Queen Elizabeth Wanted Prince William and Prince Harry to Serve in War—But Thought the Risk Was “Too Great” for William

“My grandsons have taken my shilling, therefore they must do their duty.”

Prince William, Prince Harry
(Image credit: Getty)

In perhaps a further example of “the heir and the spare” dynamic, according to a new ITV documentary, “The Real Crown: Inside the House of Windsor,” Queen Elizabeth wanted both Prince William and Prince Harry to serve in war—but found the risk “too great” for William, presumably because he is heir to the throne. Harry, for his part, went on to serve two tours of duty in Afghanistan.

Her late Majesty expected both of her grandsons to “do their duty” and serve their country, and former British Army officer General Sir Mike Jackson recalled a conversation she had about the two: “The chiefs have an audience with the Queen once or twice a year,” he said. “You need to have done your homework. She’s very wise—I used to tell my staff, see if you can get the midday slot. Because after half an hour or 40 minutes, the Queen would ring a small bell and ‘Time for a Sherry, I think, CGS.’”

He continued “What goes on in those audiences and who says what to whom, remains for the two people involved. And I will break the rule about not divulging what goes on on this one occasion when she was very clear—she said ‘My grandsons have taken my shilling, therefore they must do their duty.’ And that was that.”

Jackson added that, as William was at the time second in line to the throne—he is now first in line—the risk of him serving on the frontlines was deemed “too great”; however, he said, “the risk was acceptable” for Harry.

Per People, William spent over seven years in full-time military service. Following the completion of his time with the Household Cavalry, he served in the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy, spending three years as a search and rescue helicopter pilot before retraining as a pilot with the East Anglian Air Ambulance.

Harry graduated from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and served in the British Armed Forces for a decade. He rose to the rank of captain, deployed twice to Afghanistan, and completed elite training to fly Apache helicopters. “I don’t know that you ever fully reconcile the painful elements of being at war,” Harry told People. “This is something each soldier has to confront, and in the nearly two decades of working alongside service personnel and veterans, I’ve listened to their stories and have shared mine. In these conversations, we often talk about the parts of our service that haunt us—the lives lost, the lives taken. But also, the parts of our service that heal us and the lives we’ve saved.”

He continued “It’s a duty, a job, and a service to our country—and having done two tours of duty in Afghanistan for my country, I’ve done all I could to be the best soldier I was trained to be. There’s truly no right or wrong way to try and navigate these feelings, but I know from my own healing journey that silence has been the least effective remedy. Expressing and detailing my experience is how I chose to deal with it, in the hopes it would help others.”

“The Real Crown: Inside the House of Windsor” is out April 20. 

Rachel Burchfield
Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor

Rachel Burchfield is a writer, editor, and podcaster whose primary interests are fashion and beauty, society and culture, and, most especially, the British Royal Family and other royal families around the world. She serves as Marie Claire’s Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor and has also contributed to publications like Allure, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, People, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and W, among others. Before taking on her current role with Marie Claire, Rachel served as its Weekend Editor and later Royals Editor. She is the cohost of Podcast Royal, a show that was named a top five royal podcast by The New York Times. A voracious reader and lover of books, Rachel also hosts I’d Rather Be Reading, which spotlights the best current nonfiction books hitting the market and interviews the authors of them. Rachel frequently appears as a media commentator, and she or her work has appeared on outlets like NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN, and more.