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Spare to the heir: A recent history of awkward siblings in the British royal family

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
The heir and the spare.
By Kabir Chibber
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The Duchess of Cambridge has given birth to a daughter, Britain’s newest addition to the royal family. The new baby will become fourth in line to the throne—behind brother George, father William, and grandfather Charles. (Girls and boys were made equal in succession to the throne in 2011.)

Being the sibling of the future king or queen of the UK has not always been the easiest. Here is our take on the some the recent players in the royal family who were born a few years too late:

George VI

Probably the most famous royal sibling ever, due to his unlikely ascension to the throne and his stammer, both of which were captured in the Oscar-winning film, The King’s Speech.

His older brother, Edward, became king in 1936 but then abdicated to marry a divorcée. George VI took the throne after Edward’s 11-month reign and ruled during the Second World War, ruling until his death in 1952. He was the last monarch to rule while Britain was an empire. Though George wasn’t the only “spare” to reach the throne.


After King George VI’s death, his daughter, Elizabeth, took to the throne. She had only one sibling, Margaret, who wanted to marry Peter Townsend in 1952 when her sister had just become queen. But the government and the Church of England—once again—felt the divorced army captain would be unsuitable, and she was forced to cancel the wedding in public.

AP Photo/Mario Torrisi
Princess Margaret in Rome in 1959.

She ended up marrying a photographer in 1960, and the marriage lasted 18 years. She never remarried until her death in 2002. Her sad story embodies many of the difficulties of being a modern member of the royal family.


It is not easy being a royal family member and being involved in private industry, but Queen Elizabeth’s son has not made it easy for himself. He earned the nickname “Air Miles Andy” for his frequent luxurious trips around the world to see the autocrat in charge of Azerbaijan, as well as meeting Libya’s former leader Colonel Gaddafi and selling his home for more than the asking price to the president of Kazakhstan’s son-in-law. His various controversial visits to dubious regimes forced him out of his role as the UK’s official trade envoy.

Most recently, he was accused of being a part of sex parties with his friend and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. While those allegations were struck from the record in a federal lawsuit by a US judge, it did raise further questions about the company Andrew keeps.

David Parker/Daily Mail via AP
Prince Andrew.

His marriage and subsequent divorce from Sarah Ferguson has also raised eyebrows—as did the fact that they were able to afford to buy a luxury chalet in Switzerland worth up to $20 million together.


Rarely has the phrase “red-headed stepchild” felt so apt. William’s brother—now demoted in the line of succession by the birth of his nephew and niece—has made a name for himself as a party animal, most famously when nude pictures of him partying in Las Vegas in 2013 showed up.

Harry has since tried to pack in his wild ways, serving a tour of duty in Afghanistan in the army and toning down his nights out in London partying. Though the 30-year-old is still finding time to have fun.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

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