Prince Harry Goes to Washington, A Welcoming Place for a Prince!

Prince Harry delivering a speech at the official press launch of Walking with the Wounded in March, 2010

Prince Harry visited Washington D.C. this week to receive the Distinguished Humanitarian Leadership Award, presented by former Secretary of State Colin Powell during the Atlantic Council 2012 Annual Awards Dinner on May 7, 2012. The Prince was recognized for the work that he and his older brother, the Duke of Cambridge, have undertaken as patrons of charities that support injured British and American servicemen and women. These organizations include Walking with the Wounded, a British charity that retrains veterans for new careers, and Help for Heroes, which helps wounded members of the armed forces.

Prince Harry received an enthusiastic welcome from his American admirers. Powell joked at the awards dinner “We have a record number of young, single women attending this year.” The Associated Press noted that “a bevy of young female admirers” were gathered outside the Ritz-Carleton hotel where the gala took place. Although the United States severed political ties with the British monarchy during the American Revolutionary War of the late eighteenth century, the country has always given a warm welcome to traveling Princes.

Prince Albert Edward, the future King Edward VII visiting Niagara Falls in 1860.

The theme of young, unmarried Princes being pursued by admiring American women has been constant in the popular press since the mid nineteenth century. Journalists hoped to be able to report a Cinderella story if a romance took place between a visiting prince and an American woman. When Prince Albert Edward, the nineteen year old eldest son of Queen Victoria visited the United States for a month in 1860, following a successful tour of British North America, the New York Herald urged every young American woman to “put on her most bewitching smile” for “to catch a prince is no common achievement.” When the Herald learned that the Prince enjoyed dancing, it urged its female readers to “be prepared, armed at all points, [to] show the Prince of Wales that they can dance better than the damsels of the British Provinces” encouraging some friendly competition with the Prince’s Canadian admirers. For more accounts of Prince Albert Edward and his American admirers in the press, see Ian Radforth, Royal Spectacle: The 1860 Visit of the Prince of Wales to Canada and the United States, p. 330-335.

The American press was equally interested twenty years later when Albert Edward’s younger brother, Prince Leopold traveled to Niagara Falls and Chicago with his sister Princess Louise, the wife of the Governor General of Canada, in 1880. The press dubbed the siblings “Vic’s Chicks” and took a close interest in their travels, and Leopold’s marriage prospects. Neither Queen Victoria nor Louise’s husband, Lord Lorne, were impressed by the coverage of the tour by American journalists. Lorne wrote to his father indignantly, “the vulgarity of the Yankee press about them surpasses belief.” Louise returned to the United Kingdom with Leopold at the end of their travels.

General George Custer and Grand Duke Alexei in Topeka after their buffalo hunt.

The press coverage of the 1871 American tour by Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich, fourth son of Emperor Alexander II of Russia demonstrated that interest in royalty in the United States extended to members of the other ruling houses of Europe. When the Grand Duke’s ship, Svetlana, sailed into New York harbour, the Imperial visitor received a reception that included a parade down Broadway with marching bands and military regiments, and the bells of local churches chiming “God Save the Tsar.” According to Russian historian Zoia Belyakova in The Grand Dukes, “Public curiosity was intense. The myth of Alexis the lady-killer spread. Young women were most interested in his Imperial Highness . . . In Cleveland and Detroit he was literally besieged by admiring young women.” The Grand Duke enjoyed his travels, which included a buffalo hunt with Lieutenant Custer and Buffalo Bill Cody, and was pleasantly surprised by the warmth of his welcome in a democratic republic.

The warm welcome that Prince Harry  received this week in Washington D.C. is similar to the accolades received by Prince Albert Edward, Prince Leopold and Grand Duke Alexei. The American press is always interested in a traveling European Prince and the potential for a Cinderella story involving a heroine from the United States.

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