The freedom of the spare heir

Princess Charlotte will enjoy a life more ordinary that George's as the 'spare heir'. We look at the freedom that comes with not being next in line for the throne.
Prince Harry

Lucky Princess Charlotte. As the “spare” to the heir, her big brother Prince George, the newborn will have all the privileges of being a member of the royal family without the responsibility of one day being the monarch. She’ll be expected to carry out her fair share of royal duties, but unless some tragedy befalls George, or he decides to abdicate and doesn’t have any heirs of his own, she won’t have any of the pressure that comes with the sovereign’s role.

Younger siblings of the heir to the throne are often able to have more freedom, getting away with behaviour that would have been frowned on had they been a future king or queen. In previous generations, second-borns have often led colourful lives that are sometimes touched by scandal. Charlotte’s uncle Prince Harry is a prime example of this. Naturally cheekier and more likely to flout the rules than his brother Prince William, Harry has been in trouble numerous times. His risqué behaviour has included smoking marijuana, underage drinking, dressing up as a Nazi for a costume party and playing pool naked in Las Vegas.

Harry has always had a reputation as the cheekier of Diana and Charles’ two sons.

But his antics don’t seem to have done Harry any harm – in one UK poll carried out last year, he was named Britain’s most popular royal, even ahead of his grandmother, the Queen. For Harry, one bonus of being the spare has been the freedom to enjoy sometimes dangerous pursuits. While William’s flying has been restricted to air ambulances and a Royal Air Force rescue helicopter, Harry learned to fly elite Apache helicopters in the army and has been on two tours of duty to Afghanistan – something that for William would have been out of the question.

Harry wasn’t the first “spare” to see active military duty. His uncle, Prince Andrew, was a navy helicopter pilot in the Falklands War back in 1982. And like Harry, Andrew – whose older sister Princess Anne was actually the Queen’s second born but was discounted as a female – also earned the reputation of “playboy prince”. Known as Randy Andy for dating a string of models

and actresses, Andrew made headlines when he wooed US actress Koo Stark, who was dubbed a “soft porn” star thanks to one slightly racy role. Andrew later went on to marry a bubbly major’s daughter, Sarah Ferguson – a match that would have been frowned upon had he been in Charles’ shoes.

The prince was spotted partying with friends in Miami only days after splitting from his model and actress girlfriend Cressida Bonas.

Andrew has stayed close to his wife of 10 years since their divorce, despite her putting him in a difficult position many times over the years, including the occasion she tried to “sell” business introductions to Andrew. And the prince himself was recently embroiled in a scandal involving an American woman, who alleged he had sex with her on several occasions while she was still underage. A Florida judge threw the case out of court in April.

Scandal also dogged another royal “spare” – the Queen’s younger sister Margaret. Renowned as a great beauty in her youth, she fell in love with dashing RAF officer Peter Townsend but couldn’t marry him because he was divorced. Instead, she married society photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones in 1960, a controversial move given that he was a commoner. The Queen gave him the title Earl of Snowdon. Margaret was alleged to have had several affairs during their marriage, including with actor David Niven and with her daughter Sarah’s godfather, wine producer Anthony Barton.

By 1974, Margaret was holidaying regularly with landscape gardener Roddy Llewellyn, who was 17 years her junior. When he went off on a trip without her, she was allegedly so distraught she

took an overdose of sleeping pills. At the time, the papers reported Margaret as saying, “I was so exhausted because of everything that all I wanted to do was sleep.”

In 1978, she divorced her husband, and was denounced by several MPs as a royal parasite. Years later, she discussed her public notoriety with writer Gore Vidal, telling him, “It was inevitable – when there are two sisters and one is the Queen, who must be the source of honour and all that is good, the other must be… the evil sister.”

Andrew, nicknamed Randy Andy, pursued a successful career with the RAF, but gained notoriety for his string of romances.

Of course, Margaret and Elizabeth only found themselves in their particular roles thanks to extraordinary circumstances involving their father, who was a “spare” himself. Prince Albert, the Duke of York, was quite happy being the second sibling in his family. Extremely shy, with a terrible stammer, he was devastated when his older brother Edward VIII abdicated to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson, making him king.

But he had a strong sense of duty and, as George VI, led Britain through World War II with great personal courage. It’s thought that the strain of his unexpected responsibilities were partly to blame for his poor health. He died from a coronary thrombosis in 1952, aged just 56. George VI was not the only “spare” in the 20th century to end up on the throne – the same thing happened to his father, George V. The second son of Edward VII grew up thinking he would have a relatively easy life, as his older brother Prince Albert Victor was due to become king.

Margaret pictured left with Elizabeth in 1942, enjoyed greater personal freedom than her elder sister, but struggled with the public’s perception of her as the second-born.

However, Albert died aged 28 in a global influenza pandemic and the crown was passed on to George when his father died. The throne was not the only thing George inherited due to Albert’s death – George also became close to his late brother’s fiancée, Princess Mary of Teck, and they later married. The fact that several spares ended up as sovereign is a cautionary tale, say royal commentators. Historian Hugo Vickers says, “I think the most difficult thing about being number two is, you never quite know if you are going to be called upon to become king,

or instead have what you could say is a relatively pointless life.”

Little Charlotte’s future remains to be seen, but chances are, given the family history, she’ll be happy to play second fiddle to her brother George.

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