The epitaph on her tombstone at the Cimitero degli Allori (Evangelical Cemetery of Laurels), just outside Florence, tells us ‘she was gay, unselfish, brave,’ but Alice Frederica Keppel had one other invaluable quality: she was discrete. This was to make her the last and longest-serving mistress of Edward VII (1849–1910), the king of the United Kingdom, the British Dominions and Emperor of India. For 12 years, from 1898, the year in which they first met, until his death in 1910, Keppel, with style and a sharp eye for keeping up appearances at all costs, satisfied her lover in bed; diplomatically advised him behind the scenes; played bridge; went shooting, to the races, boating and on holiday with him; and, generally, fussed over him. In 1925, no longer a central part of the London social scene after the king died, Keppel bought Villa Ombrellino at Bellosguardo with the generous bequest the king had left her. Until her death on September 11, 1947, without ever learning a word of Italian, she reigned over her many royal and aristocratic guests as well as the city’s insular Anglo-American colony.
Born on April 29, 1868, in Scotland, the youngest of the nine children of Sir William Edmonstone, 4th Baronet, and his wife, Alice grew up at Duntreath Castle, Loch Lomond. On June 1, 1891, a beautiful 22-year-old with milky white skin, thick chestnut-coloured hair, bright blue eyes and a stunning hour-glass figure, she married Lieutenant-Colonel George Keppel (1865–1947), the handsome, although not wealthy, third son of William Coutts Keppel, 7th Earl of Albemarle. They had two daughters: Violet Trefusis (1894–1972; see TF 179, 172), a writer who worshipped her mother and was, in return, totally spoilt, despite Violet’s scandalous affair with Vita Sackville-West; and Sonia Cubitt (1900–1986), neither as beloved or talented, who would eventually make Alice Keppel the great-grandmother of Camilla, now Duchess of Cornwall and second wife of Charles, Prince of Wales.