Her tales of royal scandals, high fashion and architecture, and life below stairs entertained and informed. The Edwardian era began with the reign of King Edward VII from 1901 to 1910 and lasted until the start of World War I. Following the reign of his mother, Queen Victoria, who was a recluse for many years, Edward revived the public image of the monarchy. As the Prince of Wales, and later King, Edward and his wife Queen Alexandra enjoyed being in the public eye and entertaining the social elite at The Marlborough House, famous for its many scandals and affairs.
The royal scandals were just one part of the social scene during the Edwardian Era. The fashionable elite enjoyed packed social calendars full of horse races, croquet, garden parties, and the royal yacht club. The men and women were expected to wear the most fashionable attire. For women, this consisted of corsets, long dresses and a spectacular hat. Women’s advocates and designers, however, began to lobby for looser dress designs with less boning or tight corsets.
While the Era was defined by its high fashion and extravagance, larger social movements, including women’s suffrage were taking place. The Women’s Social and Political Union, led by Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, engaged in militant tactics, with women jumping in front of horses, breaking windows, and staging hunger strikes, while seeking the right to vote. In a comparison to the struggles faced by Ethel of Downton Abbey, activist Josephine Butler publicly preached against registering prostitutes out of fear that it would ruin women forever.
The wealth and extravagance, of life upstairs was only possible because of the hard work done by the servants downstairs. Life downstairs was hierarchical with very rigid protocols and rank. You had the “Upper Ten,” the butler, housekeeper, cook, lady’s maid and the valet, and the “Lower Ten,” housemaids and footmen and other staff. The lady’s maids and valets were expected to keep secrets and never gossip about their mistress or master. Considering the many affairs and scandals of the Edwardian era, this was certainly an important skill.
With the start of World War I, the age of grandeur, parties and scandal stewarded by King Edward VII came to a close. The life that the royals, upper class and servants knew began to change as women’s fashion became less restrictive, social class and order less rigid, women achieved the right to vote, and England recovered from a deadly war.