In the 2nd part of Secret Isle of Wight, we reveal how Queen Victoria used the invention of the radio to monitor the behaviour of her son and heir Albert Edward on board the Royal Yacht off Osborne Bay.
Many Islanders know that the world’s 1st permanent wireless radio station was built by Guglielmo Marconi at Alum Bay in 1897. But did you know that Marconi helped Queen Victoria keep tabs on her playboy son Albert Edward – the future King Edward VII – when he returned from the flesh pots of Paris to the Isle of Wight to convalesce?
There is nothing new about Royal scandals. Queen Victoria is famous for being a prim and proper monarch, whose catchphrase was supposedly “we are not amused.”
Albert Edward – colloquially known as ‘Dirty Bertie’ – was the opposite of his mother, being far more focussed on worldly pleasures than notions of duty and service. Victoria was so disappointed with her wayward son – whose vices she believed had sent her beloved husband Albert to an early grave – that she refused to give him official duties to perform.
Victoria wrote of Albert Edward:
“Oh! That boy… I never can or shall look at him without a shudder.”
Albert Edward was fond of food, tobacco, gambling and – above all – women. He ate so much that his waistline grew to 48 inches. He smoked 20 cigarettes and 10 cigars a day. He was said to have had as many as 55 mistresses over his lifetime.
‘Dirty Bertie’ was especially fond of Paris, where he had his own room in the city’s most famous brothel: Le Chabanais. Here, he would bathe in a tub of champagne with working girls. He even had a special chair made to facilitate his lovemaking when his girth made sexual relations impractical.
In 1898, the then 57-year-old prince had been partying too hard in Paris, leading to his falling downstairs, twisting his knee. He decided to recuperate on the Isle of Wight. However, he had no wish to be restricted to the stuffy confines of Osborne House with his mother fussing over him, so he decided to avoid her by hiding out on the Royal Yacht on the Solent.
According to Marconi’s daughter Degna, Albert Edward had hoped that on the yacht there would be “an unbridgeable gulf between himself and his solicitous mother”.
He was wrong. The Queen – who was no doubt concerned what the heir to the throne might get up to away from her watchful gaze – ordered Marconi to place an 83ft radio mast on the yacht and a 100ft one at Osborne House, making communication with her son possible.
Over 16 days, 150 messages were exchanged between the pair, Victoria’s often 150 words long, the Prince’s far shorter, often restricted to “The Prince of Wales has passed a most excellent night” and “the knee is most satisfactory”.
After using his invention to help the Queen monitor the doings of the Prince of Wales, Marconi went on to develop the technology that underpins modern life: paving the way for radio, television, telephones, mobile phones, Wi-Fi and broadband. Before Marconi, electronic communications could only be sent as telegrams, along telegraph wires.
In 1900, Marconi packed up his equipment and took it 15 miles to Knowles Farm, Niton where he established a new radio station. It was from Niton that Marconi proved radio waves would follow the curvature of the earth, and the first trans-Atlantic communication was achieved.
The age of radio had arrived. In 10 years, there would be over 500 radio stations – enabling worldwide radio communication – with the first voice transmission in 1906.
Island Echo learnt of Queen Victoria using Marconi’s invention of the wireless to communicate with her son from Andy Bull’s book Secret Isle of Wight, which was published by Amberley Books on 15th June.
Secret Isle of Wight can be purchased at Waterstones and all good local retailers and can also be bought directly from Amberley at https://www.amberley-books.com/secret-isle-of-wight.html.
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