Why Prince Harry’s royal exit was written in royal history before he even met Meghan

Harry and Meghan: Expert's swipe over royal duties

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Regardless of the place they take in the line of succession, members of the firm are closely watched by the media and royal fans as they grow up in the unique spotlight of being born into a ruling family. Over the course of the modern monarchy, the concept of the ‘heir and the spare’ has dominated – Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret, Prince William and Prince Harry. But most notably when the spare was brought in to rule when Edward VIII abdicated after less than a year on the throne, leaving his brother George VI to take over.

The ‘spares’, or siblings of those directly in line for the throne, have often found it difficult to navigate their position in the family, one that usually brings about extreme levels of fame, but with a potential end goal that rarely becomes reality.

Heather Cocks, coauthor of The Heir Affair and The Royal We, said: “They’re famous from birth, whether they want it or not.

“With an heir and spare dynamic, you get one child who’s born for the top job, and the second who probably grows up feeling like the understudy.

“Learn the lines, know the role, but understand you’ll probably never get called to do it.

“And if your personality more naturally pushes you toward the spotlight, that would be really hard on the spare.”

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This has certainly been the case with Prince Harry, whose trajectory has taken a similar tumultuous path to that of Princess Margaret, the Queen’s late sister.

Princess Margaret, the last spare before Prince Harry, was known for her hell raising manner and a performative streak that was in complete contrast to her more serious and duty-bound sister.

Royal historian and author Leslie Carroll said: “Margaret often reminded her older sister that she would be better at being queen because she was the one who had the outgoing personality and was a natural born leader.

“Elizabeth didn’t necessarily disagree with Margaret but kept reminding her that the succession didn’t work that way. The British monarchy isn’t a talent contest.”

When the Queen barred her sister from marrying Peter Townsend, it had permanent consequences for Princess Margaret, according to royal commentator Penny Junor.

She said: “I think the Queen probably felt she had scuppered her sister’s chance of happiness.

“Margaret started behaving badly and imperiously and because of the guilt, her behavior went largely unchallenged.”

As she dropped further down the line of succession as the Queen welcomed her children and they had their own children, Princess Margaret’s behaviour became worse.

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However, she maintained a close relationship with her sister – whereas it is speculatively thought that Prince Harry and Prince William do not speak.

Princess Margaret’s ways were not a royal first – in fact, there have been generations of spares who have caused significant trouble for the ruling sibling.

Prince Harry has admitted his struggles living within the Royal Family, which came to a head when and his wife Meghan Markle left the royal fold in March 2020 in search of a new life in America.

For the most part, their journey has gone from strength to strength, signing multiple multi-million dollar TV and entertainment deals with the likes of Netflix while raising their young family in one of California’s most expensive neighbourhoods.

But like Margaret, Prince Harry’s past hasn’t exactly been sparkling clean.

He was well known for his partying and made headlines for various indiscretions which the palace had to deal with, particularly in the early 2000s.

While with the exception of his great-great-uncle, no other Royal has departed fully from royal life in the same way Prince Harry decided to – even Edward VIII wanted to remain in royal circles and continue working for the family, a plea that was denied by his brother and by Queen Elizabeth when she later came to power.

But Prince Harry’s time in the family was marked by his valuable contributions, regardless of being the second born son.

The launch of the Invictus Games is a highlight of Prince Harry’s impressive royal CV, as well as his time spent in the military, and his work on AIDS in Africa.

“Although their situations were somewhat different, unlike Princess Margaret, Harry was able to overcome the noise, distractions, and detractors to marry the person he loved.”

Leslie Carrol said: “And that’s the way to be a successful spare.”

So, perhaps Prince Harry’s mother Princess Diana was right.

In one interview she said: “Royal firstborns may get all the glory, but second-borns enjoy more freedom.

“Only when Harry is a lot older will he realise how lucky he is not to have been the eldest.”

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