Thursday, 22 June 2017

Harry Windsor and the Difficult Crown

Some are born great, others have greatness thrust upon them. That's certainly the case with royalty. Rulers are chosen by birth order but when the succession gets disrupted, history has a habit of producing great monarchs from among the younger ranks of royal siblings. Whether they want the job is another matter. According to Prince Harry, the present House of Windsor is quite certain about its desires in this regard. The fifth in line to the throne has let slip in an interview with Newsweek that no one in that extensive succession wants the top job. For Harry, this is a difficult crown.

Prince Harry says in the interview with Newsweek ''Is there anyone of the Royal Family who wants to be king or queen? I don't think so, but we'll carry out our duties at the right time.'' Well, he should know, I suppose. But the comments have caused quite the controversy. After all, to be a king or queen is seen as the pinnacle, a gilded job in a gilded world filled with wealth and power and influence. Is it really true that no one wants to take it?

Harry has made it clear several times before that he has no interest in taking the throne and is really rather relieved all round that he got to play the role of spare rather than heir. But that's not stopped the comments coming thick and fast about this prince being made of the material from which plenty a marvellous monarch has been made before. Forget that, Harry says in this interview. No one wants the top job, that includes me. Harry is sticking to the best supporting role here. This modern day Prince Hal won't be swapping his Invictus polo shirt for ermine, thanks for asking.

But the implications of his latest comments are that big brother, William, has no great yearning for the top job to which he was born either. Well, again, Harry would know that better than any of us although whether the Duke of Cambridge is happy about little brother dropping 21st century musings on the role of rule into interviews is anyone's guess.

This isn't a dismissal of the royal role from Harry. He's quite clear that it has a place in modern society, adding ''the monarchy is a force for the good and we want to carry on the positive atmosphere that the Queen has achieved for over sixty years...we're not doing this for ourselves but for the greater good of the people.'' The day to day roster of engagements and commitments doesn't seem to be the issue and we can see that from Harry's work in recent years. But the comments also take Harry into difficult waters. He must be as aware as anyone that this isn't going to get universal cheers from the rafters. It runs the risk of sounding slightly ungrateful along the lines of 'I'll live in this palace because it helps others but sometimes it's so hard'. His sense of duty in this interview perhaps mitigates that but it's an area that has proved problematic for royals in the past.

But it's the comments on no one wanting the top job that have really got people talking. What we have now is an image of the Windsors sitting around Sandringham after Christmas dinner coming up with the very best reasons why they should never be asked to reign while the Queen quietly tuts and wonders when they will all wise up.  There they all are, smiling in the sunshine at Royal Ascot, while pointing fingers at William and reminding him that he'll have to do the things no one else really wants to do and jolly well get on with it. In some ways, this interview can be seen as a defence of William who has been criticised for working as an air ambulance pilot rather than a full time royal. Being the first born means being dealt a hand no one else within the palace walls would want to play either. William will do it, just don't think anyone else would do it better or is hankering to take his place. Harry's words ''at the right time'' in some ways add support to William's decision to continue his career before moving to the full time role of king in waiting in the coming months.

Recent history also tells us that Prince Harry is right. His own great grandfather, George VI, never wanted to be king and his own father, George V, was quite happy being a sailor thanks very much before he was put in pole position for the top job. The last king to be called William, number four on the list if you're asking, was also happy with life at sea but had to take on the role of king when the heirs ahead of him ran out. I'm mentioning these three in particular because despite their unwillingness, they all turned out to be really rather good at the job. Whether you're born to it or it's thrust upon you, you don't have to want to rule to make a good job of it. We need to put Harry's words in that context.

Because if there is one thing the Windsors are known for, it's their sense of duty. That word looms large in this interview and it's clearly at the forefront of Harry's mind as he talks about helping to build a monarchy that will weather the 21st century. We know the House of Windsor is in a good place right now but history turns on a penny piece sometimes, regardless of which regal head is on the flipside. It does have to keep evolving to survive in a world that never stands still. Whether admitting that no one wants to rule is the right way to do this remains to be seen. But what we also have to take from this interview is that regardless of that, they'll all keep on keeping on. Personal sentiment will be placed below public duty. That's a good thing for a monarchy and carries on from the Queen's promise at the age of 21 that she would serve, however long or short her time.

That it has been so long has strengthened the House of Windsor which will turn 100 in just a few weeks' time. As it looks to put down foundations for another century, honesty may well be the best policy. And this isn't the first time a royal Harry has expressed such sentiments. Shakespeare has Henry IV tell us ''uneasy lies the head that wears a crown''. Even kings who nick thrones from wavering cousins don't always want the role. As the monarchy changes. perhaps it is still staying the same.

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