Why Harry's not the first royal to reveal all in print

·Royal Correspondent
·7-min read

Watch: Prince Harry to publish 'wholly truthful' book on his life next year

Prince Harry has confirmed he will be releasing the "definitive account" of his life as he is set to tell all in his memoirs.

The news came as a shock to both the palace and the public, and it has been reported that Harry didn't tell his family about the project before the announcement on Monday. 

Although Harry triggered the biggest crisis in The Firm for decades, when he and wife Meghan Markle chose to 'step back', he's certainly not the first to reveal his side of the story. 

Harry and Meghan's dramatic move was likened to the abdication of 1936, when King Edward VIII relinquished the crown to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson.

He waited longer to release his autobiography though, publishing A King's Story in 1951, to much interest.

The Duke of Windsor, who was the current Queen's uncle, was said to have written the book because he was disappointed he had not been given a role as an ambassador to the US.

The book's summary explains, "this is the autobiography of the late Duke of Windsor - great grandson of Queen Victoria, grandson of Edward VII, son of George V, and cousin of the German Emperor and the Czar of Russia. 

"The book tells the story of the future king's early youth at Sandringham, his years at Naval School on the Isle of Wight, at Magdalen College, Oxford, in the army in World War I, and his tours of Canada, India, Australia, and New Zealand. 

"Eventually he becomes king, on the death of his father. He defies the wishes of Stanley Baldwin, the Prime Minister, when he insists on marrying Wallis Simpson, the future Duchess of Windsor. The book features his abdication, and his marriage."

22nd April 1951:  The Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII of Britain until his abdication, in New York with a first edition copy of his book 'A King's Story'.  (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII of Britain until his abdication, in New York with a first edition copy of his book 'A King's Story' in 1951. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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While the duke needed the money after being cut off from the Royal Family, Harry is donating his profits to charity.

His wife, Wallis Simpson, who became the Duchess of Windsor, also wrote her memoirs, called The Heart has its Reasons, four years after the duke. One reviewer of Simpson's book on Goodreads said: "She must have been charming, opinionated, decisive and with a great deal of inner strength to have lived this life with the Duke."

Royal author and Evening Standard royal editor Robert Jobson told MailOnline: "It [Harry's book] will become an international bestseller, but at what cost to the monarchy? There will be nowhere to hide. 

"It is not the first time a 'exiled' senior royal has written a memoir… the former King Edward VIII wrote one.

"His book was published to a media storm in the 50s. It caused a sensation.

"But this is bound to cause mayhem amongst the House of Windsor."

Despite the Duke and Duchess of Windsor lifting the lid on the royals in the 1950s, there was some reconciliation for the duke with members of the family, though some never accepted Simpson and continued to shun him because of her.

However the Queen did invite him to the investiture of Prince Charles as the Prince of Wales in 1969, though he declined. She also visited him on occasion when he was in London. 

Watch: Harry & Meghan: Escaping the Palace Official Trailer

In more recent years, Prince Charles and Princess Diana both told their stories through others in the 1990s.

Diana recorded her thoughts and experiences on tapes for the journalist Andrew Morton, who then turned them into Diana: Her True Story, though he did not confess immediately that the princess herself had been his main source.

The book was dubbed the "longest divorce petition in British history" and spent 18 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.

It detailed her struggles in a loveless marriage, her battles with bulimia, and Charles's affair with Camilla, who is now his wife.

Author Andrew Morton poses with a copy of his book,
Author Andrew Morton with a copy of his book, "Diana: Her True Story - In Her Own Words", in 2017. He republished the book in 1997 after her death. (Chris J Ratcliffe/AFP via Getty Images)

Read more: Prince Harry to write memoirs: 'Not as prince but as the man I have become'

Two years after that book, Charles worked closely with Jonathan Dimbleby who then released an authorised biography in 1994, on the Prince of Wales.

Charles detailed his childhood, referring to his father, Prince Philip, as harsh and hectoring and said the Queen was physically and emotionally distant from him. 

That decade was a busy one for royal memoirs, as Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, also published her first autobiography, My Story.

At the time the Daily Mirror called it a "shock plan" and said it was "appalling behaviour".

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Ferguson enjoyed success with it, and she went onto write a second autobiography entitled Finding Sarah

Life in the Royal Family continues to be shrouded in mystery, despite their increased visibility through social media, interviews and high profile work and engagements.

Royal biographies go some way to lifting the lid, but memoirs offer another level of insight into a world that is out of reach for most people.

Some of the reviews of the books show why they continue to be popular. One reviewer of the Duke of Windsor's book on Amazon said: "To read what Edward wrote himself, rather than what other people wrote about him, was fascinating."

A reviewer of the same book in the US noted: "I think it gives a good insight to how he lives his life growing up and even as a royal person he still a person who had his triumphs and challenges like all of us. 

"He was put in a very difficult position and honestly I can’t judge him, no one can - if he honestly loved the person then I can understand why he gave it up."

Wallis Simpson, later the Duchess of Windsor, born Bessie Wallis Warfield, 1896 – 1986. American socialite married to Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom. From the Coronation Souvenir Book published 1937. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Wallis Simpson, later the Duchess of Windsor, published her memoirs after her husband. (Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

However, some argue that the veil of mystery is crucial to the success of the Royal Family, so exposing too much could be damaging. 

Royal correspondent and biographer Katie Nicholl pointed out to CBC: "The public wants to know all the ins and outs of royal life and occasionally we get snippets, but the magic of the monarchy is the mystery that surrounds it and the royals try very hard — and do a very good job — of keeping that intact."

Author Penny Junor added: "When I started writing about the royals over 35 years ago, there was a sort of brick wall around Buckingham Palace and everything royal.

"They were there to bat you away. And that has changed a lot."

But while Junor's view is that there have been significant changes in the course of Harry's life, they are evidently not enough for the prince, who now wants to tell his story in his own words.

Announcing his memoirs, he said: "I’m writing this not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become. I’ve worn many hats over the years, both literally and figuratively, and my hope is that in telling my story - the highs and lows, the mistakes, the lessons learned - I can help show that no matter where we come from, we have more in common than we think.

"I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to share what I’ve learned over the course of my life so far and excited for people to read a firsthand account of my life that’s accurate and wholly truthful."

Harry's memoirs will be out in late 2022.

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