Benno TuchschmidCo-Head of Society
Glitter couple: Prince Harry and Meghan at an awards show in London on March 5, 2020.
Everyone is talking about Harry. And Harry is a reliable source of conversation. In his autobiography “Spare” (in German: “Reserve”) he writes about quarrels in the royal family, his intoxicated youth and signs of frostbite on his primary genitals after a charity trip to the North Pole. Has anything like this ever happened? Hardly anyone can answer that better than the historian Leonhard Horowski, author of the book “The Europe of Kings” and an expert on the history of the monarchy.
As a historian, you have dealt with generations of European royal families. Has a prince ever commented publicly on the condition of his penis?
Leonhard Horowski: Certainly not in public. But you don’t want to know what they used to say. That was sometimes drastic.
Do you have an example?
In his memoirs, Lord Hervey, who was Deputy Lord Chamberlain at the British Royal Court in 1737, relates his discussion with Queen Caroline as to whether or not Caroline’s son was impotent. The two talk about the possibility that someone else could get the prince’s wife pregnant by sneaking into the bedroom at night.
Premarital sex, substance abuse and violence between brothers: What Harry describes in his biography doesn’t seem to be anything new in royal families.
no What we are presented with here is even more of a softened, modern version of a royal family, in which, for example, a prince calls his father Pa. Someone should have tried that in the 18th century!
What did a prince call his father?
For example “Your Grace” or “My Father”.
Ever since the French Revolution, monarchs have known that they can be abolished, and worse if they’re unlucky. That’s why they’ve been frantically trying to be popular ever since.
Today the whole world is talking about the British royal family. Was there such a thing as publicity for 17th-century kings?
Yes, but a different one than today. Back then, it was all about impressing other monarchs abroad. In your own country, it only played a role how the high nobility thought of you. For a long time, kings and queens were not interested in how the general public perceived them.
When did that change?
Ever since the French Revolution, monarchs have known that they can be abolished, and worse if they’re unlucky. That’s why they’ve been frantically trying to be popular ever since. This fear of public disapproval is also a motif in Harry’s story. He describes the intense competition within the family to see who comes across best in public.
However, Harry achieves the opposite with his campaign. He’s becoming increasingly unpopular.
Yes. In the reactions to the book, even those who were actually on Harry’s and Meghan’s side say: We understand what you want, but it won’t work like that.
Why does Harry complain about nothing more than the media while constantly seeking publicity?
Meghan certainly plays an important role there. Coming from the US celebrity system, she mistakenly thought the monarchy played on the same stage. As a Hollywood celebrity, you have to constantly draw attention to yourself, and when you’re attacked, you publicly defend yourself. The British family, on the other hand, has retained a small remnant of aristocratic attitude and has responded to media attacks with silence.
Where does Harry’s deep hatred of the press come from?
He is convinced that the media killed his mother. Although a seat belt and a sober chauffeur would have been enough to survive. But of course the media made life difficult for Diana.
Not just you.
no It is an understandable core of Harry’s allegations that he and his family have been persecuted and harassed by the press since birth. The question therefore arises all the more: why does he expose himself voluntarily?
Harry struggles with his role as the second born. If he had lived 300 years ago, how would he have dealt with his frustration?
In the 12th century, Harry waits for his brother to die in a suspicious hunting accident, then imprisons his second brother and ascends the throne. So did Henry I (1068–1135). In the 15th century, after William’s death, Harry would have thrown his sons into the Tower and killed them in order to become king himself. Back then, however, it was still about real power and possessions.
Family ties: Richard III. (1452–1485) threw his brother’s sons into the Tower after his brother’s death and later had them killed.
Shakespeare wrote about betrayal and hatred at the English court. Is drama in the DNA of British royalty?
The British monarchy is not special in this respect, but simply the most prominent of those that are left today. There were the same tragedies everywhere. The Russian ruling houses eclipsed everything, murder and manslaughter really reigned there.
Harry also writes extensively about his war experience in his book. How do you classify that as a historian?
It is fascinating. I’m always happy when I meet one of the ancient factors again. Today, the closeness between the monarchy and the military is usually only experienced in the form of parades. Harry reminds us that historically it was perfectly normal for royalty to go to war and see themselves as warriors.
Harry enjoyed his time at war.
Many found the military environment liberating, like Harry. In the past, royals didn’t have to deal with paparazzi, but they also felt watched and hemmed in by courtiers. The military and hunting were ways of escaping this confinement. You could be alone for a while.
War Prince: Harry at the machine gun of a tank in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, February 2008.
The role of Meghan, who comes to court as a princess from another country, is not new either.
Meghan’s problem isn’t just that she’s getting married in a foreign country. Princesses used to have this problem too. She is also marrying into another class – one that has seen itself as something better for 1000 years.
But Kate Middleton also comes from a middle-class background.
Kate Middleton embodies the overzealous student who knows all the rules by heart, probably better than her husband – making her the perfect counterpart to Meghan Markle, who came from the outside and wanted to bring her own rules of the game. The two are not made to get along well.
Princesses used to come from the same social class and were mostly even cousins of their respective spouses. There were still problems.
Marie-Antoinette suffered from culture shock at Versailles and felt constrained. It was even worse for women who were married off to the Spanish court. There, almost Saudi Arabian conditions prevailed for female aristocrats.
What role did women actually play at European courts?
Of course, a royal court used to be a strictly patriarchal regime. But because no one has a formal say in a monarchy, all politics was informal. In a system where power emanates from families, this inevitably means that women play a key role. If only because reproduction is not possible without women. The role of women at court is underestimated.
Why did that change?
The idea that politics should take place without women only emerged at the end of the 18th century. With the French Revolution, there was suddenly a human right to political participation of the individual. But because society was still patriarchal, that didn’t apply to women.
The dispute between Harry, Meghan and the Windsors is always about racism.
The problem of racism has not even arisen within the royal houses for a long time. There were no non-white dynasties to intermarry with as equals because none of them were Christian. In addition, the royal families were so elitist that they saw 99.9 percent of people with the same skin color as inferior and therefore unworthy of marriage.
Family Activity: The Windsors watch an overflight of military jets from the balcony of Buckingham Palace in June 2018. Nobility of War: Harry at the machine gun of a tank in Helmand Province, February 2008.
Why are we still interested in the British royal family?
A royalty is made up of people who ended up there by accident and who are constantly making all sorts of mistakes. Monarchy is a random catastrophe generator. Celebrities and politicians tend to be more talent-picked and more in control. In addition, as soon as you discuss the family dispute at the Windsors, you think of your own family. As soon as you talk about Harry and William, everyone thinks of their own sibling relationship.
Of course, the royals also remain a social indicator. The highest award in Great Britain is still an order from the royal family. Anyone who is friends with the royals has reached the highest social class as a commoner. In addition, today every man and every woman can theoretically marry a prince or princess.
Will the British monarchy still exist in 50 years?
My prediction: yes. The monarchy has gravity on its side. You have to actively do a lot to abolish them. While many no longer love them very much, there are not many who try too hard to get rid of them either.