‘A little touch of Harry in the night’
(Henry V, Act 4, Prologue)
Prince Harry, whose assets have been stripped bare by The Sun and others this week, continues a long and even distinguished tradition of royal males behaving badly. It's a lineage stretching back at least to Henry V and his friendship with Falstaff, Mistress Quickly et al.
It’s notable that Shakespeare called him Hal when he was being laddish, but ‘Prince’ at other times, making it quite clear meanwhile that Henry knew what he was up to when spending time in the stews of Eastcheap (“I know you all, and will awhile / Uphold the unyok’d humour of your idleness”). By contrast, I’m not sure Captain Harry Wales is quite sure where he stands. When he was introduced at the Closing Ceremony of the Olympics as ‘Le Prince Henri de Wales’, he looked baffled for a moment: ‘Is that me they’re talking about?’ Bafflement, indeed, seems to be poor Harry’s fixed expression in the aftermath of his game of strip billiards in Las Vegas. “The Prince is stunned,” announced the Daily Mail, though it wasn’t clear from the sentence whether the reporter was referring to Prince Harry, or his brother or his dad – all three, probably.
Prince Harry is third in line to the throne, which is one reason The Sun assures us that it’s in the public interest to publish photographs of him cannoning off the cushion (the idiosyncratic vocabulary of billiards unexpectedly coming back into fashion). Billiards, indeed, was what his great great great uncle, Prince Albert Edward, Duke of Clarence, used to play. Queen Victoria’s grandson, he was second in line to the throne and would indeed have succeeded had he not died in 1892, leaving his brother to become, in due time, George V.
Poor Clarence was not, by all accounts, bright. Described by his tutor as having a mind ‘abnormally dormant’, he apparently got into all sorts of scrapes which had to be hushed up. It was thought he’d been embroiled in the Cleveland Street scandal of 1889, and in 1890 he suffered a prolonged period of ‘fever’ or ‘gout’ which gossip maintained must have been something nastier because none of the matrimonial engagements proposed for him at that time came to anything. Even after his death, a man called Clarence Haddon claimed to be Albert Edward’s illegitimate son, and actually published a book called My Uncle George V. No one took Haddon very seriously, but it was typical of Clarence that the gossip about his life and lifestyle never quite died down.
At least he had a devoted mother to treasure his memory. The Princess of Wales wanted a permanent memorial to him and, once she had become Queen Alexandra, commissioned a memorial stained glass window for the Ministers’ Staircase of Buckingham Palace. This life-size memorial, designed by John Lisle (chief designer at the Studios of Charles Eamer Kempe) depicts Albert Edward, Duke of Clarence, as St. George in full armour. You can see the window today, not in the Palace but in the Stained Glass Museum at Ely Cathedral. It was damaged during the Blitz, and not replaced afterwards.
Clarence’s father, Edward VII (1901-1910), had himself enjoyed a colourful past before becoming king. Like his son, he had no particular academic leanings, though he is reported to have said, after his first encounter with Lily Langtree, “Vidi, vici, veni”. But by the time he ascended the throne he had become almost an elder statesman, and when he died he was warmly admired for having kept war in Europe at bay. A window in St. Mary’s Priory Church Monmouth ( from the later firm, C.E.Kempe & Co.) depicts him in full regalia, and carries the inscription Rex Pacificator. A statue in Montpellier, Cheltenham, shows him clad in Norfolk jacket and plus-fours protecting a waif-like child, and again describes him as ‘the Peacemaker’. Yet, as Shakespeare’s Archbishop of Canterbury says, ‘The courses of his youth promised it not.'
Henry V may offer our hapless Prince Harry promise of better times to come. Those courses of Hal’s youth to which the Archbishop refers sound strangely familiar:
… his addiction was to courses vain,
His companies unletter’d, rude, and shallow,
His hours fill’d up with riots, banquets, sports;
And never noted in him any study ….
But when finally he stepped out of his father’s shadow, everything turned out well:
… at that very moment,
Consideration like an angel came,
And whipp’d th’offending Adam out of him;
Leaving his body as a Paradise,
T’envelope and contain celestial spirits. (Act 1 Sc.2)
The moral for Harry is clear: he should brush up his Shakespeare, take his cue from his famous forebear, forsake Sin City, abandon billiards, and from now on avoid enveloping anyone who is not an absolute angel – especially in the presence of ‘friends’ with smartphones.
Illustrations: (i) The Duke of Clarence depicted as St. George; designed by John Lisle, and made by the Kempe Studios, 1905 (Ely Stained Glass Museum)
(ii) Edward VII (‘Rex Pacificator’); stained glass window by C.E. Kempe and Co in St. Mary’s Priory Church, Monmouth (Adrian Barlow)
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