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Looking back on the last time a senior British royal testified in court — in the 19th century


When Prince Harry entered the witness box in his lawsuit 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 with (he denied it) and later in a slander case involving a man accused of cheating at cards.

He was known at the time as the Prince of Wales and went on to become King Edward VII. He was the great-grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II, Harry’s grandmother.

Here are excerpts of three Associated Press stories from the 1891 cheating case, which the press at the time referred to as the baccarat scandal.

Though the prince was not accused of wrongdoing, the counsel for Sir William Gordon Cumming, the plaintiff who sued for slander after he was accused of cheating, tried to make the case a referendum on the prince's behavior. One story noted that the growing storm around him could threaten the very existence of the English monarchy.


LONDON, June 2 — At this stage a juryman caused a sensation by rising in his place and asking in a loud voice: “Are the jury to understand that you were banking on these two occasions and saw nothing of the alleged malpractice?”

The Prince hesitated for a moment, as if undecided as to whether he ought or ought not to reply. Finally, he said, with half a smile, “It is very easy for bankers when dealing cards not to see anything especially when in the company of friends in a country house; you do not for a moment suppose anyone would play unfairly.”

The juror asked: “What was your opinion at the time the charges were made against the plaintiff?”

To this the Prince casually replied: “The charges made against him were so unanimous that I had not any other course open to me than to believe them.”

The last answer caused another flutter of excitement, followed by a whispered comment. The jury apparently had succeeded in bringing out squarely and beyond any possible doubt the fact that the Prince of Wales, in view of the evidence that had been placed before him at Tranby Croft by the ladies and gentleman who had played baccarat with Sir Wm. Cumming on September 8th and 9th, had become convinced of the plaintiff's guilt.


The Prince assented to this and his examination was concluded. He gave his evidence in a halting, hesitating manner and seemed to be very glad and exceedingly relieved when the examination was over.


LONDON, June 8

Sir Edward Clarke, as he uttered these last words, turned squarely around until he faced the Prince of Wales, upon whom every eye in the court was then fixed, and who nervously crossed his legs, while the audience was utterly aghast at what was considered to be the audacity of the solicitor general. In several directions the whispered comment: “Why, he is going to attack the Prince of Wales,” was distinctly heard and caused all attention to be riveted upon plaintiff's counsel.

Continuing the solicitor-general remarked that Sir Charles Russell, for defendants, had said that “even if the jury found for plaintiff and disregarded the document the latter had signed at Tanbycroft, the military authorities would take the matter up, and that Sir William Gordon Cumming's name would be stricken from the army list.”

“I wiSh to say in unmistakeable terms,” exclaimed Sir Edward Clarke, raising his voice until it rang tellingly through the court, “that it would be impossible for the authorities to do any such thing, and leave on that list the names of Field Marshal, the Prince of Wales, and General Owen Williams."

This bold statement seemed to completely take away the breath of the audience, and caused by far the greatest sensation of the entire trial. A hushed murmur of astonishment, not unmixed with dismay and some irritation, swept over the court room. One must thoroughly understand the almost religious worship of royalty which prevails throughout Great Britain to clearly understand the full meaning of the crushing significance of the solicitor-general's words, aimed directly at the heir apparent.


When the court adjourned for luncheon, the Prince of Wales hurriedly left his seat on the bench, and contrary to his usual habits of politeness, completely disregarded the humble courtesies of several dames seated in his immediate vicinity.


LONDON, June 12 — The storm rising around the Prince of Wales is fast growing in intensity, endangering his chances of succession to the throne if not the existence of the English monarchy. No class appears to be stirred so deeply as the great middle class, the real strength of the country and the hitherto solid prop of the monarchy. Whenever its voice becomes audible its earnest denunciations of the Prince are accompanied by regret at his nearness to the throne.

Representative gatherings of religious bodies, Congregational, Methodist, Baptist, Unitarian and Presbyterian, have already recorded their condemnation. Board of guardians are going out of their accustomed paths to discuss motions branding the gambling propensities of the Prince of Wales as a disgrace to the country. Several Liberal societies have adopted protests against his continuance in the Army.


A conference has been held at the War Office, attended by Secretary Stanhope, the Duke of Cambridge, Duke of Connaught, Gen. Redvero Buller and Col. Stracey, and it reported they decided that the Prince of Wales, Gen. Williams and Levett have committed no offense against military law, but only a technical breach of regulations.


Club sentiment naturally supports the Prince; nor has the scandal lessened the Prince's popularity in turf sets. Rumors of his bad reception at Ascot are a perversion of facts.

Court circles are much exercised over letters from the German court reflecting the opinion of Emperor William. It is believed the Emperor has written the Queen a long and serious criticism on the Prince's life and dilating especially upon gambling of officers as a grave offense to military honor, and made worse by the signing of a paper permitting a colonel of the Guards convicted of cheating to retain his commission in the army. The Queen, it is said, forwarded the letter to the Prince of Wales.


Researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.