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Thursday, 21 November, 2002, 10:45 GMT
Royals in the dock
Princess Anne and Tim Laurence
Princess Anne was fined 500 plus compensation
When Princess Anne appeared in court on Thursday under the Dangerous Dogs Act she was the first member of the Royal Family in the dock since 1649.

Then it was Charles I, accused of being a traitor and "an implacable enemy of the Commonwealth of England" during the period of political upheaval which led eventually to civil war.

At the trial he refused to answer the charges, saying he did not recognise the authority of the High Court and asserting his absolute power as monarch.

He was sentenced to death and beheaded on a scaffold in Whitehall on 30 January 1649, maintaining his innocence until the very last.

The Princess Royal, who pleaded guilty at Slough Magistrates' Court to a charge that one of her dogs attacked two children, was not facing such a drastic fate.

King Charles I played by Sir Alec Guinness in the 1970 film Cromwell
King Charles I, played here by Alec Guinness, was beheaded for treason
The heaviest sentence that could technically have been passed was a short prison term but, as usually happens in these cases, she was fined.

Princess Anne has been fined before - 400 for speeding through Gloucestershire at 93mph in her Bentley in August 2000.

She admitted the charge but that time did not appear in court.

Her cousin Viscount Linley, son of the late Princess Margaret, did face magistrates in 1987 to answer his third speeding offence.

He was banned for driving for six months after being convicted of speeding at 98mph on the M4.

But members of the Royal Family do not often enter court rooms, even as witnesses.

Playboy prince

This is partly because cases are brought on behalf of the monarch - which has led to Thursday's proceedings symbolically pitting mother against daughter: the case is titled Regina vs. Anne Elizabeth Alice Laurence.

And the trial of former royal butler Paul Burrell highlighted the constitutional difficulties of the Queen giving evidence in her own court.

The last senior Royal who did enter the witness box was the then Prince of Wales - the future Edward VII - a notorious playboy known as Bertie.

The prince first appeared in court in 1870, voluntarily giving evidence in a divorce case when Lady Mordaunt falsely accused the heir to the throne of being one of her lovers.

Slander and scandal

In a second case, in 1891, he testified concerning a friend of his who had allegedly cheated at baccarat, an illegal card game which the prince adored.

The friend, William Gordon-Cumming, had admitted cheating at the game on condition it was hushed up.

But news of the incident got out - probably due to the prince's gossipy mistress, Daisy "babbling" Brook - and Gordon-Cumming sued for slander.

The ensuing trial, concerning as it did illegal gambling, heaped scandal on the Royal Family which far exceeded the damage done to the present monarchy's reputation in the Burrell affair.

Today's Royal Family may have had a turbulent year, but a glance at history shows things could have been much worse.

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19 Sep 02 | N Ireland
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