the king from his smoking and heavy eating but was unsuccessful. Concerned about the King's health, she wrote a letter to Portuguese Minister, Marquis de Soveral, shortly after Edward fell ill: "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 letter, although read was not paid attention to till the king's 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 behaviour, she later tried to minimise her dramatic outburst, but eventually admitted that she'd been unable to control herself. The Edwardian age was over at the King's death, which included Keppel's reign as La Favorita. The new king and queen, George V and Mary of Teck, organised in a more traditional way at court, at which Keppel was not invited.
In November 1910, Keppel and her husband left London. She stated it was because of her children's education, but in actuality, it was because of the king's death which had made her life change. 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 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 immediately. It was said he could not live without her after being married for 56 years. She was buried in the Cimitero Evangelico degli Allori in Florence.
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|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