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Friday, 7 June, 2002, 09:44 GMT 10:44 UK
History of Scandal
The monarchy in the 18th century were plagued with tales of scandal
Tales of royal scandal, incest and adultery
At its height, court scandal encompassed incest, insanity and almost definitely murder among the minor royals, and that's long after rival dynasties had stopped chopping each others heads off to get at the throne.

These days it's a low business of toe-sucking, and embarrassing telephone calls. Is public scrutiny killing decent scandal?

Up until the Abdication crisis of 1936, the British press kept a respectful distance from royalty known as 'voluntary press censorship'. Kings had mistresses but they weren't officially written about.

Scandal was a tantalising whisper, always off the record and by its very nature extremely and deliciously libellous.

In 1911 when French reporter E.F. Mylius claimed that King George V was a bigamist - alleging the King had married an Admiral's daughter in Malta - he was promptly sued and sentenced to 12 months in prison. Of course the story was quite untrue, but the lesson was noted.

The royal story today rarely offers more than mundane domestic eavesdropping. For really bad behaviour we must look to history and the 18th century is a good place to start.

Debauched Germans

The party begins in 1714 when George I Elector of Hanover becomes King of England. He is said to have arrived in Greenwich with two German mistresses, while his wife was in prison for adultery.

Press photographers
Hunger undiminished
It wasn't the people's morals that were offended by this impropriety, it was their aesthetic sensibilities.

The German fraus were quickly dubbed the Maypole and the Elephant, one so thin and the other so fat. At least Charles II's favourite squeeze, Nell Gwyn had been a looker.

George IV is by far the most notorious of the Hanoverians and had a vastly complicated love life. His posthumous biographer Robert Huish concluded in 1830 that he contributed more "to the demoralisation of society than any prince recorded in the pages of history".

He secretly and illegally married a Catholic who he had to abandon for an approved match with his cousin Caroline of Brunswick. On seeing her, the Prince Regent declared "I am not well; pray get me a glass of brandy."

He tried and failed to divorce Caroline by bringing a case of adultery against her. The trial provided a field day for contemporary cartoonists but was otherwise unsuccessful.

But he did manage to ban her from his coronation. She was left outside the church banging on the door in her tiara. She had reportedly taken to flashing at parties and balls but thankfully she died of porphyria a few weeks later; the same form of insanity which had just killed her uncle George III.

Middle class values

Victoria and her dour husband Albert broke with tradition and initiated a long reign of moral respectability, personal honesty and marital fidelity.

Thankfully though, her son had plenty of time to set a bad example by the time he became King Edward VII at 60. He is said to have loved gambling, women, food, drink and sport. His wife Alexandra turned a blind eye to his extramarital activities.

But the public didn't and his most famous mistress of the 1880s, the actress Lillie Langtry, complained of how they followed her carriage all over London trying to get a look at her.

The Hon Mrs George Keppel, another of Edward's women, was so favourably looked upon she was invited to dine with the Archbishop of Canterbury. When the King was dying, Queen Alexandra reputedly sent for Keppel to say goodbye.

Camilla Parker-Bowles hunting
Camilla enjoys hunting
Her descendant, Camilla Parker-Bowles, has kept up the family tradition as the long-term companion of the Prince of Wales.

With the abdication crisis of 1936 we come full circle. Edward VIII won and lost public sympathy when he gave up the throne for the woman he loved, Wallis Simpson.

The previous decade of debauched philandering was forgotten in a display of romantic sentimentality that has divided audiences ever since.

The Queen herself is, to all appearances, squeaky clean. The only whiff of scandal came in 1956 when the press noticed Philip was spending a lot of time on his yacht. The Queen issued a discreet statement. "No rift, says Palace" the press reported.

Royal soap opera

The heights of Hanoverian excess are unlikely to be repeated. The international media create a cruel climate for bad behaviour and there's no scandal without publicity. The Duke of Edinburgh's gaffes might attract acres of news print, but other indiscretions are strictly a matter for unofficial biographies.

When it comes to having our modern moral sense and decency offended, do we really care about the divorces of the monarch's children?

What really takes the biscuit is the timely rumour that the Queen prefers Coronation Street to EastEnders. Never misses an episode, apparently. Now that's a scandal.

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