What’s in store for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s second child? A short history of “the spare.”

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their son, Prince George

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their son, Prince George

Clarence House announced today that “Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are very pleased to announce that The Duchess of Cambridge is expecting their second child. The Queen and members of both families are delighted with the news.” The announcement follows months of speculation concerning William and Catherine’s plans to expand their family. Various media outlets have already dubbed the forthcoming royal baby, “the spare” after Consuelo Vanderbuilt’s famous phrase “the heir and the spare,” coined to describe her two sons, born in her loveless first marriage to the 9th Duke of Marlborough.

Portrait Consuelo Vanderbuilt, Duchess of Marlborigh with her husband and two sons, whom she dubbed, "the heir and the spare."

Portrait Consuelo Vanderbuilt, Duchess of Marlborough with her husband and two sons, whom she dubbed, “the heir and the spare.”

The designation, “spare” suggests that a second royal child, or second son prior the current succession reforms, always exists in the shadow of his or her elder sibling, experiencing constant comparisons to “the heir.” For the past three generations, “the spare” has presented in the media as the fun loving sibling, a royal rebel eager to challenge the boundaries of court protocol. Before the present reign, however, there was a strong change “the spare” would become a sovereign and have as many responsibilities as “the heir.”

When photographs of Prince Harry playing strip billiards in Las Vegas were leaked to the press in 2012, his partying was compared to his elder brother William’s work as a Search and Rescue pilot in Wales. William performed rescues the same week as Harry’s Las Vegas trip, emphasizing the apparent contrast between a responsible, dutiful “heir” and a carefree, thoughtless, “spare.”

Harry’s public image initially improved when served a subsequent active tour of duty in Afghanistan but when he spoke frankly of the need to “take a life to save a life,” the press compared his outspokenness to William’s more guarded approach to the media. Harry will be thirty next week and continues to attract speculation regarding his future role in the royal family.  He has received praise for his successful charitable endeavors and overseas tours His past girlfriends, most notably Chelsy Davy and Cressida Bonas, have been the focus of intense media attention. With the arrival of William and Catherine’s second child, he will be fifth in line to the throne.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry at The 2011 Sun Military Awards at Imperial War Museum in London.  (Photo by Arthur Edwards - WPA Pool/Getty Images

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry at The 2011 Sun Military Awards at Imperial War Museum in London. (Photo by Arthur Edwards – WPA Pool/Getty Images

Both the Queen’s second son, Prince Andrew, and her late younger sister, Princess Margaret were judged unfavorably by the public in comparison to their elder siblings. While Prince Charles and Princess Anne are praised for their charity work, their younger brother Andrew has been dubbed “Air Miles Andy” for his extensive travels during his time as a British trade envoy.  When Andrew was Harry’s age, he had a similar reputation to the current “spare.” Like Harry, Andrew was praised for his military service but his relationships attracted press attention, earning him another nickname, “Randy Andy.”

In 1952, Princess Margaret appeared carefree compared to her dutiful elder sister, the new Queen, but her status as “the spare” did not allow her freedom from the royal conventions of the time. In 1955, Margaret ended her relationship with the divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend, stating, “Mindful of the Church’s teachings that Christian marriage is indissoluble, and conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth, I have resolved to put these considerations before others.” Margaret married Antony Armstrong-Jones, a society photographer, in 1960, and became a divorceé herself in 1978. Revelations regarding Margaret’s extramarital affairs and spending attracted considerable negative attention and there were calls from UK Labour MPs for her to be removed from the Civil List.

King George VI, the most recent second son to become King

King George VI, the most recent second son to become King

The experiences of Harry, Andrew and Margaret suggest that William and Catherine’s second child will face a lifetime of comparisons to older brother Prince George and a struggle to balance personal fulfillment with expected royal duties. This pattern, however, is a comparatively recent one. Prior to the present Queen’s reign, there was a strong chance that “the spare” would become the sovereign. Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Charles I, Anne, George V and George VI were all second sons or second daughters who unexpectedly became Kings and Queens. (When the future George V became a direct heir in 1892, his “spare” was his sister Louise, Duchess of Fife, the most recent brother/sister “heir and spare.”) Royal “spares” with living elder siblings sometimes found opportunities to rule outside Britain. Queen Victoria’s second son, Prince Alfred, became Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. King John’s second son, Richard, was elected ruler of Germany “King of the Romans” in 1256. The life of “the spare” contained as much responsibility as the life of “the heir.”

The popular perception that the “spare” has fun while “the heir” performs extensive royal duties is a recent one, dating from the present reign. The 2012 Diamond Jubilee Thames river pageant emphasized the direct royal line – the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry – rather than the extended royal family. In a streamlined royal family that precludes extensive engagements for royal cousins, William and Catherine’s second child may one day face a busy schedule of royal engagements with little time to act as the fun loving counterpart to a dutiful older sibling.


The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall Celebrate Their 9th Anniversary

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall on the balcony of Dundurn Castle, Hamilton during their 2009 tour of Canada.

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall on the balcony of Dundurn Castle, Hamilton during their 2009 tour of Canada.

After nine years of marriage to Prince Charles, the former Camilla Parker Bowles has been accepted by the public as a respected member of the royal family. I discussed how the Duchess’s image has improved over the course of her marriage in an interview with Eun Kim at Today.com

Click here to read “Prince Charles, Camilla celebrate 9 years of marriage — and an improved image” at Today.com

My Feature Article, “Warrior Monarchs” in the December 2013 Issue of Military History Monthly

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.

Click here for the Table of Contents of the December, 2013 issue of Military History Monthly

Royalty and Remembrance Day

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.

Click here to read the full column in the Kingston Whig-Standard

Royalty and the Environment: A Natural Partnership

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.

Click here to read Royalty, Environment: A Natural Partnership in the Ottawa Citizen

Harry: The People’s Prince by Chris Hutchins (Review)

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.

“The Changing Face of the Monarchy” in the Ottawa Citizen

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 Citizen

Prince Harry at War

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.

The Royal Nanny: Prince William and Prince Harry Mourn Olga Powell

Diana, Prince of Wales, Prince William, Prince Harry and the children's nanny, Olga Powell

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 in St. James' Park on his second birthday with his nanny, Mabel Anderson

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.

The future Edward VIII riding a pony in 1902.

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.