The latest round of the British royal soap opera, Carry On Up the Windsors, has occasioned much gnashing of teeth. Many times we have been told that the antics of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have imperilled the royal family itself It’s a stretch. Yes, the young prince had a youthful career that included getting naked in a Las Vegas hotel suite and dressing as a Nazi to a fancy-dress party, as well as more regular falling-out- of-nightclub moments. Yes, he has sought some publicity recently, despite claiming he wanted to move to North America to escape the glare of the rapacious tabloid media. In that sense, Harry comes from a rich lineage, not just in the U.K. but around the world. For every royal who has abused their position, causing untold misery, there are many more who have simply misbehaved. By the standards of royal families, the artist still just about known as Prince barely registers as a miscreant, let alone a threat to the institution. Money and power, especially unearned power, have always been a potent duo, liable to lead to mischief.
Sex has always been a problem for monarchs, and British royalty is no exception. Many have come unstuck over women. For Harry’s critics, the problem is that he married the wrong one. For many of his forebears, the problem was either that they were already married or that the women they were chasing were. Edward VIII is the most famous example. George V was proved more right than he feared when he shared with the prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, his prediction that his son would “ruin himself [within] 12 months” of George’s death. True to Edward’s wandering eye, he abdicated the throne in 1936 in order to marry Wallis Simpson.
A trip through the centuries shows a clear pattern of behaviour. As Queen Victoria’s son, for most of his life Edward VII didn’t have much to do in the way of reigning. Instead, he devoted himself to gambling, eating and drinking , if surprisingly little boozing. As the line in 1066 and All That has it, he “smoked cigars, was addicted to ententes cordiales, married a Sea King’s daughter, and invented appendicitis”. According to some biographers, we have him to thank for the invention of the dinner jacket, turned-up trousers, and silver weddings, as well as the Order of Merit. Above all, Edward was a champion womaniser: with professionals, society women and sundry other beauties, who were evidently not put off by his statuesque form. One biographer even suggests that Harry’s equine-themed deflowering has a royal antecedent. Although Edward VII married a Danish princess, Alexandra, he referred to her as his “brood mare” while the other women were his “hacks”.
Go back far enough, and further away from 21st century norms, and the idea of naughtiness warps, too. The Roman emperors, naturally, put modern monarchs to shame: sleeping with his sisters and building a palace for his horses (Caligula); cosplaying as a gladiator (Commodus); prostituting himself in taverns and brothels and marrying a male chariot racer (Elagabalus). Don’t forget the women. Where women have been allowed to rule, they have held their own. Cleopatra put Harry’s game of strip poker to shame millennia ago. Having seduced Julius Caesar when she was 22 and he was 52 (an age gap today known as the ‘Di Caprio’), Cleopatra sailed up the river Cydnus in a perfumed barge — which, Shakespeare said, “like a burnished throne burned on the water” — to pull the same stunt on Antony. It worked. The two of them roamed round Alexandria disguised as servants for the fun of it. Antony’s long-suffering wife, Fulvia, kept up his battles back in Rome. Cleopatra had also married two of her brothers. That’s nothing on Nzinga Mbande, the mother of Angola, who reportedly killed her brother and his son to assume the throne, and then kept a harem of 60 men. As for Catherine the Great, I’ll let you do your own research via Amazon Prime.
Perhaps the maddest and most dangerous to know, however, is the Thai royal family. Like King Charles, Maha Vajiralongkorn endured a lengthy apprenticeship. Like Queen Elizabeth, Vajiralongkorn’s father, Bhumibol, was a beloved, longstanding ruler who led the country for 70 years before his death in 2016. Whatever apprehensions Britons might have had about Prince Charles becoming king were dwarfed by the nerves Thais had about their succession. Since he was a boy, Vajiralongkorn has been eccentric, at best. The stories about him are legion. When he was young he was dogged by rumours of gambling and womanising. Even his mother once described him in an interview as a “bit of a Don Juan”. In 2000, he enjoyed a Thai meal so much that he had 350 parcels of food — the raw ingredients, not the finished items — sent back to his palace in Bangkok. Not beyond the realm of possibility for a billionaire, you might think, until you learn that said meal was served at the Thai Kingdom restaurant in Warwickshire.
Read the full story ‘Blue Bloods’ in Issue 87, available to purchase on TheRake.com and on newsstands worldwide now.
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