In Defence of Prince Harry


Prince Harry has been in the news quite a lot, and the media seem to be in the process of casting him as the latest incarnation of the dissolute minor royal, a cause of embarrassment to the monarchy, perhaps even calling the monarchy into question. T’was ever thus.

This is unfair.

Harry has spent his adult life being overshadowed by his older brother, who will see himself and his offspring become monarchs, while Harry and his offspring are shunted down the line of succession. The prospect of King Henry IX is now virtually nil.

Essentially Prince Harry has the dilemma of the ‘spare’ in the Royal line of succession.  There was a succession crisis in the House of Hanover when the future George IV’s daughter Princess Charlotte died in childbirth with her baby, causing the rest of George III’s sons to race around Europe to secure a bride and have a legitimate child amongst all their illegitimate issue, that could survive into infancy and beyond. They had the additional burden that their issue had to pass the test of the Royal Marriages Act, requiring George III’s explicit consent and also passing conditions of class and station. William IV endured the tragedy of a succession of stillborns and neonatal deaths in the early 1820s. The Duke of Kent managed to father Victoria a year before he died of pneumonia. Since then, every monarch, excepting Edward VIII, has made absolutely sure that the line is secure by having at least one spare. George VI, as Prince Albert, had but the one spare, Princess Margaret, who also had the spare’s dilemma in later life, and did not display the same dignity of royalty as her older sister.

Spares have been needed rather frequently, George V and George VI were spares, as was William IV. The future George V even married the woman his older brother was engaged to after he died suddenly.

Previously, spares and their descendants might have been able to depend on deference for a livelihood, but our modern meritocratic society ruthlessly challenges this. Members of the Royal Family who are more distant from the line of succession have to always prove their worth, if not actually earn a living.  A slow news day can be filled by a lazy journalist denouncing the Duke of This or the Duchess of That as a person freeloading on taxpayers’ money.

This ignores the fact that constitutional monarchies, and monarchies in general, tend to provide the most stable political systems. The crescent of monarchical states that face the UK across the North Sea have had a better history of stability than their republican neighbours and have caused less misery to the continent. It was Europe’s leading constitutional monarchy, rather than its leading democratic republic, that successfully stood alone against dictatorship 80 years ago, and organised and helped liberate the western half of the continent and eventually the east as well. It is also noteworthy that it was only the republics that fell or descended into civil war in the Arab Spring, and this was not because the monarchies were more repressive, but because the monarchies had more popular support amongst their subjects than republics had from their citizens.

It is provable that it is better that all forms of electoral politics should stop at one rung below the Head of State.  Monarchies that do fail to adapt will disappear, but it is easier for an organic-based institution to adapt rather than one based on a piece of paper, whose clauses and articles can be reinterpreted and argued over to the point of conflict or repression. The absence of monarchy in a country does appear to create surrogates. The recent death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg seems to be being marked in liberal circles as if she was Queen of America, when her position was to be one person on a committee adapting modern meaning out of a document primarily written before the Industrial Revolution, when slavery was a legal commercial activity and the flintlock musket was the standard infantry sidearm. 

The worst kind of country is one where an ideology is placed above all the people.

Harry has been pushed down the line of succession every time his sister-in-law had a baby, an identical experience to that of Prince Andrew who, even before the recent allegations, did not receive favourable press coverage, partly due to the hard fact that his requirement as a spare ended in the mid-1980s, and he did not have any substantial role after the end of his professional military career and has received press criticism for not appearing to be a working Royal.

Harry also saw the break-up of his parent’s loveless and functional marriage, one that from this distance seems to have been solely about securing the succession. He also experienced the tragedy of his mother’s violent death in the glare of a global publicity that seemed to demand the preclusion of private grief, and all before he reached his teens.

So Harry is simply reacting to the spare’s dilemma, what does the spare do when he is no longer needed. George VI’s younger siblings were able to have careers without much scrutiny. The Duke of Windsor, being the former King-Emperor, would always be newsworthy.

I would rather the House of Windsor persist than have a President Fry or Walliams. The monarchy also humanises the state and provides a form of permanence that republics cannot achieve.

So we should respect Prince Harry for making personal and individual decisions about how he wants to live. He has seen himself become more and more of a minor Royal and he perhaps wants to go in a different direction from that dictated by an accident of birth and the need for a ‘spare’ human.

Paul T Horgan worked in the IT Sector. He lives in Berkshire.