King Edward VII employed custom-made sex furniture, but how did it work?
Edward VII isn’t the best known or most celebrated of British monarchs. The oldest son of Queen Victoria sat on the throne for only nine years due to her longevity, from 1901 to 1910. While he was a perfectly adequate king, in historical terms he is vastly overshadowed by his mother and his son, George V.
However, there is one area in which he outdid everyone around him: Edward VII was, throughout his life, an extremely horny individual.
After losing his virginity in his army barracks to actress Nellie Clifden, smuggled on-site with help from fellow officers, word got back to his parents. Prince Albert died not long later, and Victoria is said to have partly blamed his death on the stress of the impropriety of young Bertie (his first name was actually Albert, after his father). A wedding was arranged with Princess Alexandra of Denmark, and at 22 the future king was married.
But he was also just getting started. While he and Alexandra got on very well, and eventually had five children, the prince had a roving eye. His duties involved a lot of travel, which he used to conceal numerous affairs, with varying degrees of success—his philandering earned him the nicknames “Dirty Bertie” and “Edward the Caresser”.
He had affairs with a lot of well-known women of the time, including—deep breath—actress Sarah Bernhardt, Lady Randolph Churchill (Winston’s mother), Mary Cornwallis-West (whose mother had attempted to seduce Prince Albert), Daisy Greville (the countess of Warwick and inspiration for the song Daisy, Daisy), Alice Keppel (great-grandmother of Camilla, the current Duchess of Cornwall), hospital founder Agnes Keyser, actress and model Lillie Langtry, Lady Susan Vane-Tempest (said to have secretly had the prince’s baby), Moulin Rouge can-can dancer Mademoiselle La Goulue, actress La Belle Otero (who was said to have driven six former lovers to suicide) and famed soprano Hortense Schneider.
There were also plenty of less documented flings with less famous women, particularly in Parisian brothels. In fact, the prince spent so much time at one Parisian brothel, Le Chabanais, that he had a sex chair custom-made. No Ikea for this guy.
By middle age, the prince’s habit of five enormous meals a day had caught up with him, and he was very large. This presented certain problems both for himself and whoever was his partner on any given occasion, so a fauteuil d’amour, or “love chair”, made a lot of sense. It could accommodate the prince and two companions without anyone being crushed.
The chair has survived to this day. Writer Tony Perrotet spent months tracking it down, as detailed in his book The Sinner’s Grand Tour: A Journey Through The Underbelly Of Europe, eventually locating it in the collection of the original manufacturer’s great-grandson, who had reacquired it in the 1990s.
The chair is beautiful, ornate, and very confusing. It looks like a Victorian bobsled, covered in green silks and at once aerodynamic and unwieldy-looking. There are handles, headrests, and footrests, but it is not in any immediate way clear who goes where. As the owner told Perrotet, “The precise arrangement is open to debate.”
Since the chair’s rediscovery, it has been exhibited around the world and has been the subject of a documentary made by the Smithsonian. Host and historian Tracy Borman told Jezebel: “What really perturbed me about the chair is that there was room on it for two ladies, one on the top and one underneath—but exactly how he got to the one underneath we never managed to actually work out [...] What she was doing down there, whether it was like a queuing system, she was just lying down there to wait, I don’t know. But it’s quite a contraption. It looks a bit like a sleigh. It’s a weird-looking thing. But apparently, it worked! Bertie loved it.”
The precise physics of what went where will likely never be known—while hope springs eternal that some kind of intricate diagram will be unearthed behind a chaise longue, it seems that Edward took the specifics of his habit to the grave. The royal sex chair is a unique, intimate piece of history—just think how much more fun the whole thing would be if it didn’t involve him being a cheating bastard!