Arabella Byrne

A very royal rift: what Prince Harry can learn from Queen Victoria

A very royal rift: what Prince Harry can learn from Queen Victoria
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For all the long looks and transatlantic sniping via their courtiers, the Battle of the Dukes – Cambridge vs. Sussex - has been relatively tame thus far. No princely duel has taken place, no swords have been drawn at dawn in the grounds of Windsor Castle and, regrettably, neither Duchess has fainted at the scene. All we can hope for at this point is a proxy battle waged in the arid landscape of digital media, barbed insults poking out among the podcasts and twitter feeds. 

Gone are the days of gladiatorial contest offered up to the public in search of absolutism. Those in search of Ducal blood sports must instead content themselves with four seasons of The Crown, an interview with James Corden, or the pronouncements of historian and Netflix advisor Robert Lacey. Truly, we live in a dull age.

According to Lacey, whose biography The Battle of the Brothers, was loudly serialized in the Daily Mail last year, the rift between the princes began long before their wives were on the scene, thank you very much. The narrative is, by now, well-worn: William, like his grandmother and father, embodies duty and tradition; Harry, the very incarnation of his mother, stands for love, his tortured authenticity tearing him away from the role into which he was born.

 In the Battle of the Dukes, we are invited to take our seats for Charles vs. Diana, part deux. But who will win out? Although William is apparently livid at his little brother’s snub of Granny and her notion of service, Lacey assures us that the princes will be reconciled via Zoom over the course of this year. But if there’s one thing the House of Windsor knows a thing or two about, it’s survival. Argue they may but reconcile they must. Unless of course you’re Prince Philip and then you have special dispensation to fall out with everyone.

As he pootled around LA atop a tour bus with James Corden, Prince Harry described his life as a royal and the press coverage that surrounded it as a 'really difficult environment'.  And he's far from the first royal to feel thus. 

When the Queen forbade Princess Margaret from marrying divorcé Group Captain Peter Townsend in 1955, the constitutional had to trump the personal. One can only imagine the sharp inhalation of cigarette smoke and smashing of ornaments as 'Margot' was denied her happy ending by 'Lilibet'. Princess Margaret could make most family arguments look pedestrian but what she would have to say about William and Harry’s spat is probably unprintable. For although Princess Margaret hardly towed the line morally, holing herself up in her Mustique den with various lovers and industrial quantities of gin and fags, she and the Queen limped on to the end in the name of the monarchy, appearing alongside each other for years afterwards.

Unfortunately for the Princes Queen Victoria isn’t available for a Zoom call, but she would surely offer some sage words on the topic of reconciliation if she were. Having always had a difficult relationship with her son and heir Bertie, later Edward VII, relations reached an all-time low when Prince Albert was summoned to Cambridge to reprimand Bertie for his indiscretions with prostitute Nellie Clifden. Blaming Bertie for Albert’s death three weeks later, Queen Victoria wore black bombazine for the next forty years and claimed she could not so much as look at her son without a 'shudder'. And yet, when he contracted typhoid in 1871 it was his brush with the same fate as his father that restored his relations with his mother, a case of 'can’t live with you, can’t live without you' if ever there was one. The Dukes may have squabbled but there is nothing like a life-threatening illness to focus the mind.

Royal fall outs are nothing new; lest we forget that Queen Elizabeth I had her cousin Mary Queen of Scots executed and Prince Charles would probably like to find a modern equivalent for his brother Andrew given half the chance. What is new is the sense of familiarity with which we engage with the Royal Family thanks to social media, the paparazzi and the tabloid press. 

We think, mistakenly, that the Dukes’ feud is our concern, that we can project our own plebeian familial dynamics onto it. The brothers must be reconciled, the Daily Mail screams; Diana would have wanted it! Such artificial proximity to the Royals only piles on the pressure for a reconciliation that, in reality, may never come about and might not be in the best interests of the monarchy anyway. Bring on the Cambridge vs. Sussex duel, swords and all. They might even live stream it on Instagram.