Thursday, August 14, 2014

Prince William: Petulant & Selfish or Dutiful & Protective?

     It has now been a week since it was officially confirmed that Prince William will be taking a job as a pilot for the East Anglian Air Ambulance service next spring, following a period of training that begins in September.

A EC135 helicopter used by the EAAA.
Image Credit:
Jsmauger via Wikimedia Commons cc

     The announcement generated a rather large buzz from around the world, and the Duke of Cambridge was trending on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Many of the reactions were positive and supportive, with several comments praising the 32-year-old for committing himself to a public service in which he will be saving lives. However, there were also comments and commentary of dissatisfaction with the move, which will see William and his family largely sheltered away from public view for the foreseeable future.

     Much of the criticism is not new, and appears to be focused in part on the Duke's alleged wishy-washiness and inability to come to terms with his royal destiny.

     Since his graduation from the University of St. Andrew's in 2005, Prince William has not yet settled into life as a full-time working member of the Royal Family. He went into the military - first training at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, then going on to serve as an officer in all three main service branches (Naval, Air Force, and Army). Eventually, the Royal Air Force became his primary branch, and from 2010 to 2013, he served as Flight Lieutenant William Wales - a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot based at RAF Valley on the Isle of Anglesey in Wales.

     When his active military service came to an end in September of last year, he began what Palace officials described as a "transitional year", and it was thought that the Duke - now with a family of his own - would before long begin to carry out a full schedule of royal duties, and in doing so, step up his official role within the family as the second in line to the throne. However, he began this year by taking a ten-week "bespoke" agricultural course at the University of Cambridge, which was designed to prepare him for when he inherits the Duchy of Cornwall (a land portfolio mostly in southwest Britain, which provides an income for the heir to the throne) upon the accession of his father as King.

     Following the successful Down Under tour, William has been carrying out public engagements (sometimes with Kate and/or Prince Harry) on several occasions - most notably the commemorations for the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the World War I centenary, and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. But he has yet to have a full schedule of day-to-day engagements like other members of the family, and with the air ambulance pilot job, this means that full royal duties will not be in store for at least two years.

     The result has been that some commentators have been calling out William for failing to be dutiful in the same mold as other members of his family. While William's desire for privacy and living "normally" is understandable and has been largely respected by the media, the opinion amongst such commentators is that it is time for him to stop "putting off" royal duties and "grow up" to the reality of his position. Flying helicopters and saving lives is noble, but as the future King of the United Kingdom, more ought to be expected of him in his public duties, and to follow the Queen's maxim of being "seen to be believed."

The Queen believes in the importance of getting out and being seen.
Image Credit: West Midlands Police via Flickr cc

     One columnist (for the Daily Mail) opined that William may not have acquired the "dutiful" gene of his father, grandmother, or great-grandfather - George VI. Instead, it was suggested that William is becoming more like Edward VIII, a man who enjoys the privileges afforded by royal status, but not much - if any - of the burdens, duties, and responsibilities which come with it. The very public chaos surrounding his parents' marriage notwithstanding, the view taken by this person and other people is that William cannot long continue to wait to begin full royal life, for the risk is that the British people will question his value to the taxpayer, which will cause him and Kate to lose the goodwill they have built up over the last several years.

     Such opinions also tend to say: yes, the burdens (especially via the media) can be unbearable at times, but then again, it is a small price to pay for all of the privileges afforded to the Duke of Cambridge and his family, whereas other families have to worry about how they will obtain their next meal and/or juggle money around to ensure that bills are paid.

     This leads to another gripe with William, which has do to with the British taxpayer funding renovations amounting to £4.5 million to Kensington Palace for the use of the Cambridge's, but which will now lay empty for the better part of (at least) two years while they decamp to Anmer Hall - their country home on the Queen's Sandringham Estate in Norfolk - as the Duke takes up his new air ambulance job in nearby Cambridge and Norwich.

A view of Apartment 1A at Kensington Palace, which is located in the center of this photograph.
Image Credit:
David Baron via Flickr cc

     In reality, the renovations to Apartment 1A (formerly the residence of Princess Margaret) were going to have to be done anyway, especially with regard to replacing the plumbing and electrical wiring, asbestos removal, roof replacement, and other essential things. Furnishing the 20-room apartment was left to be done by the couple with their personal funds, but it still raised eyebrows when it emerged that in addition to renovating the existing kitchen, a second kitchen was built - with one being used for their personal needs and the other one utilized for social gatherings.

     In this light, it does appear that the Duke comes off as petulant, selfish, arrogant, and pig-headed (like his Spencer relations, as described by a courtier). However, it must be said that William - as well as other members of the Royal Family - suffer from "damned if they do, damned if they don't."

     Right now, the gripe is that William is not doing enough with regard to public royal duties, and that taxpayers' are not getting value for money. But then if William were to vastly expand his schedule of engagements up and down the United Kingdom, then the cost of carrying out such engagements would show up on the annual Royal finances report and would become fodder for the media to make the monarchy appear spendthrift and profligate. Either way, William and the Royal Family can't win this battle, and they are only left to do what they believe is best - with consequences coming as they may.

Prince Charles has been stepping up his public outings in recent years.
Image Credit:
Worthy FM via flickr cc

     As it is, the Royal Family already has several of its members on full-time duty. The Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Camilla, Prince Andrew, Prince Edward and his wife Sophie, Princess Anne, the Duke of Kent, the Duke of Gloucester and his wife Birgette, and Princess Alexandra carry out a hefty number of engagements throughout the year, so not having William and Kate (or for that matter Harry, Beatrice, and Eugenie) on board full time is not the end of the world.

     However, it is true that the Cambridge's and Prince Harry are amongst the most high-profile members of the family, and that therefore, the general public would like to see more of them. And although the Queen and Prince Philip are carrying on well at their respective ages, it is inevitable that they will cut back on their appearances, and the same is true for the Queen's cousins - with the result that the younger generations will have to step up as time goes forward.

     For now, William probably does not feel the need to become a full-time working member of the family. Remember, he is second in line, not first, and while he is in that position, he probably believes that his primary role is that of a father who is actively helping to raise his son alongside his wife. The time will come for the Duke to become more active, but perhaps this is not it.

Prince George, Duke of York - the future George V - in 1893.
Image Credit: Library of Congress (George Grantham Bain collection)

     To put this in context, William's position is similar to that of George V when he was Duke of York and second in line to the throne behind his father - the future Edward VII - who was the heir of Queen Victoria. In 1893, George and his wife Mary moved into York Cottage on the Sandringham Estate, which was their main home for nearly 20 years until George's accession as King in 1910, and it was there that five of their six children were born. George in particular preferred the quiet country life in contrast to the lively urban social scene coveted by his father, and his biographer Harold Nicolson wrote that "when he was Duke of York ... he did nothing at all but kill animals and stick in stamps [for his stamp collection]." This was not entirely true, but it gives an indication of how the then second in line lived in middle-class fashion.

     With his air ambulance job, the current second in line is planning to do much more than his great-great grandfather. Nevertheless, they appear to be similar insofar that they decided to retreat to the quiet countryside until they were needed in public. George went go on to become King, and though he did not always like the public and colorful ceremonies, he carried them out anyway because he felt that it was the right thing to do, and this attitude laid the groundwork for House of Windsor, with its hallmark commitment to the mantra of "duty first" which has been followed by his second son, George VI and granddaughter, Elizabeth II.

     This was in contrast to his eldest son, Edward VIII, who preferred the pleasures and comforts afforded by his status, but showed his hostility to the traditional burdens and responsibilities which came with it. Vain and petulant, he was temperamentally ill-suited for the top job, and this led him down the road to abdication within twelve months of his accession.

The shadow of the media and paparazzi hounding Diana is a prime influence on Prince William.
Image Credit:
Rick via Wikimedia Commons cc

     On the other hand, Prince William does not appear to behave like "Uncle David". He may be indecisive, and when he does make a decision, becomes stubborn and immovable, but this seems to be motivated - at least in part - by his desire to protect his family from the pitfalls that consumed and destroyed his parents' marriage and which led to his mother's tragic death.

     Also, the criticism does not do justice to the fact that William has dutifully served his country in the Her Majesty's Armed Forces, and appears to ignore the work that he has done - and continues to do - with the organizations that he supports, sometimes out of the public eye.

     In addition, there is nothing wrong with him taking up a job which will see him engaging and interacting with people from various backgrounds. If anything, it will be helpful as he continues his journey to kingship, for he can become relatable - at least in some way - to the day-to-day issues that people face - away from the flickering cameras.

     On a more personal level - and unlike Edward VIII - William is married to a woman who understands him more than virtually anybody else, which will come in handy as both of them ease into full royal duties later on. For now, it is quite possible that he believes that having as normal a family life as possible (with little media/public intrusion) is the best way to ensure that the chaos and drama of the 1990's will not happen in the future. This long-term outlook views family life as essential to providing stability for the monarchy, and as second in line, the Duke probably feels that he can afford to put off a full slate of royal duties for the time being, so that his family comes first, and there is nothing selfish or petulant about that.

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