When Prince Harry entered the witness box at his trial against the publisher of the Daily Mirror, he became the first senior member of the royal family to testify in court since the late 19th century.
Queen Victoria’s eldest son, Prince Albert Edward, testified twice in the divorce proceedings of a woman with whom he was accused of having an affair (which he denied) and later of a man in a slander case accused of cheating at cards.
He was then known as the Prince of Wales and later became King Edward VII. He was the great-grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II, Harry’s grandmother.
Here are excerpts from three Associated Press stories from the 1891 cheating case, which the press at the time called the Baccarat Scandal.
Although the prince was not accused of wrongdoing, counsel for plaintiff Sir William Gordon Cumming, who sued him for slander following the fraud allegation, tried to make the case a referendum on the prince’s behavior. One story mentions that the very existence of the English monarchy could be threatened by the storm raging around him.
LONDON, 2 June – At this stage a juryman stood in his place and asked in a loud voice: “Should the jury understand that you were banking on these two occasions and saw nothing of the alleged misconduct?”
The prince hesitated for a moment, as if undecided whether he should answer or not. Finally, he said with a half-smile, “It is very easy for bankers not to see anything when dealing cards, especially when in a country house with friends; You don’t think even for a second that someone will play unfairly.
The juror asked: “What was your opinion at the time the charges were made against the plaintiff?”
To this the prince simply replied: “The charges against him were so unanimous that I had no choice but to believe them.”
The last reply set off another flurry of excitement, followed by a whispered remark. The jury had apparently been successful in bringing out absolutely and beyond any possible doubt the fact that the Prince of Wales, in view of the evidence which was laid before him at Tranby Croft by the ladies and gentlemen who, at the instance of Sir Wm. Played Baccarat together. On 8 and 9 September Cumming became convinced of the plaintiff’s guilt.
The prince agreed to this and his ordeal was over. He gave his evidence haltingly, hesitatingly, and felt overjoyed and greatly relieved when the examination was over.
London, 8 June
Sir Edward Clarke, as he uttered these last words, turned around until he encountered the Prince of Wales, on whom every eye in court was fixed, and who nervously crossed his legs. while the audience was completely taken aback by what was perceived to be the audacity of the Solicitor General. Whispered remarks in several directions: “Why, he is going to attack the Prince of Wales,” were distinctly heard and caused all attention to be drawn upon the plaintiff’s counsel.
Continuing the Solicitor-General’s comment that for the defendants Sir Charles Russell had stated that “even if the jury found for the plaintiff and disregarded the document which Tanbycroft subsequently signed, the military authorities would take up the matter , and that the name of Sir William Gordon Cumming be expunged from the army rolls.”
“I wish to say in unmistakable words,” said Sir Edward Clarke, raising his voice till it rang clearly through the court, “that it would be impossible for the authorities to do anything like that, and to leave Field’s name on that list.” Give Marshall, Prince of Wales and General Owen Williams.”
This bold statement completely took the audience’s breath away, and caused the greatest sensation of the entire trial. A muffled whisper of astonishment, not to mention dismay and some annoyance, spread through the courtroom. To clearly grasp the full meaning of the crushing significance of the Solicitor-General’s words one must fully grasp the almost religious worship of royalty prevalent throughout Great Britain, aimed directly at the heir apparent.
When the court adjourned for lunch, the Prince of Wales hastily left his seat on the bench, and contrary to his usual habits of politeness, completely disregarded the polite manners of the many ladies seated in his vicinity .
LONDON, June 12 – The storm brewing around the Prince of Wales is rapidly growing in intensity, threatening his chances of succession to the throne, if not the very existence of the English monarchy. No class seems to be so deeply agitated as the great middle class, the real strength of the country and the hitherto solid basis of the monarchy. Whenever its voice is heard, its solemn denunciation of the prince is accompanied by regret at his dearness to the throne.
The representative assemblies of religious bodies, Congregational, Methodist, Baptist, Unitarian and Presbyterian, have already registered their condemnation. The Board of Guardians is going out of its way to discuss proposals that the Prince of Wales’ gambling habit is a disgrace to the country. Many liberal societies have adopted protests against their continuation in the military.
A conference is held at the War Office, attended by Secretary Stanhope, the Duke of Cambridge, the Duke of Connaught, General Radwarrow Buller and Colonel Stracey, and it is reported that they have decided that the Prince of Wales, General Williams and Levett have passed military legislation. No offense was committed against, but only a technical violation of the rules.
Club spirit naturally favors Prince; Nor has the scandal dented Rajkumar’s popularity in the turf set. Rumors of his poor reception at Ascot distort the facts.
The court circle is heavily used on letters from the German court, denoting the opinion of Emperor William. The emperor is believed to have written to the queen a long and severe critique on the life of the prince and in particular elaborated on officers’ gambling as a grave offense to military honour, and convicted a colonel of the guard. Made it worse by signing the paper giving permission to go. Cheating to keep his commission in the army. It is said that the Queen forwarded the letter to the Prince of Wales.
Researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.