Love and sex: Edwardian style
It was 1901 when Edward VII came to the throne, heralding in what we know today as the Edwardian Era. Although we sometimes think of the previous time – the Victorian Era – as being somewhat staid, that’s far from the case.
The moral code inherited by King Edward had been firmly set during his mother’s time on the throne and it was considerably more raunchy than we might think.
When the Edwardian began, divorce was rare. It was considered extremely scandalous and because couples – especially from the higher end of society – married for the wrong reasons, adultery was rife.
There was, for example, a spate of impoverished nobility who married American heiresses. The aristocrat benefitted financially and the heiress socially. This pleased everyone concerned but it did mean that marriages were often loveless. Dalliances were common.
Cinq à Sept
This phrase referred to the fact that sexual liaisons between lovers would normally take place between five in the afternoon and seven in the evening. There was an eminently practical reason for this.
Consider the clothing that the women of that time used to wear. They couldn’t just remove their dress and their underwear and hop into bed. There was a considerable amount of unlacing, unbuckling and unbuttoning to take care of. Whereas a woman today, if necessary, could go from naked to clothed in seconds, the Victorian and Edwardian woman couldn’t.
Therefore it was sensible for sexual liaisons to take place between the hours of teatime and dinner time when the women would be changing from their day wear into their evening clothes.
Married woman preferred
Had a gentleman been advertising in the classifieds for a mistress, he would have been more than likely to specify ‘married woman preferred’. Married women were a much better choice than single for a spot of adultery.
For one thing, so many were in loveless marriages and looking for excitement elsewhere. Then there was the fact that most married women didn’t want to jeopardise their own marriages so could be relied upon to be discreet. Single women were unsatisfactory because they often made demands upon their lovers and then, of course, there was the ultimate convenience. Should the affair result in a pregnancy, then the child could easily be absorbed into the ladies existing family with no questions asked.
It was therefore required that before embarking upon affairs, the aristocratic newly married lady should produce two male heirs (known as the ‘heir and the spare’ prior to embarking on a sex life of her own. This way, if a child should be born as a result of her affair and be seen as being a legitimate member of the family, the family inheritance wasn’t sullied with another bloodline.
This ‘unspoken ‘rule’ was still in effect when Charles, Prince of Wales had affairs prior to his marriage to Diana Spencer. When his two mistresses, Camilla and Kanga, married other men, they were out-of-bounds until they had produced an heir for their husbands.
Back in the Edwardian days, the line between respectability and shame for women was not what they did, but whether they were found out. As the famous actress of the day, Mrs Patrick Campbell put it:
‘It doesn’t matter what you do in the bedroom as long as you don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses.’