As Prince William begins his career as a soldier, he is following a long-standing family tradition of military service. Most royal Princes have received training in the armed services; indeed, at one point it was considered a foregone conclusion. Now it seems to be at the individuals discretion, as in the case of the present Duke of Gloucester, David Linley and the sons of the Duke of Kent. However, when William ascends the throne, he will be Head of the Armed Services.
Almost every heir to the throne has had some type of extensive military training, even if they have not seen active duty. An exception to this is Queen Victoria and her son Edward VII, who as Prince of Wales had hoped for a career in the Army but served only briefly in the Grenadier Guards in 1861. There is less of an expectation for royal women, most of whom hold honorary titles. The Queen became the first female member of the Royal Family to be a full-time active member of the Armed Services when, as Princess Elizabeth, she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service in 1945.
Due to his position as heir and the potential diplomatic issues, it's unlikely that Prince William will see active combat. The Duke of York, at the time second in line to the throne, is the most recent member of the Royal family to see active service, during the Falklands War in 1982. The last king to lead his troops into battle was George II in 1743 when, aged 60, he took the field for the last time, defeating the French at the Battle of Dettingen in Germany. The last British Sovereign to have seen action in battle was George VI who, as a 20-year-old Sub-Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, fought in the battle of Jutland in May 1916.
The Royal Navy seems to be the most popular choice for the services, a tradition that goes back 700 years. A career in the navy was seen as a suitable occupation for a prince. King George V, as Prince George of Wales, the future King George VI as Prince Albert, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales have served in the Royal Navy (The Prince of Wales also trained in the Royal Air Force as a pilot), and The Duke of York served for 22 years as an officer in the Royal Navy. Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, served in the Royal Marines for 3 years.
Since the 1870's several members of the royal family have received their naval training at Dartmouth.The first royal princes to attend Dartmouth were Prince Albert Victor and his younger brother, Prince George (later King George V). The original college was based in a ship but in 1903 training shifted to a shore based college split between two sites, Osbourne on the Isle of Wight and Dartmouth. The first member of the royal family to attend the new college was Prince Edward (later Edward VIII). His brother Prince Albert (later George VI) arrived at Dartmouth in 1911. Other members of the royal family that have taken courses at Dartmouth include, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York and the Earl of Wessex. Their father, at the time Prince Philip of Greece, attended and the first recorded meeting between the Prince and Princess Elizabeth took place there in July 1939.
Prince William, and Prince Harry are training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. This academy was formed in 1947. It is descended from two older institutions, the Royal Military Academy (founded in 1741) and the Royal Military College (founded in 1800). Along with Prince William and Prince Harry, the present Duke of Kent and his younger brother Prince Michael also attended Sandhurst.
It remains to be seen whether Prince William will follow the family's naval tradition. Like his grandfather, father and uncle, it is more than likely he will gain his pilots license at some point in his career. While not mandatory, an all round training in the services can only serve him well in his future role.
© Marilyn Braun 2006
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