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Prince William
This profile of HRH Prince William appeared in the September 1999 issue of The Royal Report.

As the Royal party partook of a Mediterranean cruise around the Greek islands on the yacht Alexander this summer, the Prince of Wales had good reason to be proud of his elder son. Showing not only his emotional sensitivity, but a mature understanding of his father’s needs, Prince William suggested that Charles’s long-term companion Camilla Parker Bowles be invited join the party. Otherwise, the Prince noted, his father would be forced to spend a month apart from Mrs Parker Bowles: during the luxury 10-day cruise, and afterwards for the traditional two-week break at Balmoral, the Queen’s Scottish residence. The cruise, one commentator noted, appeared to mark the end for the 17-year-old Prince of a two-year period of grief and upheaval.

In the early hours of August 31, 1997, while holidaying at Balmoral, William awoke to the news that his mother and her lover had been fatally wounded in a car accident in Paris. In the two years that have followed, William has shown courage and maturity beyond his years, and has transformed from a shy teenager, with his loyalties torn between love for his mother and duty towards his father, into an independent, strong-willed young man with the destiny of the Monarchy on his shoulders.

The elder son and heir of the Prince and the late Princess of Wales was born on June 21, 1982 in the Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, London, weighing in at at 7lb 10oz after a lengthy labour. The boy was christened William Arthur Philip Louis Windsor, with water from the River Jordan, in the music room of Buckingham Palace on August 4, 1982, coinciding with the 82nd birthday of the Queen Mother.

Both parents wanted William, and later Harry, to have as normal a childhood as possible. Unlike previous heirs to the throne, who were educated at home by private tutors at the same age, William’s formal education began at the age of three at Mrs Mynor’s Nursery School in Notting Hill Gate, West London. It continued at Wetherby, a nearby preparatory day school, where emphasis was placed on music and manners.

At first, Princess Diana was against sending William to boarding school. Prince Charles, remembering the misery of his own schooldays, equally did not want his son to suffer as he had at Gordonstoun. But for reasons of security, a compromise was reached. Aged eight, William was sent to Ludgrove Preparatory School in Wokingham, Berkshire, where he boarded on weekdays only. His school reports revealed his talent on the sports field, where he impressed as a rugby and hockey team captain, a crack shot, an excellent football and basketball player, and a school representative at cross-country running and swimming.

Diana described him as “the man in my life”, and the most photographed woman in the world relied upon her elder son for comfort and advice. Their relationship was close: Wills even announced that he wanted to be a policeman when he grew up, so that he could protect his mother. (“You can’t,” Harry observed, “you’ve got to be King.”) On one occasion, when Diana locked herself in the bathroom after an argument with Charles, it was William who pushed tissues under the door with a note saying: “I hate to see you sad.” By the age of nine, he had already learned to book a table at San Lorenzo, her favourite restaurant, to cheer up his mother. It was William who later advised her to accelerate her divorce proceedings by agreeing to be stripped of the title HRH, reassuring her: “You’ll still be Mummy.”

In turn, “Mummy” took William on a number of visits to meet the homeless and the dying, to make him aware of others’ suffering. “I want William and Harry to experience what most people already know,” Diana told an interviewer. “That they are growing up in a multi-racial society in which everyone is not rich, or has four holidays a year, or speaks standard English and drives a Range Rover.”

At 13, William was sent to Eton College, close to Windsor, a choice well-suited to a boy with a public future, not least because his new classmates would be as well-connected and as well-heeled as he: the Prince would not even be the only boy with a private detective. It became a regular arrangement that, on Sunday afternoons at 4pm, he would take tea with the Queen at the castle on the hill, where they continue to discuss William’s Royal duties – which at this stage include scheduling official photo calls and the occasional walkabout. William is not likely to begin taking on his own major Royal duties until he has completed his education. Unlike his father, there will be no formal title awaiting Prince William when he comes of age.

William developed an early sensitivity to the needs of others. Aged 14, he took the bold step of asking his parents not to attend the most important day in the school calendar, Eton’s Fourth of June celebrations, as he believed the presence of the press and bodyguards would spoil this Parents’ Day for his peers. Charles and Diana were both taken aback when he instead invited Tiggy Legge-Bourke to attend. Engaged by Prince Charles as unofficial nanny to the boys, Ms Legge-Bourke, whose mother was appointed Lady-in-Waiting to the Princess Royal, is a close companion with whom William feels naturally at ease. With a sense of fun that delights both William and Harry, Ms Legge-Bourke has noted: “I give the Princes what they need – fresh air, a rifle and a horse.”

William continues to flourish at Eton. His housemaster Dr Andrew Gailey, a respected constitutional historian and music lover from Northern Ireland, has taken William under his wing educationally and emotionally, and has been an important influence as William has sought to rebuild his life. Having proven to be the fastest junior swimmer at Eton in 10 years, from this term William will captain the swimming team, holding the title of Joint Keeper of Swimming. His duties include team selection, greeting visiting teams, keeping records, training new boys, and recommending swimmers for their colours. William has also been appointed secretary of the renowned Agricultural Club, and recently received Eton’s Sword of Honour, the school’s highest award for a first-year army cadet. In addition, senior pupils have elected him to the élite Eton Society, one of the highest honours bestowed on boys at the top of the school. The exclusive club, known as “Pop”, is a selection of the 11 most popular and respected boys going into the upper sixth. William will ensure that younger boys attend a daily chapel service, serve as an usher at school plays, and gain the authority to fine pupils who break the school rules.

“My boy’s got a good brain,” Diana would note proudly, “considering how hopeless both his parents were.” And close to the first anniversary of his mother’s death, William, who had gained three GCSE passes the previous year, received a further nine GCSEs with top A* and A grades in English, history and languages, and Bs for other subjects including maths and science. He returned for his final year at Eton on September 8 to take geography, English and history of art at A level.

It was long presumed that the Prince would follow in his father’s footsteps by attending Trinity College, Cambridge. This decision had been made for Charles by a committee of advisers, but William will be given more freedom. “God help anyone who tells William what to do,” observed one courtier. “He listens, but he won’t be pushed around by the system.” Indeed, William has told friends that he wishes to attend Cambridge only if his grades merit a place, and that rather than gain favouritism he would rather attend one of his four other choices. These are Edinburgh, St Andrews, Bristol and Durham universities, all of which the Prince has recently visited. History of art is likely to be his chosen subject. An army career will probably follow. “In the medium term, William wants to go into the armed services in some form,” says his uncle, Earl Spencer. “It is a traditional part of the Royal upbringing, but he would actually like to do it of his own volition.”

William values his privacy as well as his independence. At St James’s Palace, where he and Prince Harry share an apartment with their father, William has his own suite of rooms to which only he holds the key. He recently asked his father if he could convert the cellars of Highgrove House, the Gloucestershire home of the Prince of Wales, into his own flat. So far Papa is undecided. Like any other teenager, the second-in-line to the throne listens to techno music, selects all his own clothes, and enjoys playing computer games. For his seventeenth birthday, William was given a VW Golf car by Charles, and soon afterwards passed his driving test at the first attempt. He had been driving on the private roads of the Royal estates from the age of 13, but received just 20 hours of tuition from Police Sergeant Chris Gilbert, an expert in anti-hijack and counter-surveillance techniques, before passing his test in a silver Ford Focus on loan to the Royal Estate. The Prince was praised by his instructor for his “natural flair for driving”, and will continue lessons to make him more confident at night and motorway driving.

Recently, William has taken up his father’s beloved sport of polo, despite being a left-handed player in a game which favours the right-handed. Although he is not always comfortable in the public gaze, all eyes were on William when he made a low-key appearance in the company of the new young polo set at the Cartier International Polo Day at Smith’s Lawns, Windsor, this season. At six-foot one-and-a-half-inches tall, with self-assured elegance and those coy, head-lowered glances inherited from his mother, William has become the focus of much female attention – which embarrasses him terribly. He has chosen to socialise only with girls from families known to him. Informal dates are out of the question, and any future girlfriends will be thoroughly vetted to exclude the unsuitable and welcome the socially preferred. He only has to mention his interest in a young lady for an approach to be made to her parents by St James’s Palace. Mother and daughter will then be invited to tea or a party. Similarly, if William appears to be getting on well with a classmate’s sister or friend, networking will go on behind the scenes and introductions made. His circle includes Lady Iona Douglas Home, Holly Branson, Emilia D’Erlanger and Zara Simmonds, among many other attractive young women.

“William has so much sheer personal confidence for his age, but it has absolutely nothing to do with his position,” observes one Royal insider. “At the same age, his father was a mess of uncertainties. William always seems to know where he’s going and he always gets what he wants.” As he reaches adulthood, Prince William has already demonstrated that he possesses the maturity, sensitivity and strength he will need to rise to his destiny as the future of the Monarchy.

Good luck today Prince William and Kate Middleton!
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A new film about King John further underlines history’s judgement of the medieval English monarch as a cruel tyrant. But among the dozens of bad kings and despots, why is John always the pantomime villain?

Paul Giamatti is the latest to play King John as a villain in Ironclad

Paul Giamatti is the latest to play King John as a villain in Ironclad

Surrendering lands in France, forced into a humiliating climbdown with the nobility and excommunicated by the Church. Not to mention being blamed for the murder of his nephew.

The medieval reign of King John has been characterised by disaster and his reputation languishes among the lowest for all the kings and queens of England.

This poor standing is illustrated by his persistently negative appearances in British cultural life 800 years on. Depictions on television, stage and big screen, particularly in Robin Hood films, usually present a man who is treacherous and weak.

In 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, John (played by Claude Rains) is an overtaxing oppressor, while Disney’s Robin Hood showed John as a cowardly lion sucking his thumb.

A new film Ironclad, released in the UK on Friday, stars American actor Paul Giamatti as the villainous king laying siege to the noble barons in Rochester Castle, in the civil war that followed the signing of Magna Carta.

So why do we always like to bash King John?

Make no mistake, he was a bad king, says John Hudson, of the Institute of Medieval Studies at the University of St Andrews.

“He was a very considerable failure as a king. He loses a large amount of possessions inherited, in particular lands in France, like Normandy and Anjou. He manages to surrender his realm to the pope and ends up facing a huge baronial rebellion, a civil war and a war with France. In terms of failures, he is one of the worst kings.”

And his unpleasant personality compounds his mistakes, says Professor Hudson. Trying to seize control of the throne while his brother, King Richard I, was imprisoned abroad, lost him the trust of the people long before he became king himself.

“A lot of very effective medieval kings are cruel and inspire fear but he hasn’t inspired trust. For people to trust a king and fear him is essential but people don’t trust him.

“People wanted someone to be heroic and not to interfere with their lives. But John was a king who did interfere and wasn’t heroic.”

But it’s simplistic to portray John as simply evil and Richard good, like in some of the Robin Hood films, he says. At least The Lion in Winter, starring Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole as John’s parents Eleanor and Henry II, portrays the family tensions acutely and gives a sense of the personal power struggles within the Plantagenet dynasty.

John grew up in a feuding family. He was born in Oxford in 1166, the youngest and favourite son of Henry II. When John was five, three of his brothers plotted against their father to seize the throne, enlisting the help of Louis VII of France and their own mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

The rebellion was short-lived but Henry II punished his wife by imprisoning her for 16 years. On Henry’s death in 1189, John’s brother Richard became king but he nominated his nephew, Arthur, as heir. John tried unsuccessfully to instigate a coup while his brother was in prison, captured on his way back from fighting the Crusades.

The popular image of John as a cruel tyrant began a few years after his death in 1216, after a turbulent 17 years on the throne. The chronicles of Roger Wendover, a historian and monk at St Albans, and his successor Matthew Paris, included many accounts of cruelty that have since been questioned.

‘John the punchbag’

The Tudors were more sympathetic to him, although Shakespeare’s The Life and Death of King John provides a mixed portrayal of the monarch as treacherous and ruthless, but also patriotic in standing up to Rome.

But it was the Victorians who made King John the pantomime villain he is today, says Paul Sturtevant, who is researching Hollywood depictions of the medieval period, at the University of Leeds.

“The Victorians used King John as a punchbag. Prior to the 18th and 19th Century, Robin Hood was not put in a historical place. It wasn’t about the monarch at all, just Robin Hood and his adventures.

“So the Robin Hood stories being placed in John’s reign is a recent thing. He’s portrayed as a pantomime villain because a number of accounts from the time suggest that people found him quite unpleasant as a person. So the question is to what degree those sources are accurate.”

The Victorians latched on to John’s moral failings like his cruelty and his sexual deviancy, taking mistresses married to barons, and this repulsed their newly-formed idea of medieval knights as perfect gentlemen.

“To the Victorian mindset, he was everything they didn’t want in an English king. They re-imagined the period in terms of courtly love and chivalry.”

Most historians would agree he was quite a bad king but whether he was a caricature of evil is another question entirely, he says.

King John at Runnymede John’s most famous moment is signing the Magna Carta

“Almost all the depictions of King John out there are Robin Hood ones and as a result he’s the villain, either bumbling and idiotic or in the Disney animation he’s a lion who sucks his thumb. He’s infantile, with a snake as a patsy.”

The truth is that he was an inept politician but he wasn’t a tyrant, says Mr Sturtevant. His conflicts were not with his subjects but with barons, the Pope or the French.

“I see him a bit like Barack Obama in so far as he inherited a nightmare situation from his predecessor but because he was a bad politician he didn’t help himself to get out of it.

“Richard still has a really good reputation as the heroic lion-hearted king but he spent only six months of his life in England and the rest either on crusade in Holy Land or at war in France.”

To pay for his foreign wars, not to mention a huge ransom when he was captured, Richard had raised taxes far higher than any level England had experienced. By the time John was crowned king, the cupboard was bare, but his fiscal demands led to unrest.

Mike Ibeji, who researched King John for Simon Schama’s History of Britain on the BBC, says it was in the interests of those who put John’s successor Henry III on the throne to portray him negatively. King John was very unlucky, he says, but he also made his own bad luck.

There are several times during John’s reign where he actually has the upper hand, where he’s in a position where if he just does things the right way, he’s going to end up succeeding in what he’s trying to do.

“But he always overplays his hand and goes too far because he’s in a position of power and can’t rein back. So he doesn’t have a sense of scale and that’s his biggest problem.”

For example, he quelled a rebellion in France but when his nephew and enemy Arthur then dies in his custody, the finger of suspicion points at John and the revulsion felt in France renews the revolt and leads to defeat. A kingdom that once stretched from the Scottish border to the Pyrenees was falling apart.

What John will always be remembered for, apart from antagonising Robin Hood, is signing Magna Carta, which limited royal power and restated English law. And some of his defenders say that at least he provoked the barons into introducing one of history’s most famous documents.

In the History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Winston Churchill wrote: “When the long tally is added, it will be seen that the British nation and the English-speaking world owe far more to the vices of John than to the labours of virtuous sovereigns; for it was through the union of many forces against him that the most famous milestone of our rights and freedom was in fact set up.”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-12603356

Visit Salisbury Cathedral in Wiltshire on a private guided tour and view the original Magna Carta

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