What Actually Happened To History's Royal Spares?



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Vote up the royal spares with the most fascinating stories.

Prince Harry's much-talked-about memoir, Spare, sheds light on his experience as the second son of a monarch (or in the case of the majority of Harry's life, the second son of a very patient heir: King Charles III). However, Prince Harry's tell-all book isn't the only insight we have into what royal spares actually did with their lives. 

Throughout history, royal spares have carved their own name into the history books, sometimes even leading more interesting lives than their more famous siblings. From winning acclaim on battlefields to trying (and sometimes even succeeding) to steal their brothers' crowns and titles, these royal spares made sure their lives were more than just a backup plan.


  • William The Conqueror Named His Spare Heir To The Throne Even Though His First Son Was Still Alive
    Photo: Matthew Paris / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    William the Conqueror successfully conquered England in 1066, becoming King of England in addition to being the Duke of Normandy. Upon his death, rather than appoint his eldest son, Robert Curthouse, King of England, he named his second son, William Rufus, king. Robert was given Normandy. 

    William was a hugely unpopular ruler, with a series of nobles campaigning for Robert to replace him as King. After handily defeating the rebels, William secured Robert’s allegiance along with half of Normandy, cutting down Robert’s inheritance even further. 

    Defeating Robert wasn’t the end of William’s tenuous grasp on the throne. In addition to taking half of Normandy from Robert, William effectively disinherited his younger brother, Henry. When William died after being shot in the back during a hunting trip 11 years into his reign, Henry, who was on the hunting trip, quickly seized the English throne for himself. This lead to suspicions that Henry was behind the so-called accident, especially as the other members of the hunting party gained considerable favor during Henry’s reign.

    36 votes
  • George V's Spare Became King While His Heir Was Still Alive
    Photo: Matson Photo Service (possibly Bertram Park) / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    46 VOTES

    George V's Spare Became King While His Heir Was Still Alive

    On December 11, 1936, King Edward VIII became the first King of England to abdicate the throne by his own choice. Edward insisted on marrying Wallis Simpson, a twice-divorced American woman. The prospect of having an American divorcee as queen was a scandal Parliament refused to support, thereby forbidding Edward from marrying the woman he loved. Rather than relent, Edward gave up his crown, and his younger brother, George, inherited the throne in his stead. 

    As the “spare,” George VI’s sudden ascension to the throne was unexpected, to say the least. To say the most, though, George VI reportedly never wanted to be King and was content with his life as the younger brother. Nevertheless, he took up the mantle and lead the country through World War II. 

    46 votes
  • Henry VII's Spare Became One Of England's Most Infamous Monarchs
    Photo: Hans Holbein the Younger / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    The story of Henry VIII’s six wives made him one of Britain’s most infamous monarchs, but if things had gone according to plan, he never would have even been king. For the first 11 years of his life, Henry was the “spare” and his older brother, Prince Arthur, was the heir. 

    In early 1502, Prince Arthur and his wife, Catherine (who would later become Henry VIII’s first wife), caught the “sweating sickness.” While Catherine recovered, Arthur did not. 

    Prior to becoming heir, Henry was prepped for a career in the church and educated in a variety of topics, including music and sports. According to one historian, his life was vastly different than his brother’s, so much so that they likely didn’t spend more than a few months together when Arthur was alive. 

    Instead, while Arthur was groomed to be King of England one day, surrounded by men and with his own household, Henry was raised by their mother and surrounded by her primarily female household. Then, Arthur’s sudden death paved the way for Henry VIII’s notorious reign and, quite literally, altered the course of history.  

    48 votes
  • King Louis XIII's Spare Was Raised Effeminately So He Wouldn't Compete With The Heir
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    49 VOTES

    King Louis XIII's Spare Was Raised Effeminately So He Wouldn't Compete With The Heir

    From a young age, Philippe, Duc d’Orleans, younger brother of King Louis XIV, was encouraged to dress up as a girl and act effeminately so as not to threaten the reign of his brother, the way Louis XIII’s younger brother Gaston did. This fear of a rivalry between the brothers and later Louis XIV’s own jealousy assured that no matter what Philippe did, he remained in the background so as not to outshine his brother.

    Later in life, Philippe turned out to be an accomplished military leader, defeating William of Orange in the Dutch War, which saw Philippe’s French forces face the combined forces of the Spanish and the Dutch. After this accomplishment, Philippe returned to France a war hero and received so much acclaim that, allegedly jealous of Philippe’s success and attention, Louis XIV barred him from commanding forces ever again. 

    In preventing Philippe from achieving further military acclaim, Louis XIV ensured his younger brother would never amass enough support to challenge his throne - the theme that dominated Philippe’s life. 

    49 votes
  • Edward VII’s Spare Had Almost 20 Years To Prepare For The Throne
    Photo: Bassano Ltd / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    From a young age, George, the younger son of Edward VII, was favored over his older brother, the lethargic heir presumptive Albert Victor. Despite the fact that George was by all accounts brighter and more intelligent than his brother, when it came time to start preparing the heir for his future throne, Albert was tutored and prepped and George continued his career as a naval officer

    Before Albert ever became king (he was second in line to the throne behind his father Edward, who was Queen Victoria’s heir), he passed away from a flu epidemic in 1892. Thus, after preparing for life in the navy, George suddenly became a future king. Fortunately, his reign wasn’t imminent, as his grandmother, Queen Victoria, still had nine years left in her reign. What followed was an extensive education in all of the subjects a future monarch would need: languages, the succession, and the ins-and-outs of the constitutional monarchy. 

    In addition to that tutoring, Edward, the Prince of Wales and heir, introduced George to any and everyone he may need to know as king, from politicians to military men and more. George also traveled throughout the British Empire extensively before ultimately becoming King of England after the death of his father in 1910. 

    17 votes
  • Henry II's Sons Revolted Against Him
    Photo: Merry-Joseph Blondel / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Richard the Lionheart’s road to the throne was a tumultuous one; it started when King Henry II decided he would split his lands evenly among his three sons, a plan his eldest son, Henry the Young King, strongly opposed. The Young King joined forces with his younger brother, Richard, as well as the kings of France and Scotland, to rebel against Henry II. Ultimately, Henry II defeated his sons, but there was never any real peace made. 

    Instead, after the sudden death of Henry the Young King, Richard led another revolt against their father. This time, Henry II asked Richard to give up his inheritance of Aquitaine. Richard refused and joined forces with King Philip II of France. Together, Richard and Philip defeated Henry II in battle, forcing the King of England to recognize Richard as his heir. A few weeks later, after the death of Henry II, Richard the Lionheart was King of England. 

    55 votes