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Monday 1 April 2007

The Royal Family and The Military

Prince Harry’s planned deployment to Iraq brings up the subject of royal involvement in the military.  Of course, there is a long history of princes and kings leading their troops in battle.  Royal soldiers can look to such past role models as Henry V at Agincourt, giving the inspiring speech Shakespeare put into his mouth almost two centuries later, which is greatly admired by the current Prince of Wales.  In her speech at Tilbury before the arrival of the Spanish Armada, Queen Elizabeth I promised that if any foreigner should invade England, “I myself will take up arms.”  The last reigning king to participate in a battle was George II, who fought in the Battle of Dettingen in 1743.  George III’s long illness and Queen Victoria’s long reign created a break in the tradition, and since the twentieth century the practice has been that monarchs and heirs apparent should not expose themselves to the dangers of combat.

For centuries, becoming a career military officer has been the most appropriate profession for any prince who felt in need of employment.  Many of Edward III’s male descendants fought in the Hundred Years’ War in France and then fought each other in the Wars of the Roses.  The future King William IV joined the Royal Navy at the age of 13 and served as Lord High Admiral later in life.  Queen Victoria always liked to think of herself as a soldier’s daughter; her father, the Duke of Kent, had been commander-in-chief of the British forces in North America.  Many of Victoria’s descendants have served in the military – some of them fighting for Germany against Britain.

However, Prince Harry chose the Army because it is the profession he personally wants to enter, not just because it is a suitable occupation for a young prince.  Prince William is also in the Army at the moment, but there is no possibility that he will be deployed to a war zone, and there are plans for him to experience a variety of jobs in all branches of the military in preparation for his future role as head of the armed services.  This makes sense for the heir to the throne, but it also highlights Harry’s military career as the more serious one. 

From the time he was a toddler, Prince Harry loved to play soldier.  Harry and William looked adorable in their miniature camouflage uniforms, but did not start a fashion craze like their great-great-great-grandfather, the future Edward VII, did when he was depicted in a sailor suit in 1846.  Harry’s position brought him into contact with far more soldiers than most boys get to meet.  His mother’s affair with James Hewitt also gave him an opportunity to get to know a soldier who fought in the Gulf War when Harry was six.  (By the way,  I saw a photo of Diana’s father as a young man in which he looked remarkably like Hewitt.  Harry looks like Hewitt only because he resembles his grandfather.)  Harry was a military cadet at Eton and was the Parade Commander for the Combined Cadet Forces Tattoo.  He had never done well academically and would not have wanted to attend university, but he was able to achieve his goal of attending the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, which Prince William also attended after university.

The princes’ choice of the Army is a departure from the tradition set by the future King George V, the Queen’s grandfather, who joined the Royal Navy as a teenager and thought that he would be a career naval officer until the death of his elder brother made him heir to the throne.  His son George VI also served in the Navy and participated in the Battle of Jutland during World War I.  However, the future Duke of Windsor served in the Army during World War I, and the future Queen Elizabeth II served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women’s auxiliary of the Army, during World War II.  The naval tradition was strengthened by Princess Elizabeth’s marriage to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, RN, formerly Prince Philip of Greece, whose grandfather and uncle both served as First Sea Lord, the senior officer of the Royal Navy.  The Prince of Wales also did his military service in the Navy, while his brother Prince Andrew was a career naval officer and a helicopter pilot during the Falklands War.  Andrew’s distinguished service 25 years ago must serve as a role model for Prince Harry as he prepares to join the long line of princes who have fought for Britain.

- Margaret Weatherford

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This page and its contents are ©2007 Copyright by Geraldine Voost and may not be reproduced without the authors permission. Margaret Weatherford's column is ©2007 Copyright by Margaret Weatherford who has kindly given permission for it to be displayed on this website.
This page was last updated on: Sunday, 01-Apr-2007 10:43:00 CEST