Nigel Jones

William, Harry and Britain’s long history of royal sibling spats

Princes William and Harry (Credit: Getty images)

Fraternal relations rarely run entirely smoothly. But the degree of animosity revealed in reports of the physical clash between Princes William and Harry in the latter’s book Spare is nothing new in the turbulent history of Britain’s royals. In fact, the alleged spat between the brothers pales in comparison to the murderous hatreds between past regal siblings.

The bad blood began in 1077 when the two younger sons of William the Conqueror, coincidentally called William and Henry, emptied the contents of a chamber pot over the head of their elder brother Robert. So furious was Robert by his father’s refusal to punish his brothers for the prank that he launched an armed rebellion against him.

When William the Conqueror died, he left Normandy to Robert, but gave England’s crown to William who became King William II, known as Rufus. Henry had to be content with a bequest of money to buy himself land. The fragile arrangement did not last. In 1100 King William Rufus was killed by an arrow while hunting in the New Forest and Henry, ignoring Robert’s claim to the crown, lost no time in seizing the throne for himself.

There can be even worse things in Royal life than a ripped off necklace

Robert’s resentment festered. In 1106, his efforts to dethrone his brother provoked Henry into launching a full blown invasion of Normandy. He defeated and captured Robert at the Battle of Tinchebray and imprisoned his brother for the rest of his long life, until it ended in 1134 at Cardiff Castle. Robert’s beautiful tomb effigy can still be seen in Gloucester Cathedral.

In the 15th century, fraternal rivalry once more sparked full-scale warfare when King Edward IV fell out with his younger brother George, Duke of Clarence.

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