08 September 2014

The Spare

All the world is rejoicing with the news that The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their second child sometime next year. [UPDATE: Princess Charlotte of Cambridge was born on May 2, 2015 followed by little brother Prince Louis of Cambridge on April 23, 2018.] In royal circles, the first child is "the heir" while the second is more crassly referred to as "the spare." But with good reason: the second-born often rises to the throne. In the last century, three of five monarchs were second children. Two generations before that found the third child with a crown, which he passed to the offspring of an even younger brother.

Here is a guide to the also-borns from the last 250 years:

Of course, today the most famous second born royal child is Prince Harry who will soon be 30 years old and inherit his part of his mother's fortune. The announcement about the new baby pushes Harry even further from the throne. He will now fall to fifth place. As the second son, Harry has enjoyed a little more freedom than his brother, Prince William. Harry's hijinks have been winked at by the media and the public, and his desire to serve on active duty in a war zone has been approved. His older brother would likely not have been allowed to do service in Afghanistan or to show his naughty bits in Las Vegas.

In the previous generation, the second-born son, Prince Andrew, also saw active duty in the war during the Falklands conflict. However he was not the second-born child. That honor instead went to Princess Anne The Princess Royal. For almost 10 years she and Prince Charles were the only children of Queen Elizabeth but once the Queen had more sons, Anne lost any shot at the throne thanks to the male-preference primogeniture that was in place at the time. This bothered her not one bit as she was able to build a career as an Olympic equestrienne and raise her children without titles. Nevertheless, she remains one of the hardest working Royals, often racking up more official engagements each year than anyone else in the family.

The story of the previous second-born child is both romantic and tragic. Princess Margaret Rose was four years younger than the Queen and barely out of her teens when her father King George VI died. She fell in love with a war hero but could not marry him because he was already married and society at that time would not readily allow the princess to marry a divorced man. (Read my two-part series about that romance.) When she was 25, she gave up the romance and set about a partying lifestyle in London where she met artistic photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones. When she married him, her sister made him an Earl, but she couldn't make either of them happy or loyal to their marriage. In the 1970s, Princess Margaret ironically became the first British royal to divorce since King Henry VIII. She spent the last decades of her life in declining health before suffering a series of strokes and accidents. She died just weeks before her own mother in the Queen's 50th Jubilee year.

In the generation before that, it was the Queen's own father who was the second son. Shy and troubled with both poor health and a now-famous speech impediment (watch the fantastic film, The King's Speech, for more), Prince Albert was happy to let his dashing older brother The Prince of Wales soak up all the world's attention. Meanwhile Bertie embarked on a naval career--seeing active war duty during World War I unlike his jealous older brother--and married a joyful young noblewoman who would become one of the nation's most beloved royals of all time, The Queen Mother. As it turned out, The Prince of Wales enjoyed the spotlight but not the responsibility of his role. He spent less than a year on the throne before deciding to abdicate it to marry Wallis Simpson, a woman with two living ex-husbands, an unacceptable choice for a King, especially for one who heads the Church of England, which even today frowns on divorce. A few wondered with Bertie, who took his father's name as George VI, could handle the throne, but with his wife at his side, he helped inspire the British people through the darkest days of World War II before cancer took his life at the young age of 56. The Queen Mother always blamed his early death on the stress of wartime kingship.

Even George VI's father, George V, was a second-born child. He was a constant companion to his much-admired although not particularly admirable older brother, The Duke of Clarence. A simple naval officer and his mother's pet, George did not have any ambitions in life, when his brother suddenly died of pneumonia. The entire royal family and Clarence's royal fiancee were devastated by his unexpected demise. Granny Queen Victoria, however, was determined not to lose an exceptional royal fiancee and George was soon thrown together with his brother's intended, Princess Mary of Teck. Both were quiet and reserved and deeply in mourning, but this seemed to bring them together. (Read my post about this royal love triangle.) They soon decided to marry and formed one of the strongest royal marriages in history. Together, they led the nation through World War I and helped the family recover when anti-German sentiment forced them to change their name to Windsor.

Stepping back another generation, George V's father, Edward VII, was also a second-born child. However, as the first-born son he was the heir from the moment of his birth. Nevertheless, he suffered by comparison with his brighter and more clever older sister, Vicky, who would later be the Empress of Germany. Bertie, as he was known to his parents, did not enjoy his studies nearly as well as Vicky and had a very strict regimen set up by his idealistic parents who wished to raise the perfect monarch. The future king was more inclined to sport and good times. When he dallied with an actress, his father ran up to university to chastise him, contracting an illness that led to his death. Queen Victoria never forgave her heir for his irresponsible and immoral behavior or for his father's death. For the next 40 years, she would allow him no responsibility or authority as the heir to the throne, leaving him little more to do than enjoy house parties, hunting, gambling, and affairs. Nevertheless, he had a good relationship with his wife and his jolly attitude was a breath of fresh air after Victoria's decades of widowed Queenhood.

William IV
Queen Victoria was the only child of her father, but he himself was the fourth son of King George III. King George's sons, of which he had eight, were mostly reprobates, despite the high moral character of their father. Only the second son, Frederick Duke of York married, but despising his wife had no children. The first son, George Prince of Wales, married illegally and then married bigamously when Parliament bribed him into marrying a German princess by paying off his debts--don't worry he made more debts. He also hated his wife and reportedly slept with her only once, but once was enough and the birth of this daughter, Princess Charlotte of Wales, meant that his brothers could carry on with their actresses and other mistresses without regard for the future of the monarchy. When Charlotte later died giving birth to a stillborn son (read my post about that tragedy), all of her middle-aged uncles suddenly married much younger princesses. The third son of George III, William Duke of Clarence left his live-in lover and their dozen children, for an appropriate wife but the two were unable to have a living child. So, when he succeeded brother #1, George IV, as William IV, the next heir to the throne was not his own offspring but that of brother #4, Edward Duke of Kent, who had passed away when Victoria was still an infant. William lived just long enough for Victoria to turn 18 and avoid a regency--for that bit of drama, I highly recommend the film, The Young Victoria.