The December 2013 issue of Military History Monthly is now on newsstands. The issue contains my feature article, “Warrior Monarchs: Royalty on the Battlefield” about the long and colourful history of royalty at war from Queen Boudicca to Prince Harry.by
My column in this weekend’s edition of the Kingston Whig-Standard looks at the influence and involvement of royalty regarding Remembrance Day traditions in the United Kingdom and Canada since the end of the First World War.by
My most recent column in the Ottawa Citizen looks at Prince William’s departure from the military to focus on royal engagements and charitable work, most notably causes relating to conservation and protection of endangered species. Environmental advocacy is an ideal role for royalty because it is an issue that requires long term solutions, beyond a single election cycle. Numerous other members of Europe’s royal houses have also assumed leadership roles in environmental initiatives.by
At the age of only twenty-eight, Prince Henry “Harry” of Wales, the younger son of the Prince of Wales and the late Diana, Princess of Wales has experienced a remarkable series of transformations in the popular imagination. At the age of twelve, he was the focus of public sympathy along his elder brother William as the two Princes walked behind their mother’s coffin to her funeral at Westminster Abbey. By the time he reached his gap year between Eton and Sandhurst, however, Harry was chastised in the press for his poor judgement compared to his seemingly more responsible brother. From his experimentation with marijuana to his inappropriate choice of Hallowe’en costume, Harry seemed to be a “party prince” alone without understanding of his responsibilities as a member of the royal family.
Harry’s reputation changed once more in recent years when he completed two tours of duty in Afghanistan and represented the queen on a highly successful trip to Belize, the Bahamas, Jamaica and Brazil. The Prince also served as an Olympic ambassador, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh by promoting youth athletics. As Harry undertook royal duties, charitable work and active military service, even his “party prince” moments, such as his notorious game of strip billiards in Las Vegas, were treated indulgently by the public. In Harry: The People’s Prince, Chris Hutchins, author of Diana’s Nightmare – The Family and Fergie Confidential explains how the military was making of Harry, transforming him from Party Prince to People’s Prince.
The sections of Harry: The People’s Prince concerning Harry’s military service are the strongest chapters of the book. Hutchins combines the Prince’s extensive and occasionally controversial interviews about Afghanistan with quotes from his fellow soldiers and royal observers, giving a sense of Harry’s commitment to his military duties and daily life during his tours of duty. Hutchins also discusses Harry’s relationship with Chelsy Davy in more detail than previous works, revealing the full extent of her influence over key years in Harry’s life. Chelsy even edited Harry’s best man speech at Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton in 2011, removing jokes that might offend the Queen.
Unfortunately, these informative, interesting chapters do not appear until the second half of the book. In the same manner as Penny Junor in her recent biography of Prince William, Hutchins devotes far too much space to the breakdown of the marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales. These marital difficulties have been analyzed extensively in other works and Hutchins contributes little to the reader’s understanding of his subject by reexamining them in minute detail in Harry: The People’s Prince.
Hutchins also omits vital historical context that is essential to understanding Harry’s military service and place in the royal family. The author focuses on the Prince’s admiration for military figures that he encountered during his childhood, such as Diana’s lover, James Hewitt (who was certainly not Harry’s father), with only passing mentions of Harry’s interest in “Granny’s soldiers.” The centuries old tradition of military service in the royal family would have as much if not more influence on Harry’s decision to attend Sandhurst than his childhood role models.
British monarchs led troops into battle until the mid eighteenth century and military service has long been accepted avenue for channeling the energies of a “party prince.” Readers of Harry: The People’s Prince should also read a work about royalty at war, such as Charles Carlton’s Royal Warriors: A Military History of the British Monarchy, to get a better sense of Harry’s place in the long tradition of royalty in the military.
The conclusion to Harry: The People’s Prince also displays an absence of historical context. Hutchins argues that the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first child in July, 2013 will allow Harry the freedom to move to Africa, devote his energies to his Lesotho charity, Sentebale, and possibly rekindle his relationship with Chelsy Davy. The arrival of a niece or nephew certainly reduces the chances that Harry will one day become King, in the manner of other famous royal second sons such as Henry VIII, Charles I, George V or George VI.
The experiences of other younger royal children in recent decades, however, demonstrates that a lower place in line of succession does not result in freedom from royal duty. Princess Margaret faced pressure to end her relationship with the divorced Peter Townsend even after the births of her nephew and niece, Prince Charles and Princess Anne. All four of Queen Elizabeth II’s children perform extensive royal engagements both within the United Kingdom and throughout the commonwealth.
Harry’s very popularity may preclude a life of comparative obscurity abroad. Queen Elizabeth II, the Prince of Wales and Prince William will need “The People’s Prince” to continue his rapport with the public throughout all sixteen commonwealth realms. Harry: The People’s Prince is an interesting biography of a popular prince that would be improved by greater historical context for his military exploits and future, and less attention to the well known story of the Prince and Princess of Wales’ divorce.by
My column in today’s Ottawa Citizen discusses the increased political scrutiny that the Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William and Prince Harry will face as the Queen grows older and they assume yet more royal duties. Click here to read the full article in the Ottawa Citizenby
My op-ed in today’s Globe and Mail online discusses the history of royalty and military service in both the United Kingdom and Canada. Prince Harry has been criticized for speaking in his recent interview from Afghanistan as an “army officer” instead of a “Prince.” The history of royalty in the military reveals that these two roles have been synonymous for much of history. Click here to read the full article.by
For all my Canadian readers, I will be discussing Prince Harry’s return from Afghanistan at 12:30 EST today (January 22, 2013) on the CTV News Channel.by
Olga Powell, former nanny to Prince William and Prince Harry for fifteen years, died suddenly yesterday at the age of eighty-two. Powell cared for the princes from early childhood, through the divorce of the Prince and Princess of Wales and the death of Diana in 1997. She remained close to her former charges after she retired, attending Prince Harry’s twenty-first birthday party and his graduation from Sandhurst military academy as well as Prince William’s wedding to Catherine Middleton.
The week before she died, Powell wrote to Harry in Afghanistan, concerned about his safety after the recent Taliban attack on Camp Bastion, where he is stationed as an Apache helicopter pilot. The enduring relationship between Powell and the Princes is part of a long tradition of caregivers to royal children becoming honorary family members, continuing to influence their former charges into adulthood.
Prince Charles also enjoyed a warm relationship with his nanny, Mabel Anderson. Just as Powell provided stability for William and Harry during the breakdown of their parents’ marriage, Anderson was a figure of continuity in Charles’s childhood as Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh were often away from their children for commonwealth tours. Anderson was a member of the royal household for decades and has been described as one of the most significant influences over the Prince of Wales.
In 1949, she replied to an advertisement for an “assistant nanny,” unaware that her charge would be Prince Charles, and was reputedly hired for her quiet unassuming manner. Anderson also cared for Charles’ siblings, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward before leaving the Queen’s household to look after Anne’s son, Peter Phillips. Although she retired in 1982, Anderson maintained a close relationship with the royal family. Prince Charles personally supervised the redecoration of her grace and favour home at Frogmore House in the Windsor Castle Park. As recently as 2010, Anderson accompanied the royal family on a summer cruise around the Western Isles of Scotland to celebrate the 60th birthday of Princess Anne and the 50th birthday of Prince Andrew.
Not all members of the royal family enjoyed warm and loving relationships with their caregivers. The future King Edward VIII and King George VI had an abusive nanny who attempted to make herself appear indispensible by secretly pinching her charges before taking them to the drawing room to see their parents, the future George V and Queen Mary. When the children cried, they would be sent back to the nursery. The effect of this treatment on the young princes is discussed in the recent film, The King’s Speech. George and Mary eventually discovered this nanny’s abuse of their children and dismissed her from their service. She was replaced by Charlotte “Lalla” Bill, who devoted much of her attention to the royal couple’s youngest child, Prince John. Bill’s devotion to John, who was epileptic and may also have suffered from autism, is dramatized in the BBC miniseries, The Lost Prince.
The experience of being cared for by an English nanny was not unique to members of the British royal family. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the employment of nursery staff from the British Isles became fashionable throughout Europe’s royal courts. Historian Charlotte Zeepvat explained in her article about English nannies to Russian Imperial children, “For at least a century, the Tsars and Grand Princes and Princesses of Russia grew up speaking English as their first language and learning the habits of the English nursery. It was a situation no one questioned; all over Europe nursery English ruled, along with porridge, mutton, cold baths and bracing fresh air. (Zeepvat, Romanov Autumn, p. 84).” As in England, the Russian Imperial Family treated favourite nannies as members of their family. When Katherine Strutton, nanny to Tsar Alexander III and his siblings, died in 1891, the Tsar and the Grand Dukes walked behind her coffin in the funeral procession through St. Petersburg.
The warm relationship between William and Harry and the late Olga Powell demonstrates that the tradition of favourite nannies being treated as honourary members of the royal family has continued in the twentieth century. Powell provided stability for the two young princes and her influence over her charges continued into their adulthood.by
Prince Harry returned to active service in Afghanistan this morning. In contrast to his previous overseas tour of duty, as an Forward Air Controller in Helmand Province in 2008, the media has been informed of the Prince’s activities. In his new role as a co-pilot gunner of an Apache helicopter, he will not be recognizable to his opponents. Harry’s missions as an Apache pilot will include supporting ground troops under attack from Taliban insurgents and providing an escort for aircraft transporting troops or equipment. The technology in the Apache helicopters may be twenty-first century but Prince Harry’s presence in Afghanistan is part of a royal tradition of military leadership that dates back to the origins of monarchy in the British Isles.
The Saxon Kings of what is now England in the Early Middle Ages were primarily war leaders whose goal was the defence of their kingdoms from Viking invasions. Even Alfred the Great (r. 871-899), famous for his endowments of monasteries and other places of learning was only able to act as a cultural patron after he had successfully defeated King Guthrum of the Danish Vikings in 880 and united the Saxon kingdoms under his rule. Saxon Kings who were unwilling face their responsibilities as war leaders such as Aethelred the Unready (r. 978-1013 and 1014-1016), who preferred to pay tribute to the Danes, lost their legitimacy as monarchs.
The importance of the King as a war leader superseded all other considerations regarding the English royal succession in the early Middle Ages. The Battle of Hastings in 1066 reflected eleventh century attitudes toward kingship as a military vocation. Under modern succession law, neither William, Duke of Normandy nor Harold Godwinson would be considered a suitable heir to King Edward the Confessor. Harold was Edward’s brother-in-law and William was a second cousin born out of wedlock. Edward’s closest living relative, Edgar the Aetheling, however, was only in his early teens in 1066, too young to serve as an effective war leader. William became the first Norman King of England because of his prowess on the battlefield.
The expectation that the King would serve as a military commander also created barriers to female succession. When William I’s youngest son, Henry I died in 1135, his only surviving child, Matilda was unable to travel to Westminster to claim the throne in person because she was pregnant with her youngest son. When her cousin Stephen was acclaimed King, Matilda had to appoint a military leader, her half brother Robert of Gloucester, to defend her rights because she could not take the field on her own behalf. Stephen ultimately ended the conflict by leaving his throne to Matilda’s eldest son, the future Henry II.
In the High Middle Ages, Kings of England proved their military valour through participation in the Crusades and later, the Wars of the Roses. King Richard I, “The Lionhearted” achieved victories in the Third Crusade (1189-1192) and the future Edward I was wounded by an assassin during the Ninth Crusade (1271-1272). Edward’s injury and the news that he had succeeded to the English throne ended the last period of English royal military service in the Middle East until Prince Harry’s 2008 Tour of Duty. Edward continued his military leadership as King, defeating Llywelyn the Last, Prince of Wales in 1282 and earning a reputation as “The Hammer of the Scots.”
During the Wars of the Roses in the fifteenth century, success on the battlefield once again determined a King’s legitimacy. Richard II and Henry VI lost their thrones because they were unable or unwilling to fight for their thrones while Henry V and Edward IV gained popular acclaim for their prowess on the battlefield. When Henry VII defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth field in 1485, he significantly claimed the throne by right of conquest rather than by his marriage to Richard’s niece, Elizabeth of York.
Although the ascension of the Tudor dynasty appeared to ensure a more stable line of succession, the fortunes of sixteenth and seventeenth centuries monarchs continued to rise and fall on the battlefield. In 1553, Queen Mary I secured her claim to the throne by raising a military force that successfully challenged the powerful supporters of her cousin, Lady Jane Grey. The circumstances of Mary’s ascension and the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 proved that female rulers could preside over the successful military campaigns that ensured a monarch’s legitimacy. During the War of the Spanish Succession in the early eighteenth century, Queen Anne would receive popular acclaim because of the victories of her appointed general, John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough.
In the seventeenth century, Charles I would lose his throne when he was defeated during the English Civil Wars of the 1640s and both Charles II and William III would assemble invading forces in an attempt to secure their succession to the English and Scottish thrones from continental Europe. The last British monarch to personally lead his troops into battle was King George II, who participated in the Battle of Dettingen in the War of the Austrian Succession in 1743, an event that inspired George Frederick Handel’s Te Deum.
The tradition of royal military service in the British Isles continued long after the reign of George II. While the monarch and his direct heirs no longer directly participated in military engagements, younger sons within the royal family often pursued careers in the armed forces. Queen Victoria’s third son, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught served as a Lieutenant for forty years in various parts of the British Empire. As second sons, both King George V and King George VI had naval careers before ascending to the throne. Prince Harry’s uncle, Prince Andrew served as a Sea King helicopter co-pliot during the Falklands War in 1982-1893. Prince Harry’s second tour of duty in Afghanistan is part of a centuries long tradition of royal military service that shaped the course of England’s thousand year old monarchy.