Do Number Two's Try Harder? Just Ask Prince Henry's Famous (and Infamous) Forebears
updated 10/01/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 10/01/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT
One benefit of being second-or even third-in-line, of course, is that there is enough shade from the limelight to cover a few royal misbehaviors. But Harry would be wise not to take too much comfort in that thought. Probabilities aside, the list of understudies who eventually ascended to the throne is long and of mixed omens—stretching from Charles' diligent grandfather, George VI, back to the beheaded Charles I, the notorious Henry VIII and his elder daughter, "Bloody Mary." Perhaps because their coronations sometimes came as a jolt, many of them changed dramatically in office—some, like Henry's distant relative Queen Victoria, for the better, others much for the worse.
Henry VIII, whose elder brother, Arthur, died of influenza, was a gifted scholar and athlete as a boy. At first he was an energetic and prudent monarch. Under his tutelage, England moved out of the Middle Ages into the Renaissance. But in his last 20 years as king, a growing paranoia (some think a case of syphilis) transformed him into the near madman who collected six wives and beheaded two of them. Henry's daughters, understandably, had a less than stable childhood. Second and third in line respectively after their half-brother, Edward, both Mary and Elizabeth were dubbed "bastards," and Elizabeth even spent some time in the Tower of London. Mary, who became queen after Edward died of tuberculosis, was obviously hardened by her childhood. But precocious Elizabeth was determined to rise above it when she came to the throne after Mary's death. One vestige of her past, Freudian-minded historians duly note, was Elizabeth's reputed fear of sex and her lifelong spinsterhood.
Elizabeth's descendant Victoria was a stubborn child, more interested in sleeping late than in performing her duty. But after she succeeded her uncle William IV, whose daughters had died in infancy, and married Prince Albert, she became a model of royal decorum. In a somewhat different way, Victoria's great-grandson Albert also grew into his role. Bertie, as he was called by the family, was a shy, melancholy young man who stuttered and exhibited a too noticeable fondness for whiskey. After his big brother, Edward VIII, became smitten with American divorcee Wallis Simpson and abdicated, Bertie (George VI)—bolstered by the warm, sociable Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (now England's Queen Mum)—matured into a strong and courageous king.
For the next few years no one will bother little Prince Henry with thoughts of succession. But just in case an accident of fate should ever make a monarch of him, he would be best advised to emulate not his namesake Henry VIII but Queen Victoria: When told at age 12 that she would be queen one day, she is said to have responded simply, "I will be good."