Kings and queens are an odd breed really. They are a very small part of the general population that's tramped this planet for the last several millennia or so, yet often we know more about them than our own great grannies. And as we look at their gilded lives and epic opportunities, we can only imagine that they're getting a pretty good deal all round. Who wouldn't want that lifestyle? Well, according to Prince Harry, just about everyone sitting round the Christmas dinner table at Sandringham.
In an interview with Newsweek, Harry has let slip that no one in the House of Windsor is falling over themselves to rule. ''Is there any one of the Royal Family who wants to be king or queen? I don't think so, but we'll carry out our duties at the right time.'' Those words have caused quite a stir but I suppose if anyone knows, it's Harry. Unless he's taken the Christmas chatter the wrong way. In that case, Ascot is going to be awkward if he does make an appearance there this year.
But is his admission really that much of a surprise? Shakespeare had another royal Harry, Henry IV, tell us that ''uneasy lies the head that wears a crown''. We've heard about the dilemma of royal life, the balance of personal and public, many times before and not just from the House of Windsor.
Besides, history tells us that Harry is actually pretty much spot on. His own great grandfather, George VI, had no desire to reign before being handed the Crown. Go back another generation and the king who changed the family name to Windsor, George V, was another reluctant ruler. The last William to be king, number four on the list, had no interest in making like a merry monarch but did it nonetheless. I'm singling these three out because however reluctant they were to rule, rule they did and they did it well.
Reluctance can sometimes be a good thing. King John was pretty desperate all round to get hold of power and he's gone down as one of our worst monarchs with a pretty strong claim to be one of the weakest rulers in medieval history. Edward II rather liked the notion of reigning and dished out plenty of favours to those who encouraged him to think this way. He ended up deposed and dead in mysterious circumstances while his wife and her lover took over on behalf of his young son. We should perhaps be more wary of someone who says they can't wait to get their hands on the crown.
And the modern concept of royalty goes a long way beyond one person and one throne. We expect a lot from our royals now. We want constant public appearances, picture perfect families and a focus on charity work and good causes. That's all here in Harry's interview too. He is quite clear it's not the concept of duty that's being looked at like the last of the Christmas pudding. He talks at length about the monarchy being a ''force for the good'' and how his royal generation is trying to help others through their roles. There's a lot of what we expect from modern royals in those sentiments.
But that aside, the question remains - is it sensible for a member for the ruling house to admit that ruling is bottom of the wish list for many of them? After all, it's a compulsory part of the job. Without someone ruling, there is no Royal Family, however modern and informed it is. Those opportunities for change, to make a difference, to be heard, melt away if no one takes charge.
But to rule or not to rule isn't really the question here. Harry's not saying no one will do it, just that they don't crave it like royals of yore tended to do. In some ways, that's reassuring. Surely it's better that an institution that must evolve to survive is looking to be useful rather than seeing the throne as a golden prize to bounce around?
The House of Windsor has faced plenty of storms in the hundred years since its name first appeared in our history books. As it starts its second century of existence, it's in a strong position but faces new demands and challenges nonetheless. Harry's words underline a sentiment we've heard from others, that the focus for the future is on chiming with the modern idea of what a monarchy should be. If the prince had said he and all his relatives were desperate to be king or queen, we'd really have to worry. Power battles and feuds might well have given us the kings and queens we know so well but that's so last millennium. The future of the royals relies on more than a thirst to rule.Suggest a correction