Royals in Uniform

Amid all the discussion of Prince Harry’s deployment to Iraq, I’ve heard of an ‘arrangement’ that the Armed Services make with the Royal household. Apparently, when the Heir and Spare join the Force, it is the Spare who sees active service, while the Heir is kept back at home.

I can see how this might be thought sensible, since even the deployment of the ‘Spare’ is a heightened security risk, and it would be a catasrophic morale crusher if anything happened to Harry in Iraq (just as it would have been if Prince Andrew had come to harm in the Falklands). But if Prince William, and before him, his father Prince Charles, are not going to be subjected to that pressure of ‘proper’ service, what’s the point of joining the army in the first place? It seems to me as if joining up is merely a ruse to win the right to wear a uniform, with lots of sashes and bows, which always looks great in Royal Wedding photos and the other assorted ceremonies which the Head of State must attend.

But if the monarch is the official Commander In Chief of the Armed Forces, a post they inherit on the death of their predecessor, then surely that office means one would be entitled to wear the uniform anyway, without the charade of basic training? Why bother with the training that one is never going to put to use? It looks to me like a rich kid playing at soldiers.

I am reminded of the Queen Mother’s funeral, back in the ’02. I was working in Westminister and went along to the Abbey to see the procession. Pacing behind the horse-drawn carriage and forty bag-pipes, Prince Edward was noticable in his long black civilian coat, while his brothers and sister all wore their uniforms. He looked like the awkward guest, who was not told that the party was fancy dress.

After the ceremony, a sight I shall never forget: Some kind of wake had been organised, back at Buckingham Palace, for the Crowned Heads of Europe. The Queen was chauffered away in her Rolls-Royce, but the distinguished guests were all shepherded onto a waiting coach, as if they were a gaggle of blue-rinse grannies. King Juan Carlos was one of the first to embark, and he made his way to the back of the coach (clearly, he is reckoned to one of the cool kids of the International Aristocracy). He sat down, and gave us a wave. Unfortunately for him, Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden was chatting on the tarmac, so the coach remained stationery. King Juan Carlos waited awkwardly in his seat, fiddling with the brass buttons on his uniform. Every now and then, he would turn to the window and wave again.

13 thoughts on “Royals in Uniform

  1. “But if Prince William, and before him, his father Prince Charles, are not going to be subjected to that pressure of ‘proper’ service, what’s the point of joining the army in the first place?”

    It’s constitutional. The Queen is technically C in C of the Armed forces, who are protecting the Crown, not the country. To reinforce this, most Royal have at least a symbolic role in the Armed forces, usually as C in C of a Regiment.

    Apart from that there are the presentational aspects. Male royals can’t afford to be seen as just sloane shagging international playboys and have to do something worthwile, and Army officer is the traditional career of the dim toff……….

  2. As I understand it, there is way more to being in the Forces than the uniform and active service. It is a whole way of life, a discipline, a feeling of belonging and camaraderie. Then there’s the out-doorsiness, the skill training, the team-work. And you have to confess, some of those army assault courses really look like fun to have a go at, don’t they? Some people even join the TA for a fun hobby, you know.

    As for “playing at soldiers”, there’s a nice analogy with clay pigeon-shooting there, I think, or fake-fox hunting. What’s wrong with playing at soldiers?

    And call me mrs dumbo, but what has the fact that he’s rich got to do with it? Looks like that nasty little hypocrisy, inverted snobbery, to me.

  3. Both of you have totally, totally missed the point of the post.

    Matt – I know it is constitutional. I said pretty much that in the first line of the third paragraph. If they’re the Constitutional Head, and a symbolic role reinforces it, then why bother with, like, actual training if you’re not going to be in the actual army. I’ve also already mentioned the presentational aspects, and I’m suggesting that this rather misses the point of being in the military, and to my mind does a disservice to those who have actually fought in uniform.

    Clarice: The “playing at soldiers” is a problem when the people you are “playing” with aren’t playing at all, but are in fact doing it for real. I don’t think you can have camaradrie or team-work when one of the team – the most priviledged person in the team by right of birth – will literally not be pulling his weight.

    And the “rich kid” thing is a turn of phrase, or a helpful stereotype if you prefer. You know: those people who do not ‘pull their weight’ or take proper responsibility or risk, because they can afford not to. In this case, I think “playing at soldiers” is rather patronising, and I’m just returning the favour.

  4. Hi Robbo
    Sorry if I did miss your point. I’m not sure.

    I don’t think you can have camaradrie or team-work when one of the team will literally not be pulling his weight.

    If this were true, then you’d be right. But if one of the team is not going to active service, then his “weight” is reduced, as well as his pulling, so to speak. So while it would be a fair point if it were true, I do not think that it is. Of course, being in active service is a big thing of what cements the camaraderie thing, and it’s not the same if you’re not all staring death in the face. But while Prince H won’t be there in the field to back up his comrades, he also won’t be there in the field expecting them to back him up either.

    I’m afraid I still don’t see what having a person in the team not pulling his weight has got to do with the privilege or otherwise of that person. If he’s not pulling his weight, what should it matter if he’s black, or a Muslim, or “privileged”, or a member of any other group you care to name?

    And who are you to judge what consitutes “proper” responsibility or risk in any given set of circumstances? Given who his parents are (which is no fault of his own), I think “playing” at soldiers is perfectly proper.

    I think there is a tremendous double standard that goes on, which says it’s alright to criticise or limit people on the grounds of who their parents are if they’re rich, but not if they’re poor. And I think that’s really pathetic and dumb. Sorry, but there it is.

    And as for Mat Munro’s “dim toff” remark, I think that raises an interesting question too. It presupposes that it’s ok to have a go at people, not only if they’re rich or have rich parents, but also if they’re not very intelligent. None of those things are that person’s fault. People who are thick can’t help being thick, any more than any of us can help who our parents are. And I think discrimination against people on the grounds of wealth or class is wrong, but also that discrimination on the grounds of intelllect is equally suspect. I think MM has a lot of hatred inside himself.

  5. Well, I think Prince Harri wanted to go with his mates and he is going – I think he will pull most of his weight, although I don’t know exactly how much that is, even if not all and I say good on him, but that is not to say I am annoyed with poor old Wills who will be kept back practising marching or something.
    MM may have a lot of hate inside him – someone needs to ring that doctor of his to warn him with the diagnosis of bilious tummy – so that he is ready with a quick answer so Matt is back at work pronto

  6. I’m afraid I still don’t see what having a person in the team not pulling his weight has got to do with the privilege or otherwise of that person.

    Usually, it does not. I do not beleive their is a causal link between wealth and weight-pulling. But I am not talking about any old rich person here. I am criticising the precise and specific case of the Royals in uniform. And I am saying that there is an institutionalised link between being a Royal (or to be more specific, being an ‘Heir’), and not pulling your weight. I am also saying that this undermines the military’s own values.

    Crucially, the army thrives and survives on ideas of duty, sacrifice and doing the job as trained. Hence cliches like “earning your stripes”, “winning your spurs” and the more banal “fit to wear the uniform”, the sentiment behind all these is, I think, quite clear.

    Yet in the case of Prince William, whether he likes it or not, he will not earn his stripes, win his spurs, or (therefore) be fit to wear the uniform. It is the military and The Palace who have created this particular situation, and it is there that the hypocrisy lies. Since the rhetoric of duty and sacrifice is also used quite successfully to recruit and then retain other young men, it is a shame that they choose to undermine themselves in this way.  This is all done in the name of ceremony and tradition, something that we seem to value more than creating the most efficient and rational military we can muster.

    And as Kathy points out above: Even Prince Harry agrees with me. Given the chance to go and practice marching at Sandhurst with his brother, he instead makes a vocal choice to do his duty in Iraq (Incidentally, I think this is just as admirable as a working class squaddie doing the same thing). The fact that he believes William’s predicament is undesirable, is a damning indictment of the situation.

    Persoanlly, I would have sent William to Business School. He will, after all, be a sort of President Emeritus of UK Plc. Better still, given the oft cited ‘good for tourism’ argument for the monarchy, he should have done a Leisure and Tourism degree.

  7. Er as someone who has worked with the “top 20%” of sandhurst output I think I’m quite well qualified to comment on the intellectual capacity of the average Rupert. Believe it or not fighting a war is not rocket science, all the clever stuff is done before hand by scientists and engineers in the much maligned arms industry. Firing the weapon is (academically) the easy bit, but it does require old fashioned virtues like courage, leadership, the desire to win and true teamwork.
    The Army is an admirable organisation, and in terms of people pulling their weight it is one of the few organisations left where “the management” actually lead from the front, for which they have far more respect from me than any of the other “leaders” in this socialist toilet of a country.

  8. It is the military and The Palace who have created this particular situation, and it is there that the hypocrisy lies. Since the rhetoric of duty and sacrifice is also used quite successfully to recruit and then retain other young men, it is a shame that they choose to undermine themselves in this way.

    Your use of the word hypocrisy is poor. There is nothing hypocritical about the military treating a Royal differently from everyone else. The word you are looking for is inconsistency. But I repeat myself.

  9. I don’t see a post at the end of your link, Tim.

    But you’re right. Inconsistent, and damaging to the miliary. And – like everything else to do with the concept of Royalty – inconsistent with the concepts of political equality, and the equal value of all human life.

  10. I know an awful lot of Royal Marine officers, and one or two other military officers. Of all the things currently damaging the military, I would guess that the army’s treatment of the Royals ranks rather low down.

    In short, although it may appear outrageous to you, those who you perhaps think should be the most outraged really don’t care.

  11. There are plenty of things in this world that seem to outrage very few people, yet are (I believe) still wrong and damaging. Just because there is always something more pressing in the in-tray, it does not mean that we should not talk about the principle of the thing… Indeed, I might suggest that forgetting such principles is a root cause of the wider malaise.

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