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CHARLES BANNERMAN: 'Royal family feuds and egregious spares have been with us throughout'

By Charles Bannerman

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Picture: Wikimedia Commons
Picture: Wikimedia Commons

This fixation with Spare, Harry’s latest whingefest published on Tuesday, baffles me.

If feuding within dysfunctional families so desperately grabs people, they should just watch soap operas or historical documentaries because there’s nothing new here. British royals have behaved like this for centuries.

History is full of royal feuds and troublesome “spares” – subsequent children of the monarch who aren’t destined for the throne and not infrequently end up as embarrassments.

A few centuries ago, Harry would have raised his standard in Sussex and marched on London in a violent attempt to grab the throne. Thank goodness their weapons are now no more lethal than a new book, social media and Oprah Winfrey, thus saving the lives of thousands of innocent, ordinary people previously pressed into dying for them.

Related: Charles Bannerman: 'I’m deeply worried that Highland sports facilities may be in firing line'

Take the conscripted Highland clansmen, victims of the Jacobite rebellions, a family feud over the British throne between the Protestant and Catholic progeny of James I that lasted almost 60 years. Or James II’s brutal crushing of his nephew the Duke of Monmouth’s 1685 attempt to wrest power from him. Royal succession is the product of such historical accidents and atrocities.

The Battle of Flodden in 1513 brought James IV of Scotland’s square go with his brother-in-law Henry VIII of England to a quick but bloody end.

You could even call World War I a family mega-spat involving Hohenzollerns in Germany, Romanovs in Russia and the Saxe-Coburg-Gothas, who reinvented themselves as the Windsors to appear more British.

Feuding royals haven’t always come to blows. The 18th century Georges squabbled constantly with their kids who simply set up rival courts in London.

Charles Bannerman.
Charles Bannerman.

There are remarkable parallels between Harry and his great great uncle Edward VIII who cut his royal ties and abdicated in 1936 in order to marry an American called Wallis Simpson. This produced a huge rift with his brother, an atypically good spare who became George VI, and more particularly George’s wife, better known as the Queen Mother.

We do get some completely duff heirs alongside spares, and it was a national blessing that Mrs Simpson took Edward off our hands before the war started. But we were less lucky with the dissolute, self-indulgent George IV, who had a decade-long prequel as Prince Regent when his father finally lapsed into insanity.

Troublesome younger siblings, spares, are rather more common, though.

Apart from Harry, there’s Prince Andrew. Second in line for 22 years until William’s birth, he was alarmingly one mishap to Charles away from becoming King Andrew. Princess Margaret, who also created notoriety, was similarly placed from 1936 until Charles appeared in 1948.

The despicable Duke of Cumberland, a younger son of George II, was a spare. So, before his older brother died, was that paranoid decapitator Henry VIII. Charles II’s younger brother James II was so awful that he was thrown out three years after himself succeeding when Charles died without legitimate issue.

I wonder if the troublesome behaviour of spares has anything to do with them living in the shadow of older siblings and suffering massive psychological confusion over what they are for?

Royal family feuds and egregious spares have therefore been with us throughout history, but only the current scrap, albeit nothing more than handbags by historical standards, has managed to hit the headlines quite so tediously.

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