When Prince Harry’s memoir, Spare, hit the shelves, the modern world’s eyes were opened to the concept of “heirs and spares.” In royal tradition, the firstborn child is automatically considered the heir and is groomed from birth for the throne. Any younger kids are known as “spares” — and will only become king or queen if something terrible happens to the firstborn. Traditionally, it was actually expected that queens produce “an heir and a spare” in order to keep the line of succession going. But it’s never easy being the spare. History has seen many younger siblings who were never meant to rule but, through betrayal, heartache, or simply dumb luck, eventually found themselves wearing the crown. Here are their fascinating stories.
1. Richard I and John I
John I was the youngest of King Henry II’s eight children — three of whom were older males, which put him extremely low on the succession totem pole. When a family land dispute erupted into an honest-to-goodness revolt in 1173, Henry had to fight off an alliance of three of his sons — Richard I, Geoffrey, and Henry the Young, who had unusually taken the throne while his father was still alive in 1170. Though the family squashed their beef after the failed takeover, it did leave Henry in no doubt that John was his favorite son!
Unfortunately for Henry, the tension didn’t go away for long. When Henry the Young lost his life in a battle with his brother Richard’s forces, Henry was forced to reassign the kingdom — England, Anjou, and Normandy would be Richard’s domain, while John would get Aquitaine. Richard fought this, though, as he didn’t believe his little brother had the experience to rule. Naturally, 15-year-old John was then encouraged by his father to wage war on Richard for this slight. Wait, what?!
The ultimate betrayal
John teamed up with Geoffrey, and their armies took on Richard — but even combined, they still lost. This time, in the aftermath, Henry decided Richard could keep Aquitaine, while John would be the Lord of Ireland. In 1186, though, Geoffrey died, and Richard sought an alliance with the king of France to take on his father again. To his horror, Henry would soon find out that John — his favorite son who had never taken up arms against him — had switched sides to join his traitorous brother. He reportedly died the day after learning this terrible news.
Heart of a lion
So, Richard had fought tooth and nail to finally become king — but he spent only six months of his ten-year reign in England! He was too busy leading the Crusades in the Holy Land, and his zeal for battle earned him the nickname Richard the Lionheart. While he was away, however, Richard refused to leave the government in John’s control, and never specified that John would be his successor if he died. Being passed over like this reportedly bred a sense of resentment and injustice in John.