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Prince William has surprising support for dropping major royal tradition

Prince William would face opposition from around a third of Britain should he follow reported plans to give Prince George an opt out on military service—but around as many would support him.

Royal tradition dictates that direct heirs to the thrown should serve in the armed forces for a period, earning their credentials before later becoming commander-in-chief once on the throne.

However, reports in The Mail on Sunday suggest Prince William wants George to have the chance to say “no” if he feels military life is not for him.

Prince William and Prince George at Tennis
Prince William talks to Prince George during the men’s singles final of Wimbledon, in London, on July 16, 2023. William reportedly wants to give George the option to opt out of military service.
ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images

The move would be a major break with the past and established opinion among royal commentators, who generally view military service as an opportunity for royals to experience a more normal life outside the sheltered royal bubble.

U.K. pollster YouGov asked 5,631 U.K. adults on July 18 whether direct heirs to the throne should serve in the armed forces.

And 34 percent felt they should while 33 percent felt they should not and 32 percent did not know.

That Britain has no clear stance on the subject, with roughly as many supporting the move as opposing it, may come as a surprise to some given how much praise the royals garner for their military service.

And it may well come as a boost for William, assuming the reports in the Mail on Sunday are correct, as it indicates he may avoid any significant opposition should George want to swerve spending time in the forces.

It would mark a break with the attitude of Queen Elizabeth II, who was eager to sign up for the British Army’s Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) so she could serve at the age of 18 in the dying days of World War Two.

She began as a subaltern and rose to become a junior commander, equivalent to a captain, and trained as a mechanic.

Direct heirs to the throne have traditionally been given military roles out of harm’s way, to avoid the risk of losing a future monarch.

However, the second-born man in each generation will often take up a more dangerous front line role, as was the case of Prince Harry, who did two frontline tours of Afghanistan.

Prince William, by contrast, served seven and a half years in the military, becoming an officer of the Blues and Royals before serving as a search and rescue pilot, having trained at the Royal Air Force College.

King Charles III served in the royal navy for six years and was in command of the coastal minehunter HMS Bronington during his final ten months, in 1976. He did not see active combat.

Meanwhile, Prince Andrew served 22 years in the Royal Navy and flew a helicopter during the Falklands War in 1982.

The Royal Family website reads: “During the conflict Prince Andrew flew missions including Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Anti-Surface Warfare (ASUW), inter-ship Helicopter Delivery (HDS), Search and Rescue (SAR) and casualty evacuation.

“Upon return to Portsmouth in September 1982, HMS INVINCIBLE was met by The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh.”

Jack Royston is chief royal correspondent for Newsweek, based in London. You can find him on Twitter at @jack_royston and read his stories on Newsweek‘s The Royals Facebook page.

Do you have a question about King Charles III, William and Kate, Meghan and Harry, or their family that you would like our experienced royal correspondents to answer? Email royals@newsweek.com. We’d love to hear from you.




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