John Scott Masthead
August 30 2012 at 11:13

Thanks to Shakespeare, we know that royal princes named Harry tend to be a little wild in their youth, and even when they grow older.

For instance, Prince Harry in King Henry the Fourth, Parts One and Two, gave his father the king a real headache.

All right, as far as we know, he didn’t cavort naked with young women in a Las Vegas hotel suite, or play strip billiards, in which you discard an item of clothing each time you miss a pot. Prince Harry’s game was obviously off that night, as were his pants.

In the 14th century, unlike today, nakedness was not regarded by British aristocratic youth to be the height of humour. Without central heating, it was too chilly, for one thing.

Also, as far as we know, he didn’t get caught smoking dagga or wearing a Nazi uniform to a fancy-dress party, but we must assume he did get smashed on occasion in the Boar’s Head Inn, Eastcheap, where he consorted with Falstaff, Poins, Bardolph, Peto, Pistol, Gadshill and other lower life, under the watchful eye of Mistress Quickly.

As royal biographer Andrew Morton noted of Charles’s younger son: “The prince doesn’t just get tipsy, he gets wasted”.

Shakespeare’s Prince Harry was as much a worry to his father as ours is to his, but he gives me hope that ours will one day also start behaving like a responsible Windsor instead of a reckless Spencer.

Prince Hal, as the future |King Henry V was also known, |decided at an early stage to let his |hair down, so that when he discarded |his loose behaviour he would shine by comparison.

But let the Bard explain in his own words: “My reformation, glittering o’er my fault, shall show more goodly and attract more eyes than that which hath no foil to set it off.”

Then he and his mates resort to jolly japes and pranks, with Falstaff robbing innocent travellers and Harry and Poins, in disguise, relieving Falstaff of his loot. For those days, all good, clean fun, unrecorded by video cameras.

Harry and Falstaff even do a little play-acting, with Harry as his own father, and Falstaff as the prince.

“The complaints I hear of you are grievous,” declares Harry, aware of the talk around town about himself.

“S’blood, my lord, they are false,” replies Falstaff loyally, only too keen for the wildness to continue.

Of course the complaints do reach the king, as they do Prince Charles, and he confronts his hell-raising son, who replies that some of the stories are lies, spread by “base newsmongers” (do things ever change?), but concedes that others are true “wherein my youth has faulty wand’red and irregular”.

The king feels he has to spell out the problem in greater clarity, and accuses Harry of mingling his royalty |“with capering fools – thou hast lost thy princely privilege with vile |participation”.

Charles couldn’t have expressed himself better, and probably didn’t. Henry’s Harry contritely promises: “I shall hereafter, my thrice-gracious lord, be more myself.”

And later the Earl of Warwick reassures King Henry that “the prince will, in the perfectness of time, cast off |his followers… and turn past evils to advantage”.

He does, too, in King Henry the Fifth. Even if our Prince Harry doesn’t he won’t, with any luck, end up on the throne as King Henry IX.


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