Keppel grew up at Duntreath Castle, the family seat of the Edmonstone baronets in Scotland. She was the youngest child of Sir William Edmonstone, 4th Baronet. In 1891 she married The Honourable George Keppel and they had two daughters. She became one of the best society hostesses of the Edwardian era. Her beauty, charm and discretion impressed London society and brought her to the attention of the future King Edward VII in 1898, whose mistress she remained till his death, lightening the dark moods of his later years, and allegedly held considerable influence.
Through her younger daughter, Sonia Cubitt, Keppel is the great-grandmother of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, second wife of Charles, Prince of Wales.
Alice Frederica Edmonstone, (also called "Freddie" by her family), was born on 29 April 1868 in Strathblane, Scotland to Sir William Edmonstone, 4th Baronet (1810–1888) and Mary Elizabeth Edmonstone, née Parsons, of Woolwich Dockyard (1823–1902). Her father was the 4th Baronet Edmonstone and a retired admiral in the Royal Navy and her maternal grandfather had been a Governor of the Ionian Islands. She was the youngest of one brother and seven sisters, and while growing up, she was much closer to her brother Archie than to her sisters.
Alice grew up at Duntreath Castle. Duntreath Castle had been the Edmonstones' home since the 14th century. It was a wedding gift from King Robert III of Scotland to his daughter Mary Stewart, Princess of Scotland when she married her fourth husband, Sir William Edmonstone of Culloden in 1425. They had a son whom they named Sir William Edmonstone of Duntreath.
On 1 June 1891, at the age of 23, she married British soldier the Honourable George Keppel, son of the 7th Earl of Albemarle and four years her senior. The Keppel family had a history of service to the British royal family, being descendants of Arnold Joost van Keppel, who had accompanied King William III to Britain in 1688 and been given the title of Earl of Albemarle in 1696. The Hon. Mr and Mrs George Keppel had two daughters: Violet Trefusis (1894–1972) and Sonia Cubitt (1900–1986).
Her husband's lack of money led Keppel to engage in affairs with richer men in order for the family to keep up with the lifestyle of London society in those times. Keppel began her first affair with Ernest Beckett, 2nd Baron Grimthorpe; members of the Keppel family believed that Beckett was the biological father of Keppel's daughter, Violet. Keppel also had an affair with Humphrey Sturt, 2nd Baron Alington.
Keppel's husband once said of her: "I do not mind what she does as long as she comes back to me in the end." Her affairs were conducted with his knowledge, and despite a deep affection for his wife, he also had affairs. "Very fond of women himself, he raised no objection to the prince's friendship with his wife", stated historian Christopher Hibbert. Despite affairs on both sides, one of her daughters described her parents' marriage as a "marriage of companionship of love and laughter".
Keppel became one of the best known society hostesses of the Edwardian era. In this role she treated everyone kindly and knew about everything going on in society. She was described as being witty, kind and never losing her temper. Her elder daughter wrote that "she not only had a gift of happiness but she excelled in making others happy, she resembled a Christmas tree laden with presents for everyone".
Sir Harold Acton described Keppel, "None could compete with her glamour as a hostess. She could have impersonated Britannia in a tableau vivant and done that lady credit." Keppel was the inspiration behind the character "Mrs. Romola Cheyne" in Vita Sackville-West's novel, The Edwardians.
Keppel was considered one of the most beautiful women of her time. She was hailed as one of the beauties of the "naughty nineties". She was described as having alabaster skin, large blue eyes, a small waist, chestnut hair and a large bust.
In 1898, 29-year-old Keppel met Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), the 56-year-old heir apparent to the throne. It was not long before she became one of Edward's many mistresses, despite a twenty-six-year age difference. Keppel lived at 30 Portman Square, where Edward visited her regularly; her husband conveniently left during the visits. Her relationship with Edward would last through his ascension to the throne in 1901 until his death in 1910. Keppel was one of the few people in Edward VII's circle who was able to smooth his strange mood swings. She was able to turn the cranky monarch into a happy man.
Edward's wife, Alexandra of Denmark, was fond of her and tolerant of the liaison. She preferred Keppel to Edward's previous mistress, Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick, whom she disliked for being indiscreet when she showed off her position. Millicent Leveson-Gower, Duchess of Sutherland, Lady Warwick's half sister, stated that the prince was "a much pleasanter child since he changed mistresses".
Through her royal association, Keppel became richer. The king let his friends like Sir Ernest Cassel create funds that would keep her financially secure. Instead of giving her money direct from the Privy Purse, the king gave Keppel some shares in a rubber company; these later gained her £50,000, the equivalent of around £7.5 million today. Edward let his own bankers and financial advisers manage her businesses. He also got her husband a good job with higher pay. According to Christopher Hibbert, "George cheerfully went to work for Sir Thomas Lipton, who obligingly found him employment at the prince's instigation." With her influence, Keppel also found her brother Archie a place in the royal household: Archie was Groom in Waiting for the final three years of King Edward VII's reign. Keppel later took care of him and his family.
After Edward became king in 1901, Keppel's discretion made her a perfect communicator between the king and his ministers. She knew how to present a topic to him so that he would listen, even if sometimes he disagreed. The Viceroy of India once said that "there were one or two occasions when the King was in disagreement with the Foreign Office, and I was able, through her, to advise the King with a view to the foreign policy of the government being accepted."
Keppel's influence was founded upon her discretion, social finesse, and conversational skill. Her best known contribution to politics was her role as a Liberal hostess. In this role she acted as a representative for Edward and noted Liberals, and was able to help Edward's causes. What influence she had in politics is unknown, but it is stated the king listened to her and depended on her advice. Biographer Raymond Lamont-Brown states: "He completely trusted Alice and through her...he could make his political opinion known. A message to Alice was enough to get an arguable topic dropped into conversation to gauge effect, which was reported back to the King." Prime Minister H. H. Asquith and his wife once thanked her for her "wise counsel" in a letter. However, she disliked any mention of her political involvement with the king being made in public. In 1933, when Margot Asquith's memoir was published, she was annoyed her name was mentioned as the king's political advisor.
Though Keppel was known for her persuasiveness, her efforts to encourage the king to abandon his smoking and heavy eating were unsuccessful. Concerned about the king's health, she wrote a letter to Portuguese Minister, Marquis de Soveral, shortly after Edward fell ill: "I want you to try and get the King to see proper doctor about his knee....do what you can with your famous tact and of course don't tell anyone I wrote to you." Her letter, although read, was not acted upon.
Edward's death made Keppel so hysterical that at his deathbed she had to be dragged out of his room by guards. Embarrassed by her behaviour, she later tried to minimise her dramatic outburst, but eventually admitted that she had been unable to control herself. The Edwardian age was over at the king's death, as was Keppel's reign as favoured mistress. The new king and queen, George V and Mary of Teck, organised the court along more traditional lines, and Keppel was not invited to attend.
In November 1910, the Keppels left Britain. Keppel stated it was because of her children's education, but in actuality, it was because of the king's death which had made her life change. The family spent two years travelling in the Far East and Ceylon. On their return to Britain they bought a new house at 16 Grosvenor Street in London. During the First World War, Keppel helped her friend Lady Sarah Wilson run a hospital for wounded soldiers in Boulogne. In 1925, Keppel and her husband moved to Italy. Their daughters stayed in Britain due to their marriages. They bought Villa dell' Ombrellino in Bellosguardo near Florence; however, they returned to Britain in 1940, due to the Second World War. The villa had been the home of the scientist Galileo, the poet Foscolo and the scholar C. E. Norton. Keppel commissioned the architect Cecil Pinsent to lay out the villa terrace with bisecting paths, which she named a 'Union Jack garden'; and after her death her daughter Violet maintained the villa and its garden.
On 11 December 1936, when Edward VII's grandson, Edward VIII, abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson: Keppel, while dining at a restaurant, was heard to say, "Things were done much better in my day."
In 1946, The Keppels returned to their villa in Italy and a year later on 11 September 1947, Alice Keppel died of cirrhosis of the liver. George Keppel followed his wife to the grave two-and-a-half months later. It was said he could not live without her, after being married for 56 years. She was buried in the Cimitero Evangelico degli Allori cemetery in Florence.
Later, Italian ushers would point to their villa and, strangely, they would tell tourists that there had lived "Mr Keppel, the last lover of Queen Victoria".