Edward VII’s rumoured children grew up in a humble Yorkshire village

Edward VII is responsible for royal family popularity says expert

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King Edward VII, the eldest son of Queen Victoria, was born on November 9, 1841. He reigned for just 9 years, from 1901-1910, having succeeded his mother’s record-breaking reign was only beaten in 2015 by Queen Elizabeth II. During the last 40 years of Victoria’s time in power, the monarchy had shone somewhat dimly after the Sovereign, who was bereaved following the death of her beloved consort Prince Albert, spent several years in seclusion suffering from a deep depression. Edward was successful in restoring a certain glimmer to the monarchy. He pioneered the idea of royal public appearances as they are known today, and ultimately proved to be an immensely popular and affable King. However, his private life was far more scandalous, with the monarch frequently indulging in his taste for women’s company. 

At his 1902 coronation, the newly-appointed monarch even invited some of his mistresses to sit in a pew in Westminster Abbey designated for “the King’s special ladies”.  

Nicknamed ‘Edward the Caresser’, the King’s affairs were no secret, and it’s been reported that he had more than 50 affairs, including with Winston Churchill’s mother. Perhaps his most notable royal concubine was Alice Keppel, his long-term mistress and confidante, and the great-grandmother of Queen Camilla; their relationship began in 1898 and lasted through his accession to the throne and until his death. Alice is best known in her family for her late-life quip about the duties of a royal mistress: “Curtsey first and then jump into bed.”

However, while his love affairs were largely out in the open, his potential offspring were kept in the shadows. It is rumoured that the King fathered children from many of his mistresses, with reports suggesting that the number lies between 14 and 17. 

According to historians Edward Gillett and Kenneth MacMahon, a particular building in a small East Yorkshire village houses a number of secrets surrounding Edward VII’s offspring. 

Tranby Croft in Anlaby was once home to one of Britain’s richest and most powerful men, a Hull shipping magnate who was a close friend of the then-Prince of Wales. Over the years, scandals and rumours grew up around the stately home, some of which revolved around a royal guest. 

At the turn of the 20th century, Tranby Croft was the seat of the Wilson family, whose global shipping company had earned them great riches. Arthur Wilson, the patriarch of the family, was a friend of Edward, the future King of England, who occasionally stayed at the house. 

While the home is perhaps best known for the Baccarat Scandal of 1890, when Arthur played host to the Prince of Wales and there was a resulting accusation of cheating by one of the players present, other rumours have also persisted, including the parentage of supposed illegitimate children of the Prince, conceived and born at Tranby.

One was said to be Anne Croft who was born in 1896 and went on to become a well-known actress and mother to David Croft, the BBC producer who created Dad’s Army. Allegedly, the King regularly attended her theatre performances in a bid to promote her career. 

Anne’s connection to the King stems from Muriel Wilson — Arthur’s youngest daughter. Like Anne, she also took to the stage and performed in both French and English at the small private theatre in Chatsworth House when Edward and his wife Queen Alexandra were in the audience.

While Anne’s adoptive parents were recorded as Michael and Emma Croft, it is said she was regularly visited by Muriel. The implication was that Muriel was Anne’s real mother and that she had had an affair with the Prince.

According to Mr Gillett and Mr MacMahon, in their scholarly book, A History of Hull, Muriel was one of England’s “greatest beauties” and “certainly in the Prince’s raffish set”. 

In 1899, she travelled to the US for the wedding of a family friend, Julia Grant, to Prince Cantacuzène, a Russian general. She caused quite a stir in society headlines, with descriptions such as “Great Britain’s most beautiful girl” and “almost Amazon” in stature with “a superb figure” donning the pages. 

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However, Mr Gillet and Mr MacMahon went on to claim Edward “died several years before [Anne’s] first appearance on stage”, concluding that the rumours about Anne were just that — rumours. But they do tell another story about an alleged illegitimate son of Edward VII. 

The boy was said to have grown up in East Yorkshire, going on to serve as a major during the First World War and been awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). 

According to the historians, a taxi driver once picked up the major and his friends to take them from Tranby Croft to Beverley. By that point, George V, Edward’s son and heir, was on the throne and the friends referred to the major as they would have done the half-brother of the King. The major tipped the taxi driver £5 — more than £330 in today’s money — and each of his friends followed suit. It is said that the taxi driver was left with so much money, he was able to buy a bus. 

Mr Gillet and Mr MacMahon claim around the same time, a man working on the roof at Tranby Croft looked down to see a figure walking in the garden and thought he was seeing the long-dead Edward VII — historians suggest the figure was the major. 

Today, Tranby Croft houses a school, as after World War 2 it was taken over by Hull High School for Girls. In 2005, the school merged with Hull Grammar School to form Hull Collegiate School, and in 2021, was renamed Tranby, to reflect the historic location. 

Despite the rumours, Edward never acknowledged any illegitimate children and no one ever came forward claiming to have given birth to one of the King’s children.

It was rumoured that Queen Camilla’s grandmother and Alice Keppel’s daughter, Sonia, was fathered by Edward, but she was “almost certainly” the daughter of George Keppel, whom she resembled, according to acclaimed biographer Diana Souhami who authored the 2013 book ‘Mrs Keppel and Her Daughter’. 

He had six legitimate heirs to the throne with his wife Alexandra, who was aware of her husband’s affairs. The Queen’s grandfather, George V, became heir apparent following the death of his older brother Prince Albert Victor.

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