Prince Harry’s Drama Is Really About Birth Order — Like Royal Siblings Everywhere
Add up all the grievances aired by Prince Harry and you largely get the picture of a second son shut out from real royal power. The British monarchy is not the only one to be shaken by controversies from the non-heirs to the crown.
STOCKHOLM — Unless you live in a cave, you know that Prince Harry has been stirring the proverbial (royal) pot. After he and his wife Meghan Markle stepped back from their duties as senior members of the royal family in January 2020, it’s been one revelation after another, culminating with the publication of the Prince’s saucy memoir this week.
Without discounting the allegations of racism towards his wife, and other slights the pair may have endured, it doesn’t take a PhD in psychology or anthropology to see that the conflicts with Harry’s family — and within himself — may largely be driven by the fact that he’s not his older brother.
The fate of being the second-born son and largely shut out of succession to the throne is indeed written in the very title of his just released book: Spare.
The British monarchy, in this regard, is hardly alone, with no shortage of turbulence created by royal birth order around the world, and through the ages.
Just this month in Sweden, King Carl XVI Gustav created a controversy when an interview quoted him saying that the decision to allow women heirs to be included in the line of succession to the throne was “unfair.”
That change, made more than four decades ago, bumped Gustav’s only son and second-born child from the head of the line of succession. Just seven months old at the time, Prince Carl Philip was first in line to become king – ahead of his older sister Victoria, who then became Crown Princess.
“It's tricky to have laws that work retroactively. It doesn't seem wise,” the king said in the documentary interview.
He tried to get ahead of the controversy with an official statement released just after the documentary aired, saying that he didn’t intend to criticize the succession of women to the throne, or Victoria herself. But for many, the damage had already been done.
This is just the latest in a series of recent events that have stirred debate about the monarchy as an institution in Scandinavia.
Stripping titles from the grandkids
Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, the world's longest serving queen, decided in Sept. 2021 to demote the four children of her second son Prince Joachim, stripping them of their royal titles – making them Counts and Countesses, instead of Princes and Princesses.
Difficulties can arise in any family, including mine.
While this decision had been long-discussed within the royal family, the official announcement came as a surprise. Prince Joachim said he had been given five days to share the news with his children, who he said were “put in a situation they do not understand.”
In her New Year’s address, the Queen recently acknowledged the disagreement with her second-born son, saying that “difficulties and disagreements can arise in any family, including mine.”
Märtha Louise and Durek Verret
Princess Märtha Louise of Norway and her fiancé Durek Verret
In November, it was Norway’s turn. Princesse Märtha Louise, the second-born daughter of Harald V, the king of Norway, announced that she was stepping down from royal duties.
Her decision meant she would no longer work for the Royal House and wouldn’t be able to serve as a royal patron of organizations. In a video posted on her Instagram account, the Princess declared that the decision had come “after a period of many questions” related to her role, and that of her fiancé Durek Verret, a self-described “sixth-generation shaman.”
Verret makes a living selling – among other things – “Shaman School” courses on topics including “Breaking Spells That Block You From Manifestation” and “Building A Relationship With The Money Spirit.” He also offers a $222 USD “Spirit Optimizer” that promises to “clear out energy stagnations” and banish negative energy.
Frequently in the news for his public comments, including suggesting that cancer is a choice, Verret has become a controversial figure in Norway, and has been described as a “con man” and conspiracy theorist.
Beyond Scandinavia, in monarchies around the world, living in the shadow of a royal sibling closer to the throne is a double-edged sword: blessed with royal wealth and access, but both less power and often less scrutiny, and too often an invitation to bad behavior.
Jefri Bolkiah, the younger brother of the Sultan of Brunei, was accused of embezzling billions of dollars from the country’s investment fund – then lost a $21 million lawsuit against his former financial advisers, which saw the embarrassing revelation of a series of statues he had commissioned depicting himself and his former fiancéeen flagrant délit.
Also caught up in a fraud case: Princess Cristina of Spain, who is older than her brother King Felipe of Spain but further from the throne thanks to the country’s patriarchal succession rules. She lost one of her royal titles and had her royal mansion impounded after being charged with tax fraud in 2015. Though she was eventually acquitted on criminal charges, her ex-husband received a six-year prison term for embezzlement and fraud and Cristina was fined €265,000 for unknowingly benefiting from the scheme.
No matter how hard a monarchy tries to create an illusion of modernity, its rules remain ancestral.
Peering back into history offers plenty of cases of second-rank royals behaving badly. Princess Charlotte of Prussia, the second-born child of the Prussian monarch Frederick III and sister of Kaiser Wilhelm II, reportedly organized a series of drunken aristocratic orgies in a hunting lodge near Berlin just before the turn of the 20th century. Details of the bacchanals later leaked, scandalizing Prussian society and provoking several deadly duels.
What all the various games of thrones reveal is that no matter how hard a monarchy tries to create an illusion of modernity, its rules remain ancestral.
“I was brought into the world in case something happened to Willy,” Harry writes, referring to his older brother William, and future king of England.
Yet perhaps the irony to all the revelations from behind the palace walls is how familiar some of the conflict may appear. That William and Harry had a physical scuffle is something so many siblings, from all walks of life, have experienced. That Harry decided to write about his older brother’s “alarming baldness…”? Well that’s just cold.
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