You may have noticed the recent coverage of the engagement of Prince Harry (all news outlets, everywhere, all the time) amongst which I found this gem from the Daily Telegraph, describing the family of one of the parties as a “motley collection of individuals who, between them, have a long record of boozing, bust-ups and bankruptcies”.
That is a pretty good description of the Prince’s antecedents, and people may want to use the engagement to remind themselves just how varied the Royal families of Britain have been over the years.
When it comes to bust-ups, Henry VIII was twice divorced. (Two other wives were repudiated and executed, using a belt and braces approach to get rid of unwanted wives.) George I was also divorced. His lovely wife Sophia Dorothea was repudiated and imprisoned for life in a gloomy castle, where she was kept from her children, and where she lingered for over thirty years. George IV also sought a divorce from his wife, Queen Caroline of Brunswick. He was universally unpopular, but she was even more loathed than he was, despite initial sympathy.
Along with marital discord the Hanoverians were no strangers to generational conflict, each King loathing his son and heir. George I hated George II, who in turn hated Frederick, Prince of Wales. George III loathed George IV. Queen Victoria had a rocky relationship with her eldest son too.
As for bankruptcies, our Royals have a long history of getting into debt, and negotiating with Parliament for the payment of their debts in return for something else, usually marriage. This was the case with the future George IV who only consented to marry the unsuitable Caroline if his debts were paid. They came to the staggering sum of £600,000, the result of years of high living, gambling and an addiction to building projects, all of which were happily financed by compliant bankers. George’s brothers were also in debt, though not by so much, and used marriage as a way to settle their financial difficulties. This was typical of the Hanoverian era, but let us remember that King Edward VII was also much in debt, and that Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother left debts of roughly £7 million when she died in 2001.
As for boozing, the Georgian era did see some pretty heroic drinking, and in our own time we have been told that Princess Margaret drank a great deal. This is certainly the impression one gets from reading Craig Brown’s new book about her. “Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret” is amusing, but also wicked, for it gives us a partial picture of the lady, deliberately, one feels, leaving all the good bits out. Towards the end of her life HRH was teetotal, which does not sound very interesting. I never met her, but I knew several people who did, and they all found the experience agreeable. To get a glimpse of the true Princess Margaret, the best way now is to listen to her appearance on Desert Island Discs. She is dry, perhaps a little brittle, not being a natural performer, but surprisingly down to earth, with a good line in self-deprecating humour.
Ms Markle’s relatives can now expect some unwelcome press scrutiny, and only hope that the media soon loses interest in them. As for Ms Markle herself, that interest is only just beginning, and will continue for the rest of her life. Like Princess Margaret and other royalties of our own time, she will have much to put up with. But she can comfort herself with the knowledge that her own relatives and Prince Harry’s immediate family, are models of propriety compared to the house of Hanover.