In the fourth year of her reign at the tender age of 22, Queen Victoria gave birth to her second child, the future King of England. Frets and worries about the Queen's "difficult" pregnancy were happily resolved when the birth of a healthy Albert Edward was announced on 9 November 1841 to a relieved nation. For the first time in almost eighty years, England had a suitable male heir. Long live the King!
Bertie, as he was nicknamed by family members, was said to lack the intelligence of his older sister and showed a marked preference for the outdoors to the study of algebra. But he ploughed on doggedly, albeit it without enthusiasm, and mastered his lessons well enough to escape a light corporal punishment sometimes contemplated by his demanding parents. In the summer of 1855, Bertie, now the fourteen year-old Prince of Wales, and his older sister, Vicky, accompanied their parents on a state visit to Napoleon III and his wife Eugenie. The combined effects of Paris and the first welcome cessation of rigorous daily study had a lasing effect on the young Prince. A Frenchman writing more than a century after the event captured the essence of Berties's first trip abroad:
"In the Tuileries, he breathed for the first time that odore di femmina whose trail he was to follow for the rest of his life. The scented, alluring women not only kissed him (was he not a child?) but also curtsied to him, and as they bent forward, their decolletage revealed delights that were veiled at Windsor." 
In November of 1858, when Prince Edward came of age at seventeen, he was given a 500 yearly allowance and his first taste of independence. During the course of the next few years he attended the universities of Edinburgh, Oxford, and Cambridge, traveled abroad, while developing his taste for cigars, shooting, cards, and women. At age 20 and a boy no longer, he was sent to Ireland to serve with the 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Guards to broaden his experience. No doubt believing that they were only carrying out the spirit of the mission, his young fellow officers smuggled the fetching Dublin actress, Nellie Clifden, into his bed. Of course the delicious gossip soon reached the ears of his father who delivered himself of a stern lecture to his errant son. Unfortunately, the doting but strict father was infected with the typhus germ and died some months later on December 14, 1861.
This brought front and center the next milestone: marriage. During the course of some years of mixing and matching political considerations, religious affiliations, and physical characteristics - not necessarily in that order - the final choice fell on the attractive Danish princess Alexandra, the daughter of Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksberg. Things seemed to go well and the two were married in St. George's Chapel at Windsor, on March 10, 1863, with all the grand pomp and circumstance befitting the future King and Queen of England. Alexandra's father, whose private life was a public scandal, duly inherited the throne of Denmark in November of 1863. But as Queen Victoria had feared, the newly-crowned King Christian IX supported unilateral changes in the status of the duchy of Schleswig in violation of the London Protocol of 1852. This brought Denmark into conflict with Prussia and Austria and resulted (after a further brief war between Prussia and Austria in 1866) in the annexation of Schleswig and Holstein by Prussia. Alexandra was livid. Denying that her father had incurred any blame for the loss of the duchies by his unquestionably illegal action, she developed a fanatical hatred for all things German that stayed with her to the end of her days:
"For the rest of the nineteenth century and, more important, for the first decade of the twentieth, when Edward was on the throne himself, the anti-Prussian lobby of England found a permanent focusing point around Alexandra . Though she was never a significant figure politically, the intensity and consistency of her feelings acted as a catalyst for many of her English sympathizers. At the most they disliked, distrusted and perhaps feared the Prussians. Alexandra, whether as Princess or Queen, positively hated them. Her husband could not have remained entirely unaffected by this domestic pressure, especially after his own infidelity put him so heavily in his wife's private debt." 
After returning from a seven-day honeymoon at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, the bridal pair set up housekeeping in London. There was Marlborough House for frequent and elaborate social functions and hunting parties, and there was Sandringham for private marital bliss. But Prince Edward had always been a hedonist to the core and marital vows could not hope to contain his relentless pursuit of pleasure. It was hardly surprising therefore that Alexandra soon became "the most courteously but most implacably deceived royal lady of her time."